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Tracing Abraham's path to Mideast peace

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"On the trip, from the point of view of religious, social, and economic relations, we found that the idea had a lot of resonance and despite the difficulties and issues, and we got a green light to really proceed. Now what we're faced with is how to assist, how to inspire the actual building of the path."

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In this, the spotlight falls on Jordan. Already a tourist destination, it has long been keen to promote itself to visitors. A majority of those, however, come for just a few days and miss a plethora of sites of Judeo-Christian and Muslim interest – often located at the same site.

Here, for example, people can look out from Mt. Nebo, where the Torah describes Moses as viewing the holy land. Nearby is a pilgrimage site that Muslims have dedicated to the legendary figure Al Khadir and that local Christians revere as a shrine to St. George.

On this drizzling winter's day near the medieval Ajlun Castle, visibility is low. But despite that, the two researchers load up their equipment and hop into the jeep, visiting religious sites that will be included in a guide about the Abraham Path through Jordan. They hope to have the path open to visitors by the spring of 2008, the first leg of a path that will open gradually.

Many of the sites, while holding various levels of importance in the religious narrative of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, are not directly related to the exact places Abraham is believed to have walked. Rather, they touch on the descendants of Abraham and the revered religious figures who are seen as having continued on the path he started.

"We don't feel confined by scripture alone," Adamson says. "Three billion people in the world belong to the family of Abraham, and we're thinking of it like a moving celebration of him."

The project does more than bring people of different faiths together to talk, emphasizes Adamson.

"We're not talking at each other across a table, we're walking together side-by-side."

Host families and a tourism boost

Among the goals of the path is that it will lead visitors through rural areas where they can interact with average people. One facet of the route will be a network of families willing to host visitors in their homes. And with an eye towards housing larger groups of visitors, there are several projects under consideration to build travelers hostels and other lodgings ready to receive guests during the journey.

Indeed, for the path to truly take route, the local initiative needs to be as strong as the international. As such, the drive to open the Abraham Path in Jordan has been winning over many important advocates. One of them is Ammar Khammash, one of Jordan's foremost architects and and ecologists. Khammash says that too much of Jordanian life is focused on crowded urban spaces, and the path will help people reconnect with their roots.

"The Abraham Initiative might be a way to put the landscape back together and to expose people to being landscape literate," he says. "We can be one of the first initiatives to tap into the spirituality of the landscape."

One of the most appealing by-products of the path is that it would encourage tourism to an area of the world with at least 4,000 years of history to offer – experts indicate that Abraham would have lived somewhere in the time of the Middle Bronze Age – but which also suffer from lagging economic growth.

"One thing we like about building this trail is that we're talking about more interaction with the local people," says Ahmad el-Bashiti, the executive director of the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association. "This will help us offer more so that visitors will stay for longer periods of time. And for this project to be successful, our members will have to help build some kind of way stations and lodging options along the trail."

Hands-on interfaith initiative

To be sure, the concept of the path does not win everyone over immediately. When the group finished their 12-day study tour in Jerusalem with a presentation for a variety of Israel and Palestinian religious and social leaders, many expressed concern that the path would seek to sweep the area's very real, unsolved problems under the proverbial carpet.

But Dr. Hamid Murad, an Islamic leader in Jordan, he sees it more as a way to approach Middle East reconciliation in a very different light – one that all three faiths find illuminating.

"We go to conferences all the time with Muslims, Jews, and Christians, and then we agree on all kinds of things, but we never feel the results on the ground," says Murad, who's been involved in numerous interfaith efforts.

"It's as if I'm running my car engine, but I never take it out of the garage," he says. "So maybe it's better if I walk with my own feet."