Interfaith Dialogue Organizations as Actors of Peace Building: Case of Rumi Forum Abstract

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
Oscar Romero

In the last two decades, religiously motivated peacemaking and reconciliation
efforts have begun to draw the attention of scholars, journalists, diplomats,
various governmental and nongovernmental agencies, and funding organizations.
These efforts are more in need; their benefits are more visible, and more
needed. High-profile organizations such as the World Conference on Religion and
Peace, the International Association for Religious Freedom or United Religious
Initiative work hard at building peace. Many of their initiatives are well known
and studied through several studies. But it is much harder to find great number
of studies discussing the grassroots movements and initiatives led by
religiously motivated peace builders. Regarding to grassroots movements, the
most prominent and comprehensive study mapping faith-based peace building
organizations is conducted by Tsjeard Bouta, S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana and
Mohammed Abu-Nimer in 2005. Funded by Clingendael Institute and Salam Institute
for Peace and Justice, Bouta Reported to the comparative analysis of 27
Christian, Muslim and multi-faith organizations. They conclude that faith based
actors contribute positively to peace building with varying levels of success
and in various ways. As pointed by Bouta, case studies highlighting faith
based actors will shed light on the discussions addressing the role of the faith
based actors in the peace building. Strategies implied by faith based actors,
the strengths and weaknesses of actors raise significant questions regarding to
different dimensions of these actors. I believe that among different case study
methods, particularly, Alexandar George’s method of “structured, focused
comparison of cases” will lead to build new theories in religion and peace
building. Furthermore, measuring impact of these actors will provide promising
insights for theory testing.

Among great range of activities such as prevention, early warning, advocacy,
conflict management, conflict resolution, mediation, education; interfaith
activities held by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) will be examined. I
address the general questions of whether interfaith actors should be viewed as
actors in peace building and how these actors engage in peace building. In this
regard, the specific questions I am seeking to answer in the case of Rumi Forum
located in the Washington D.C. as following: How do organizations perceive the
role of it in peace building? What are the desired objects in people’s
knowledge, attitudes and behaviors? What does the community look like when it is

A. Scope of Faith-based Peace Building and Faith-based actors

Incorporating definitions of Harold Coward and Gordon Smith used to refer
religious peace building; I use the concept of faith-based peace building
throughout the paper. The concept of faith-based enables us to incorporate rich
array of spiritualities into groups of different religious traditions.
Faith-base peace building refers to range of activities performed by actors
inspired by faith; and institutions established by these actors with the goal of
ending deadly conflicts and promoting nonviolence in both social relations and
political institutions. According Coward and Smith, these activities can be
categorized as conflict management (prevention, enforcement, peace keeping),
conflict resolution, structural reform (institution building, civic leadership).
Discussing by Scott Appleby and Bouta, Kadayifci-Orellana&Abu-Nimer, education,
transnational justice and interfaith and interfaith dialogue deserve to be
incorporated as additional activity categories. Although they may be considered
as the subcategories of structural reform and conflict prevention, peace
building includes both conflict management and resolution efforts on the ground
and the efforts to people working at a distance from actual sites of deadly
conflicts. In this context, legal advocates of religious human rights, scholars
conducting research relevant to cross-cultural and interreligious dialogue and
theologians and ethicists within religious communities who are probing and
strengthening their traditions of nonviolence, organizations constitute to wide
range of actor spectrum. (Coward and Smith 2004)

As Appleby (2000) stated religious leaders and organizations are more willing
to play a defined role in an integrated, multilayered approach to
peace-building. This tendency is closely related to opportunity structures
provided by states and international organizations. They show the signals of
occurrence for a fundamental shift in their attitude toward religion and
beginning to tap the resources of religious communities to transform conflicts.
It is acknowledged that the collaboration with religious communities complements
and strengthens the work of secular organizations. For instance, the United
Nations highlights role of religious networks because of their ability to reach
vast numbers of people and their capacity to affect change. (William Wendley

Nevertheless, linguistic tension is very vivid in terms of the definition and
scope of faith based actors. Religious peace builders conceptualized by Coward
and Smith, peace militias used by Scott Appleby, and faith based actors employed
by Bouta. Kadayifci-Orellana&Abu-Nimer are used to refer similar actor type
engaging with the peace building and getting their motivations from their faith.
In a broader sense, the linguistic tension about these concepts reflects the
ongoing dialogical process about the religion and peace building. The concept of
faith based peace building actors will be used for the coherence of this study.

The conceptualization of faith based peace building actors requires
identifying of indicators. I argue that three indicators show whether any actor
could be identified as faith base peace building actor or not. The first
indicator is its involvement in one of peace building activities ranging from
prevention, early warning, advocacy, education, transitional justice to
interfaith and interfaith dialogue. The second indicator is the carrying out
their peace building activities in religious and nonreligious conflicts, and
thereby targeting not only beneficiary that share their own religious
convictions, but also beneficiary from different religions communities and
secular one. (Bouta 2005) The third indicator is the whether the activists
– participants and/or organizers- take their faith into consideration by
involving this kind of activities. Discussing by Appleby (2000), these activists
as people who have been formed by a religious community and who are acting with
the intent to uphold, extend, or defend its values and precepts. These
indicators will be used in examination of interfaith dialogue organizations
including Rumi Forum.

B. Interfaith Dialogue Organizations as Faith Based Peace Building Actors

Faith based actors attempt to establish several institutions to promote
dialogue, nonviolence, interfaith activities to deepen and strengthen the peace
inside conflict zones as well as non-conflict zones. They aim to involve in
peace building processes. Thus, examination of faith based organizations dealing
with interfaith dialogue would be extremely promising to address topic of
religion and peace-building.

Although the interfaith movement formalized for about a century with the
emergence of Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, it has
recently experienced rapid growth, specifically after September 11. Around the
world, the need for interfaith dialogue was identified as an urgent solution to
counter balance extremist religious violence. (Patricia Brodeur 2005) It has
been crystallized that both secularization and the increase of global
religiosity do not necessarily contribute ever increasing peace. To contribute
to peace, religions should engage in interfaith dialogue to find new avenues as
well as cooperating with the secular domains.

There are variations on the definitions of interfaith dialogue. As cited from
Kayaoglu (2007), Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen defines dialogue as
“coming together two or more people to discuss certain issues, and so the
formation of a bond between these people.” According to the Catholic Church the
dialogue refers the co-witnessing each other’s faith for mutual growth and
enrichment. Kayaoglu reports that the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew
Congregations of Britain, Sack says that interfaith dialogue is not a deliberate
about winning an argument or changing one’s own beliefs, but a deliberation for
an inclusive identity formation with the ‘other’. (Kayaoglu 2007 514) As
exemplified in the works of Gulen, Catholic Church and Sack, for many religious
leaders and scholars, interfaith dialogue is approached a moral dimension to
globalization which has to be added for the common good of humanity. (Kayaoglu
2007 514) Accepting religion as an integral part of global politics, urgent
political incidents also cause these leaders and scholars to call for dialogue.
In addition to the religious actors, several parties view religion as the
missing component of the peace building. It is accepted by numerous parties
including the UN, some policy makers and politicians that it is vital to allow
religions to involve solution and to promote interfaith dialogue as part of the
peacebuilding process. As Ledesna (2002) pointed, the ongoing experiences affirm
that instead of being sources of conflict, authentic religious traditions can be
harnessed as sold foundations of peace.

C. Global Functions of Interfaith Dialogue

The discussions on interfaith dialogue rarely center on peace-building. To
some extend, addressing an organic tie between faith and peace is viewed as
naïve idealism. I argue that the examination of functions would pave the way for
more systematic approach to its role in peace building. I argue that four global
functions of interfaith dialogue manifest its contribution to peace building.
Interfaith dialogue, first, provides transformative dialogical process at a
perceptual level. It helps to explore overlapping theologies of different faiths
about the legitimacy of interfaith. It starts at individual level by affecting
perceptions regarding identity similarities and difference. Then, perceptions
led change in attitudes, especially regarding religious others. The old
historical places of mistrust and fear could be transformed. At the
organizational level these possible changes might be result in articulating
their visions, missions, and goals. Second global function of interfaith
dialogue is linked to religious freedom. Interfaith dialogue provides a ground
for respecting the religious freedom of each other. Thus, religious attitudes
towards religious other will shift from exclusivism and inclusivism to the
pluralism. (Kayaoglu 2007 512) Third, interfaith dialogue could provide
collective interfaith endeavors of cooperation to emerge to address the common
needs of humanity. (Patricia Brodeur 2005) Organizations, particularly
non-governmental organizations, could fulfill this type of function. As William
Wedley (2005) discussed once religious communities are able to become
bi-lingual, retaining the language of their own religious tradition, even as
they learn to use public language which is the language of cooperation, they
initialize the ground for multi-religious cooperation. In this stage, the
resolution of conflict arises as an appropriate possibility. Different faiths
have vast social infrastructure, the moralities and the spiritualities which
would be mobilized asset for cooperation. The last global function indicates
broader change. Interfaith dialogue would have impact on the institutional
changes in terms of theology, politics, and social cooperation on the ground.
(Patricia Brodeur 2005)

Interfaith dialogue activities starting with the personal encounter levels
have been rapidly institutionalizing in the last decades in order to become
transformative force. They take diversity of forms and pursue wide range of
overlapping goals at governmental, community and the international levels. In
many cases, they are called themselves as federations, associations, councils,
alliances, and forums. They announce their main purpose as to establish and
strengthen co-existence and religious tolerance. As an example of international
organization, World Conference of Religions for Peace, founded in 1970, aims to
prevent conflicts from developing, to mediate peace negotiations among warring
parties, and to rebuild peaceful societies in the aftermath of violence.
Inter-religious councils have been established in Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire,
Liberia, Ghana, Bosnia, Iraq and West African conflict zones. They serve as
bridges between the religious communities, building trust and reducing hostility
in areas of conflict. (Wedley 2005)

In terms of the institutionalized interfaith activities, it has to be
clarified that they are no longer approached themselves not as the alternatives
to the what the governments and international organizations are doing about
peace, but as the doer of missing component in the peace building. As Ledesna
(2002) argues in his case study focusing on Catholic-Muslim Forum in the
Philippines, while government and warring groups pursue peace through political
treaties and socio-economic development, the bishops and ulama focus on the
convergent spiritual and cultural bases for peace.

D. Rumi Forum and Analysis of Global Functions of Interfaith Dialogue in
Peace Building

1. The Description of Case

The goal of paper is to discuss the validity, probability and vitality of the
interfaith actors in the peace building. The global functions of interfaith
dialogue constitute theoretical focus. The set of question will provide both
description and the explanation of the case and enable conducting comparative
studies in the future. The questions are as following: How does organization
identify itself? Is it faith-based organization or secular organization? What
are the characteristics of organization? What is the impact it want to achieve?
To what extent and how does it engage in peace building? What are strengthens
and weaknesses of the organization? How would it know it achieved its
objectives? The data collected by using various qualitative data collection
methods. Organizations` documents such as website, flyers, published books;
visual sources such activity’s photographs, and video records were examined.
Participatory observation was made between July and August 2008. Qualitative
interviewing was conducted with president, vice president and the Board Director
of the Center for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue.

Since the main goal in this study is to examine global functions of
interfaith in peace building, the universe of this study is the interfaith
organizations. In order to provide deeper understanding of topic, this paper
relies on the qualitative field research of one interfaith organization, Rumi
Forum, engaging in the peace building activities in the US after September 11.
By examining the Rumi Forum, the broad research objective is to explore the
relation between peace and faith.

Founded in 1999 in Washington D.C., Rumi Forum aims to foster interfaith and
intercultural dialogue, stimulate thinking and exchange of opinions on
supporting and fostering democracy and peace all over the world and to provide a
common platform for education and information exchange. For Rumi Forum,
interfaith and intercultural dialogue refers to promote love and understanding
and spend efforts to find ways and more common ground among peoples of diverse
faiths and cultures. Rumi Forum declares its one of the goal is to support
activities pertaining to the better service to humanity such as promoting
conflict resolution in and among nations. It lists committing to universal
values of freedom, justice, and the rights of all living beings as its mission
too. Distinguished professors working with the American Universities,
specifically Islamic studies and Religion departments constitute the advisory
board of the Forum.

2. The Selection of Case

The selection of Rumi Forum was done according to three indicators of
faith-based peace building actor. First criteria is the involvement in peace
building activities ranging from prevention, early warning, advocacy, education,
intra-faith and inter-faith dialogue, mediation, observation and transitional
justice. The second criteria is the carrying out peace building activities in
religious and nonreligious conflicts, and thereby targeting not only beneficiary
that share their own religious convictions, but also beneficiary from different
religions communities and secular one. The third criteria are the whether the
activists – participants and/or organizers- take their faith into consideration
by involving this kind of activities. Discussing by Appleby (2000), these
activists have to be who have been formed by a religious community and who are
acting with the intent to uphold, extent, or defend its values and precepts.

As an organization, Rumi Forum meets three criteria and seems a promising
case study to discuss global function of interfaith in peace building. In
addition to the intensity of the interfaith activities in Rumi Forum`s activity
list, President Dr. Ali Yurtsever states that “Rumi Forum is a faith based
organization which promotes interfaith and intercultural dialogue to build
bridges between the faiths and cultures to promote peace in the world.” The
director of the Center for Interfaith & Intercultural Dialogue notes more
detailed explanation about the identification of the forum. She says: “The Rumi
Forum is a non-profit organization facilitating dialogue between communities,
including cultural, education, and faith communities.”

Although the forum has not involved in peace processes in conflict zones,
Forum announces promotion of peace in the world and contribution to a peaceful
coexistence of the adherents of different faiths, cultures, ethnicities and
races as its principal goal. It serves both beneficiaries that share their own
religious convictions and beneficiaries from different religions communities and
secular one. It views four issue areas such as democracy and human rights;
development and environment; education and youth; interfaith and intercultural
dialogue is the tools to achieve peaceful coexistence. Forum states that respect
to the environment and to the idea of all creatures’ right to exist, the
sanctity of human rights and democracy constitute the main pillars of peaceful
world. To this end, it uses promotion of education, exchange of information,
opinions and expertise. The forum set the teaching of 13th. Century Sufi
philosopher-poet Mawlana Jalaladdin Rumi as its mission which is to facilitate
dialogue by promoting love to transform hate, understanding to prevent
misinterpretation, flexibility against rigidity, and, above all, tolerance to
overcome bigotry.

3. The Discussion on Global Functions and Peace Building

In terms of the global functions of interfaith dialogue, the answers of
interviewees to the question addressing whether they think that the Rumi Forum
positively contribute to world peace and how, elaborate my point about first
function, called the changes in perceptual level. The President says:

The main aim of the forum is to contribute to the world peace. As it is well
known today’s major problem is that people and communities use their religion
and ideologies to justify their wars and fights. Each and every one of the
community’s adherents of diverse faiths claim that their faiths are the best
ones and they have privileges over the others and through that, they found the
issues to fight over them. So the main thing to overcome this problem is the
education, dialogue, tolerance, love and reconciliation. The Rumi Forum’s
mission begins just at this point.

The director explains it more briefly:

“I believe that this (peace) is the mission of the Rumi Forum –we are
promoting peace through dialogue between people of all backgrounds/adherences
for a better and more peaceful world.”

It is critical to acknowledge that similar to other faith based
organizations, the activists – participants and/or organizers- take their faith
into consideration by involving this kind of activities. To explore this kind of
consideration in the case of Rumi Forum, the question addressing motivational
bases were asked. Answer of the president, quoted below exemplifies faith and
peace activism relation: “Since we are faith based organization we believe that
the world is temporary and God created the human being and the creatures in
peace and His holy desire from the human beings is to maintain this peace. To
this end, He sent prophets, books and gave advices to all humanity and showed
them how to keep peace through applying your religion. Mainly, all religions
from God give almost the same directions to the adherents. So, as Muslims our
aim is to please God through taking his advises and behave accordingly. For His
sake and the sake of humanity, we consume money, energy and time so as to
overcome the problems that the humanity faces in this modern age.

Diverse range of activities, organized by Rumi Forum gives us idea about how
and to what extend it engages in peace building. It is open to work with
organizations and individuals interested in furthering peaceful relations.
According to the activities reported during 1999-2007, activities can be
categorized into the six activity groups. These are visits and meetings; help
programs; academic gatherings; interfaith dialogue, intercultural events; and
intercultural trips.

For the sake of this paper, I will examine only one activity group labeled as
visits and meetings. Rumi Forum visits several community leaders, government
officials including ministers, embassies, congressmen of different countries,
institutions such as universities, House of Representatives, think-tanks, in
order to initiate a dialogue and build bridges between the different
communities, organizations and state institutions. Although the Rumi has been
organizing activities since 1999, only reports of last three years (2005, 2006,
and 2007) are available. Over the past three years, the Rumi Forum has held 33
dialogue meetings in Washington D.C. The president and the board members of the
Forum made 15 visits, as well as they were visited by nine. For instance, some
of the visits and meetings held in 2007 as following. The Forum visited
Ambassador of Tajikistan to the US; Ambassador of Israel to the US. It was
visited by from Archbishop Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul; from
McLean Christian Science Church; First Church of Christ, Scientist, Reston, VA.
Forum held meeting with Rev. Susan L. Taylor, President of the Founding Church
of Scientology in Washington, DC.; Pastor Doug Jones, HCLC, Holy Cross Lutheran
Church, Herndon; Jane Tilly, Director of Quality Care and Public Policy at the
Alzheimer’s Association. In these meetings, parties discuss the mission of their
organizations, and the possibilities of future joint interfaith and
intercultural endeavors between their community, organization and the Rumi
Forum. If the visitor joined in Turkey’s trip, they discussed about the trip and
past interfaith activities.

These visits serve to fulfill four functions of interfaith. During visits
parties acknowledge that they have overlapping theologies more that they had
assumed before. Recognizing similarities and differences could be result in
changes in attitudes towards others. The dialogical process becomes very crucial
for eroding old mistrust and fears between different religious. The second
function, respect to the religious freedom of each other is manifested by
visiting those who does not belong your traditional. In an organizational level,
Rumi Forum gives the message that as Muslims who live in the States respect all
kinds of religious traditions and show willingness to live in a pluralist
society. Variety of organizations visited by the Forum, demonstrate that it
intends to cooperate with other organizations to address the common needs of
humanity through cooperation as stated as the third function of interfaith
organizations. Although the Rumi Forum was not founded as a philanthropic
organization, it has showed sensitivity regarding disasters and social problems.
For instance, Rumi Forum contributed $8,075 to the Hurricane Katrina Relief
Effort of the Red Cross. On January 24, 2005, Rumi Forum prepared food for more
than 400 homeless and needy people in the shelter in D.C. In addition, it
donated $10,225 for the Pakistani earthquake victims.

The fourth function, the impact of interfaith dialogue on the institutional
changes in theology, politics, and social cooperation on the ground is the most
challenging function for interfaith organizations. Changes in established
institutions occur in long time periods. As well as agency, structures play
detrimental role in transformations. In this context, it is too early to
conclude that Rumi Forum lead major institutional changes. I believe in this
point, the discussion on the aims of the organization regarding its impact is
worthwhile. To seek the anticipated impact of the organization I asked
interviewee. While the president is very eager to answer this question, the
Board Directory find satisfactory to refer the goals of the Forum written on the
web page. The President noted that:

“We are trying to reach the entire peace throughout the world. We imagine a
world full of love, tolerance, reconciliation between the members of the faiths
beliefs and cultures. We are dreaming a world without blood, tears and suffer.
Unfortunately today’s world is full of these unfortunate instances, wars, crimes
and tears. Mothers cry, children cry and the families cry continuously all over
the world. But thinking realistically Rumi Forum cannot afford to resolve all
problems throughout the world. But we’ll be happy if we contribute at least
small impacts on the way of the entire peace. It is worth to say that the number
of organizations like Rumi Forum increases in number all over the world. This at
least gives me a hope for the future…”

According to the President the desired objects in people’s knowledge,
attitudes and behaviors are as following:

“…. would create a good type of attitudes and behaviors I hope ; which can be
defined as love and tolerance for others, respecting everyone in their own
beliefs and faiths, keeping the rights of poor and needy and help them etc.”

The answer of the Board Director is the same, she says:” We are seeking to
educate ourselves as well as the individuals/communities we dialogue with . . .
we are hoping that the work that we do will help bring positive attitudes and
actions/behaviors.” In this section.

It is interesting that the forum is often very cautious to state that it is a
non-partisan organization without no one particular agenda and no inherent
ideology. In addition to respect, genuine concern for the spiritual quality is
emphasized in the mission statement.


In this paper, I attempted to initialize a research about the interfaith
activities and peace building. The first step is to clarifying the focus of the
study through making appropriate conceptualization. Focus of the study started
with the faith-based peace building and moved through the interfaith dialogue
organizations as faith based peace building actors. Each step reveals that the
topic is under the pressure of the conceptual tension. To overcome this threat
as well as to succeed coherence, the study insisted on the usage of faith
instead of religious. Theory of global functions of interfaith is implied to
discuss the faith and peace building relation. The goal is to test the theory
with one case and explore to new dynamics which would be potential for the
theory development about the interfaith dialogue, its vitality, possibility or
promise for the peaceful coexistence. The overall goal is to contribute to the
religion and peace literature with a systematic approach about the interfaith.


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Zeynep Şahin, PhD Candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southern California, U.S

by Dr. Ali Ünsal