Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Extending an Olive Branch

For Ali Malik, who visited Israel and Palestine in September with 13 other UC Irvine students, the trip’s highlight wasn’t on the official itinerary. During the group’s stay in Jerusalem, Malik walked every morning to the Dome of the Rock – the Muslim mosque – to pray.

“On the way, I’d see Christians going to church and Jews going to the Wailing Wall, and I realized we were all going for the same purpose – to worship and please our lord,” says Malik, who took the trip as part of the student-led Olive Tree Initiative. “It had a huge impact on me.”

Founded in 2007, the initiative comprises student leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze and unaffiliated backgrounds. They include members of Anteaters for Israel, Hillel, Muslim Student Union, Society of Arab Students, Middle East Studies Student Initiative and other campus organizations. Finding common ground and opening dialogue on the Middle East conflict among people with different ideologies is a key goal of the initiative.

After spending several months studying Arabic in Damascus through the International Opportunities Program, Malik joined his fellow students on the two-week visit to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, Haifa and other cities within Israel and Palestinian territories. They talked with academics, community and religious leaders, and activists in the region.

“You can study these things in books, but being there brings them to life,” Malik says. “The trip revamped my opinion of the conflict. I now feel that, although it’s a deeply complicated issue, it’s resolvable if we can talk to each other.”


For their efforts, Malik and Moran Cohen (to be featured in a Nov. 10 Spotlight) both received the XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship, which recognizes UCI students committed to ethics and leadership on campus and in the community.

He and Cohen will use their scholarship – which includes individual awards of $7,500 and a shared award of $2,500 – to “work rationally for peace” and foster more conversations about the conflict. They participated in Olive Tree Initiative’s first public forum Oct. 23 before a packed crowd in the Student Center’s Crystal Cove Auditorium, and they hope to do more at local mosques, synagogues and campus venues. They also want to recruit new initiative members and organize another Middle East trip next fall.

Full press release here

I don't know much about the initiative but sounds like a step in the right direction...may Allah (swt) put barakah in your efforts Br. Ali. Praying in al-Aqsa everyday...a dream come true...

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