Interfaith group discusses peace

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With some of the world's violent conflict based in religion, it may be rare to find devout individuals working for peace.

Yet the number of religious people committed to peace service, work that directly addresses conflict through methods of active nonviolence, is growing in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the three "Abrahamic religions."

Six experts will come to Marquette Saturday to discuss the trend at an interfaith symposium sponsored by the Department of Theology, the Office of Mission and Identity and Global Peace Services USA, a nonprofit organization promoting peace service.

"We need to have as many conversations as possible to see how these religions collaborate," said Irfan Omar, co-chair of the symposium, board member of Global Peace Services and assistant professor of theology. "We need to keep up with the growing interest in ecumenism."

Two presenters from each of the Abrahamic religions will present their views on peace service. The symposium is structured so one expert presents his or her topic, and then another expert responds to the first's remarks. To avoid any confusion or surprises, both the presenter and respondent prepared their remarks in advance and are aware of what the other speaker is addressing, Omar said.

After the last speaker, there will be a question-and-answer session in which audience members can offer their opinions on peace service and question the experts about their beliefs.

"The symposium is designed to elicit multiple ideas from the audience," Omar said.

Topics such as the war on terrorism, the Israel/Palestine conflict and the war in Iraq are related to peace service, but will not be the main focus of the symposium, according to Omar.

While preventing a large-scale conflict such as a war is desirable, the idea of peace service focuses more on person-to-person, smaller-scale involvement, according to Michael Duffey, associate professor of theology and symposium presenter.

In Christianity, the peace service movement has grown throughout the last century. But other Christian denominations, such as the Mennonites and Quakers, have always sought peace in their attempts to follow the Christian Gospel's call to peace, Duffey said. He said he would focus in part on how Christian peace service has grown in Europe and the United States.

Islam has a violent image in the media, but the central teaching of Islam is peace, said A. Rashied Omar, a presenter and coordinator of the J.B. Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, in an e-mail interview.

"The global Muslim peace movement is currently inchoate (imperfectly formed or formulated) but surprisingly growing rapidly in challenging times," Rashied Omar said. He said he planned to "elucidate the Islamic concept of peace and its elusiveness in the contemporary world."

Rashied Omar also plans to offer suggestions for Islamic peace service. For example, he said he would like to see "the deployment of an inter-religious peace service to Darfur, Sudan, led by Muslims."

Another speaker, Amy Shapiro, professor of philosophy at Alverno College and director of the Holocaust Education and Resource Center for the Milwaukee Coalition for Jewish Learning, could not be reached for comment on her presentation of the Jewish perspective of peace studies.

The event, which is free, starts at 8:30 a.m. and lasts until 5 p.m. in the Alumni Memorial Union, room 227. The forum is open to the public.

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