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The Very Best Way to Pray for Peace

How a CIA analyst began an interfaith quest for citizen diplomacy

colorful painting of birds and peace symbols

Beloved 2 By Flora Bowley and Lynzee Lynx

“Allah-hu-akhbar,” God is great, the congregation murmured as I stood shoulder to shoulder with a veiled woman. It felt strangely intimate to be physically touching the Muslim woman, even though we had never spoken. I followed her body movements, as well as those of the men in front of the partition ahead of me, for cues as to what to do next. As we bent over and put our hands on our knees, her young daughter watched me intently, giggling as she scooted out of the way. As my forehead touched the floor, I felt how easy it is in that position to think of humbling myself completely before the Almighty. Among my prayers was one of gratitude for the distance I’d traveled physically and mentally since my time in Iraq—to be praying alongside Muslims instead of interrogating them for the CIA.Before 9/11, my work as a CIA analyst had focused on Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, I’d purposely steered clear of the Middle East because it seemed so unappealing—just loads of angry people fighting relentlessly over a bunch of sand. After 9/11, however, such a naïve view was no longer an option. I was assigned to a task for …

Janessa Gans Wilder is the founder and chief executive officer of the Euphrates Institute, a global network of peacebuilders and changemakers, now comprising 25 chapters worldwide. Wilder is a frequent speaker in interfaith, community, government, international, and educational settings. She has written dozens of articles and been interviewed by major news outlets, including CBS, CNN, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and “Democracy Now.”

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