Reflections of an Interfaith Movement in Jordan

Melissa Nozell - News
Father Nabil Haddad and Melissa Nozell

In the summer of 2012, I experienced an interfaith movement 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) spearheads that dialogue, and it is apparent to me that such engagement is critical for coexistence to truly develop in the region. 

Haddad, or Abouna (literally, "our father"), as he is known in the community, 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 engaging in community outreach. This opportunity was made possible by the Greeley International Internship, which I received through the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School.

As a leader of Jordan's minority Christian community, Haddad deals with individuals in a variety of sectors to promote peace and tolerance within the region, and between the Middle East and the West.

Haddad is an adviser, educator, and activist. Far from looking for temporary ways 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.

His work requires that he engage in policy and grassroots initiatives, and his voice has become well-regarded in Jordan and beyond. His successful activism in promoting peaceful coexistence in the famously volatile Middle East has attracted attention from half the world away.

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 initiatives. In a surprisingly fast-paced environment, no two days were alike.

I interviewed Sheikh Hotheifa, an imam in charge of five mosques outside 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 America's 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.

Melissa Nozell and Jordan's Prince FaisalMelissa Nozell and Jordan's Prince FaisalOther 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 in their 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 necessity and the potential in promoting peace as a political objective through the language of religious coexistence.

Back at Harvard Divinity School, navigating courses and considering postgraduation 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 look forward to continued involvement in a movement that is bringing interfaith dialogue to the peace-building policy table.