When considering divinity school, and the ways in which Harvard Divinity School in particular may be the right fit, you have probably spent a bit of time thinking about how your pursuit of a degree at such an institution might benefit or influence you professionally.
In those considerations, I imagine most thoughts have revolved around various dimensions of on-campus opportunities, and not necessarily the possibilities of career exploration abroad. While my campus experiences have been enriching in so many ways, one of my most formative experiences came in the form of a summer abroad.
I was selected as a recipient of the Greeley International Internship, through the Center for the Study of World Religions at HDS, which enabled me with the opportunity to intern at an international interfaith organization last summer in Amman, Jordan. The following is a reflection on that experience, and the impact that it has had on my own professional development.
In the summer of 2012, I experienced an interfaith movement that was unlike anything I had observed elsewhere, in which a discourse between Christianity and Islam is both living and politically significant on local and global scales.
The work of the Very Reverend Father Nabil Haddad and the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center (JICRC) spearhead that dialogue, and it is apparent to me that such engagement is critical for coexistence to truly develop in the region. Haddad is, in addition to a parish priest, the founder and executive director of the JICRC.
It was under that organizational umbrella that I had the privilege of spending the summer in Jordan, engaging directly in the region’s unique interfaith movement by working with Haddad through research and writing, participation in international policy conferences, and involvement in community outreach.
As a leader of Jordan’s minority Christian community, Haddad deals with individuals in a variety of sectors so as to promote peace and tolerance within the region, and between the Middle East and the West. Haddad is an advisor, educator, and activist. Far from looking for temporary outlets in which to connect Christians and Muslims, he seeks a more permanent agenda that guarantees the rights of and respect toward all people, cultivating a mindset of coexistence through informed understanding.
In the JICRC office, where my colleagues included a Palestinian Muslim, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, and a Palestinian Catholic, I was directly involved in many of the JICRC’s current initiatives. In a surprisingly fast-paced environment, no two days were alike.
I interviewed Sheikh Hotheifa, an imam in charge of five mosques outside of Amman, when he spontaneously paid Haddad a visit to restate his gratitude for a trip to America five years ago, on which Haddad had led a delegation of Arab imams to observe religious diversity in the United States. Hotheifa has given several sermons over the years since then in which he has provided hundreds, maybe thousands, of Jordanian Muslims with a glowing report about the beauty of American religious pluralism. The imam’s enthusiasm is one of the many examples that proved to me the effectiveness of promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding to which Haddad has dedicated his career.
Other highlights from my summer in Jordan included an introduction to Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein, brother of King Abdullah II, at a conference at the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy. I also paid a formal visit to Zaatari Refugee Camp for Syrians, where I accompanied Haddad and a Syrian imam, both robed in attire that designated their leadership roles respective religious communities.
The pomp and circumstance of events like those aside, my summer with the JICRC was truly influential in guiding my academic and professional path, as it helped me to realize the necessary potential in promoting peace as a political objective through the language of religious coexistence.
Back at Harvard Divinity School, navigating courses and considering post-graduation plans, I am now focusing on tangible ways in which to apply the theological dimensions of interfaith discourse in a functional and international capacity, so as to promote peace through sustainable coexistence. On a practical level, I realize faith-based diplomacy like this is only just developing. And yet, because I witnessed this method succeeding in Jordan through the work of Haddad and the JICRC, I am looking forward to continuing to be involved in a movement that is bringing interfaith to the peace-building policy table.