Lebanon Violence Explained: Sectarianism, a Wrecked Economy & 2020 Beirut Blast

In what turned out to be Beirut’s most violent clashes in over a decade, at least six people were killed on Thursday, 14 October, amidst firing between Shiite groups – Hezbollah and Amal Movement – and the Lebanese Armed Forces, Reuters reported.

Additionally, the clashes allegedly involved the Christian Lebanese Forces, a Christian political party whose militia fought in the Lebanese Civil War.

A protest had been organised by Hezbollah, a militant group which is also one of the most powerful political entities in Lebanon.

Protesters were demanding the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar as the adjudicator leading the investigation of the August 2020 port explosion that killed more than 200 people in Beirut.

Bitar been accused by Hezbollah of running a biased and politicised trial against prominent Muslim figures in Lebanon.

The demonstrations on Thursday took a violent turn when protesters were targeted by sniper fire, and they then shot back with AK47s and grenades.

Lebanese troops were deployed but the violence escalated.

Hezbollah claims that their members were fired at by right-wing Christians, reported The Guardian.

Samir Geagea, the leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces party, denied the charges and condemned the violence.

Regardless of who started the firing, Thursday’s violence exemplifies the situation of Lebanese politics and society – sectarian divisions, a weak state, corruption, and militia violence.

In this explainer, we untangle Lebanon’s recent past and elucidate how it is linked to the present.

What are the sectarian divides? What has been the state of Lebanon’s politics after the civil war and why is the economy in shambles? Why has there been so much controversy around the Beirut blast? Read on.


Key findings about the religious composition of India

TOPSHOT – Indian Hindu devotees offer prayers during the ‘Chhat Puja’ on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in Guwahati on November 13, 2018. – The Chhath Festival, also known as Surya Pooja, or worship of the sun, is observed in parts of India and Nepal and sees devotees pay homage to the sun and water gods. (Photo by Biju BORO / AFP) (Photo credit should read BIJU BORO/AFP via Getty Images)

Religious pluralism has long been a core value in India, which has a large majority of Hindus and smaller shares of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and other groups. In recent years, the size of these communities and their future growth have been topics of great interest to the Indian public.

A new Pew Research Center report shows that India’s religious composition has been fairly stable since the 1947 partition that divided the Indian subcontinent into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. This study – the second in the Center’s series about religion in India – covers the six decades between 1951, when the first post-Partition census was conducted, and 2011, the date of the nation’s most recent census. Here are some of the report’s key findings:How we did this

India’s overall population more than tripled between 1951 and 2011, though growth rates have slowed since the 1990s. The total number of Indians grew to 1.2 billion in the 2011 census from 361 million in the 1951 census. The number of Hindus grew to 966 million (from 304 million in 1951), Muslims to 172 million (from 35 million), Christians to 28 million (from 8 million), Sikhs to 20.8 million (from 6.8 million), Buddhists to 8.4 million (from 2.7 million) and Jains to 4.5 million (from 1.7 million). India’s Parsis, a small minority, are unusual as their population shrank by almost half, to 60,000 in 2011. Deaths among Parsis have outnumbered births, due to the group’s relatively high median age and low fertility rate.

India’s overall population growth has slowed considerably, especially since the 1990s. After adding the equivalent of nearly a quarter of its population every decade in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the country’s growth rate dropped to 22% in the 1990s and to 18% in the most recent census decade. Growth among Hindus slowed from a high of around 24% to about 17% in the 2000s, while Muslim growth slowed to around 25% and the rate among Christians dropped to 16%.


Opinion: A Muslim cemetery was finally approved in Virginia. Now bigotry needs a proper burial.

A suburban Virginia county south of D.C. recently put a quiet end to a five-year saga in which the odor of Islamophobia grew into a stench as time dragged on. That the events surrounding a proposed Islamic cemetery in Stafford County unfolded under color of local law, and were allowed by county officials to fester for year after year, was more than poor judgment. It has become a sterling example for local governments of how not to deal with minority communities.

Stafford is a diverse place of more than 150,000 people, and the Islamic cemetery in question would not be the county’s first. In fact, the nonprofit All Muslim Association of America (AMAA) had run a small cemetery there for about 20 years when, nearly out of capacity, it bought a new parcel of land in 2016 with plans for a larger cemetery where Muslims of modest means could be laid to rest.

What ensued was an embarrassment to Stafford and a Kafkaesque odyssey for the county’s Muslim community. That it ended, mercifully, with the county’s capitulation — authorities there ceased their attempts to block the proposed cemetery last year, and recently agreed to a $500,000 settlement, without admitting guilt — does not mitigate the gratuitousness of the entire episode, which was a waste of taxpayers’ time and money.

The details of the county’s preposterous rationale in drafting a bespoke new land-use scheme, whose only discernible intent was to impede the new cemetery, are byzantine. Urged on by two landowners — one of them a county Planning Commission member — whose property abutted the tract for the proposed 45-acre cemetery, the county adopted new rules banning cemeteries located within 900 feet, almost the length of three football fields, of any private homeowner’s well used for drinking water. The state standard required a separation of only 100 feet, and there was no science justifying a broader buffer for cemeteries and drinking water sources generally or this parcel in particular.

When AMAA officials found out about the zoning maneuver months after the fact — no one had mentioned the new rule to them, nor solicited their input — they were shocked. Not only had the group not been informed of the change, but county officials had affirmed at the time of the parcel’s purchase that a cemetery could be built there “by right,” with no special zoning approval needed. After the controversy erupted, a state official affirmed that a 100-foot setback was adequate for public health.


What is Mawlid al-Nabi? The Islamic celebration explained

On 18 October, tens of millions of Muslims across the world will mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad in a celebration known as Mawlid an-Nabi, or milad.

While the day was not marked by the prophet himself, the occasion  is celebrated in a majority of Muslim states, with a number of them designating it a national holiday.

Most Muslims celebrating the day will put up decorations in their homes and on the streets, and attend communal meals, as well as speeches in mosques recounting the life of the prophet.

Here Middle East Eye answers some of the most commonly asked questions about the celebration.

What is Mawlid al-Nabi and when is it marked?

Mawlid al-Nabi, Arabic for the “birthday of the prophet”, marks the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad’s

Some Muslims commemorate the event because of his significance in Islam. The faithful believe that the Quran, God’s final testament to mankind, was revealed to the prophet, and that he was the most important messenger sent to humanity. 

Palestinian children attend an event commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (AFP)

Those marking the event will attend special meals, often held at mosques with other members of the community, and spend the day reflecting on the teachings of the prophet.

Mawlid is commemorated on the 12th day of Rabi al-Awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar, which equates to 19 October in 2021’s Gregorian calendar.  

As the Islamic calendar runs on the lunar cycle, it is ten to 11 days shorter than the commonly used Gregorian calendar, meaning the date of Mawlid will change every year. Shia Muslims mark the occasion on the 17th day of the month.

The celebration is sometimes also referred to Mawlid, Milad and Eid Milad un-Nabi. 

What is the religious significance? 

For Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad is seen as an ethical and spiritual role model and commemorating his life is seen as another way of keeping his memory alive in the collective Muslim consciousness.


How the world’s biggest Islamic organization drives religious reform in Indonesia – and seeks to influence the Muslim world

(The Conversation) — After its return to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban are again imposing their religious ideology, with restrictions on women’s rights and other repressive measures. They are presenting to the world an image of Islam that is intolerant and at odds with social changes.

Islam, however, has multiple interpretations. A humanitarian interpretation, focusing on “rahmah,” loosely translated as love and compassion, has been emphasized by a group I have studied – Nahdlatul Ulama, which literally means “Reawakening of the Islamic Scholars.”

Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, was founded in 1926 in reaction to the Saudi conquest of Mecca and Medina with their rigid understanding of Islam. It follows mainstream Sunni Islam, while embracing Islamic spirituality and accepting Indonesia’s cultural traditions.

Functioning in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population, Nahdlatul Ulama is the world’s biggest Islamic organization with about 90 million members and followers. In terms of membership, the organization hugely outstrips that of the Taliban – yet this face of Islam has not been sufficiently recognized on the international stage.

In 2014, NU responded to the rise of the Islamic State group and its radical ideology by initiating an Islamic reform. Since then, it has elaborated on this reform that it calls “Humanitarian Islam.”


Church of Pakistan looks to promote interfaith harmony through Christian-Muslim dialogue

The Church of Pakistan (CoP) has proposed to replicate the Christian-Muslim dialogue between the Anglican church and leading scholars of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University to foster interfaith harmony and peace in Pakistan.

According to a statement issued by the office of the Church of Pakistan (CoP) Moderator/President Dr Azad Marshall, the proposal was floated during a meeting between the Anglican church leadership and the scholars of the prestigious university of Islamic learning on the sidelines of a high-level event in Cairo where the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby launched the new Anglican province of Alexandria. 

The statement said that Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Province of Alexandria Mounir Hanna shared the idea of setting up a research center in Egypt comprising Muslim and Christian religious scholars based on their interactions over the last two decades. Al-Azhar University’s Grand Imam Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb welcomed the idea and assured his full cooperation, the statement added. 


Education: What Muslim students can teach Christians

REFLECTING on more than a decade’s sociological research into religion on university campuses, I am increasingly unsettled by the question of inclusivity. Who belongs on campus, and who does not? Who is made to feel marginal, strange, or “other”?

Despite their reputation as guardians of wokeness, universities are not always experienced as inclusive by their students. Recent academic studies have alerted us to some worrying patterns of discrimination and exclusion.

Racism and misogyny are no longer assumed to stop at the campus gates, and universities across the country have had to reflect on the extent to which they uphold rather than challenge embedded prejudices. On this matter, religion plays an ambiguous part.

On the one hand, there is a persistent assumption that higher education unsettles or even undermines faith, through dislocation from established communities, exposure to moral permissiveness, or the acquisition of knowledge that proves incompatible with religious beliefs.

There is some truth in this, and there are university employees who take religion to be not only incompatible with serious learning, but as having no legitimate place on the university campus. These “hard secularists” have their equivalents in the student body, and variations on the humanist/secular/atheist society have made impassioned, public attacks on religion on a range of campuses in recent years.

On the other hand, universities have maintained cultures of religious inclusivity to a degree that would be difficult to find elsewhere in British society. Pockets of anti-religious zealotry are the exception rather than the norm.

Most now seem to accept that matters of faith form part of the cultural diversity that enriches the university campus. This has certainly been reflected in the empirical research that I’ve conducted, alongside various colleagues, among university staff and students across the UK higher-education sector.


Islamophobia in the classroom: Hijab allegations underscore broader problem, teachers say

The outrage swept social media Friday over allegations that a Maplewood teacher had pulled a hijab from the head of a second-grade student. 

For Muslim families, it wouldn’t be the first time Islamophobia tainted the safety of the classroom. 

In South Brunswick last year, a parent complained after a local teacher used the movie “Not Without My Daughter” to teach students about Islam. The film has been criticized for promoting negative and extreme stereotypes of Muslims. 

In another Middlesex County case, a teacher had to step in to stop a sixth-grade boy who was chasing and taunting a female student with shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” 

For Muslims, who view the hijab as an expression of faith, the alleged episode inMaplewood was hurtful and offensive. It also highlighted what community leaders say is a larger problem of bias in the classroom.


Jews, Christians and Muslims come together to paint over swastikas in Argentinian Jewish cemetery

(JTA) — After Nazi graffiti was found at a Jewish cemetery in Argentina last week, the local Jewish community wanted to do more than just paint it over.

So on Friday, the local Jewish community of Sante Fe, a province about 300 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, convened representatives of other religious groups for an interfaith ceremony to remove the swastikas painted in the cemetery, one in the area dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims.

The ceremony included evangelical Christians, Catholics and Muslims as well as representatives from a host of local groups, and it was streamed online. A video showed several people brushing over swastikas painted near the ground, followed by a series of comments from representatives of different groups.


Three books offer hope-filled views on Christian-Muslim relations

Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus” by Rachel Pieh Jones. Plough Publishing (Wal-den, New York, 2021). 264 pp., $ 17.99.
“Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and Do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination” by Jordan Denari Duffner. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2021). 243 pp., $22.
“A World of Inequalities: Christian and Muslim Perspectives,” edited by Lucinda Mosher. Georgetown University Press (Washington, 2021). 253 pp., $34.95.

I recommend all three of these timely books for anyone who wishes to understand the history and present reality of Christian-Muslim relations both within this country and around the world.

The title of Rachel Jones’ “Pillars” echoes the five basic pillars of Muslim faith: There is no god but God, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage.

The book is a personal journal, organized in five sections reflecting the pillars, of the author’s life in the heart of Africa, Somalia, where she and her husband moved to take part in a humanitarian effort to help the local Muslim inhabitants to learn more and achieve a better lifestyle.

She and her family endured many difficulties, from being looked down upon and excluded to fears of the violence that killed three of her Christian friends. But Muslim women come to her aid, teaching her how to interact with Muslim women and men, and bringing her family into their homes so she could better understand.

Jones and her Muslim friends journey together through the Muslim year, learning about each other through dialogue, listening to each other and, hesitatingly, praying together to the one God whom Christians and Muslims both worship.

This very personal story will introduce readers to Muslim religious traditions and, more importantly, to people with whom readers can relate and learn from.

“Islamophobia” details the present-day reality of a negative and largely false set of ideas about Muslims and Islam that has been part of Christian culture since at least the Crusades.

Ignoring what the holy book, the Quran, which is largely based upon the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, actually states, Islam is portrayed as a religion that sees itself as having replaced Christianity and Judaism and is aimed at their destruction and creating a totalitarian structure to take over and rule the world.

Muslims are depicted as anti-women’s rights, as racists and evil slaveholders, as if Christians never “owned” slaves. While some Muslims might hold such views, and some Muslim societies have reflected them, this is not what the Quran teaches.

We Catholics, and Christians in general, have equally been guilty of such departures from the teachings of Jesus. So we must learn not to scapegoat Muslims by blaming them for the faults of our own history, and to a sad extent, the present.

The final third of the book, “Crafting a Christian Response,” provides the reader with a number of things Catholics and all Christians can do today to break the cycle of fear/hate of Muslims, both individually and communally.

Author Jordan Denari Duffner notes the good things that the Holy See has done but argues, correctly in my view, that more can and should be done.