It looks quite spectacular when a group of religious leaders from Lebanon walks in the streets of Copenhagen dressed in long robes and colorful hats. It is not an everyday-sight, when Sunni, Shia, Greek-Orthodox and Catholics are walking side by side – not in Denmark nor in Lebanon.
This group of people know each other quite well by now, as they have been working together since 2013 to develop educational material focusing on intercultural citizenship in Lebanon. Under the title Interfaith Education for Intercultural Citizenship (IIC) the group have been working with educational experts to develop a series of school books about intercultural citizenship. Together they have identified values that recurs across the major religions, and with these values as the foundation for citizenship, they highlight the similarities instead of the differences.
“The visions behind the interreligious education project is to promote intercultural and including understanding of the term citizenship in Lebanon. Together the group of experts and representatives from different religious institutions in Lebanon have developed educational material about intercultural citizenship, which is now being used in schools all over Lebanon. In continuation of the book publication, the teachers have been trained in how they can include other religions in their teachings,” explains program coordinator for the Middle East at Danmission, Stine Baltzer Madsen.
The seminar took place in Copenhagen from the 6th to the 9th of May. Among other things the participants visited the Bishop of Copenhagen, Peter Skov-Jakobsen, Danmission’s center for refugees and immigrants and the Imam Ali Mosque. Furthermore, Dr. Fadi Daou and Dr. Nayla Tabbara from Danmission’s partner organization, Adyan, participated in a debate at the University of Copenhagen. Here they debated “Where is the theology of religion today?” together with Professor Peter Lodberg and Imam Naveed Baig.
Denmark can learn from Lebanon
The seminar ended with a meeting at The Danish Parliament focusing on “The role of religion in the fight against polarization in our society”. Among the participants in the debate was the Danish politicians Zenia Stampe and Daniel Toft. During the meeting Zenia Stampe stressed that in Denmark we need more interreligious dialogue, as more refugees are coming to Denmark: “I believe that we in Denmark can learn a lot from Lebanon, which is a society build up by many cultures and religions and where there is a tradition to meet in dialogue.”
In Lebanon lives approximately 5 million people in an area smaller than Denmark. 18 recognized religious communities lives side by side, and additionally it is estimated that Lebanon has received more than two million Syrian refugees in recent years. “In Lebanon there is no national curriculum for teaching religion and consequently children and youth often receive teaching solely based on the specific religious tradition of their family. With the IIC material we wish to contribute to creating an alternative, that promotes a united Lebanese identity, that can embrace all religions and cultures,” elaborates Stine Baltzer Madsen from Danmission.
Each religion has a melody and rhythm, and it is important that someone can change these melodies into a symphony. – Sheikh Ousama Haddad
During the meeting at The Danish Parliament, where both politicians, experts and the civil society were represented, Daniel Toft stressed the importance of religion when it comes to integration and extremism: “Most Danes do not have a close relation to religion, and our skepticism against religion can sometimes cause polarization and hinder integration of refugees in our country. A better understanding of religion would improve our fight against extremism,” Daniel Toft stated.
The Danish Imam, Naveed Baig, also participated in the panel. He emphasized that Denmark should get inspired by the Lebanese: “If our educational material in our schools presents stereotypes, it will influence our idea of ‘the other’. Therefore, we need representatives in the schools in Denmark, who can introduce the pupils to different religions – as it has been done with the educational material developed through the IIC project,” Naveed Baig said.
Facts about IIC
IIC – Interfaith Educations for Intercultural Citizenship – is a cooperation between Danmission and the Lebanese organization Adyan, that is supported by the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme under the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The aim of the project is to promote an intercultural and including understanding of the term citizenship. The participants are representatives from different religious institutions in Lebanon, that cooperate on developing school books about citizenship to be used in the schools in Lebanon.
Adyan is an interreligious organization, with the purpose of strengthening the relations between religious groups in Lebanon and in the Arab world. Adyan was established in 2006 and since 2010 been cooperating closely with Danmission. Adyan works specially to increase awareness and knowledge about religious and interreligious topics particularly in pluralistic societies.