From September 9-15th, Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, International Abbassador of the Abrahamic Reunion was on a speaking tour of New York State, stopping in Long Island, Rochester, and Buffalo.
“Sharing Holy Lands” – Orient Congregationalist Church, Long Island – September 9th
At the first event, in Long Island, Sheikh Ghassan participated in a panel discussion sharing the stage with Rabbi Gadi Capela of Congregation Tefireth Israel, Greenport, Long Island, and Dr. Donald Russo of Project Genesis, an interfaith education organization, for a discussion. The panel was organized by Rabbi Gadi and hosted by the Orient Congregationalist Church, the oldest church on Long Island. 50 people of all different faiths participated in the program which was followed by an interfaith vigil service.
“It was a unique opportunity to share a stage with Christian and Muslim colleagues for an interfaith dialogue,” writes Rabbi Gadi. “The main purpose of the discussion was to present our respective views of sharing holy sites and spaces, in the Holy Land and elsewhere. In a world that too often opts for division, we wanted to offer an alternative of sharing, not dividing. Of course, the event itself proved that we don’t need to let dogmas separate us.” Read Rabbi Gadi’s full message here.
Meeting with the Sufi Order of Rochester – September 10
On Sheikh Ghassan’s first evening in Rochester, he spoke to a group of 16 people, telling them about the Abrahamic Reunion and its work. He told stories about his start as a peacemaker and the early days of the Abrahamic Reunion. He explained that there is only one truth, and every person has a part of that truth. To get to the whole truth, people need to come together. And that, he says, is what his work as a peacemaker is about.
“Peacemaking in Times of Conflict” – The University of Rochester – September 11
The evening began with an intimate dinner with Jewish students from the university’s Hillel group. The students were very engaged in the conversation and asked Sheikh Ghassan lots of questions about what it means to be a peacemaker. They asked him about challenges he has faced and how he has overcome them. Over a delicious meal, he emphasized the power of food for bringing different people together.
After the dinner, Sheikh Ghassan gave a talk in the university’s interfaith chapel, sponsored by the Student Association for Interfaith Cooperation (SAIC). Speaking to a group of about 30 students, faculty, and staff on the anniversary of 9/11, he described his own experiences as a Muslim on that day, sixteen years ago. At first, he could not believe that what he was seeing on the television was real, thinking it was a movie. Then, he and his entire family began to pray for all of the people still under the demolished buildings. He then gathered friends from different faiths and they began to pray together, because “We lost very very great people at the time. These people belong to all of us. These people are part of our big family.” When people began to ask him what he would do about the attack, he said “Now I cannot do anything. It has already happened. But I can do things for the future.”
He went on to tell the group that someone can only be a peacemaker in times of conflict. In times of peace, there is no need for a peacemaker. He explained that war and conflict are created through fear, and that “only the brave people can create peace.” He also talked about the question that seems to divide the Abrahamic faiths: was Abraham’s sacrifice Isaac or Ishmael? According to Sheikh Ghassan, the answer is not so important. “If the sacrifice will be Isaac, he is my uncle. And if he will be Ishmael, he’s my father. In the end, the sacrifice will be from my family.”
Sheikh Ghassan then answered questions from those in attendance. Students were curious about how they could apply these lessons to their daily lives. One student from Pakistan asked how to create dialogue in places like his home, where most people “aren’t open towards the other ideas, not because they don’t want to, but just because they’ve never seen it, they don’t know it exists.” Here Ghassan stressed the importance of education. He also recommended seeking out those who hold different beliefs. Because even in Pakistan, where the majority of people are Muslim, there is still that minority that can be reached out to and brought into dialogue. At the reception following the talk, Sheikh Ghassan met with students from the Muslim Student Association, SAIC, Hillel, and other on campus faith groups, answering more questions and having discussions with them.
“From Trauma to Healing” – Western New York Peace Center, Buffalo – September 13
Sheikh Ghassan spoke to about 20 people at a talk titled “From Trauma to Healing.” He explained that “Ignorance is the big trauma. Not the conflict, not the wars. Ignorance is the big trauma in the world.” The true way to peace is through education. We must learn from each other, and in doing so, we can learn more about ourselves. “The other is your mirror,” he said, “You can see yourself through the face of the other.” He explained that God wants us to have differences, because “Through differences we can share knowledge.”
After speaking, Muslims, Jews, and Christians asked him more questions about his work and had discussions with him. When asked how to have difficult conversations, he said “Don’t come with a strategy to change the other. Change yourself and come.” He explained that when you are open and willing to change yourself and listen to the other, both of you will change.
On Friday the 15th, Sheikh Ghassan boarded a plane to return to Sarasota, Florida, after a week of meeting new friends and expanding the Abrahamic Reunion’s family.
Special thanks to those groups who sponsored Sheikh Ghassan Manasra on his tour: