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.
(Vatican Radio) The spiritual leaders of the main Islamic sects in Lebanon in a joint statement have warned after an “urgent summit” Tuesday, against fueling sectarian tensions in the country, underlining that inter-Muslim violence is forbidden. While denouncing the threats to the unity, security and stability of the Arab world, they slammed Israel for its alleged plans to divide Muslims. They also came to the defence of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
The special Islamic summit was held at Sunni Islam’s main body, Dar al-Fatwa’s headquarters in Beirut and was attended by a number of religious figures from all four sects. The meeting was headed by the Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian, of Dar al-Fatwa, and was held for the first time after he was appointed on August 10, last year. The other religious heads were: Deputy Chief of the Higher Islamic Shiite Council Abdel-Amir Qabalan, Druze spiritual leader Naim Hassan and the religious head of Lebanon’s Alawite community Assad Assi. Mohammad Sammak, co-chair of the National Committee for Islamic-Christian dialogue, coordinated the event.
The representatives of the four Islamic groups voiced in a joint statement their “concern over the allegations exchanged between political officials that are taking sectarian natures.” They said adopting such rhetoric would “give a sectarian dimension to their disputes and thus widen the gap that the Israeli enemy is working to expand and exploit.” The statement said conflicts within Arab states wrongly suggest that “Muslims in general and Arabs in particular have given up the priority of the Palestinian cause,” which further benefits Israel.
They made several points, like condemning violent and discriminatory practices by takfirist Islam, condemning coercion in religious matters, calling for respect for everyone’s private and public rights, and reiterating the principle of pluralism in Muslim-Christian relations and intra-Muslim relations
The leaders argued that when conflicts take on a sectarian nature, they “endanger unity in the societies of these countries, including Lebanon, and thus their security and stability.” The summit called on “Muslims, all Muslims, to stick to God’s solid path and avoid fragmentation.”
Being in college is hard enough, but imagine studying for a bachelors degree and living away from home for the first time with violence breaking out in all directions. ISIS and the army exchanging gunfire on the border with Syria. Deadly shells detonating on the border with Israel. Suicide bombers exploding in the heart of Beirut. Political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for almost a year. No wonder it’s hard for so many students to focus in class.
Some of my students are Syrian refugees–whose trauma from the war back home is magnified by the unwelcome treatment they receive in Beirut. Others are Palestinian refugees, who have known nothing but displacement since birth. The majority are Lebanese, whose parents not so long ago were embroiled in a brutal civil war–that many believe never really ended.
ISIS fighters make regular guest appearances in my students’ creative assignments, and close friends who died in bomb blasts in Beirut cry out for peace from beyond the grave. When my students and I read Plato’s Republic, I invite them to imagine themselves as philosopher kings of Lebanon–and ask them what their first order of business would be. A common response? “Burn it to the ground!” And after that? “Walk away,” they say.
“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.
Muslims and Christian leaders from across the Middle East and Denmark wrapped up a three-day conference on religious understanding Thursday in Beirut by highlighting values, such as mercy, respect and caring for the weak, which both faiths share.
The conference, entitled “Building Greater Understanding between Christians and Muslims,” was organized by the Muslim-Christian Contact Group of the National Council of Churches in Denmark and the Arab Group for Muslim-Christian Dialogue. It was supported by the Danish Foreign Ministry.
Reading the final statement, Reverend Riad Jarjour said the conference “had enhanced understanding between Muslims and Christians by focusing on common values which overcome religious and cultural differences.”
The statement said that during the conference, participants discussed issues of faith, common values, religious freedom, coexistence and dialogue between cultures.
Taking part in the conference were Muslims and Christians from Denmark, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iraq. A follow-up conference will be held in Copenhagen Sept. 25-28.
Jarjour, who is general secretary of the Arab Group for Muslim-Christian Dialogue, said that participants agreed on a common message based on a number of principles.
BEIRUT: A gathering of Lebanese Christian and Muslim religious leaders at Bkirki called for the bolstering of national unity and expressed sorrow over the political divisions in the country.
“The gatherers discussed the situation in Lebanon and stressed the need to bolster national unity, which is based on coexistence between Muslims and Christians, to protect from the effects of the events in the region on Lebanon,” a statement following the meeting at Bkirki said.
“We reject discrimination and strife, and stress the main Lebanese decision to remain together in an entity that is their final homeland, independent and united,” the statement added.
Participants at the event, which coincides with Annunciation Day, included Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the deputy head of the Higher Shiite Council, Druze religious leader Sheikh Naim Hasan, Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios Lahham III and Greek Orthodox Bishop Elias Audi.