Hans Abdiel Harmakaputra was a member of the research team for the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, collecting stories and information aboutchurch closings and church attacks in West Java, Indonesia. Throughthis work, he learned about the impact of religious conflict.
InDenmark and his home country of Pakistan, Abdullah Khan devised curricula to introduce the study of human rights in Islamic religious schools and in Christian seminaries.
Working for Mesopotamia, an Iraqi magazine, Haidar Reda Mohamad wrote and published articles on religion in Iraq and on democracy and non-violence.
Through their personal experience, all three are immersed in interfaith dialogue. Now Hans, Abdullah and Haidar are students inHartford Seminary?s International Peacemaking Program, studying for a Graduate Certificate in Interfaith Dialogue.
from left, Hans Abdiel Harmakaputra, Abdullah Khan and Haidar Reda Mohamad
Hartford Seminary initiated the International Peacemaking Program (IPP) in 2004, recognizing the need for skilled peacemakers in countries where there is interreligious conflict. Students in the program spend an academic year perfecting their interfaith dialogue and leadership skills, as well as enhancing their public engagement and public speaking skills. In addition to their formal studies, students are embedded in a local faith community where they experience American religious culture firsthand.
Students receive a scholarship covering tuition, books, travel and housing. After a year, the students return home to put their new skills and knowledge into practice.
That is what the three students for 2011-2012 plan to do.
Once he returns home, Hans plans to become a pastor and also a seminary scholar. He said that ?I will implement my studies in my church because without changing our old paradigm of ?the other,? it will be very hard to encourage them to come into interfaith dialogue. Secondly, I will continue my interfaith network and see what we can do together for our society. Thirdly, as a seminary teacher, I will promote interfaith dialogue on an intellectual level, without neglecting the practical level, and try to encourage prospective church leaders to engage other faiths in dialogue.?
?My objectiveandaim is to do interfaith dialogue among different faiths to bring peace to my homeland of Iraq,? said Haidar.
?I would like to work with those people and organizations who are already working for dialogue or peace building. I will arrange workshops and training sessions for different sections of society. I am also planning to train and teach at the college and university level,? Abdullah said.
Hans Abdiel Harmakaputra
In Indonesia, Hans filled a variety of volunteer roles in his and other churches, mainly with youth. He has been a teaching assistant and lecturer at seminaries and published articles on contemporary theology.
Hans has been at the Seminary since the fall. Asked what adjustments he has had to make in his understanding of other religions, after a semester at Hartford Seminary, he replied, ?I have found many similarities between Muslims in America and Christians in Indonesia because we are both minorities in number. I have learned a lot from how Muslims here organize themselves and deal with their context as a minority religion. I also made a decision to learn more deeply about Islam as a religion in order to understand my Muslim brothers and sisters in Indonesia and the Seminary is an excellent place for this study.?
Hans said he decided to study at the Seminary because ?I heard that Hartford Seminary is one of a few places in the United States, which provides actual interfaith dialogue learning, both in the classroom and through interaction outside class. I applied for IPP with the hope that I could experience this atmosphere. Also, I wanted to study, in a U.S. context, the issue of religious diversity and how to deal with it, especially Islam and Christianity.?
?In my opinion, interfaith dialogue must be based on personal relationships. That is the reason why I began interfaith dialogue by building friendships and understanding with Muslim friends,? Hans said.
Dialogue is important, he said, because ?in Indonesia we have lived side by side for a long time, yet there are many tensions and conflicts even in ?peaceful? situations. I strongly believe that co-existence is not enough, since it is interpreted mostly as indifference toward other faiths. In my opinion, Indonesian people, and also people around the world, should embrace the other in dialogue and mutual praxis in order to create a better society.?
Abdullah has been an imam in Copenhagen for the past four years, and previously worked as a research and project coordinator with the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad. While working in Denmark, Abdullah was actively involved in numerous intercultural projects, from interfaith dialogues to environmental campaigns. Among his projects in Pakistan was conflict resolution between diverse sects and organizing interfaith dialogues with Christians.
Abdullah said he came to Hartford because ?Hartford Seminary is unique ? it is not a typical religious institute but rather offers diversity in terms of religious representation and cultural richness. It will expose me to new dimensions ofdialogue and peace building.?
Dialogue is important to Abdullah: ?In this world we witness almost every day conflicts at different levels. For me, one of the major causes of these conflicts is a deficit in trust and misunderstanding by two or more sides. It is imperative, therefore, that if people can engage in dialogue it will definitely improve the situation and de-escalate the tensions. For me dialogue is the best remedy or resort for peace.?
Haidar Reda Mohamad
Haidar applied to study at Hartford Seminary ?to gainknowledge, skills andpractices toincorporate into my research and dialogue.?
?I hope to come out of thisprogram ready to bring change and work for peace,? he said.
He offered an example of the circumstances for misunderstanding in his home country. In Iraq, he explained, many Muslims believe that the Yazidi, members of an Assyrian religion, worship Satan. ?But in my research I found that they in fact believe in one God, just as the Muslim population does. As a result of this misunderstanding, more than 1000 people have been killed in Iraq over the past few years. In my effort to change this, I published my research in an Iraqi magazine (Mesopotamia),? Haidar said.
Interfaith dialogue is important to Haidar, because ?as an Iraqi citizen, the conflicts in Iraq and in the Middle East affect my daily life on a very personal level. Misunderstanding of other faiths causes theconflicts. When there is interfaith dialogue we can find the common ground among faiths,? he said.
During their time in Hartford, the three students will be part of the community at two local faith communities ? Hans at First Church of Christ, Congregational, in West Hartford, and Abdullah and Haidar at the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford in Berlin.
They live on campus, in housing that is international and interfaith, and which provides a lived experience of what is learned in the classroom.