CAFCAW Meeting in Jordan: Working for the Renewal of Religious Thought in the Arab World

It’s a wrap! #CAFCAW meeting @Dead Sea Marriott Resort & Spa, Jordan, January 2019 
CHRISTIAN ACADEMIC FORUM FOR CITIZENSHIP IN THE ARAB WORLD
– FOUNDING MEMBERS/BOARD
لتجديد الفكر والخطاب الديني في العالم العربي وتعزيز الوجود الفعال المسيحي والعمل من أجل مواطنة الوحدة في التنوع وكرامة الإنسان

Dr. Atef Gendy, Dr. Victor Makari, Maya Khadra, Dr. Mitri Raheb, Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Mary Mikhael

Intercultural Leadership Workshop

I gave this afternoon a workshop on Intercultural Leadership for students at the American University in Dubai. This activity was part of their Leadership Training Program. Intercultural Leadership has become a must for our institutions and companies’ development and success. It’s time to think of leadership in terms of a combination IQ-EQ-InterCQ instead of alpha-male/female leadership. Multicultural contexts require a balance between one’s core cultural values, flexibility and the disentanglement of knots [misconceptions], as well as authentic listening, humility, empathy, knowledge of cultural intricacies and behaviors, getting out of one’s comfort zone, openness, respect, and the search for unity in diversity.

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Middle Eastern Studies Forum: Peace through Arts

On the afternoon of April 11th, 2016, the Middle Eastern Studies Division at the School of Arts and Sciences held the last of its monthly MEST (Middle Eastern Studies) Forums of the 2015-2016 academic year, titled “Peace through Arts.” The event consisted of MEST students showcasing visual art, songs, poetry, dances, and food that symbolize peace.

The organizers, Dr. Nadia Wardeh and Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, began the event with short introductory speeches. Dr. Wardeh presented first a dictionary definition of peace: “a state of non-violence or truce” and stressed the importance for peace to become “the nature of the human state, not a temporary phase in human life.” She then emphasized the “ripple effect,” in which everyday actions such as a smile or a hug between individuals can easily lead to world peace. According to Dr. Wardeh: “To say it frankly, unfortunately, peace is what is missing in the world around us (…). In our war-torn world, it seems like there are no human values, thus, no peace. But today we want to prove that peace can be big and small, seen in the entire globe or in brief moments.  Indeed, peace is what we are doing today (…). Think of when you drop a stone in a pond. It generates a small ripple at first, but after a while, that little ripple spreads throughout the entire pond. Now, think of world peace. If someone apologizes to someone else, if someone smiles to someone else, if someone feels the meaning of the greeting he/she uses all of time, Peace be upon you, imagine what we can achieve!”

Dr. Chrabieh followed by specifying the fundamental motivations behind organizing this event: “The madness of some religionists who try to win followers by hook or by crook and the misinterpretation of sacred scriptures for various interests have led to religious persecutions and holy wars. Despite these terrible experiences, as Middle Eastern Studies faculty and students, we believe that religions’ fundamentals play an essential role in people’s search for inner peace and peace in society. We believe that war begins in the minds of people, therefore it is in the minds of people that peace should be constructed”. According to Dr. Chrabieh, the pillars of peace’s defenses are dialogue, education, mutual respect and conviviality. “Differences in religious beliefs and practices should not hinder the progress of many individuals and communities working for common causes such as the causes of humanity and peace. The Middle Eastern Studies division envisions an AUD community in which people of different backgrounds and identities live together in respect and mutual support, creating paths to peace. Today, we celebrate this vision and the initiatives of many professors and students who work in harmony and cooperate in the true spirit of service (…); we celebrate through various arts. Art has the potential to raise awareness. It also serves as an avenue for creative and collaborative learning, and engagement”.

Following the introduction that also included the recitation of sacred scriptures emphasizing peace by Dr. Wardeh and Dr. Chrabieh, Qamar Tahboub, student host of the day, announced the performances awaiting the participants: Christian and Islamic heritages in songs, Dabke dance as a symbol of unity in diversity, peace poetry recitation – from Palestine, Azerbaijan, Japan… – and self-produced poems by students. Hala Abulhawa’s poem for instance narrated her inner thoughts from when she was first introduced to the “Peace Through Arts” event. Abulhawa explained her initial difficulty in thinking about a way to represent peace, and finally concluded that “[she] realized [she] could not just find peace in the air […] it comes from within us.” Omar Shazly’s poem, written in Arabic, responded to the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists, pointing out that the very name “Islam” is derived from the word “peace” in Arabic. Videos of all these powerful performances and more can be found on Dr. Chrabieh’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/nemr76

The final event of the forum was the “peace buffet,” in which food brought in by students from different cultures was shared. The students who prepared the food provided explanations on its meanings while serving it to their peers. The food was united under the theme of peace; some dishes are traditionally made to welcome visitors, and represent hospitality, while others are made on wedding days and represent joyful community occasions, or represent national unity such as Tabboule in Lebanon.

During the buffet there was a screening of videos created by Dr. Chrabieh’s Islamic Art and Architecture students. Participants were also invited to visit the art exhibition held at the entrance of the venue, which featured paintings, calligraphy, digital images, photography, and installations about peace, all created by Dr. Chrabieh’s students. Dr. Chrabieh shared also the story of a real life example of peace achieved through art. In Redlands, California, a mass shooting caused few months ago the rise of Islamophobia in the region. A good friend of Dr. Chrabieh, Katia Aoun Hage, organized an Arabic calligraphy workshop for students at the Grove School, a public school in Redlands. Ms. Hage is a musician, poet and art teacher, and used her artistic skills to teach the Grove School students the calligraphic strokes of the Arabic letters. During the session, Ms. Hage was able to deconstruct misconceptions and build bridges, truly embodying “peace art.”

The Forum and real life examples of peace achieved through various arts provided a hopeful conclusion to the semester, inspiring all individuals present to cast their own ripples of peace in the world. Dr. Wardeh concluded with a poetic note: “The MEST Division’s mission is to break any cultural, religious, ethnic, and social barriers among people and to build bridges of acceptance, tolerance, respect and appreciation of the “other”.  I had tears in my eyes and my heart danced while watching MEST students eagerly and actively contributing to and participating in this event. I can claim that today, we have succeeded in finding an amazing ideal kingdom of love and peace.  Our kingdom is composed of diverse musical notes which was built by each citizen in the MEST program. Today our message was: religions and wisdom command love, tolerance and forgiveness to bring the entire world together around peace”.

Dr. Chrabieh also concluded with the important function of art: “that of helping in creating and promoting a culture of peace; this culture is not something we wish for or an unattainable ideal; it is a culture we make, we embody and we share”.

Credits: Dr. Pamela Chrabieh and Ms. Haeley Ahn

Dialogue through Religious Arts

I was invited by the Visual Cultures Department and Dr. Woodman Taylor at the American University in Dubai to present a conference entitled ‘Dialogue through Religious Arts: the case of Syrian Aleppo Icons’ – April 6, 2016.

For a summary of my conference: AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN DUBAI

http://www.aud.edu/news_events/en/view/1216/current_upcoming/visual-cultures-forum-dialogue-through-religious-arts

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An Interreligious Tour in Abu Dhabi

AUD students enrolled in the MEST 350 Religions of the Middle East visited three churches and a mosque in Abu Dhabi with Assistant Professor in Middle Eastern Studies Dr. Pamela Chrabieh on Saturday, March 26, 2016.

The first stop was at the Saint Andrew’s Center, an Anglican compound with more than 40 Christian worshipping groups, built in 1975. Students visited the Saint Nicholas Greek-Orthodox church that has worshippers from many Arab countries – mostly Palestinians, Syrian and Lebanese – with masses combining Arabic and Greek. There are more than 700 Abu Dhabi families registered with this church, and Greek Orthodox Christians are building a Cathedral in Mussaffah to accommodate the growing community. Saint Nicholas church includes a magnificent iconostasis and icons from Greece. Students had the opportunity to learn about Saint Nicholas, to discover liturgical and theological elements of one of the Patriarchate of Antioch’s Churches, and compare them to Catholic features.

They then visited the Seventh-Day Adventist church in located in the same compound. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the 7th day of the week as the Sabbath, and its emphasis on the imminent Second Coming or Advent of Jesus-Christ. Students observed one part of the Saturday service that included a sermon, singing, scripture reading and prayer.

Lastly, students visited the Saint Andrew’s Anglican church that clearly presents a different layout in terms of architecture and religious symbolism, with its high ceilings to accommodate large windows, allowing light to flood the church as a reminded that “God’s Church is the Light of Christ in the world”. Saint Andrew’s congregation is a member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion and part of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

The second stop was at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This mosque was initiated by the late president H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to build a place of worship which unites the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, as well as the historical and modern values of architecture and art. It is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Its design and construction uses artisans and materials such as marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics from many countries, including Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Greece and United Arab Emirates. Open to both Muslims and non-Muslims, the mosque plays a pioneering role in intercultural and interreligious dialogue, in addition to abiding to the teachings of Islam in order to spread peace.

According to Dr. Chrabieh, “Although Islam is the official religion of the country, the United Arab Emirates have always advocated freedom of religion. The constitution guarantees the ‘freedom to exercise religious worship in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals’ (Article 32). Religious minorities include Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Baha’i and Druze. Places of worship range from churches to Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh temples. The story of these communities in the United Arab Emirates challenges the stereotypes people elsewhere have of Southwestern Asia and Islam. It is a story that needs to be told more – that of tolerance, mutual respect and conviviality”.

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Innovation Week: The Diplomacy of the Dish – Culinary Festival

Source: American University in Dubai News

AUD Faculty, students and staff who are interested in learning about the cultural diversity of the Southwestern Asian and North African regions through food, as well as in having a visceral experience of the unknown/ inexperienced while participating in an intercultural dialogic platform, are invited to attend one of the many Culinary Festival sessions that will take place at the American University in Dubai from Monday, November 23 till Tuesday, December 8, 2015, as part of the MEST-318 Cultures of the Middle East courses.

MEST students will be presenting their final projects, consisting of a short oral and visual presentation of the food they will individually prepare – unfamiliar cultures and foods to them -, and their dish for a collective degustation.

Culinary Festival Sessions (Fall 2015)

Monday, Nov. 23 E-202, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 24 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 25 E-202, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 26 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 29 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 30 E-202, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 1 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 6 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 7 E-202, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 8 E-405, 2:00 – 2:50 p.m.
Contact Person: Dr. Pamela ChrabiehWhy the Food and the Discovery of the Unfamiliar?

Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture” (Mark Kurlansky, ‘Choice Cuts’, 2002).

Most people are introduced to a culture’s cuisine before they decide they want to learn more about it. When we cook, eat and drink unfamiliar types of food, we have a visceral experience of foreignness brought into our bodies and minds, which contributes to the process of familiarization, thus helps students face Xenophobia (the fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange) and Food Neophobia (the fear of eating new or unfamiliar foods) by repeated exposure to unfamiliar/novel foods. The process of familiarization opens the door for dialogue, the recognition of differences, mutual respect and the search for a common ground – for what unites in the diversity of legacies and stories.

Food is a life force and a good meal fosters a strong connection between individuals, a convivial relation beyond mere coexistence. When we gather to share the physicality of the food and the cultural knowledge (historical, political, religious and social knowledge related to the prepared food, Global foodways, Culinary colonialism and neo-colonialism, Culinary nationalism, Culinary interpenetrations and fusion, Culinary/Cultural wars) that accompanies the praxis of cooking and eating together (commensality), when we think about the food, prepare it and serve it together, we share bits and pieces of our belongings and our glocal (global/local) identities, bits and pieces of our lives with our commonalities and our differences. In my classrooms, I focus on creating awareness that behind the foods we eat, there are stories of wars and hardship, conflicts and fear, but also reconciliation, positive relationships, resilience, empowerment and solidarity that merit study.

When food and cuisine are used as instruments of peace, as tools of soft power and communication, when language alone is not enough, we create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions in cooperation. This form of cultural diplomacy is called the Culinary Diplomacy or Gastrodiplomacy, and it is being recognized in Southeastern Asia for instance in South Korea, Thailand, Japan and Malaysia as a form of edible nation branding – a growing trend in public diplomacy. Scholarship on Gastrodiplomacy is burgeoning and will certainly expand in the upcoming years.

About my Pedagogical Approach:
Learning through food has become an essential component of all my courses since 2004 in:

  • Canada, at the Université de Montréal (with +1000 students – majority of French Québécois and minorities of immigrants, 2004-2006);
  • Lebanon (with +3000 students from different religious and political backgrounds in three universities, in a context of continuous physical/psychological war, 2007-2014);
  • The UAE, at the American University in Dubai (with a 100+ national identities, ethnic identities and religions to manage in classrooms, since 2014).
Learning through food is a major application of my Peace Education approach that aims to cultivate the knowledge and practice of a culture of peace. Wars start in the human mind, and Peace Education plays an important role in individual and collective mindset changes from classrooms to communities. Students learn to develop cultural awareness and communication strategies in an intercultural setting. They learn to deconstruct stereotypes and construct alternative narratives. They learn to reflect on the subjectivity of their own cultural patterns, to step outside boundaries and discover the fluidity of cultural frontiers. They learn to share responsibility for the act of learning while using all their senses. They learn to understand and experience unity in human diversity through dialogue. They learn about peace by gaining peace knowledge, and more, by doing peace.Other examples of activities I have been implementing in my classrooms since 2004 include field trips; intercultural/interreligious gatherings in galleries, museums and sacred spaces; visual art workshops including art therapy sessions; outdoor agoras; meditation sessions; virtual dialogue platforms; storytelling/story sharing sessions; as well as singing and dancing, to name just a few.

I have been presenting numerous conferences about my Peace perspective and educational approach since 2000/2001 – Canada, Lebanon, Italy, France, UK (Oxford University), Japan, Turkey, Cyprus, USA (University of California), Hungary, Czech Republic, UAE…– and publishing articles, academic papers and book chapters, in French, English and Arabic. All of my 7 books include information about my Peace perspective and activities as an educator, scholar-researcher, activist and artist.

– See more at: http://www.aud.edu/news_events/en/view/1007/current_upcoming/innovation-week-the-diplomacy-of-the-dish-culinary-festival#sthash.MmBLz9XV.dpuf

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