A Mosque in Sleepyville

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  • Number of participants = 5 – 30
  • Theme = Religion and belief, discrimination and intolerance, citizenship and participation, cultural differences
  • Duration = 2 – 2.5 hours
  • Difficult for participants = Level 4
  • Difficulty for facilitator = Level 4

Summary

This activity explores a dispute over the building of a new mosque in a traditionally Christian area through the simulation of a town council meeting.

Related Rights
• Freedom from discrimination
• Freedom of religion and belief
• Freedom of opinion and information

Goals/Learning Objectives

  • To experience real conflicts that can arise in meeting the needs of diverse communities
  • To explore the right to freedom of religion and belief
  • To develop skills of debate and analysis

Materials

  • Sheets of paper for name-tags
  • Flip chart paper
  • A watch or clock
  • Small bell for the mayor

Preparation

  • Photocopy the role-cards in the handout, the description of the problem and the rules of debate.
  • Prepare name tags for the different parties/groups that will be represented at the meeting.
  • List the different roles on a flip chart so that everyone can see them.

Make sure you have space in the room for the ‘Council Meeting’ and separate spaces for the different groups, so that they can discuss their position beforehand, or meet with others.

Flow of the Exercise

Read out the description of the problem in the handout. Explain that all participants are citizens of Sleepyville and all are troubled by the problem of whether a new mosque should be built on a piece of derelict council land.

Show participants the list of different roles and ask everyone to select one for themselves. Hand out the role-cards and the description of the problem, indicate where people and groups can meet up beforehand, and where the ‘Council Meeting’ will take place later on.

Explain the rules of debate that will be used during the meeting.

Explain that there will be 30 minutes before the actual meeting so that people can meet other citizens, prepare what they want to say and decide how they want to vote! Tell them that the ‘Council Meeting’ will last 40 minutes, and that there may be very little time for actual speeches because of the number of people attending. For that reason, they should try to prepare just one or two points that they want to make.

Use the preparation phase to set up the space for the ‘Council Meeting’. Ideally, people should sit in a semi-circle or horseshoe shape, with the Mayor at the front, in a slightly elevated position. Parties or groups should be able to sit together, and you should place their name tags on the tables in front.

After 30 minutes, call the citizens for the meeting (or ask the Mayor to do so). He/she should remind people of the basic rules of debate and give a short speech to introduce the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, after 40 minutes, the Mayor should call for a vote. When the votes are counted and the result declared, you should announce the end of the activity, and invite people to bring their chairs into a circle for the debriefing.

Debriefing

Start the feedback round by greeting everybody by his/her real name, or using another technique allowing participants to give up the roles they had assumed during the simulation. This is important to do before starting the debriefing.

Ask the participants what they feel about the process they have just been through:

  • Were you surprised by the result of the vote, and did it reflect the position of the person you were playing?
  • How much influence do you think you (in your role) had on the result?
  • Did interaction with other people or groups make you alter your approach or your attitude towards the problem?
  • How easy was it to identify with your role? Why or why not?
  • Do you think that this situation could arise in real life? Can you think of any similar cases?
  • How would you react if this case arose in your town/place of residence? Did the activity affect your attitude at all? What do you understand by the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion?
  • Do you know of any case in history (or today) when this right has been denied?
  • Why do you think that religious freedom is a fundamental human right?
  • To what extent do you think this right is observed in your community?

Variations

Depending on the context you are working on, it may be more appropriate to build the activity around ‘A Church in Sleepyville’, or ‘A Temple in Sleepyville’ and to situate it, for example, in a predominantly Muslim area. Alternatively, you may prefer some other combination. You can add news reporters to the activity in order to get a view on the process, which is slightly detached; this, however, can add to the time, if you are to discuss these reports with the group. If you prefer to discuss a real case, you can implement it instead of using this fictional example.

Concerning the debriefing, you can check national news or/and current articles for further discussions.

Possible Follow up Activities

Discuss aspects of freedom of religion and belief, and tensions that have occurred in your country. Critical incidents (case stories) in the news can provide good starters, especially for discussion in small groups. If you have news reporters taking part, you could use their analysis of the process in a separate session. In particular, it would be useful to look at any differences between the reports in order to raise questions about the role and impact of the media.

In the method Path to Equality Land, participants explore issues of discrimination and racism through imagination and drawing and try to overcome inequality to become more diverse. In the methods Image Theatre or Forum Theatre, participants explore their own experiences with power dynamics, oppression, prejudice and discrimination in their own country/society, and discuss or act out strategies for overcoming them.

If you want to focus on cultural clashes and differences where participants enter a different culture, you should use the card game simulation Barnga. Participants experience the shock of realising that despite many similarities, people of differing cultures perceive things differently or play by different rules. Players learn that they must understand and reconcile these differences if they want to function effectively in a cross-cultural group. The method Culture Clash is another simulation to experience interaction with different cultures. This can help if you want to deepen the issue of how conflict arises when confronted by ‘new’ cultural norms as well as values and diversity within a society.

Encourage participants to look at their own surroundings and explore the extent to which different religious communities have their rights respected. Try to arrange meetings with representatives of some of these communities and get them to speak about whether they feel their own rights are respected within the wider community.

Depending on the context where you and the participants live or work, and the current issues being debated within the real local Council, it may be interesting to visit a Council meeting in order to become involved in local political discussions that affect the rights of everyone in the community.

Recommendations

If possible, you should run this activity together with a co-facilitator in order to be able to answer questions and co-ordinate each step of the activity at the same time. The activity could benefit from having more time available, particularly during the actual meeting, in order that people have the chance to respond to comments made by others. You may also allocate the roles beforehand or allocate roles randomly in order to save time during the session. During the preparation phase, it may be useful to check that people are using the time to meet others or to plan what they are going to say during the meeting.

When assigning the roles, note that the role of the mayor is a very demanding one, and that the person playing it will need to feel confident about facilitating the meeting and – if necessary – cutting people short in order to allow everyone to speak. You will need to go through the task with the participant playing the mayor before the actual simulation.

It is highly desirable that you try to leave facilitation of the Council meeting entirely to the person playing the Mayor, both in order that he/she feels your trust and in order that other participants respect his/her decisions rather than looking to you. Of course, if difficulties arise, you may find it necessary to intervene in the course of the simulation. However, you should try to do this without undermining the authority of the participant playing the Mayor.

You may want to copy the information on ‘The Right to Religion in International Human Rights’ for people in the Muslim Association of Sleepyville and the group Young Sleepies for Human Rights.

If the simulation gets out of control – for example, because people stray off the topic or new pieces of information are invented – or if the Council is caught in a deadlock and cannot come to an agreement, point out that this can reflect a result in real life, and does not indicate that the activity has failed. You can use this in the debriefing at the end to discuss the difficulty of reaching agreement on issues such as these.

During the debriefing, it is very important to try to avoid repeating the simulation. People need to try to detach themselves from the role they played in the activity in order to be able to reflect properly on what they have been through. You should help them to look back on the simulation with their normal ‘hats’ on rather than in their assumed roles.

Definitions

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Right to Religion in International Human Rights Law: European Convention on Human Rights, Article 9

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance […].

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18

In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 30

Adapted from Council of Europe (2017). Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People. A mosque in Sleepyville. Strasbourg.

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