In June 2011, nine female graduate students from Iran took a summer course on Christian Understanding of Peace and Justice at CMU. The students were in Winnipeg for an academic conference bringing together Mennonite scholars from North America and Shi’a Muslim scholars from Iran.
The student scholars, who participated in the 2011 interfaith conference as observers, remained afterwards for a special five-day course, held June 6 – 10, presented by Irma Fast Dueck, associate professor of Practical Theology, Sheila Klassen-Wiebe, associate professor of New Testament, and other faculty members.
“The inclusion of Iranian women at the conference, and the opportunity afterwards for study, was exciting for us,” says Fast Dueck, who along with Klassen-Wiebe developed academic and personal friendships with CMU’s academic guests.
Among those taking the CMU course was Maryam Esmaeili, who teaches history of Islam and the interpretation of the Quran at the al-Zahra University, an Islamic university for women in Qom that has 15,000 full-time and correspondence students. She believes interfaith conversations and interactions can improve relationships between Muslims and Christians.
“If I don’t speak with you, my judgment about you might be wrong,” she said. “When we sit around the table and talk, my judgment about you is correct because I understand you and you understand me.”* (*excerpt from CMU/MCC news release) The course work led to reflection and opportunities for meaningful dialogue on similarities and differences in faith traditions and cultures.
“We hope to continue this important process of listening and learning from one another at future conferences,” says Klassen-Wiebe, who expressed her appreciation for the rich daily prayer life of the student scholars.