Lebanon: Muslim leaders condemn persecution of Christians

The leaders of four branches of Islam in Lebanon gathered earlier this month to issue a joint statement in the face of sectarianism and the rise of the Islamic State, denouncing attacks against Christians in the region, reports the Catholic News Agency.

“In the name of religious, humanitarian and national principles, the summit condemns religiously motivated attacks against Eastern Christians, including attacks against their homes, villages, property and places of worship, when in fact the Prophet had recommended that they be respected, protected and defended,” the participants said in a June 2 statement.

Such attacks, “like those suffered by other Muslims and non-Muslims belonging to other faiths and cultures, like the Yazidis, are tantamount to aggression against Islam itself,” they added, according to abouna.org, a site edited by Fr. Rif’at Bader, a priest of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The June summit included representatives of the Sunni, Shia, Druze, and Alawite communities.

The event’s coordinator, Mohammad Sammak, is co-chair of Lebanon’s National Committee for Islamic-Christian dialogue, and the Muslim leaders recommended that “the right way for intra-Muslim and Islamic-Christian relations involves justice, moderation, respect for diversity and differences among men.”

The gathering also “reiterated its faith in respect for human dignity, private and public freedoms, especially religious freedom, and its rejection of any coercion in religion or in the name of religion.”

The Muslim leaders are concerned by rising sectarianism and violence in their country, which has experienced pressure from the more than four-year civil war in its neighbor Syria: Hezbollah, a Shia militant group in Lebanon, has joined the fighting there; and more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees have flooded into Lebanon.

The Islamic State, which has established a Sunni caliphate across portions of Syria and Iraq, has persecuted all non-Sunnis – including Shia Muslims – and several of the Lebanese summit’s recommendations regard practices it has adopted.

The Muslims leaders urged their followers “to see no differences among themselves. This does not mean the absence of disagreements, but it does mean the acceptance of differences and respect for others, based on the rule of faith according to which ‘believers are brothers’. The variety of schools and interpretations does not abolish nor weaken this sense of brotherhood.”

They also noted that the Quran banns the killing of one Muslim by another and condemned “all forms of extremism and judgments of apostasy (takfir) pronounced against other believers in a God, a practice that is also a deviation from the tolerance that characterises Islam [. . .] and twists or distorts its image.”

The group also denounced terroristic behavior, and invited “Muslims from all schools in Lebanon and the Arab and Islamic world to focus on the fundamentals of faith of the Muslim doctrine and avoid misinterpretations that make Islam say what it does not say.”