Beyond Faith and Culture
“Due to my interest in different spiritualities and religions, I believe in their importance and peacebuilding capacity”
Janna Fischer
Intern at URI MENA

The inability to co-exist is driven by misunderstanding, misinformation, and developing stereotypes towards people based on their way of life, beliefs, and traditions. In extreme cases, this fuels war and instability in communities.

The United Religions Initiative – Middle East and North Africa region (URI MENA) is taking heed of the global call to work toward peaceful communities. Gathering like-minded Cooperation Circles, URI MENA is promoting enduring daily interfaith cooperation through programs like youth cultural cafés and exchange programs to strengthen and foster interfaith and intercultural dialogue and understanding. These programs are being implemented jointly with the Desert Bloom Cooperation Circle.

The exchange program brings together young people from diverse cultural backgrounds to share, interact, and learn from one another. It involves exchanging ideas, traditions, values, beliefs, practices, and experiences among people from distinct cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and national groups. The core aim is to foster cross-cultural understanding, tolerance, and empathy.

“What excites me about URI MENA is that they try to promote peace-making processes through interreligious dialogues, and by supporting interculturality. This approach, in this combination, is special because it does not demonize religiosity.”
Marlene Sturm, Intern at URI MENA and Desert Bloom Cooperation Circle

The cultural cafés are intended to provide a safe space, where people learn together about a topic, but also hear the experiences of the other participants.

“It was different from my culture, but I could get some similarities. I had some wrong stereotypes which I got to unlearn,” Marlene Sturm

These programs aim to promote intercultural understanding, create connections, network, volunteer opportunities, and build peace for all living beings with a focus on youth. They broaden perspectives, challenge stereotypes, and cultivate an appreciation for global diversity.

“Through our cultural café and exchange programs, the participants become more aware of the diverse perspectives, traditions, and cultures of people; and they learn how they can work together, even if they come from different point of views.”
Mamoun Khreisat, URI MENA Regional Coordinator.

The Youth Exchange Program mobilizes young people and social workers between Europe and South Mediterranean countries, and engages them in training and volunteering.

“What particularly appeals to me about URI MENA is the peacebuilding approach of bringing people together in a multi-religious environment, and creating a non-violent dialogue between them.”
Henriette Greulich, Intern at URI MENA

In one of the cultural and youth exchanges organized in Italy, young people from Egypt, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, and Jordan took part in a simulation activity to understand migrants’ journeys and challenges.

The ultimate aim was to develop a social guide on how to deal with young migrants and create a friendly space for them. In addition, to help the youth understand the problem of intolerance and prejudice; and in turn develop solidarity with refugees and migrants, promote tolerance among young people, and foster social cohesion in their communities.

Cooperating for the Environment

The initiative youth and cultural exchange is cognizant of the importance of cooperation and collaboration for the environment. Desert Bloom Cooperation Circle participated in the ’Environmentally-Friendly Targets’ youth exchange held in Plymouth, UK. The project brought together 24 young people from four countries: England, Jordan, Tunisia, and Turkey who spent time together sharing ideas and learning new techniques on how to change daily bad habits in order to meet environmentally friendly targets.

Interfaith cooperation within cultural cafés and intercultural exchange programs has yielded profound and widespread effects. These initiatives have united individuals from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, nurturing comprehension, tolerance, and mutual respect.

Over the years, cultural cafés and exchange programs have yielded a positive impact. These include:

  • Enhanced Cultural Understanding
    By facilitating dialogues and dispelling misconceptions, interfaith cooperation has deepened appreciation for various belief systems, traditions, and practices. Meaningful conversations have fostered heightened cultural awareness and empathy.

  • Promoted Unity
    Cultural cafés and exchange programs have become platforms for forging unity and solidarity among people of different faiths. Shared experiences and perspectives have highlighted common humanity, thus bridging religious gaps.

  • Reduction of Stereotypes and Prejudices
    Direct interactions and personal connections have shattered stereotypes and prejudices between religious groups. Through positive encounters, interfaith cooperation has nurtured an inclusive and accepting society.

  • Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding:
    Open dialogue and respectful communication within interfaith initiatives have contributed to conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Participants have learned constructive ways to address disagreements, fostering peaceful coexistence.

  • Empowerment and Skill Development
    Collaborative projects in these programs have cultivated skills like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. Participants are empowered to drive positive change across faith boundaries.

  • Inspiration for Social Change
    The interfaith dimension has motivated participants to extend efforts beyond the programs, engaging in broader social and community projects that champion interfaith understanding, social justice, and humanitarian causes.

  • Long-Term Relationships
    Lasting connections and partnerships have emerged from interfaith cooperation in cultural cafés and exchange programs. Ongoing collaborations continue to foster cross-cultural understanding and unity.

In essence, interfaith and intercultural cooperation fostered by these initiatives has enriched personal experiences and contributed to more inclusive, harmonious, and resilient communities.

Reflecting on the work and impact of URI MENA and all cooperation circles engaging in promoting enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, we invite you to commit to this journey and let us learn, share, and build bridges of understanding together.