Iran Exchange

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					Mennonite Central Committee
Peace Office Publication
July–September 2001
Volume 31, Number 3

Iran Exchange
IN THIS ISSUE                  Introduction
 3 Dislocated for Service
   Maren Tyedmars Hange          ne of the challenges for Christians is to      This is but an illustration of the kind of
   and Roy Hange               Orelate to the other, the person or group        understanding and deep respect that can
                               that does not behave and believe as we do.       come from the student exchange program
 7 The Exchange Program
                                                                                with Iran that Mennonite Central Commit-
   Seen from Iran              For me one of the most powerful encounters       tee has been engaged in for four years.
   Muhammad Legenhausen        of this type was getting to know and work-
                               ing alongside Muslim colleagues in Palestine     When two countries have been in conflict for
 9 MCC Exchange Program        during our MCC terms there. Observing            decades, as Iran and the United States have,
   Brings Iranian Muslims to   their obvious piety and commitment to            such exchanges can lead to greater under-
   Toronto to Study Theology   constant prayer was a challenge to my own        standing and make it more difficult
   Carol Penner                spirituality, and made it impossible to think    for governments to demonize the enemy.
                               of them as people without faith in God.
10 An Intellectual Journey                                                      Peacemaking through student exchange?
   Yousef Daneshvar                                                             Find out how it works as you read these
                                                                                accounts by participants.

                               MCC and Iran
                               By Ed Martin

                                n June 1990, a terrible earthquake devas-       United States and the Islamic Republic of
                               Itated many villages in Gilan and Zanjan         Iran, MCC considered it important to try
                               provinces in the northwest of the Islamic        to promote friendship and understanding
                               Republic of Iran. This tragedy, resulting in     between the people of Iran and North
                               the death of an estimated 30,000 people,         America.
                               was the starting point for Mennonite Cen-
                               tral Committee’s involvement with the peo-       Responding to Disaster
                               ple of Iran.
                                                                                In its initial response to the earthquake,
                               Despite having no prior experience or con-       MCC provided medical supplies to the
                               tacts in Iran, MCC wanted to respond to          Iranian Red Crescent Society (the Iranian
                               the disaster because of the magnitude of         equivalent of the Red Cross). MCC was
                               human suffering and to demonstrate our           also interested in long-term reconstruction
                               commitment to provide assistance to people       following the earthquake. A four-person
                               in need “without racial, gender, religious, or   MCC delegation visited Iran in early Janu-
                               political qualification.” Given the poor state    ary 1991, toured the area devastated by the
                               of relations between the governments of the
                                        earthquake, and met with a number of offi-       While developing the relationship with the
Sadreddin Sadr, then director gen-      cials of the Iranian Red Crescent Society       Iranian Red Crescent Society and following
eral of international affairs for the   and government agencies responsible for         up on the village health clinic project with
Iranian Red Crescent, spent four        reconstruction. MCC decided to provide          the Housing Foundation, I was able to visit
months as international partner in      financial assistance to the Housing Founda-      Iran at least once a year, see much of the
residence in MCC’s Washington
                                        tion and Ministry of Health and Medical         work of the Society and the Housing Foun-
Office in 1995.
                                        Education for the construction and equip-       dation, and meet a number of Iranians, both
In Washington, Mr. Sadr helped MCC      ping of fifteen village health clinics in the    officials and private citizens. Often, one or
staff and other church advocacy         region affected by the earthquake.              two other MCC staff traveled with me.
offices to better understand Iranian
culture, religion, and politics. His    After the Persian Gulf War of 1991, which
                                                                                        Developing an Exchange Program
warmth, compassion, good humor,         resulted in more than a million Iraqi
and stories offered a human face        refugees entering Iran, MCC extended its        From the beginning of its involvement in
in sharp contrast to local media        work in Iran by contributing to the Iranian     Iran, MCC wanted to promote more interac-
images and U.S. State Department        Red Crescent Society’s refugee relief work.
briefings on Iran.
                                                                                        tion between North American Mennonites
                                        An American doctor and social worker were       and Iranians by finding ways in which MCC
Washington Office staff described        provided to work in one of the refugee          personnel could live in Iran and Iranians
to Mr. Sadr how MCC works at con-       camps for the summer of 1991. Food com-         could be hosted by Mennonites in Canada
stituency education and political       modities, school kits, and blankets were        and the U.S. One way that seemed to offer
advocacy in ways that represent the     shipped to Iran for the Iraqi refugees, and     this possibility was a student exchange pro-
concerns of MCC’s partners in North     cash grants were provided to the Iranian        gram, similar to MCC’s experience with
America and abroad.                     Red Crescent Society to purchase food and       Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Under
Sadr’s time in the Washington Office     other commodities in Iran.                      this program, MCC sent students to study
came at a particularly tense time                                                       in universities in cities such as Warsaw,
                                        In addition to the earthquake and refugee
in U.S.-Iranian relations. During his                                                   Belgrade, Prague, and East Berlin. This
visit, the United States announced      assistance, MCC has contributed to other
                                                                                        enabled North American Mennonites to
new trade sanctions against Iran        disaster relief and social service programs
                                                                                        make friends with people living in Commu-
and committed funds to destabilize      of the Iranian Red Crescent Society. The
                                                                                        nist countries that were not easily accessible
the government of Iran.                 relationship with the Iranian Red Crescent
                                                                                        to people of Canada and the U.S.
                                        Society is very important to MCC.
— Daryl Byler,
  MCC Washington Office                                                                  In exploring the possibility of a student
                                        MCC’s relationship with the Iranian Red
                                                                                        exchange with an institute or university in
                                        Crescent Society was greatly facilitated by
                                                                                        Iran, I was encouraged to make contact with
                                        Mr. Sadreddin Sadr, then director general for
                                                                                        Iran’s permanent mission to the United
                                        international affairs. Mr. Sadr had a vision
                                                                                        Nations in New York. One of the staff, Dr.
                                        for how the collaboration of MCC, a Christ-
                                                                                        Seyed Kazem Sajjadpour (currently director
                                        ian humanitarian agency from Canada and
                                                                                        general of the Institute for Political and
                                        the United States, and the Iranian Red Cres-
                                                                                        International Studies in Tehran), was inter-
                                        cent Society, an essentially Muslim organiza-
                                                                                        ested in the proposal, as was then Ambas-
                                        tion from Iran, could contribute to building
                                                                                        sador Dr. Kamal Kharrazzi (currently the
                                        bridges of friendship and understanding
                                                                                        Iranian minister of foreign affairs).
                                        between the peoples of Iran and North
                                        America in addition to serving the needs of     Dr. Sajjadpour and Dr. Kharrazzi’s support
                                        refugees and victims of disasters.              for the proposal was essential to its success-
                                                                                        ful development. They took the proposal to
                                        He was a great promoter of this cooperation
                                                                                        Iran, and the Imam Khomeini Education and
                                        within his organization and, I am sure, to
                                                                                        Research Institute (IKERI) in Qom, Iran,
Under the program, students             the Iranian government. Without his vision,
                                                                                        responded favorably to the proposal.
from the Imam Khomeini                  I am sure MCC’s involvement in Iran would
                                        not have expanded the way that it has and       In April 1997, MCC executive director Ron
Education and Research
                                        may never have progressed beyond the first       Mathies and I went to Qom to negotiate
Institute are able to study             shipment of medical supplies.                   with IKERI the arrangement for a student
in seminaries or universities                                                           exchange program. Under the program, stu-
                                        MCC was very privileged to host Mr. Sadr
in Canada and the U.S., and                                                             dents from the Institute are able to study in
                                        as an international partner in residence in
MCC can send students to                                                                seminaries or universities in Canada and the
                                        the MCC Washington office for five months
                                                                                        U.S., and MCC can send students to study
study at the Institute in Qom.          in 1995. His interactions with the MCC
                                                                                        at the Institute in Qom. MCC pays the living
                                        staff and reporting to the MCC executive
                                                                                        and education costs of the Iranian students
                                        committee were extremely informative, and
                                                                                        studying in North America, and the Institute
                                        his compassion and the faith basis for his
                                                                                        pays the same costs for the North American
                                        humanitarian work were evident.
                                                                                        students studying in Qom.

2 MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001
This agreement was completed one month           Breaking Down Barriers
before Mohammad Khatami was elected
president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.       This exchange program allows Mennonites
Soon after the election, President Khatami       from Canada and the United States to live
proposed a Dialogue Among Civilizations          among the people of Iran and to study some-
and suggested the exchange of scholars,          thing that is very important to Iranians—
artists, and athletes between Iran and the       Islam, their religion. The Iranians are able          By living together and study-
United States.                                   to study Christian theology and Western               ing each other’s religions,
                                                 philosophy while living among Mennonites
                                                                                                       North American Mennonites
The first MCC-sponsored students, Roy             in Toronto. In the dialogue, North American
and Maren Tyedmars Hange, went to Qom            Mennonites are also able to communicate               and Iranian Muslims are able
in early 1998 (see the article by the Hanges,    their understanding of Christianity to their          to better understand and
below). They studied Farsi and Islam, and        Iranian friends, and the Iranian Muslims can          respect
Roy participated in a class on Christianity      explain their understanding of Islam to their
taught at the Institute.                         North American friends.                               each other and to become
In the fall of 1998, Yousef Daneshvar, along     By living together and studying each other’s
with his wife and two children, came to          religions, North American Mennonites and
Toronto as the first Iranian student under        Iranian Muslims are able to better under-
the exchange program (see the article by         stand and respect each other and to become
Mr. Daneshvar, p. 10). He is studying phi-       friends. It is our hope that this dialogue will
losophy of religion at Regis College of the      contribute to better understanding between
Toronto School of Theology. A second stu-        the peoples of Iran and of North America.
dent, Muhammad Farimani, accompanied
by his wife and son, arrived in Toronto in       I personally feel very fortunate to have had
the spring of 1999. Mr. Farimani is also         the opportunity to visit Iran a number of
studying philosophy of religion at Regis         times over the past ten years and to make
College.                                         many Iranian friends. The development of
                                                 MCC’s relationship with the Islamic Repub-
Evelyn and Wallace Shellenberger have very       lic of Iran is something that came as a com-
recently received their student visas to enter   plete surprise to me, and I am richly blessed
Iran to study in Qom. In addition to their       to have been part of this unique program. It
study at the Institute, Evelyn hopes to be       is my hope that, with God’s leading, it will
able to do some volunteer work with an           continue to develop.
Iranian social service agency that works
with women and children.                         Ed Martin is director of Central and South
                                                 Asia programs for MCC.

Dislocated for Service
By Maren Tyedmars Hange and Roy Hange

   hat does the Lord require of us? How          nurture and sustain us? On our journey of
Woften do we ask ourselves this question?        faith and service we cannot assume any-
We express it in different ways: we wonder       thing but God’s faithfulness.
about our calling, the meaning of life, our
next steps, where we are headed, how we          Abraham and Sarah
go about our work and our lives, and how
we relate to the people around us. We have       Throughout the Old and New Testament we
many choices to make to be faithful in our       find God’s people moving around into new
lives and many of those choices we don’t         communities, wandering the land from one
even think about until we are forced into        place to another like Abraham and Sarah,
                                                 Jacob with his families, Moses and the peo-           How do we love the
ever new situations.
                                                 ple.                                                  stranger? How do we
What does the Lord require of us when                                                                  learn from and teach
we go somewhere where we are strangers,          Jesus and the disciples went from one place
or when we have strangers come into our          to another teaching and healing people, the           strangers?
community? How do we love the stranger?          apostle Paul traveled to start and sustain
How do we learn from and teach strangers?        new churches and communities. They were
How do we welcome others or receive hos-         on the journey of faith and founded ways of
pitality? Where do we find community to          God’s faithfulness.
                                                                                continued on page 4

                                                                                    MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001   3
                                     Abraham was seventy-five years old when he          presence of the Lord: when we didn’t feel it
                                     left Haran, his friends, relatives, the familiar   in familiar ways; in a place where people
                                     places. He went to Canaan, on to Bethel and        wondered how to relate to you since you
                                     the Negev, all the way down to Egypt and           were considered ritually unclean; where you
                                     back up again to Hebron. Abraham did this          constantly saw war and martyrdom, even of
                                     because God said, Go. He might have stayed         young teens, idealized on TV; where I had to
                                     in each place long enough to make new              hide myself in a black chador; and where the
                                     friends, to start feeling at home. Maybe he        five-year-old son of a classmate of mine one
                                     said to God at some point, Hey, I am getting       day came home from day care, which our
                                     tired of this. I don’t want to move one more       daughter also attended, marching around
                                     time, get used to one more custom or one           the living room chanting “Death to Amer-
Much of MCC’s work is
                                     more culture, pack my bags again, get on my        ica!” which he learned at the daycare. There
wandering in strange lands           camel once again.                                  I could cry out with the psalmist in Psalm
to see what is good to do                                                               69:1–3:
                                     Or maybe he trusted in God and simply
and how it is good to be with        followed God’s order and everything fell in          Save me, O God,
the simple trust that God will       place for him. Our daughter Karina thinks                for the waters have come up to my neck.
                                     wherever her parents are is home, and she            I sink in deep mire,
be in the midst of our work.
                                     takes it for normal that we move to a new                where there is no foothold;
                                                                                          I have come into deep waters,
                                     place every couple months. She has not lived
                                                                                              and the flood sweeps over me.
                                     in one place for more than four months in            I am weary with my crying;
                                     the last two years. She has a simple trust               my throat is parched.
                                     that we will take care of her.                       My eyes grow dim
                                                                                              with waiting for my God.
                                     Much of MCC’s work is wandering in
                                     strange lands to see what is good to do and        But there was also light. There were many
                                     how it is good to be with the simple trust         people who invited us into their lives, who
                                     that God will be in the midst of our work.         shared a meal with us in their home, who
                                                                                        helped us when we didn’t know our way
                                     Arriving in Iran                                   around. These were people who saw them-
                                                                                        selves as descendants of Abraham and
                                     Several years ago we went with MCC to              Hagar and extended their generous hospi-
                                     Iran, to the city of Qom, the center of            tality to us.
                                     Islamic study, where Ayatollah Khomeini
                                     had studied, and where today students from         Stories of Encounter
                                     all over the world prepare themselves to
                                     become religious leaders of their Muslim           There was Heideh, who in the beginning
Their eighteen-year-old              communities and to prepare for the Islamic         of our time in Qom took me around the
daughter Mariam knocked              revolution—a faith-based movement to               market to show me the best places to go
on our door and brought us a         change the political face of the world.            shopping for food and other things. And as
                                                                                        we were buying some vegetables, another
bowl of soup for lunch. This         We were invited by a faith community as            woman approached us and started talking.
was our first real meal in our        part of an exchange program, but this time it      I figured she was begging but couldn’t
                                     was a Muslim community, unlike the Christian       understand what she said. What happened
                                     community we lived with in Damascus.               was that the woman didn’t have enough
                                     There were and are no Christians living in         money to buy food for lunch, and she asked
                                     Qom. We were the first and only ones. The           my friend Heideh to buy a cauliflower for
                                     closest Christian community was two and            her, which she did because of the friendliness
                                     a half hours away in Tehran. What did the          of the woman begging.
                                     Lord require of us in such a situation? How
                                     were we to walk in the ways of the Lord            There was the Iraqi refugee family, our
                                     when we were alone? Where were we to find           neighbors in the first place we lived in.
                                     ourselves in the presence of the Lord?             On one of the first days, when we had
                                                                                        barely any food in the house because we
                                     There were no structures in place to walk          were still learning where to go shopping,
                                     in God’s ways as we knew them, no church           their eighteen-year-old daughter Mariam
                                     nearby that invited us to worship, no group        knocked on our door and brought us a
                                     welcoming us to their Bible study, or for          bowl of soup for lunch. This was our first
                                     fellowship. Where were we to look for the          real meal in our home.

4 MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001
Then there was the Yazdani family with           from community—in Christ’s alienation,
their six children. They were an example in         which became our inclusion
hospitality and whenever we had a problem
                                                 from hope—in the cross’s apparent defeat,
we could count on Mr. Yazdani. One time
                                                    which became the hope of the world
when we had to take Karina to the hospital
                                                 from justice—in the cross’s injustice where
                                                                                                       Through a faithful allocation
in the middle of the night, he was there to
translate and insisted on staying with us for       God’s merciful justice was revealed                of finances and personnel,
a few hours until she was released.              from Jesus’ family—yet where the family of            MCC has chosen to dislocate
There were many times when the encounter            God was truly begun                                itself and its constituency
between our faiths provided new insights.        from peace—yet where the War of the Lamb              positively toward its sup-
We both studied the Qur’an and Islamics but         was begun                                          posed religious and political
we also taught.                                                                                        enemy Iran, and is now see-
                                                 The cross as the ultimate dislocation of God
Roy taught The Politics of Jesus by John         is then the grace                                     ing the fruits.
Howard Yoder to a group of Muslim pro-
fessors who teach Christianity at several        that separates us from our sin
seminaries in Qom, which led to many fas-          relocates us in God’s love and reign
cinating discussions about who Jesus was
and what the role of faith is in the world         and empowers us to give and live
today.                                               in service

Later Maren began teaching the daughter of       And it is so with the dislocations in our
one of the professors at the institute where     lives:
Roy was studying. We studied the history
                                                 the death of loved ones
of the church, beginning with the Acts of the
Apostles. Fatima will one day become a pro-      moving to serve in new lands
fessor of Christianity and this was a chance     exile
for her to learn from a Christian rather than
from books only.                                 birth
                                                 life changes
Through a faithful allocation of finances
and personnel, MCC has chosen to dislocate       early terminations
itself and its constituency positively toward
its supposed religious and political enemy
Iran, and is now seeing the fruits.              becoming refugees

From our perpetual dislocations the last         These dislocations are times when almost
years and our reflections on MCC’s role in          everything ends and everything can
dislocating its constituency over the years        begin again.
through overseas service, we have come to        These are times when God seems most
see more clearly that the journeys of faith in     distant,
all of the Scriptures began in dislocation:
                                                 yet when we can be born again                         The cross as the ultimate
the banishment from Eden                           into the arms of God.                               dislocation of God is then
the destruction of the earth by flood             For our dislocations are a reminder of our            the grace that separates us
Abraham’s sojourn through the land                                                                     from our sin, relocates us
                                                 a reminder that it is our spirits alone that          in God’s love and reign, and
sojourn to and slavery in Egypt                     matter the most
                                                                                                       empowers us to give and
the exodus and wandering in the wilderness       our dislocations become the greater Lenten            live in service.
numerous exiles in strange lands                   seasons of our lives
the ethnic cleansings reported in the books      when all is stripped away and we are told by
  of Maccabees                                    life’s circumstances the very words of the
                                                  ritual of Ash Wednesday when the ashes
the alienation from the land by Greek and
                                                  are put on the forehead:
  Roman occupation
                                                   “You are dust and to dust you will
In light of all this we can see that for Jesus       return.”
the cross was the ultimate dislocation:                                         continued on page 6
from God—in Jesus’ sense of being forsaken
   even as a revelation of God’s love

                                                                                    MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001   5
                                     We all then know that who we are is how         He did so reflecting on the spirit of service
                                      we are held in the arms of God,                he saw there in lives dislocated from their
                                                                                     own concerns toward the needs of others.
For as we are held—so                how we are held in the grace of the cross,
we should then hold the              for the cross for Jesus was both profoundly     These acts from fifty years ago are still echo-
                                       personal and political.                       ing through history and hearts.
world as we in MCC serve
the world “In the Name of            For as we are held—so we should then hold       And in telling this story we now charge you
                                       the world as we in MCC serve the world        as a committee to write the music of mercy
                                       “In the Name of Christ.”                      that will echo through the next millennium.
                                     We do so dislocated from our personal and       By leading and calling us into being a
                                      national interests                             community that finds God’s freedom in
                                     and are then freed up to see the world          dislocation:
                                       as it is,
                                                                                     to walk the razor’s edge of the world’s
                                     to walk freely and peaceably in the midst          conflicts calling for a peaceable way
                                        of its supposed divisions,
                                                                                     to send workers into the middle zones of
                                     and to meet needs as we are able.                  development and relief work
                                     One more story is necessary here from our       to speak seeing our words as hammer blows
                                     time in Syria:                                     on the swords of contention

                                     When Konrad Raiser, head of the World           May your hope for the world in this new
                                     Council of Churches, visited Damascus the       millennium be as fierce and gentle as God’s
                                     Grand Mufti hosted a meal at the Orient         love and mercy made known in one crucified
                                     Club. Through MCC’s connections to the          on a cross.
                                     Middle East Council of Churches, Maren
                                     and I were invited.                             May your work be blessed by the whimsical
                                                                                     joy of the Spirit’s doing a new thing through
                                     We happened to be seated at a table with        you.
                                     the local head of the U.N. Development
                                     Program, the Grand Mufti’s main English         And may your labors here be under the light
                                     translator, and a Muslim convert friend of      yoke of the Incarnate One who is yet pulling
                                     his from the United States. As the conversa-    the world toward wholeness.
                                     tion moved to MCC’s work and the Muslim         Amen.
                                     friend of the Grand Mufti’s translator told
May your work be blessed             the story of when he had been with MCC          Roy Hange and Maren Tyedmars Hange are
                                     workers after World War 2 taking horses to      copastors of Charlottesville (Va.) Mennonite
by the whimsical joy of the          Europe by ship.                                 Church. Roy formerly served with MCC in
Spirit’s doing a new thing                                                           Egypt, Syria, and Iran, and Maren in Syria
                                     In the midst of two hours of linen, crystal,    and Iran. This article is adapted from a
through you.
                                     and the smell of fine food, when this Ameri-     devotional at an MCC executive committee
                                     can Muslim remembered two weeks on a            meeting.
                                     ship with the smell of hundreds of horses, he
                                     turned to the Grand Mufti’s translator and
                                     said: “There should be more Mennonites in
                                     the world.”

6 MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001
The Exchange Program Seen from Iran
By Muhammad Legenhausen

   hen Ed Martin sent an e-mail requesting        Today, we face common enemies that
Wan article on the Iranian perspective            threaten the two great divine religions of
toward the student exchange program               Islam and Christianity, and so we sense
agreed to by Mennonite Central Committee          a redoubled responsibility to come closer
and the Imam Khomeini Education and               together and to exchange ideas so that we
Research Institute (IKERI), I thought that        may combat these common enemies. This
the best way to comply would be with an           necessitates that we have more information
interview of Ayatullah Misbah, the founder        about each other’s thinking, that we have
and director of IKERI. The interview took         honest friendly relations, and that we
place on March 18, 2001, and what follows         become informed of the message of the
is a transcription made from an audio-            prophets that is in their hands, and that they       Just as Muslims are obligat-
cassette recording.                               should be informed of the message of the
                                                                                                       ed to have faith in
                                                  prophets that is with us, especially that of
LEGENHAUSEN: In the Name of Allah, the            the Prophet of Islam. Then we can make               the Prophet of Islam, and
Merciful, the Compassionate. With all due         more progress toward our common goals.               to revere him, we are also
respect, I would like to ask you a few ques-
tions regarding the student exchange pro-         One of the best ways to achieve this is to           obligated to have this faith
gram we have had for the past several years       send our students to the non-Muslim coun-            in all the prophets, and to
with MCC. The first question I would like to       tries, especially to attend universities man-        confirm and revere all of
ask is: What motivates our Institute’s partici-   aged by Christians themselves, devoted to
pation in this program?                           the promotion of their own religion and the
                                                  exposition of their creed, so that they can
AYATULLAH MISBAH: In the Name of Allah,           learn about the Christian religion from the
the Merciful, the Compassionate. Praise be        Christians themselves. Parallel to this is that
to God, the Lord of the worlds, and saluta-       when Christians are within an Islamic coun-
tions and blessings to Muhammad and his           try to hear about Islam from Muslims, it is
pure household. On the basis of what we           less likely that foreign distorting factors or
have learned from Islam, God Almighty cre-        those with malicious intentions to distort the
ated man to know His way to felicity, the         teachings of Islam will influence them.
way to nearness to God, and of one’s own
free choice to follow that way, and as a con-     LEGENHAUSEN: How do you respond to crit-
sequence, to be blessed with divine favor         ics of the program?
and mercy. This goal is not exclusive for any
particular individual, group, or race.            AYATULLAH MISBAH: I have not come across
                                                  anyone who has objected to this program.
Just as Muslims are obligated to have faith       If we always look at others with suspicion
in the Prophet of Islam, and to revere him,       and antagonism, we can never get around
we are also obligated to have this faith in all   to listening to one another. It is not the case
the prophets, and to confirm and revere all        that the people on this earth must be essen-
of them. As stated in the Qur’an: “We make        tially enemies. If antagonism is found, it is
no difference between any of His Apostles”        either from the devil, and this is only so in a
(Sura 2:285). The Prophet himself (may the        minority of cases, or it is from ignorance, as
peace and blessings of God be with him and        in most cases it is because of a lack of infor-
his progeny) and the Imams (peace be with         mation. In order to combat both of these we
all of them) invited the scholars of the other    all have to be seekers of the truth, and since
religions of the world to enter into dialogue,    we have no evil intentions, it is necessary for      The prophets have conveyed
and they tried to emphasize and draw atten-       us to come closer and set up lines of commu-
                                                                                                       a portion of the divine
tion to the common positive points stressed       nication and relations.
by all the prophets, and on the basis of one                                                           teachings to the followers
kind of belief to build unity.                    So, on the one hand, in order to convey our          of other religions. Muslims
                                                  good points to others, relations are necessary.
                                                                                                       are obliged to have faith in
Also, the exchange of different points of         Secondly, the prophets have conveyed a por-
view can help refine our ideas and keep the        tion of the divine teachings to the followers        all the prophets.
legacy of the prophets from pollution. So, by     of other religions. Muslims are obliged
cooperation with each other we may combat         to have faith in all the prophets. There is no
our common enemies, which are disbelief           guarantee that others have not preserved the
and idolatry.                                     heritage of the prophets, aside from what has
                                                  reached us in the Qur’an and the narrations

                                                                                    MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001   7
                                        from the household of the Prophet. It is quite    that has been made in science and civiliza-
At Home in Qom                          possible that there are many truths that have     tion, we face very ugly examples of this sort
                                        reached others from their own prophets.           of person. The world wars that have taken
Evelyn and Wallace Shellenberger
have recently moved to the Imam
                                                                                          place during the twentieth century, the Cold
                                        LEGENHAUSEN: How important is this                War, and other activities that are sometimes
Khomeini Education and Research
                                        program for Muslim-Christian relations            even worse—people whose only aims in life
Institute in Qom, Iran, where they
will be studying language and Islam
                                        generally, and, more specifically, for             are material pleasure and power over others
and volunteering at a local social      Mennonite-Shi’ite relations?                      undertake these sorts of things.
service agency.
                                        AYATULLAH MISBAH: There are two serious           Unfortunately, today, most of the power of
They will be continuing the Iran-       dangers that threaten humanity: one is the        the world is in the hands of such people. In
based portion of the Iran exchange      danger of faithlessness with regard to God        every major country, there is a minority that
program that was begun by Ed Mar-       Almighty, and the other is the corruption         controls the country’s wealth, the media,
tin and continued onsite by Roy and     of morals. Those who are most capable of
Maren Hange.
                                                                                          and the culture of the country. In a word,
                                        facing up to these dangers are the two great      they are those who weaken faith in God and
“Living in Qom will provide the Shel-   divine religions of Islam and Christianity. So,   who defile moral values. These are our com-
lenbergers with opportunities to dia-   we can have reasonable and considerable           mon enemies.
logue with professors and students      relations with the Christian world. Indeed,
and to make friends with the Iranian    we consider such relations obligatory.            Fortunately, among the teachings of the
people,” said Martin.                                                                     divine religions, especially Islam and Chris-
                                        In our dealings with the followers of the         tianity, we have a rich treasury of elements
                                        Messiah, either accidentally or by divine         with which to combat such enemies. In our
                                        fate, we have become acquainted with these        relations together, it would be good for us to
                                        Mennonites in America, and we find more            highlight these elements and in cooperation
                                        that the marks of truthfulness and truth-         with one another to strengthen each other
                                        seeking are among those of them whom              in their use so that we may dam the wave
                                        we have encountered, that is, the good            of corruption that threatens faith on the one
                                        intentions of those whom we have met are          side and morality on the other.
                                        palpable. This is not meant to deny the
                                        good intentions of others.                        Therefore, we are optimistic that, if we carry
                                                                                          out our own responsibilities, and recognize
                                        But, in any case, those of them with whom         those who are really searching for truth, and
                                        we have had dealings are dear people in           try to cooperate with them honestly, then
                                        whom we have found their good intentions          day by day we will come closer to the real-
                                        and truthfulness shown in word and deed.          ization of the divine aims of felicity and that
                                        This made us like to have better relations        the enmity and hostility of the world will be
                                        with them, and we took the steps to welcome       transformed into brotherhood and friend-
                                        them here, enter into a student exchange pro-     ship, and people of good will who seek the
We can have reasonable and              gram with them, and send students from here       truth will be victorious over the devil, and
                                        and host those introduced to us by them, and      the ground will be prepared for world peace.
considerable relations with
                                        we are prepared to continue in this work.
the Christian world. Indeed,                                                              This is something foreseen in all the great
we consider such relations              LEGENHAUSEN: I wanted to ask whom you             religions, and it is especially emphasized in
                                        consider to be the common enemies of the          Islam that this day will come. It is interesting
obligatory.                             Muslims and Christians, and how can our           that in our narrations it is stated that this
                                        cooperation help us in our efforts against        day will be the day on which Christ descends
                                        these enemies?                                    again from heaven to earth, and in coopera-
                                                                                          tion with our twelfth Imam, they will be
                                        AYATULLAH MISBAH: Both historical evidence
                                                                                          together. This gives us even greater hope in
                                        and rational analysis, and also the explana-
                                                                                          cooperation with our Christian brothers. I
                                        tions found in the Qur’an—all agree and
                                                                                          hope that we can take effective steps down
                                        prove that over the course of human history,
                                                                                          this road together and each contribute in this
                                        the prophets have always faced groups of
                                                                                          way to world peace, God willing.
                                        those who were hostile to them and who
                                        were not interested in finding the truth.          Dr. Muhammad Legenhausen is on the staff
                                        Today, unfortunately, despite the progress        of the Imam Khomeini Education and
                                                                                          Research Institute in Qom, Iran.

8 MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001
MCC Exchange Program Brings Iranian Muslims
to Toronto to Study Theology
By Carol Penner

  ousef Daneshvar and Muhammad Fari-               Ed Martin, Central and Southern Asia pro-
Ymani bring a different perspective to their       gram director for MCC, has traveled to Qom
doctoral studies at the Toronto School of          a number of times to forge relationships. Dr.
Theology. They are Islamic students from           Abolhasan Haghani and Dr. Muhammad
Imam Khomeini Education and Research               Legenhausen of the Qom Institute have also
Institute in Qom, Iran, who are participating      visited MCC in the United States.                     Another goal became more
in an exchange program sponsored by Men-
                                                   Participation at the Toronto School of                important to me—having a
nonite Central Committee. Together with
their wives and children, they moved to            Theology has exposed Farimani and                     dialogue, an active dialogue
Canada in 1998 and 1999. Going to classes,         Daneshvar to people from a wide range of              with Christians.
talking with other students, and visiting with     Christian denominations. The students
Mennonites, Daneshvar and Farimani have            acknowledged that they had held some
been learning about Christianity, as well as       stereotypes about the West when they came
teaching others about Islam.                       to Canada. In some ways these stereotypes
                                                   were confirmed, particularly in terms of the
“This exchange has given me an opportu-            openness regarding sexuality and relation-
nity to have very exciting work,” explained        ships between men and women.
Daneshvar. He outlined why he decided to
come on the exchange: “At first what was            However, Daneshvar also noted, “My rela-
important to me was to have some academic          tionship with other students has helped me
studies at a Western university—to know            to distinguish between the West as secular
more about the West and Christianity. But as       culture and Christianity as a religion that
time passed and we got more involved in the        seeks to preserve piety and morality.”
exchange, another goal became more impor-
                                                   One important relationship is with Susan
tant to me—having a dialogue, an active
                                                   Kennel Harrison, who has served as a local
dialogue with Christians.”
                                                   coordinator for the two students and their
“This is a good program for me,” Farimani          families. Both Farimani and Daneshvar have
added. “For a person who has studied Islamic       been careful to shield their children from neg-
studies, it’s important to have knowledge of       ative influences in North American culture.
Christianity and Western culture in the world      However, Daneshvar has been surprised to
we are living with now. . . . We can become        see Christians doing the same thing: “Some-
familiar both with Western culture and West-       times I have found Susan being as strict as me
ern perspectives about Islam.”                     about her children watching TV!”

MCC began this exchange program with the           Harrison helped with the logistics of getting
Qom institute in 1998. It is part of MCC’s         the two families settled in apartments in
desire to consciously increase its understand-     Toronto. Daneshvar’s wife, Masoumeh, has
ing of Muslim people and countries. Islamic        been taking English classes, and has been able
culture is often viewed with suspicion by          to connect with Iranians in the student hous-
North Americans, typified by the way West-          ing apartments where they live. Their son
ern media often portrays Muslims as terror-        Mojtava, fourteen, and daughter Maryam,
ists. Some Islamic leaders see the secular         eleven, both attend public school. Their chil-
and materialistic West as “the enemy.” The         dren have worked successfully to adapt to the         For a person who has
exchange program is one way of trying to           English language. “My daughter sounds like
                                                                                                         studied Islamic studies, it’s
build bridges of understanding and reconcili-      a native English speaker—she speaks without
                                                   an accent!”                                           important to have knowledge
ation between Christians and Muslims.
                                                                                                         of Christianity and Western
Former MCC workers Roy and Maren                   Farimani’s wife, Atieh, studies English at
                                                   home. The people in their apartment build-            culture in the world we are
Hange participated in the Iranian side of the
exchange, studying for 10 months in Qom,           ing have not been friendly, but she has               living with now.
before the illness of their child required their   made connections with Mennonites and
return to North America. MCC has recently          with people at the mosque where they go
placed Wallace and Evelyn Shellenberger as         to worship. They have a son Morteza who
students in Qom to replace the Hanges.             is three years old.
                                                                                continued on page 10

                                                                                      MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001   9
                                     Harrison has helped make connections with         Farimani went on to suggest some common-
                                     Mennonite congregations in the area.              alities that he has noticed between Islam and
                                     “We’ve gone to four different Mennonite           Mennonites: “The Mennonite tradition has a
                                     churches and had good discussions,” Fari-         high value on charity and a simple lifestyle.
The Mennonite tradition has          mani noted, “and we would like to visit           These are two things that are strongly recom-
a high value on charity and          more!”                                            mended in Islam.”
a simple lifestyle. These are
                                     Daneshvar and Farimani have also attended         Prior to this exchange, neither Daneshvar or
two things that are strongly         an InterVarsity Graduate Student Fellowship,      Farimani had heard the word Mennonite.
recommended in Islam.                as well as monthly gatherings of Mennonite        Now they are forging friendships with
                                     graduate students.                                people from another culture and religion.

                                     The exchange program has resulted in many         Carol Penner is from Vineland, Ontario.
                                     fruitful inter-religious discussions. Being       She has a Ph.D. from the Toronto School
                                     faithful Muslims, Daneshvar and Farimani          of Theology. She is a freelance writer and
                                     are clear on how Islam differs from Chris-        works part-time as a hospital chaplain.
                                     tianity. Farimani explained that the Qur’an
                                     rejects the concept of the incarnation and
                                     the trinity as corruptions of Jesus’ original
                                     teaching. At the same time, “Jesus is greatly
                                     respected in Islam, he is one of the five great-
                                     est prophets along with Abraham, Noah,
                                     Moses, and Muhammad.”

An Intellectual Journey
By Yousef Daneshvar

                                       t was on a winter day of 1997 that I was        However, there was at least one encouraging
                                     Icalled to a meeting with the chief director of   aspect to this long and risky journey. My
                                     the Imam Khomeini Institute, Ayatollah Mes-       studies in Iran were, to a large extent, moti-
                                     bah. The meeting with the director was short,     vated and shaped by problems that mostly
                                     but it was going to have a far-reaching impact    originated in the interaction and confronta-
                                     on my life and on the life of my family.          tion between religion and modern thought in
                                                                                       the West. Through these studies I had come
                                     It was proposed that I pursue my studies at a     to see it as a necessity for Muslim scholars to
                                     university in North America as part of a stu-     procure a profound knowledge of the West,
                                     dent exchange program between the Insti-          in its different aspects, and of Christianity, as
Through these studies                tute and Mennonite Central Committee, a           all those problems had their root in the inter-
I had come to see it as              name that had never reached my ears until         action of these two in the modern era.
a necessity for Muslim               that day.
scholars to procure a pro-                                                             For me the meticulous investigation of this
                                     My wife and I had never considered making         history-making interaction was the prerequi-
found knowledge of                   such an overwhelmingly huge change                site of any informed treatment of the com-
the West.                            in our life. Being away from our homeland         plicated philosophical and theological
                                     and all relatives for a long time, living in      problems hailed from it. Now, I was pro-
                                     a country with a culture totally different        vided with an opportunity to take my part in
                                     from our own, and above all, the extensive        fulfilling this necessity by studying in a West-
                                     exposure of our children to Western secular       ern, Christian academic environment. This
                                     culture, just to mention a few reasons,           aspect of the trip seemed advantageous and
                                     made me hesitant to give an affirmative           significant enough to make me decide to go
                                     answer to this call.                              on this journey. Nevertheless, had I not
                                                                                       enjoyed my wife’s support and encourage-
                                                                                       ment I would never have made such a bold

10 MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001
Studying the West in the West
                                                   Give Us This Day . . .
I arrived in Toronto with my family on Sep-
tember 18, 1998. Upon passing English lan-         I invite you to Qom, Iran, where my daughter and I would often buy a certain kind of fresh bread from
guage courses and exam, I started my studies       a bakery. It was about as tall as my young daughter when it came out of the oven. It was called san-
                                                   jeck. This bread was made on a huge pile of stones heated in the oven. The dough was placed on top
as a Ph.D. student in philosophy of religion
                                                   and you could watch it growing in the oven.
at Toronto School of Theology.
                                                   There was one unique thing about this bread. Many of the breads in the Middle East came fresh,
Our children go to both Canadian and Ira-          which usually meant standing in line, or they came in plastic bags and could be bought quickly. But
nian schools, which is not so easy for them.       I never saw sanjeck bread in a plastic bag; you had to eat it that day. It had that quality of freshness.
My wife spends most of her time at home.
This is quite a challenge for her since she        My question for MCC is: When we talk about giving this day, in the immediacy of the moment, in the
                                                   encounter of relationship, what does that mean? Is it worth waiting so long for such a good thing as
was a university student in clinical psychol-
                                                   that fresh bread?
ogy in Iran and had to quit her studies to
move to Canada.                                    Ed Martin, MCC director for Central and South Asia, stood in line, literally, for that kind of fresh bread.
                                                   He visited Iran for many years before we went there. When we finally were able to go to
As a matter of fact, our life here has been full   Qom, we saw the fruits of his labors. We entered into the trust he had established and attempted
of challenges, even though a kind of adapta-       to deepen that trust.
tion has been achieved by the constant and
                                                   In fall 1998 I met daily with the foremost professor of Christianity in Iran. He was a Muslim who
very generous support of our hosts, particu-
                                                   taught Christianity to the Muslim seminarians. He had been studying and teaching Christianity for
larly Susan Harrison, the local coordinator        thirty years. We read together and discussed The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, which
of the exchange program here in Toronto.           talked about how Jesus’ ministry was more than just spiritual, having many other implications in
                                                   his own time. He was fascinated by this book and we daily had discussions. During those times our
I have been enjoying my studies here. Let it       words were ground down into a new understanding of the interface of Christianity and Islam.
be mentioned here that, as far as my studies
go, my debt to Professor George P. Schner          Although we agreed to disagree on many points, I believe we both saw Jesus in a newer and clearer
S.J., a man of both great scholarship and          way in that time. That time became for us a kind of kairos, a holy time, a gracious transformation of
high moral virtues, is fundamental. He             the prejudices we had about one another’s religion.
supervised my studies until his unexpected         And so I believe it happens in many other kinds of encounter in MCC. The kind of development, relief,
demise in November 2000 and was of great           and peace work we do cannot be done by persons just doing a job. It is the power of daily presence:
help to me to have a good start in my aca-         give us this day that daily presence in transformational development work that requires relation-
demic career here. His death was quite a loss      ships over time. It is there that we enter into more than functional relationships.
for me.
                                                   I saw many of those functional relationships in Syria. Where business people would come simply to
Soon after I arrived in Toronto, I got             invest and make a profit, where tourists would come to gawk and look, where ambassadors and
involved in a constructive and instructive         embassy people would come simply to represent their countries’ interests. We and a few others
                                                   were there to serve, to be, to give, to relate and to know the people who were there . . . this day,
dialogue with Christians. First my dialogue
                                                   each day. Ours was a different kind of relationship day in and day out.
partners were only Mennonites, but after
a while it was extended to Christians of a         William Willimon of Duke University has noted that Jesus rarely took predetermined initiatives in his
wide range of denominations. This added            own ministry. He had a sense of the will of God moving with him but most often responded to situa-
a new dimension and impetus to my work.            tions he encountered with a kind of dynamic, creative graciousness always angled toward bringing
Later on, this part of my work became very         as much life as possible. Through that image we can carry a vision for MCC’s work.
important to me, since I realized what a           —Roy Hange
great impact it could have on our life in this

In one sense, even my studies started to serve
as part of this dialogue. Involvement in this      among themselves, despite their significant
continuous exchange of ideas, together with        commonalities, see the world and its prob-
living in a highly multicultural society, has      lems differently due to their different views
provided me with a great opportunity to            of the universe, God, and man.
know our world, humankind, the different
ways human beings see the world, and the           To mention just one of many examples, I
various outcomes of their quest for truth.         came to understand how the Christian paci-
On this side of the earth, I have been able to     fists’ exclusive emphasis on peace vis-à-vis
take another look at it and its problems, and      the ongoing bitter conflicts on the earth is
to think of some new solutions to them.            deeply anchored in their doctrines of God,
                                                   sin, and forgiveness, whereas the Islamic
Of course, as my field of studies suggests,         perspectives on the same subjects lead to
religion versus secularism has always been         giving priority to justice, while peace is
part of my meditations. I am fascinated to         highly respected as long as justice receives
see how these two approaches diverge and           due respect in peaceful circumstances.
converge on various issues and how religions
                                                                                          continued on page 12

                                                                                               MCC Peace Office Newsletter / July–September 2001           11
                                           A Mutual, Informed Understanding                I think Muslims and Christians for a variety
The Peace Office Newsletter is pub-                                                         of reasons have to take more responsibility
lished quarterly by the Mennonite          It goes without saying that neither the         in this regard than the followers of other
Central Committee Overseas Peace           Christian nor the Muslim side in this excit-    faiths. I know that Christians have their
Office. Editor is Mark Siemens. Con-        ing dialogue has convinced or even has tried
sulting Editors are Bob Herr and Judy
                                                                                           own scriptural and theological reasons, in
                                           to convince the other of its views. A mutual,   addition to the practical ones, to greet the
Zimmerman Herr. Opinions expressed
in this newsletter reflect those of the
                                           informed understanding of each other, how-      interreligious dialogue. Muslims, I believe,
authors and not necessarily those of       ever, has obviously developed between us.       are stimulated to make this event happen
Mennonite Central Committee.                                                               by the Holy Qur’an. The first voice to call
                                           I could go on for hours talking about my
                                                                                           me to this dialogue was the Holy Qur’an
Additional subscriptions welcome—          experience of living in Toronto and being
see address below. To keep paper and                                                       that enjoined Muslims more than 1400
                                           engaged in a fruitful dialogue with Chris-
energy waste at a minimum we ask                                                           years ago:
                                           tians. But let me conclude with the state-
you to inform us if an address should be
changed or if a name should be dropped     ment that now I believe more strongly             Dispute not with the people of the book save
from our mailing list. Telephone:          than I did at any time before that humanity       by what is the best, except for those of them
(717) 859-1151. Printed in the U.S.A.      today desperately needs the help of religions     that do wrong; and say we believe in what has
                                           to overcome the ever-growing predicaments         been sent down to us, and what has been sent
To subscribe to Peace Office Newsletter,                                                      down to you; our God and your God is one,
please send your address to MCC,
                                           on the globe. I can hardly imagine that reli-
                                           gions can provide this help without con-          and to him we have surrendered (Sura 29:46).
PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501-0500 or e-
mail Bev Martin at <>.          ducting a serious and friendly dialogue         Yousef Daneshvar is one of two Iranian par-
Direct requests for additional copies      between themselves.                             ticipants in the MCC-sponsored
of the newsletter to Esther O’Hara at
<>. A donation of $10.00                                                        student exchange program.
per year per subscription is suggested.
Peace Office welcomes contributions to
its work.

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