When I was teaching at Yarmouk University in Jordan a few years ago, my students were Muslims and Christians; Palestinians, Jordanians, Kurds, and Iraqis.
In one or two bull sessions to which I was invited, we sat around drinking sweet tea and discussing prayer and its effectiveness in our lives. We all agreed: An all-knowing God gives us the intelligence to find solutions, the confidence to proceed, and the humility to compromise. The prayers of the world's monotheists are enough to find a win-win solution for all, to resolve all fears and eradicate violence.
I've been thinking about those discussions in light of the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30. The date - and even the prospect of the elections themselves - is hugely controversial. Insurgents have been destroying developing Iraqi institutions through suicide bombings and indiscriminate killing. In this atmosphere of intimidation and terror, some observers warn of even more chaos and bloodshed in the future. At the same time, all of them indicate that the elections (whenever they are held) must produce a real representative government in Iraq.
Is the scene so soaked in fear and violence that it can't be improved?
As I prayed for a way to think constructively about the Iraqi elections, I remembered the story of Abram (later Abraham) and his nephew Lot, both of whom are mentioned not only in the Bible but also in the Koran.
Their families were like many other large nomadic families in the ancient Middle East, facing scarce resources and consequent rivalries, but probably uniting in the face of a common external foe.
At one point, when the herdsmen of both factions threatened to come to blows, the biblical account reads that Abram, who had already discovered the one God, counseled: "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left."
This is more than mere conflict resolution, as the next words hint: "And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where" (Gen. 13:7-10). For me, it's key that Lot lifted up his eyes to see what Abram had already seen - that there were enough resources to take care of all of them.
In Iraq, it seems to me, all parties need help to lift up their eyes to see their common goals. Even for the most hard-line fighter, anarchy cannot be a long-term goal. No one wants their children, mothers, sisters, to live in fear and anguish. Bitter lives nourish no one and bring no peace. Everyone in Iraq needs this peace, including those serving in the coalition forces. Those of us with loved ones serving in those forces need to uplift our eyes, too. In fact, Iraqi peace will benefit the whole world.
Here is where we all can unite. A vision of "one absolute God," as Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, described God in her major work ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 465), is one shared by Christian, Muslim, and Jew.
This absolute God is the source of both love and justice. If He is the Almighty, the Most Merciful, and the Ruler of the Universe, as all three Abrahamic traditions call Him, we can start from that prayer basis. God's oneness and omnipotence frame a context in which all can look to the one Mind for an answer.
This will help tip the balance toward stability in today's Iraq.
Wisdom and knowledge
shall be the stability
of thy times, and strength
the fear of the Lord
is his treasure.