Our children will have a less brighter future

The mission of Ed van Thijn

Connection between religions, a never-ending prayer?

By Salem Samhoud, &samhoud consultancy

When Nur Hamurçu and Jeroen Geelhoed joined &samhoud more than ten years ago, they were young men with an enormous amount of wisdom. They had this wisdom thanks to their love for people and their faith. They had love and an intrinsic peace because of needing to be a good human being. I don’t often talk with them about their faith, but we do talk about how we are as a person, about the power of connection and about building a brighter future together. They have a deeper dimension based on which they can do this – they use the good things of their faith.

For years I had the idea to make a film about Jeroen and Nur. One is a Christian, the other a Muslim. They are two special men who are so similar, and yet have a very different starting point based on their faith. Similarity in spite of their differences is what I wanted to highlight. During the spring of 2010 I got my wish and we made the documentary ‘Religion Connects! Religion Connects? Fear builds Walls, Hope builds Bridges – The connection between two religions’.  The film, which lasts about an hour, premiered in Tuschinki in Amsterdam on June 18th, 2010. It deeply impressed the 500 guests. Another event was organized at a later stage for those who were not able to attend the premiere. The subject area is very provoking: how can you connect with people of different faiths?

For both the main characters their faith is unwavering, they are 100% convinced. In the film Jeroen and Nur share about their faith, their work at &samhoud, their connection with God and Allah respectively, and their connection with each other and the rest of the world. They demonstrate their special friendship that is rooted in faith. One of the film’s locations is Jerusalem, a city in which tensions between Jews, Christians and Muslims can rise to extreme levels. It’s a holy city for both men. At the Wailing Wall Nur waits at an appropriate distance while Jeroen touches the Wall’s bricks, shares his thoughts and prays. Nur says that he stays away out of respect for people with different convictions. But also because there are people who having something against Muslims and against Islam.

The men discuss a great deal. It seems that they agree about many things. “There are many similarities about 99 out of the 100 issues, but not as far as one issue is concerned. But if that is the cardinal point based on which I live my life, then the difference is actually much greater,” Jeroen says in the film. That cardinal point is the difference of opinion about Jesus of Nazareth’s position in Jeroen’s and Nur’s faiths. “Jesus is the Saviour. He has prayed for me. I have a relationship with Him”, according to Jeroen. “Jesus is a very important prophet and a predecessor of the prophet Mohammed. But Mohammed completed God’s Word”, according to Nur. This small story about two colleagues and friends is at the same time a very large story. This becomes evident when they visit the city of Hebron. Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world. For centuries a Jewish community has lived among a predominantly Arab population. A city where an issue such as connection between different people groups is tested day after day. There are two sides to Hebron that for outsiders seem impossible to reconcile. The colours and sounds of the shopping alleys present a cheerful and careless image of the old city centre. But those who look up are confronted with a very different reality. The shop owners have had to cover the streets with netting to catch the trash and stones thrown by Jewish settlers deliberately from their homes above. In order to separate these groups, the various parts of the city have been hermetically closed off from each other. I accompanied Jeroen and Nur to Hebron. As far as connection is concerned, this city imposes itself on me as Stockdale’s paradox: have faith in the future, but confront the brutal facts. Being positive, believing in the good in people, always continuing the search for connection – it’s not a story of rose-tinted spectacles. It’s the only basic attitude that helps to build a brighter future. But you may never close your eyes to the naked facts, to the misery around you. For Jeroen and Nur Hebron has been a wake-up call that makes them rise above themselves in order to keep the bigger picture.

“This trip has been an intense experience of beautiful things and, at the same time, an intense confrontation with your own identity”, according to Nur. Jeroen compares the situation with the Netherlands, where people are free to confess their faith publicly, without fear of reprisals. “You may never justify violence with faith”, he states, “you will only see power against power. No love or vulnerability or thinking from a reconciliation point of view. That should be the first step. The freedom we have in the Netherlands once more gives the responsibility to do something with it.”

And Nur notes: ‘Occupied territories’ is a fully accepted term, even though in Europe we once decided that that should never happen again. Here children grow up who see that day in day out. Looking at recent developments in our own society and the voices we hear telling us how to live together, I think it’s an additional challenge to really bring people together, to understand more about each other. Because I am convinced that a lot is based on ignorance and unfamiliarity with each other. If you want to build bridges, then you need to do that based on an intrinsic motivation that you really hope to improve things with each other. And that in that relationship you don’t need to be identical, but that you gain strength from diversity. I think that’s the main point – you need to accept each other’s differences, but believe that diversity offers more strength than when you continue to look through your own lenses.”

When passing one of the high barbed-wired walls, Jeroen and Nur notice a phrase in graffiti: Fear builds Walls, Hope builds Bridges. Jeroen and Nur personify hope. They are the connectors of the future, the people who will make the world a better place.

The film includes so many more memorable scenes and quotes. I can therefore warmly recommend that everyone sees it. A free copy of the dvd can be requested via www.samhoud.com.

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