We need to dream a peaceful dream, that all the world should see, the beauty of creation flowing naturally. No greed or destruction, just build, share and grow, from loving kindness our wisdom could know a peaceful dream. By Carol Allen The poem above set the theme of our Christmas event which was filled with music and the loving spirit of the season.
Following are excerpts of some of the talks which combined with photos of the event will give you a glimpse of what went on that Saturday, the 15th of December.
Welcome to the ILA Christmas celebration. Christmas celebrations vary across the world. There are lots of differences in the traditions we have, and the food we eat, but the shared wonder and amazement of the gift of Jesus unites many of us this time of the year. This is indeed a time of celebration, but not only for Christians. Jews celebrate the festival of Hanukkah, commemorating the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem, as many have done this year, from the 2nd to the 10th of December. On December the 21st, Iranians across the world celebrate the arrival of winter on Yalda night, the longest night of the year, one of the most ancient of Persian festivals. People stay awake around a fire, talking and eating nuts, watermelons associated with the darkest night. One word links all three of these celebrations: light. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. Yalda celebrates the beginning of longer days and shorter nights, the renewal of the sun, the victory of light over darkness. We only have to look around our streets and neighbourhoods to see lights of all kinds, shapes and sizes. So Christmas can certainly claim to be a Festival of Lights too. And for Christians, Jesus came as the Light of the World.
Whatever our faith, what brings us together is our shared passion for justice and freedom from oppression, especially for the people of Iran.
We have supported and loved the people of Ashraf, who have overcome violence, tortures and the darkest of times to shine as a beacon of light for people of Iran, expectant and hopeful for release from their suffering under the oppression of the Islamist State.
Christmas is a time of Friendship, Peace and Rest.
Above all, it is a time of Hope. We are here to celebrate LIGHT, HOPE and LOVE!
Dr Lars Rise (Keynote speaker), former Member of the Norwegian Parliament and a good friend of the Ashrafis:
Christmas is very much about a dream, a dream about something wonderful which will happen, and our dream together is that one day we can walk around in the streets of Tehran as free people in a free country. The story of Christmas is probably the most famous story in the world, about the most famous name in world history. There are so many dreams connected to that name of Jesus, and even when there were rumours that he was born there were wise men coming from the East, and many scientists assume that actually they came from Iran. They came from Persia, the wise men, to see what has happened in Bethlehem, and there were so many dreams connected to that little baby, about freedom from oppression, freedom from captivity and freedom from poverty.
“We can also read in the Qur’an that one day the Angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary and said “You will give birth to a son, and his name will be Messiah, the saviour of the world.” And I once heard one of the top ten theologians of Islam having a speech in Norway about Jesus, the saviour of the world, and it’s interesting how we have so many common things that bind us together, and especially the story of Christmas, which gives us all hope.
“My wife reminded me one time that, she said: “When we celebrate a birthday, like we celebrate the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, why are we only focusing on the baby Jesus?” That’s usual, of course.
“It is interesting then to read something from the more adult life of Jesus, and I have selected one special verse which was helping me a lot in Albania, working with the Albanian government to convince the Prime Minister of Albania to receive all the people living in Camp Liberty, which was actually the opposite of liberty, but they lived in Camp Liberty in Baghdad, and waited for years to have freedom. So it is told that one day Jesus went up to the synagogue and somebody handed over to him the Prophet Isaiah and he was reading to them, and I would like to read those verses for you:
‘The spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
“So as we were in the crucial moment to convince the Albanian government that the only right thing is to let all the people come from Baghdad to Tirana, I reminded the Prime Minister about the words from Isaiah.
So I think it was a crucial moment, it was a whole team working on freedom for the people coming from Camp Liberty and moving over to Tirana. Senator Torricelli, former Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, and many other people were working on this, and I think maybe this verse was the tipping point, which is interesting because it’s all about a dream of something which will come. And my wife has many times reminded me since our visit to Camp Ashraf that what she can remember was a revolution of love. This is a movement of love, to put it very simply, fighting against an evil regime, the way we know it in Tehran, and this is what it’s all about.
“And one other statement from Jesus, the main person in Christmas: ‘No one has greater love than those who lay down their lives for their friends’. And this is what we can see in this amazing movement, a movement of love, so many who are willing to lay down their lives for their friends. We actually have this on a plaque in the Norwegian Parliament commemorating all those who died during World War I and World War II. It says they died so the people could live, and it’s almost exactly the same sort as we have in John: 15: No one has greater love than those who lay down their lives for their friends. It’s amazing how some people are willing to make the sacrifice, and do all they can and give the ultimate sacrifice. And of course the main person of Christmas is the main role model in this.
“So I want to thank each of you for what you have done for freedom, for making the dream come true, that one day we can all walk in the streets of Tehran. I want to thank each of you for what you have done, to give and to think about what you can do to help, because together we are stronger, together we can make the dream come true.
“It’s a wonderful dream. We can all stand and say, “I have a dream”. I have a dream that one day we will see the freedom, we will see the freedom from captivity, freedom from oppression, freedom from poverty, and we will all be free men and women in a free country.
“I wish all of you a blest Christmas and a special greeting to our friends in Tirana today. Greetings to you from all of us in London and have a Happy New Year!”
Saleem (ILA volunteer): Hello everyone!
“I don’t want to make a speech. I just want to take a couple of minutes expressing my profound gratitude to you for your friendship and what you have meant to us in all these years. I personally believe that each and every one of you who sits here, no matter if you’ve been with us for one day or for many years, you’ve made a very big difference to our lives, our cause, our personal lives and our community.
Each and every one of you, every face that I see, every heart that beats here, has given something special out of yourself, something very beautiful, a value, and a value of humanity that we treasure, and in these years we really needed it. I don’t think we could miss it; it’s like air that we breathe. And I wanted to share with you our inner feelings; that of me and all the volunteers, sometimes so intense it is not possible to put it into words. So I’ll just try my best to speak out of the heart and tell you what we really experience with your friendship.
“There have been countless moments in these years that we feared the worst and fear would overpower us and we wouldn’t know what to do. There’ve been tens of times, maybe hundreds of times that we didn’t think we could take the next step.
“It was like between giving up and persevering. The reality is that your beautiful human values and what you stood for has empowered us just at the time that we didn’t have any strength left. And we learnt so much from you, from each and every one of you. And I think that’s something that not necessarily everybody in the world can experience. We consider ourselves much blest, very fortunate, with your friendship. You’ve allowed us to take a very warm, beautiful, special place in your hearts, and because of that you have gone quite deep down in our hearts too.
“There’s a very beautiful Persian expression that I only learnt recently from one of the volunteers, and I think it’s very fitting and is very applicable to you and the relationship that’s built here: we’ve gone a very arduous road but the ornaments and the gems that have adorned this path and the alleys and these ways, are people like you.
“I don’t think you can begin to imagine what you’ve meant for us, but I can tell you: a little letter of comfort, the warm words, the encouraging moments, even a little stimulus coming from a little email that you’ve sent as a reply for anything. The very moment that you took our hands, gave us your blessing, not allowing us to give up, meant the whole world to us. I am not an expert on Christmas but I think that one of the values that has made it such a universal and such a treasured celebration is that through this celebration you can make a difference to other people, just by a small act of humanity. That is what you all mean to us. Thank you so much for allowing us to share Christmas with you.