Hani Abu Dayyeh: Tourism, A Way Forward in the Holy Land

The Peace Doers blog is focused this month on Tourism in Palestine. We are honored this week to have a guest post by Mr. Hani Abu Dayyeh, President of NET TOURS. He is an internationally recognized leader in the Palestinian Tourism Industry. Mr. Hani Abu Dayyeh is not only an accomplished business leader, as today’s blog post reveals, he is also is an intellectual leader in considering the social, political and religious impact of tourism in the Holy Land.

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Tourism: A Way Forward

On several occasions I have been asked to reflect on models of best practices in Tourism. Regrettably, what is happening in the Holy Land in many respects goes against the spirit of tourism. The positive peace building dimensions of tourism are denied, especially our movement as Palestinians is encumbered by the physical and bureaucratic barriers of Occupation.

Despite these impediments, I refuse to surrender to despair. Rather, I am committed to an authentic spirit and language of tourism that will serve as a catalyst for peace. This can only be so if managed correctly. If done in a way that engenders tolerance with an aim toward the shared values of diverse faith traditions, tourism can be a mercy and a blessing to the world community.

The future of the tourist industry in the Holy Land today depends upon how well we can help people of different faiths see the similarities in one another’s faith. As we help tourists become familiar with the Holy Land, we, as their agents, must consider: “How we may focus on that which unites rather than which separates us?”

Deeply held religious values, held by people lacking tolerance of those who do not agree with their given set of values, has led to a militant fundamentalism in all three monotheistic faiths within the Holy Land. This aggressive fundamentalism, has distorted the view of each faith that traditionally has spoken out in hospitality and acceptance of the alien, the stranger and the pilgrim. Yet, today, within a culture of religious “exclusivity,” tourists seek to hear an “exclusionary” message echoing hostility to their fellow man and distorting the ethos of compassion, the cornerstone of each faith.

Within such a myopic worldview, a religious state may come into place, dissolving separation of faith and state, undoing “democratic tolerance,” reorganizing society along strictly religious lines and abandoning individual freedom in favor of totalitarianism.

Tourism: A bridge through language

Yet tourism can serve as a bridge. The challenge for religious tourism is how to manage this aggressive and distorted perspective. How can the use of language promote peace through emphasizing the commonality of religious principles shared by all three faiths?

Should we, in our roles as hosts, encourage judging one another by the distorted religious beliefs? Should we use verses from the Bible or the Qur’an, removed from context to express intolerant religious views? Should we highlight our rights to the “history of the Holy Land” to the exclusion of others?

Imagine a reading of Judaism and Christianity by focusing on the biblical verses out of context.

Happy shall be the one who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock “ (Psalms 137:9) or on Jesus bringing not peace but a sword.

Or imagine Islam’s “verse of the sword” out-of-context.

When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful” (Qur’an 9:5)

All three Abrahamic faiths hold as sacred the ideas of revelation, redemption, righteous ethics, and accountability.

As we guide pilgrims through our lands, which of the sayings should we emphasize?

Would it be the exclusive voice that says “No one shall come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? Or the unitive voice of Christ who proclaims care for the poor and the downtrodden and the redemption of the human suffering: “Preach the Gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, set the captives free, offer sight to the blind and liberate those who are oppressed” (Luke4:18).

Both statements attributed to Christ undoubtedly leave vastly different impressions.

So is it with Islam. Are you a Muslim who sees yourself as following the “verse of the sword” above all else, or do you follow and emphasize to a Moslem group that Prophet Mohammad was sent as a source of mercy and compassion, not just for the Ummah and to the whole world but for all the universes that exist. That is the literal meaning of the Qur’anic phrase used for the Prophet” rahmatan lil ‘alamin – a mercy to all the universes ( Qur’an 21:107).

As interpreters of the religious verses, do we follow the old mantra of journalistic news, “if it bleeds it leads” (using what is most shocking to gain a tourist’s reaction) or do we refer to our own Arab proverb: “the drum makes a loud sound because it is hollow.”

Shared History: a Bridge to Unity

As leaders in Holy Land tourism, we have a responsibility for how we present our shared history.

The first biographer of Prophet Muhammad “Sirat Rasul Allah’ Life of the messenger of Christ was written by Ibn Ishaq in 767AD no more than 150 years after the time of the Prophet Mohammad himself. The first half of this book begins with the creation narrative and then covers the familiar biblical history of all the major biblical prophets culminating with John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. In structure, it is quite similar to that of the Christian Bible. Several other books were written in the same genre.

This rich Jewish and Christian material is referred to in Islamic sources as the Israi’iliyat (the Israelite literature). Some Muslims believe that this rich literature is another proof of the intricate and organic continuity among the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions through the millennia. Long before the Crusades and modern colonialism, these traditions comingled and showing that the modern political thought of the Clash of Civilization historically had no place in our region.

Today, we are witnessing tragic episodes based on a theology of hatred that speak to a loss of our historic ability to imagine a pluralistic society in which people of all races and religious backgrounds may live together in peace and harmony. As tourism guides with the Holy Land, our interpretations of a shared humanity can help.

Quoting verses alone does nothing to bridge understanding. Building, however, on what we share in common, the spirit of hospitality, all three faith traditions are called to welcome the pilgrim and embrace the stranger in their midst.

Within the Arab culture and Palestinian ethos, hospitality is of utmost importance as this Palestinian proverb attests:

Between us there is bread and salt, symbolizes that bread and salt, is a traditional basis of hospitality and a rite of friendship which nullifies antagonism and creates an indissoluble mutual obligation of protection. It is a call for true Sala’am—Peace.”

It is incumbent on Israel and Palestine who share the work of tourism in the Holy Land to realize that “people of faith do not create religious wars.” People of faith are people of peace.

Within our industry, we have the opportunity to build bridges of shared humanity or walls of exclusivity. It is my personal hope that both Israeli and Palestinians will uphold the spirit of a people of faith in the tradition of the Sufis, the Mystical branch of Islam who believe that when one has encountered God, one is neither a Jew, a Christian, nor a Muslim. One is at home equally within a synagogue, a church or a mosque because all rightly guided religion comes from God.

Once a person has come in touch with the divine, one has left these man-made distinctions behind. It is my dream that we all consider each other as equals in the eyes of God for we are all created in the image of God.

May our work within this industry serve to increase compassion, justice, and peace throughout the Holy Land and our world.

All photos courtesy of NET Tours

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