Muslim-Christian meeting in Beirut to jumpstart dialogue and fight against fundamentalism

The Saudi Embassy in Beirut sponsored an interfaith meeting on the topic ‘Lebanon unites us’ in order to clear the air in Saudi-Lebanese relations. Sunni Mufti stresses the need to promote Christian-Muslim coexistence. Shias are absent because of Saudi attacks against Hezbollah.

Jan 27, 2017

BEIRUT: Saudi Chargé d'affaires Walid Bukhari organised a national interfaith meeting at the Saudi diplomatic mission in Yarzeh yesterday centred on the topic ‘Lebanon unites us’. The goal was to clear the air in Lebanese-Saudi relations following a rapprochement that began with the official visit to Saudi Arabia by the President of Lebanon Michel Aoun this month.

The meeting is part of a process of readjustment in the diplomatic relationship between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia that had cooled after Lebanon refused to go along with the Kingdom’s hard-line on Hezbollah, which it considers a "terrorist organisation". For Lebanese leaders, the latter was unacceptable since Hezbollah represents a large segment of Lebanon’s Shia community, and sits in parliament and government.

The meeting was attended by the Mufti of the Republic, Sheikh Abdul-Latif Derian, Druze leader Sheikh Naim Hassan, Mgr Boulos Mattar, archbishop of Beirut and a representative of the Maronite Patriarch, as well representatives of other religious communities. Members of the National Commission for Islamic-Christian Dialogue, Hares Shehab and Mohammad Sammak, as well as Apostolic Nuncio, Bishop Gabriele Caccia, were also present.

The Shia community however was not represented because Sheikh Abdul Amir Kabalan, vice-president of the Shia Higher Council, could not attend for health reasons. A diplomatic source noted that the cleric’s son, Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan, a Ja’fari mufti, was supposed to represent him, but was prevented by a “last minute impediment”. Suffice to say that Shia community authorities, hostile to Saudi Arabia, might have deliberately decided to stay away.

To give the meeting greater solemnity, the Saudis were represented by Mohammad el-Issa, secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and Faisal Bin Muammar, secretary general of the Vienna-based King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.

Speaking at the beginning of the meeting, Mr Bukhari said that this was a follow-up to the interfaith and intercultural dialogue initiative launched by King Abdullah at the World Congress on Dialogue in Madrid (July 2008).

"The congress,” he said, “was aimed at opposing faith to atheism, virtue to vice, justice to oppression, peace to conflicts and wars, human brotherhood to racism ". In the wake of this congress, the Saudi monarch founded the centre for dialogue in the Austrian capital”.

The king involved himself in this conference as part of a "constructive dialogue" between Islam and the other great religions “at the time of its inauguration.”

"We all believe in one God,” the monarch said at the time. “We are meeting today to affirm that religions must be a way to smooth differences and not to lead to quarrels".

“In the very heart of Lebanon, this meeting is designed to leave its historic mark that, in this East, we live under the roof of the divine messages," concluded Walid Bukhari.

For his part, Mufti Abdel Latif Derian distanced himself from extremism, insisting on the Arab affiliation of Islam, which he defends, as opposed to a Persian affiliation, synonymous with of Iranian hegemony.

He stressed "the necessity for such meetings between community leaders in the hard times that affect the East full of challenges for religions and the Arabs."

"Let us preserve solidarity, Islamic-Christian coexistence, and let us forestall the development of circumstances favourable to intolerance and terrorism in Lebanon," said the Mufti of the Republic, a clear reference to the recent arrest of a suicide bomber set to blow up his explosive belt in a trendy cafe on Hamra Street in Beirut.

"Lebanon cannot but stand with Saudi Arabia and the States of the Gulf Cooperation Council,” the mufti added. “You are our Arab strength, and we are deeply attached to our Arabness,” he added.

For his part, Archbishop Boulos Mattar, representing Patriarch al-Rahi, said that "Muslims and Christians together form half the inhabitants of the planet.” Through understanding, brotherhood, and mutual respect willed by God, we can win the challenge of peace for the whole world."

In concluding, the prelate noted, "We have been getting along in Lebanon for centuries, and we are proud of it. We know perfectly what the true Islam is and you know yourself what the true Christianity is. The image of Islam is unblemished in our hearts and minds for Islam is fundamentally humanistic and open to everyone. Islam does not accept extremism whose source is found elsewhere than in religion and which will be gone as it has come."--Asia News

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