Muslim and Christian clerics have been working together to promote the language of dialogue and tolerance in Lebanon through a series of interfaith dialogue sessions around the country.
Since its inception on Christmas Day, 2012, a gathering of religious leaders has held dialogues for clerics and civil society around Lebanon to educate people about the need for mutual acceptance and to reject the infiltration of extremist groups and ideology.
The group has focused its attention on areas known for religious diversity, holding a series of interfaith dialogue sessions in villages in Mount Lebanon’s Chouf district since October 11th.
“It was imperative for us as clerics to crystallise Muslim and Christian religious concepts that call for benevolence, amity and peace in the face of injustice, fighting and violence,” said Mohammed Ali al-Hajj al-Ameli, imam of Sad al-Bouchrieh Mosque.
The group comprises Sunnis, Shias and Christians of various denominations and is active on a national level, he told Al-Shorfa, adding that it is particularly concerned with targeting youth.
The gathering’s priority is to reach out to young people and listen to their aspirations and concerns, he said, as youth are especially susceptible to being drawn into the wave of extremism and violence.
“Our role as clerics is to promote peace and noble ideals which transcend the narrow political alleys, for clerics have real effectiveness at the pulpits of mosques, churches and educational institutions in promoting amity and the rejection of violence and extremism,” he said.
Iyad Abdullah, imam of Chehim Mosque, said there are two types of clerics — those who studied Islamic jurisprudence at sharia colleges, and those who merely cloak themselves in religiosity and have memorised some Qur’anic verses and hadiths.
“If we distinguish between these two groups we cannot follow the path of extremism, murder and terrorism, because the religious texts prohibit us, while the intruders on religion cling to some of the texts that were descended under certain circumstances, base sharia opinions on them and issue fatwas without any significant background in sharia,” he told Al-Shorfa.
The graduates of sharia colleges have worked hard to promote peace and to call for the rejection of extremism “in the context of the preservation of life, honour and religion”, he said.
Warding off fitna
Christian and Muslim clerics are fulfilling an educational role to combat extremist ideology “through a network of relationships that aims to promote a moderate ideology based on respect for human life”, Abdullah said.
“With intellect and educated minds we play a role in warding off fitna, wherever it comes from,” he said, noting that Sunni and Shia imams and Christian clergy are working together in these gatherings to educate people to reject and oppose extremist views.
Clerics “deliver a common message of living amicably and dealing honestly with one another,” said the Rev. Abdo Raad, principal of Deir al-Moukhalles School in the town of Joun.
Under the current circumstances in the region, clerics must send a message of acceptance of others and promote the concepts of justice, amity, openness and respect, he said.
The gathering organises joint activities between Christians and Muslims, celebrating holidays together and holding dialogue sessions to present testimonies on co-existence, Raad said.
The gathering is a “model of co-existence and works to quell sectarian and religious sedition wherever it is found”, he said.
Clerics can use their pulpits to send a message of rejection of all forms of violence and call for the resolution of problems by peaceful means, he said.
Raad stressed the need to direct youth towards the concept of co-existence instead of violence and sectarian and religious strife.