As sectarian violence and the destructive influence of ISIS forces swirl around him, International Peacemaking Program graduate Haidar Reda Muhammad pushes forward with his work promoting interreligious understanding.
A native of Bagdhad and a Shi’a Muslim, Haidar came to Hartford Seminary in 2011 to participate in the International Peacemaking Program. After completing his year of study here, Haidar returned home and established a non-profit organization called Ur for Interfaith Dialogue and Peacemaking, the mission of which, he explains, “is to build respectful relationships among diverse individuals and communities and to forge common ground that promotes social justice, peace and freedom among the people.” Ur refers to the ancient city-state in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, the traditional birthplace of Abraham, which remains sacred to many religions, especially the Abrahamic faiths. As a symbol of common ground, Haidar aspires to create that same sense of sacred respect embodied in the city of Ur.
Through guided visits to religious communities, Haidar introduces young people to the variety of religious traditions active in Iraq, confident that awareness of such diversity is the foundation for respectful coexistence. His nonprofit recently organized a party for schoolchildren under the theme, “Our Children, Our Future.” Mostly refugees from Mosul and local orphans, the children played games, did art projects, and received school bags filled with essentials they so need. In addition, Haidar delivers presentations and lectures on non-violence, religious understanding, minorities’ rights, and his own experiences growing up and now working in the midst of violence and tension in Baghdad. His work on the religious diversity in Iraq drew the attention of the TEDxBaghdad team, who recognized the value of Haidar’s approach to raising interfaith awareness, and recently invited him to give TED talk in Baghdad on his efforts (video soon to be available at http://tedxbaghdad.com/)
Haidar relates, however, “it’s so hard to do our work, especially after the fall of Mosul into the hands of ISIS. Awful things were done to many, particularly the Yazidi Christians and Shia Turkuman and Shabak. All of them were forced to leave their home and many of them came to Baghdad. We are trying to help them here, and because of this situation others have become interested in learning more about them.” Haidar, his family, and all Baghdad residents live each day with the ever present danger of car bombs, for the terrorists “believe killing us is their way to Paradise. Some extremists believe my work is a kind of missionary effort to other religions. The best support you can offer me are prayers, and promoting my work to let the world know there are good things happening in Iraq.”
To learn more about Haidar’s peacemaking work and that of other IPP graduates, for information on inviting current IPP students to make a presentation in your community, or to financially support the International Peacemaking Program, please contact Jonathan Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860.509.9556.