At the most recent addition of the forum, held in July at the WCC Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, 50 young people from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, the youngest being 20, attended the event hosted by the WCC, Muslim Council of Elders, and Rose Castle Foundation.
How was your first meeting with the Grand Imam in 2015 during the ECHOS WCC Commission on Youth, as the young people visited him?
Khijoyan: In 2015, the WCC Youth Commission, ECHOS, was meeting in Cairos, in Egypt. So I thought to myself, “Why don’t we also go and visit the Grand Imam,” knowing, in these years we were having a lot of issues in the media, hearing about the attacks, the Islamic State, etc. I called his office and he said yes, it would be a courtesy visit for 10 or 15 minutes, and at the end of the visit, the Grand Imam said he really enjoyed the conversation with the young people, and he said, “Why don’t we arrange a seminar where we bring such a group of young people from the Christian world and from the Muslim world? In 2016, we took 20 young people, and later then we had 40 youth to discuss religion, extremism, and violence.
What is your personal journey into interfaith dialogue and peace-building?
Khijoyan: I come from Lebanon and I was born during the civil war, so my whole childhood was during the civil war. Although we know that had nothing to do with religion, religion was used to continue the political agenda, and I grew up with a fear of the other. It was only at university that I had a real interaction, that I made friends, including Muslim friends, and they became my best friends. After that, I decided that all the stereotypes, all the images we grew up with—are wrong. It was my responsibility—my personal responsibility— to overcome my fear, to be engaged and involved in interfaith dialogue, and it started as a student.
As a peace practitioner, for the aspiring young peace activists, any message of hope or any advice you would like to give them?
Khijoyan: Yes, it’s all about relationships and friendships. Peace is all about personal, human relationships. Today, any problem I have, anything that happens in any country, I know my friends are people, human, with faces and names. At the end, really peace is not theoretical, it’s not a philosophy. It’s about us, it’s about the persons, it’s about the humans. And we humans, God created us, with our values, with our beauty, with our spirit. We can always be friends and once we have these strong relationships, we can always bring peace to the world.