Lebanon (MNN) – The Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) seeks to change discussions between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon. In a country that still feels the effects of a 15-year civil war, people often mistrust those outside their own groups. But the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and its department, the Institute of Middle East Studies, equips leaders to go back to their communities and build peace in the middle of chaos.
Peace-building and the Gospel
Martin Accad, the Chief Academic Officer at ABTS and the Director of the Institute of Middle East Studies explains the goal of ABTS. “We feel very much that our role is not only to develop theologically-thinking leaders, but to also develop leaders that can do works of transformation in society within the area of reconciliation and restoration of communities.”
These students go back to areas where Christians feel out of place in society. As a minority in their country, Accad says there is a sense that they don’t have a place in their culture. But this is not the message of the Gospel.
Christ calls his people to be peacemakers in whatever place they live.
Accad explains, “Peacemaking or peace-building first of all looks at conflict not necessarily as a problem, but as an opportunity. That would be the first aspect of being a peacemaker, but also peacemaking is something you do proactively rather than reactionary, as peace-keeping sounds.”
ABTS seeks to build peace proactively with five key initiatives, three of which are currently in progress.
Initiative 1: Bread and Salt
This unique program brings together both Christian and Muslim youths between the ages of 14-17 who live in the same neighborhood. Though these young people live close by, they may never have dialogued about their faith. ABTS gives them the tools they need to connect on a deeper level as they talk about their personal beliefs and break down stereotypes.
This short video clip highlights the important work of the Near East School of Theology in promoting good relations between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon. This is a Protestant seminary which has played a prominent, yet often quiet role in helping defuse tensions between religious communities in a sometimes contentious political atmosphere.
Christian Post — The Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, classified for many years by U.S. Intelligence as a terrorist organization, is training Christians to fight ISIS in Lebanon and the Middle Eastern believers say their new and unlikely allies “accept us as we are.”
Citing Lebanese sources, Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin says Christian villages in the Bekaa Valley area of Lebanon are forming militias to join Hezbollah fighters already engaging ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nursa Front in the Syrian Qalamoun mountains opposite villages in central and eastern Bekaa.
Rifit Nasrallah, a Catholic businessman who is part of the militias fighting ISIS in Ras Baalbek, discussed the alliance with Hezbollah in an International Business Times report last month.
“We’re in a very dangerous situation,” he said. “The only people who are protecting us are the resistance of Hezbollah. The only one standing with the army is Hezbollah. Let’s not hide it anymore.”
Nasrallah said Hezbollah does not expect its allies to convert to Islam or create an allegiance to the group’s ideals.
“They accept us as we are,” he said. “They do not impose on us anything. When there’s an occasion, they come to our children’s birthdays. The people here accept that Hezbollah comes and helps.”
This unlikely alliance between Christians and Hezbollah is a far cry from the adversarial relationship depicted between the two groups in the region.
A gathering of Lebanese Christians, known as “the Lady of the Mountain,” met Sunday with the aim of mapping out the role that Christian’s should play in preserving coexistence in Lebanon and the region.
The protection of Lebanon requires Christians to work towards preventing sectarian strife between Shiites and Sunnis, which in turn would protect Muslims, Christians and the Lebanese entity as a whole, a statement released after the meeting said.
The statement also said that presidential elections should be carried out through a national approach, not a strictly Christian one.
The gathering agreed on the need to reemphasize the unique Lebanese model of coexistence, especially with regards to the Muslim-Christian and Sunni-Shiite partnership in governing a single state.
The statement noted that a return to the Taif Accord would bring an end to attempts to unsettle the foundations of Lebanese coexistence, saying that the agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war serves as a model for religious coexistence in the region.
The convened also agreed that protecting Lebanon during this turbulent phase requires a set of initiatives, such as supporting the efforts of the Maronite Church in pushing lawmakers to end the year-long presidential vacuum.
“God taught us how to converse with all people. There are no sanctities when it comes to dialogue. God Almighty himself spoke to the devil. Are there people like the devil? Also, the Quran is a book of dialogue with polytheists about the unity of God, and with infidels about the existence of God and the prophecy of Muhammad.” This is how the late Lebanese Shiite cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah responded when asked about the increased talk of interfaith dialogue in the 1990s.
The occasion to talk about the late Fadlallah today, and about his call for dialogue with the “Other” — especially with other Christian and Islamic sects — is an initiative launched by his son, the scholar Sayyed Ali Fadlallah. The latter established the “Religions and Cultures Forum for Development and Dialogue,” in which 50 different personalities participated, including Muslim and Christian clerics and intellectuals from Lebanon and other countries of the Arab and Islamic world.
This forum was announced by Fadlallah during a ceremony held in Beirut on Tuesday, Oct. 30, attended by MPs, politicians, party leaders, intellectuals and media figures. The most prominent attendees included the head of the Loyalty to the Resistance (Hezbollah) Bloc, MP Mohammad Raad; the head of the Islamic Group in Lebanon’s political bureau, Azzam Ayoubi; a representative of former Lebanese President and Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel; and delegations from the Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party.
A number of religious leaders were also in attendance, including the Rev. Fadi Daou, a representative of Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara al-Rai; Rev. Sulaiman Wehbe, a representative of the patriarch of Antakya, Alexandria and Jerusalem for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Gregory III Laham; a representative for the papal ambassador to Lebanon; Archbishop Daniel Sukkar, a representative for Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas; and a number of Sunni, Shiite and Druze religious scholars from Lebanon and the Arab and Islamic world. The most notable among the latter were the General Secretary of the Supreme Islamic Legislative Council Sheikh Khaldoun Oraymit, and Sheikh Sami Abou al-Mona, who represented the spiritual leader for the Druze sect Sheikh Naim Hassan.
This year, more than any other year, media sources controlled by Hezbollah have broadcast displays of Christmas celebration. On Christmas Day, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Nour radio station took the occasion to praise Jesus Christ’s birth, and chose to broadcast religious songs following a political decision made by Hezbollah.
The party’s main TV channel (Al Manar) did the same. It dedicated a share of its programming to wishing Christians well on the day celebrating of the birth of Christ. Moreover, its news bulletins included positive media coverage of Christmas celebrations. They highlighted Hezbollah’s participation in these celebrations through talks on the place of Jesus, the son of Mary, in Islam.
It is true that these programs emphasized the use of the terms “Prophet Jesus” or “God’s spirit,” in a display of their conservatism vis-a-vis the Christian consideration of Jesus as God or the son of God. However, Hezbollah’s media intended to downplay this “ideological and religious controversy,” and instead focus on the party’s participation in the celebration of this important holiday with Christians in the East.
Even the Iranian embassy in Beirut distributed congratulation letters on the birth of “Prophet Jesus son of Mary.”
Rome, Italy, Sep 10, 2012 / 12:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians and Muslims will come together for a prayer vigil on Sept. 12 to invoke the protection of God and the Virgin Mary over Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to the country this week.
Vatican-based Fides News Agency reported that four processions of young people will converge upon the “Garden of Mary” in Beirut’s Museum Square on Wednesday.
At 8 p.m. local time the vigil will begin, with Christian and Muslim readings and prayer asking God to bless the Sept. 14-16 papal visit.
The Secretary of the Commission of the Lebanese Bishops’ Conference for Dialogue with Islam, Father Antoine Daou, told Fides that the title of the initiative is “Together in peace, love, freedom and security.”
“It will be a national and popular holiday, to show to the world that Lebanon can be in this moment in history the Country of coexistence between Christians and Muslims,” he noted.
Representatives and leaders from all the religious communities in Lebanon, as well as thousands of the faithful, are expected to participate in the vigil.