08/22/2015, 00.00
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Islamic Makassed launch doctrinal battle against Muslim extremism

by Fady Noun
Official reference point for Lebanon’s Sunnis approves a document entitled "Beirut Declaration on Religious Freedom". Speculation over whether Dar el-Fatwa will succeed in gradually regaining control of Islamic religious teaching in the nation’s mosques.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Islamic extremism and the atrocities that accompany it have shown the world the intellectual and existential crisis that afflicts the Muslim world. It’s a crisis that touches not only the Arab world. In Lebanon, as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vienna, Athens and elsewhere a vast array of congresses and conferences are being hurriedly organized to clarify - and distinguished - what Islam is and what it is not, and spread a "moderate and enlightened " Muslim culture, to borrow recognized terminology. Not an easy task.

A small step in this direction was taken this week in Lebanon with the publication by the association of " Islamic Makassed ", close to Dar el-Fatwa, the official body for Lebanon’s Sunnis, of a three-page document entitled "The Beirut Declaration on Religious Freedom "(20 June 2015).

The document was hailed by Lebanese Christian intellectual circles attentive to this issue. A permanent coordination has been created between the Makassed, the oldest and the most important Sunni association in Lebanon and the Christian group Saydet el-Jabal, of which the former deputies Samir Frangié and Souhaid Farès aremembers, with the goal of consolidating the achievements of the shared culture and defending coexistence, which has been seriously undermined by a religious and political extremism that has crept up among both Muslims and Christians.

This work is made all the more urgent by the outbreak of Islamophobia, strengthened by the Muslims themselves and exploited by social networks, especially in countries where Muslims are a minority. According available data, there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today, a significant percentage of whom live in countries defined as "non-Muslim".

The "Beirut Declaration" was adopted at the end of a first "Congrsso of Islamic Makassed ", held under the chairmanship of Amine Daouk. The speakers were Hicham Nachabé, rector of the University of Makassed (pictured), Mohammad Sammak, a familiar figure in the world of Islamic-Christian dialogue and Radwan Sayyed, researcher and academic.

"The enemy is here. The extremist wave has arrived even among  us" said a worried M. Sammak, as we  met in his office in one of the buildings subject to massive security measures in "Courant du Futur ", in Spears St.. Historically, he said, the growth of Muslim dates back to  Israel’s defeat of the Arab world in 1967. The religious Israelis saw the Arab defeat and the conquest of Jerusalem as  the realization of a promise of God. But the Islamic movement, who were then the minority and weak, felt that the defeat was a defeat of Arab secularism. "God is not on the side of the Jews. God is with us. We were not with God. So we have to return to Islam", they said. The close link between religion and politics, its resurrection, therefore dates to the early 70s. It arrived along with Christian Zionism, which pretentiously stated that "Israel's return on his land" and the reconstruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem were precursors of the second coming of Christ, a millenarian deviance that always grabs attention.

"We thought that our open and liberal society, with its multicultural composition, was safe from this phenomenon – added the adviser to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri - today we are surprised and impressed by its virulence, particularly among young people, although it remains a minority".

Extremism infiltrates Muslim society through capillarity, that is difficult to control. Its tenets spread through "underground religious teachings " taught by Imam from "God knows where or whom," inculcating a spirit among men which leads to a culture that excludes the "different".

Complete mess

The "Beirut Declaration" finally clarifies the teaching of Islamic doctrine on issues such as the recognition of freedom of faith and teaching, respect for freedom of conscience, respect for the dignity of the human being, the right to difference, respect for pluralism, the right to political and social participation, to build a civilized state, compliance with the Charter of human rights, commitment to a united and democratic Lebanon, etc.

This short compendium of doctrine accessible to all attempts to correct an Islamic thought that has fallen prey in Lebanon to a dangerous disorder concerning Muslim religious teaching, according to Sammak.He pointed out how  Dar el-Fatwa had a vague monopoly on education, during the war years. Later, Abdel Rahim Mrad, who became Minister of Education, granted new licenses to Muslim religious institutions and the chaos grew, "to the point that Libya financed one of these, whose president was a member of the intelligence apparatus." And "Rafic Hariri had a presentiment about the imminent extremist wave ".

"Traditionally, in official schools, Christian students left the class when the sheikh came and Muslim students when it was the turn of the priest or religious teacher. The minister reacted to this separation of religions ... by eliminating religious teaching. It was an absurd solution to a problem. The teaching was reintroduced, but remained an anarchist. In the 1990s Hariri asked me personally to find thirty imams of mosques who would be willing to enroll in European universities, in order to form a kernel of open, moderate, enlightened ulema reformers. "

"I failed in my mission. Everyone I approached was too comfortably established in their career to risk having to start studying again."

Freedom of conscience

The Beirut Declaration according Sammak  "seduces - since it contains concepts such as respect for freedom of conscience. This is a concept at the heart of Christian culture and theology. Christians are not used to hearing us talk of freedom of conscience. We talk about religious freedom. But freedom of conscience goes beyond that ".

The document also states that " in Islam there is no Islamic State or theocratic state," because Islam does not provide for any specific political regime. It considers it a matter  for a society's members. "I also provoked the indignation of three sheikhs, who withdrew from the conference, saying that the Muslim faith is incomplete without the recognition of the Christian faith, because Christians believe, as Muslims, in one God." "I've been criticized on YouTube, because I denounced their closed spirits, weighed down by the turban."

"These attacks are not important, because it is not Mohammad Sammak who is speaking," said interlocutor. “I am certainly not attacking the use of the turban, but their dull minds. The "Beirut Declaration" is vested with the authority of Makassed, a combination of ancient tradition, over 137 years, and which has schools throughout Lebanon, a university, mosques, hospitals, cultural institutions. The declaration is therefore important not only for its content, but also because of the platform from which it was launched and for its timing.

"It's not that we have discovered the wheel" continued Sammak. "Of course, we had the courage to update them, but many of these things cannot be claimed to be new. Al-Azhar continues to repeat them since 1920. Mohammad Abdo, the imam of al-Azhar and Sheikh Abdel Razzak were attacked with ferocity when they said that Islam is a religion, not a political system, and showed it with clearly defined verses".

"We must fight extremism from within Islam itself" insists Mohammad Sammak. We cannot just be satisfied with the empty statement of: this is not Islam. We have to convince Muslims with arguments drawn from the Muslim faith, from the Koran. "

Will Dar-Fatwa be able to regain supervision of the teaching of the Muslim religion and the prayers that are held in the mosques of Lebanon? This is its long-term goal, from which it draws its strength from an enlightened Islam from al-Azhar University and reinforced by recent and fundamental statements deemed authoritative in the Muslim world. In Lebanon, as in the rest of the world, peace passes through the construction of a solid doctrinal bulwark, able to stem the tide of extremism and exclusion of a religious nature. Thanks to Makassed’s  "Beirut Declaration", the arguments in this matter  are now enriched by a new text.

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See also
Muslims defend Christians’ freedom in Beirut Declaration
Two Christians killed, churches burned: extremists respond to Florida Koran burning
Afghanistan protests explode over Koran burning, eight dead, dozens wounded
Lahore High Court clears two Christians of blasphemy charges
Marginalization, threats, and misery for families charged with blasphemy


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