By Nohad Topalian in Beirut
Work is under way in Lebanon to fight sectarianism and extremism on the heels of the international counterterrorism conference in Cairo, Christian and Muslim clerics told Al-Shorfa.
The conference, held December 3rd-4th by Al-Azhar, was attended by a number of Lebanese religious leaders, including Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Abdul Latif Derian and Maronite Archbishop of Beirut Boulos Matar.
At the conference, Muslim and Christian participants from 120 countries pledged to combat sectarianism and extremism in the Arab and Muslim world and to urge the authorities in their countries to do the same.
“A decision was made in the Muslim world to follow the path of moderation; this reflects positively on the entire Arab region, not only Lebanon,” said Archbishop Matar. “However, the mechanism to translate this moderate message [into real terms] requires time. We have to lay the seeds for a moderate future that accepts others, and achieving this is a shared responsibility.”
The conference is of great importance, he said, especially as the highest authority in Islam — Al-Azhar — rejected terrorism, murder and displacement and called for the confrontation of anyone who calls for these.
The conference’s recommendations were oriented toward moderate coexistence, Matar said, adding that Islam is known for its values of amity and tolerance.
The conference urged Christians in its closing statement to “stay rooted in their homelands and weather this wave of extremism afflicting the Arab world”.
“Christians must not feel that they are a burden, particularly since the global Islamic opinion is in favour of them staying on their lands and in their homelands,” Matar said.
What the conference declared must not remain “ink on paper”, he added.
“Clerics of both sects know their [respective] roles and bear their responsibilities in the dialogue and pursuit of the path of moderation,” he said.
Sheikh Khaldoun Oraymet, secretary-general of the Supreme Islamic Council, spoke to the statement issued by conference participants, which rejected extremism, terrorism and fanaticism and stressed the necessity of preserving the fabric of unity in the Arab region.
This statement “is but a confirmation by the highest Islamic authority in the world of a rectification of the path and the image that resulted from the extremism and fanaticism practiced by some Sunni and Shia groups”, he said. “It is also a confirmation that this [extremism and fanaticism] is rejected by [Sunnis and Shias] in favour of co-existence, national unity, moderation, centrism and the compassion that characterises Islam in the way it treats its followers and those of other religions.”
Oraymet said he hopes the recommendations issued by the conference will make their way to implementation, and that religious institutions will put in place their provisions and disseminate them to mosque imams, preachers and all who work in the field of Islamic advocacy.
Christians “are not a community we host in this east”, he told Al-Shorfa, in reference to the indigenous nature of Christianity to the eastern world.
“Christians in this country are the salt of its land and an integral part of its people,” he said. “As sheikhs and scholars we will, each in his own capacity, abide by the content of the statement issued by the Al-Azhar conference, which was co-prepared by Lebanese [participants representing all the country’s] Muslim and Christian components.”
“Only the authorities who participated in the conference represent the harmonious unified role that is founded on the belief in God, amity and compassion advocated by both Islam and Christianity,” Oraymet said.
“When compassion and amity converge on Lebanon, this is a message to Arabs and the world, a message [that serves as] a model and example to this east which has suffered numerous calamities, wars, persecution and displacement,” he said.
The path we must follow is that of centrism and moderation, he added.
‘INTERFAITH DIALOGUE HAS ALREADY BEGUN’
Mohammed al-Sammak, adviser to Lebanon’s Grand Mufti and a member of Lebanon’s Islamic-Christian National Dialogue Committee, said Lebanon held an Islamic-Christian spiritual summit on September 25th in Dar al-Fatwa in Beirut, on the mufti’s invitation.
“The interfaith dialogue has already begun in Lebanon, and our position is clear on extremism, which affects everyone,” he added.
“Our mission is to prove to each other primarily that we, Muslims and Christians, are responsible for the crimes that are committed in the name of religion, and that combating them is not done by migration or retreat, but rather by [finding] a common solution based on a civil state that respects rights, including religious rights,” he told Al-Shorfa.
Extremism is a phenomenon that came as a rebellious reaction and does not stem from Lebanese society, he said.
Now, “a hurricane of extremism has formed and it is destroying everything in sight. We must prepare for the post-hurricane stage,” he said.
At the conference, “a very loud stance was taken against extremism and terrorism at the highest Muslim levels, ushering in a new phase of Islamic-Christian co-operation,” al-Sammak said.
He spoke to the conference’s urging of Christians to stay rooted in their homelands.
“The solution lies not in migration but rather in Christian-Muslim co-operation,” he said, “which is what we are working on, because migration is a consummation of the concept of extremism and achieves the objectives of extremists.”
“And for that reason the Al-Azhar conference, and the Islamic-Christian summit before it, urged Christians to stay rooted in their lands,” he added. “This is what we want and are currently working towards.”