Mennonite Central Committee
Peace Ofﬁce Publication
Volume 31, Number 3
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
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:
“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
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501-0500 or e-
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