Muslim peace makers

IssueApril 2007
Feature by Sami Rasouli

“Salam”, the Arabic word for peace, is both a friendly greeting and the goal of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT) in Iraq. “Salaam is not just a greeting... it is the goal.” The heart of Islam is nonviolent, and the “God (Peace) within” gives MPT the courage to work in Iraq without fear so MPT can continue the important work.

The idea for a Muslim Peace- maker Team developed in January of 2005. It was inspired by the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) that have been active in Iraq since 2002. CPT was established in 1986 by the Church of Brethren, Quaker, and Mennonite Churches.

After a week of intensive training in the skills of documentation and observation, nonviolent intervention, and patience, 15 Muslims became peacemakers in Karbala, Iraq. There are now about 30 full-time volunteer MPT activists in Najaf and more than 90 part-time volunteers.

The first project for these Shi'a Muslims was to reach out to their fellow Iraqis, the Sunni Muslims in the devastated city of Fallujah, where 30,000 homes were damaged, 5,000 were destroyed, 50 mosques were attacked, and thousands of people were killed and injured, detained or became refugees. An initial visit to Fallujah took a carload of medical supplies. While discussing how they could work with the residents of Fallujah, a member of MPT suggested engagement in a general clean-up project since there had been no rubbish collection for several months in the city. It was agreed that they would meet Friday morning, 6 May, at the Furqan Mosque.

A day before the planned cleanup, MPT got a phone call from the sheik, warning them not to come because of the lack of security. The 15 Shi'a from Karbala and the three Christians from the US declared, “We are coming no matter what. We are one people and if we don't come now, we won't ever come. We feel that if we are serious and truthful, we should share your agony and happiness.” The sheik cried and then said, “God bless you. We will be waiting for you at the entrance of Fallujah.”

At first the residents thought that MPTers were there to take pictures, but then they were surprised by our seriousness. We put on the orange jumpsuits of the public works employees and cleaned up the streets around the mosque. They cried and kissed us and asked us to stop to pray with them. We were Shi'as, Sunnis and Christians working together in peace.

At the prayer service, the sheik changed his sermon to speak about the unity of Iraq. The Sunni worshippers sought out the Shi'as to greet them and to welcome them. When the service ended, the visitors from Karbala lined up at the door to hug and kiss the Fallujans as they left. As the Group organiser said, “We expressed our love for each other and our eagerness to be in solidarity.” Learning to trust each other is essential to preventing a civil war.

The mission of the Muslim Peacemaker Team is to bring all Iraqi groups together in peace to work for the good of the country, by getting in the way of violence while encouraging the people to be self sufficient while violence is erupting across Iraq.

The immediate goal of the Muslim Peacekeeper Teams is to educate the general public to avoid violence by spreading the teaching of an Islamic culture of peace. The people need to be reminded that Islam is a religion of peace and that it is always best to have a dialogue and to negotiate in a non-violent way to resolve disputes.