2008: Learning to be a Peacemaker – ‘An eye-opener to the world’17/11/2021
2008 saw the launch of an unusual course on Islam’s approach to peacemaking, devised by Imam Ajmal Masroor from the UK. The course’s coordinator, Peter Riddell, describes how it came about:
‘My wife and I had an honest conversation in the middle of the night,’ Imam Ajmal Masroor from London told me as he arrived for breakfast in the dining room of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux. He was attending a training conference in 2007 entitled Tools for Change (T4C), and must have heard the phrase ‘honest conversation’ at its opening session the previous evening.
His brightness suggested that it had been a positive experience – for him at least. Later, his wife arrived with their baby daughter – and they both looked relaxed. So it can’t have gone too badly, I thought.
Then Ajmal said he had a proposal to discuss: Would it be possible for him to deliver a course on peacemaking in Islam for young European Muslims in Caux the next summer, 2008? He had already delivered it in several European countries, but wanted to reach a Europe-wide audience.
He explained that young European Muslims born to first-generation immigrants often felt torn between their parents’ cultural expectations and those of their peers at school or university. Were they European or whatever their parents were? They didn’t feel comfortable or accepted in either culture.
He believed that the answer lay in understanding that the core of Islam is peacemaking. ‘Spread peace among you’ was God’s command in the Quran. ‘Your neighbour is the person whose door is closest to yours,’ said the Prophet Mohammed. An aspect of peacemaking is service, and as you serve the community, you discover that your different identities are not conflicting, but complementary.
We tried the idea out on a group of young Muslims who were attending T4C. Their enthusiasm was evident and those planning the next year’s programme agreed that we could run a pilot. So an adventure began.
An aspect of peacemaking is service, and as you serve the community, you discover that your different identities are not conflicting, but complementary.
The new programme was called Learning to be a Peacemaker (LPM) and the idea was that it would be one of a concurrent series of learning tracks in the week-long T4C conference. Through it, a small group of young Muslims would familiarize themselves with the conference centre in Caux, Initiatives of Change's approach and the content of the LPM course. This would equip them to act as ‘hosts’ for the full course in 2009.
So in late July 2008, 14 young Muslims from France, Sweden, Germany and the UK arrived in Caux.
Ajmal managed to fit in an extraordinary amount of information into the short time frame, including the Islamic principles of peacemaking, the ethics of disagreement, the Prophet Mohammed’s own peacemaking initiatives, violence and extremism, loyalty and citizenship, inner peace and outer peace, and the characteristics of peacemakers – illustrated with personal experiences.
The feedback from the young Muslims was positive: ‘it taught me to be honest, tolerant and open’, ‘my heart is full of hope and my mind full of energy about the young European (Muslim or not) citizens’ future’, ‘an eye-opener to the world’.
The course taught me to be honest, tolerant and open.
The Caux organizers appreciated the graciousness and discipline that the participants brought to the conference – particularly evident as they took part, with other conference participants, in service shifts in the dining room or the kitchen. So the green light was given for a ‘double-bill’ in 2009: participants would take part in the five-day LPM course followed by T4C.
That year, there were over 50 participants and 15 hosts from seven countries, including non-Muslims for the first time. The BBC World Service sent a reporter, who wrote, ‘This combination of orthodox Islamic teaching and multifaith spirituality is an unusual mix – but it is one the organizers believe reflects the complex European society in which these young Muslims live.’ And the local Swiss newspaper 24 heures asked in their article 'Un workshop international réunit les jeunes musulmans' on 13 August 2009: ‘Could the former Caux Palace today be the place where the reinvention of the difficult and inevitable dialogue between Europe and Islam takes place?’
Though there were five years when the timing of Ramadan prevented it, LPM has been a feature of the Caux conferences ever since. When lockdown came in 2020 and 2021, it went online. Over 180 participants from a wide array of countries and ethnicities have taken part.
The effect has been profound. ‘It was only when I met people from all over Europe [in Caux] who held me in their hearts, that I came to hold Europe in my heart,’ said Javed Latif, a mechanical engineer from the Netherlands.
British student Maryam Shah said: ‘Instead of allowing any feeling of isolation or not fitting-in to lead to sadness or violence, we were taught to channel these emotions into something far more constructive: working for the societies that we live in to become more inclusive, understanding and tolerant.’
And Omayma Soltani, a French Muslim post-graduate pharmacist of Tunisian parents, referred to her multiple identities when she said, ‘This course helped me to understand that to be more myself, I had to accept all these parts of me because they are what defines me.’
Looking back at the whole experience, Imam Ajmal comments: ‘Peace inside, peace with people around and peace with God is the foundation of peace-building in Islam. This course is my dream come true, nurturing peace in people!’
This course is my dream come true, nurturing peace in people!
Watch an interview Marwan Bassiouni, Learning to be a Peacemaker 2018.
Watch the videos of LPM 2009, 2011 and read about LPM 2019 and the reflections of Maryam Shah (2019) and Sabica Pardesi (2020) and discover the report 2021.
This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.
Photos and video: Initiatives of Change
75 Years of Stories: Meet the team!
When we launched the 75 Years of Stories series in February 2021 about 75 years of encounters at the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux, we had no idea what an adventure we had embarked o...
2021: Initiatives of Change Switzerland – Opening Caux’s doors to a new chapter
As our series of 75 stories for 75 years of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux draws to an end, the President of Initiatives of Change Switzerland, Christine Beerli, and its two Co-Di...
2020: Aad Burger – Struck by a virus
In 2020, the Caux Forum went online in response to the pandemic. Its organizers found that this made Caux accessible to people all over the world who could not have taken part in normal circumstances....
2019: Marc Isserles – ‘We must save the children’
During World War II, the Caux Palace (later the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Switerland) provided a refuge for Jews fleeing the Shoah. Over the years, some of them – or their descendants...
2018: Wael Boubaker – ‘Climate change should be top top top priority’
When Tunisian economics graduate Wael Boubaker joined the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP) in 2018, he expected a conference which would look good on his CV, and some beautiful scenery. Inst...
2017: Tanaka Mhunduru – A home for the world
Tanaka Mhunduru from Zimbabwe is one of the organizers of the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP), a one-month programme for young people from around the world. He first took part in 2017....
2016: Diana Damsa – ‘It made me feel I counted’
The Winter Gathering of 2016 was a special experience for Diana Damsa – not just because she experienced Caux in winter, but also because, for the first time in eight years, she had no responsibilitie...
2015: Lisbeth Lasserre – ‘The richness in art’
Lisbeth Lasserre came from Winterthur, where her grandparents, Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser, had built up a private collection of art at their home, Villa Flora. Amongst their artist friends were Bonnard...
2014: Catherine Guisan – Europe’s Unfinished Business
Catherine Guisan is Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, USA. She has written two books on the ethical foundations of European integration. In 2014 she spoke at Caux’s first se...
2013: Tom Duncan – Restoring a healthy planet
2013 saw the first full-length Caux Dialogues on Land and Security (CDLS). These events, which took place at the Caux Conference and Seminar Centre, focus on the links between sustainable land managem...
2012: Merel Rumping – Going out on a limb
When Merel Rumping from the Netherlands first visited Caux in 2012, she had a goal in mind – ‘to explore how I could contribute to a more just world through my professional activities’....
2011: Lucette Schneider – Choices which make the magic of Caux
For many years, Lucette Schneider from Switzerland organized the team which gathered in the early mornings to wash, peel and chop vegetables for the kitchens of the Caux conference centre. ...
2010: Mohan Bhagwandas – Addressing the crisis of integrity
Mohan Bhagwandas is all too aware of his carbon footprint. In the 13 years from 2006 to 2019, he flew 17 times from his home city of Melbourne, Australia, to Switzerland to take part in the Caux confe...
2009: Rajmohan Gandhi – Bridges between India and Pakistan
25 distinguished Indians and Pakistanis came to Caux in 2009 with the aim of building bridges between their countries. The man who initiated the gathering was Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Ga...