“Dialogue is the way to live together in peace” participants in the cultural dialogue said [Archives:2009/1226/Culture]

January 19 2009

By Ali Saeed

In a seminar about the intercultural dialogue between the Islamic and Western worlds that was organized yesterday by the German Embassy on January 13th, participants said that the only civilized way to end conflicts is through dialogue.

Participants in the seminar discussed topics relevant to religious and cultural dialogue, such as the similarities among nations and the principles of Islamic philosophy towards understanding and dealing with the other. Participants also discussed the findings of the 3 day winter school session that took place in Sana’a between university students from Yemen and Germany.

Michael Klor-Berchtold, the German ambassador to Yemen, opened the seminar, stating that dialogue is an important instrument for approaching others. He added that dialogue was the method used to unify East and West Germany when it became one country more than 15 years ago.

The speakers in the seminar said that misconception and prejudice are the main factors that lead to treating others poorly or without justice. They added that the right way to approach the other is to look to the similarities and to try to forget the differences.

German and Yemeni students who participated in the winter school showed the findings of their gathering. Dr.Kramer Gurdun, head of Eastern Studies at the Free University of Berlin, managed the meeting of the students during the three days the session took place. He said that “perception is the component that we use to construct our images of the others.”

Fateh Afandi, a German student who participated in the winter school, spoke about the findings and the recommendations of their gathering. He said that results of the winter school can be concluded in the following: first, one should recognize the potential damages that images of the Muslim world and images of the Western world can cause. Second, recognition that there are both similarities and differences between the two worlds is of paramount importance. Similarities mentioned include those that any human beings share, such as emotions and economic interests; differences include those between values, morals, self-culture and other-culture.

Afandi recommended that first we must raise awareness of the importance of dialogue with the other. Secondly, the promotion of such dialogues should start with the students at the educational institutions and universities. Thirdly, media and modern technology should be utilized to promote dialogues, since they are important instruments in achieving such dialogues. Fourthly, it is imperative to reduce conflicts on both international and national levels. Finally, we must not pursue any social or economic dimensions that raise and add to conflicts. He concluded that people have to look at the similarities that they share and forget the differences.

Another Yemeni female student who participated in the winter school said that she and her colleagues became very emotional when they were watching a film shown about getting acquainted with the other. She concluded that this meeting is the first step towards understanding the other.

Another participant in the winter school from Sana’a University said that this gathering was the first experience for him towards really understanding the West. “It is a good step in working towards understanding the other,” he stated.

He ambitiously added that the experience is the beginning of learning to live together in peace.Dr. Ahmed Al-Kibsi, vice rector of Sana’a university, said that when he visited the workshop of the winter school he found that people can break the isolation between themselves through dialogue about their cultures.

Dr.Ahmed Al-Dagashi, associate professor at Sana’a University, briefly introduced research about the principles of Islamic philosophy towards other-perception. He said that he is worried about organizing such an event alongside the current unnatural atmosphere coinciding with events in Gaza, where women and children are being killed.

He stated that the Islamic perception of the other is controlled by various principles, one of them being the principle of acquaintance of and living amongst different people. He cited evidence for that from the Holy Quran, Surah Al-Hujurat, verse 13: “Oh people! We created you from one man and one woman and made you branches and tribes that you may recognize one onother.” Another principle is that every Muslim has the right to call the other, and the other is free to response or not. He cited verse 158 from Surah Al-Aaraaf: “Oh men! I am sent to you as the messenger of Allah.” Yet another principle is that Islam believes in human dignity and the treatment of other people with justice. He cited verse 70 in Surah Al-Isra: “We have honored the sons of Adam.” The last principle Al-Dagashi cited was the human being’s liberty in Islam to think and to choose for him or herself. He cited verse 256 in the Cow Surah: “Let there be no compulsion in Religion.”

Attendees who came to the conference questioned the speakers about the massacre in Gaza. Abdulkaraim Al-Eryani, former Prime Minster of Yemen, said ‘salaam’ to the resistant men in Gaza, stating that the international community has to stop the bloodshed there. Al-Kibsi added that Arab leaders should care about what is happening and find a resolution; otherwise, they will lose their legitimacy.

The German ambassador said that people should never give up on what is happening in Gaza and should work on dialogue as a means of solving the problem.