In Lebanon, dialogue as a solution

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By Sheikh Hani Fahs

BEIRUT: The Taif Agreement, ratified in 1989, brought the Lebanese civil war to an end and ushered in a new era for Lebanon. The Agreement emphasized coexistence and, since then, many of the religious leaders in the country have been striving to achieve this ideal. In the past few decades we have worked tirelessly to promote coexistence through our writings, sermons and community dialogues, as well as within the framework of our main organizations: the Arab Dialogue Team, the Permanent Lebanese Dialogue Conference and the Lebanese Congregation for Dialogue.

Our goal is to promote the concept that dialogue can complete what was announced in the Taif Agreement, and lead to a legal and practical declaration of the end of war and a national peace based on coexistence.

Building and renewing any entity or state cannot be achieved by one political party or by one religious group alone. There has to be a majority — a national, all-encompassing domain — within which there are various individuals and groups from diverse origins, experiences, expertise and sensitivities. These people must meet over one project, be open to change and criticism, and help this project gain vitality through diversity, preserve multiplicity by maintaining the necessary level of unity and enhance unity through partnership with the ”other”.

Religious leaders from different confessions, as well as some academics and political officials, have held many conferences since 1990 about dialogue and its importance. We have produced a charter on coexistence, mutual respect and the importance of a Christian presence in the region. Our belief is that dialogue is the door to coexistence, and through dialogue we hope to convince people that a secular state can guarantee freedom of religion and civil rights. A real state looks to its citizens as equals who can develop a relationship with the state and it various administrations without declaring their confession. Meanwhile, it retains its respect for all confessions as social coalitions.

As participants in on-going dialogue, each of us has individually achieved pride and inner security. By meeting those from other religious backgrounds, we have rid ourselves of all cysts that poison our view of the other and that cause sectarian hatred, religious rifts and national disconnect emanating from the civil war. We have placed our bets on the firm belief that the basis for a stable democratic country lies in positive coexistence.

Our time is dedicated to promoting dialogue between the different religions in Lebanon who were involved in the civil war. We discuss and debate, and hope to impart the culture of dialogue to the next generation. We work with youth through camps that we organized through the Arab Dialogue Team, and conduct dialogues on interfaith relations in order to dismantle stereotypes about the ”other”, to circumvent any new civil wars and achieve reconciliation among various religious groups that wage wars in the name of religion.

Our goal is to bring together young people, male and female, from various parts of Lebanon and have them spend time with together. Through recreational activities and discussions about various topics, such as the relationship between different religions, or the relationship between the state and religion. These youth get to know each other rather than rely on stereotypes and faulty misperceptions. They play together, eat together and develop meaningful relationships.

There is no path to preserving ourselves, our people or our religions except through dialogue. When differences deteriorate to the point of conflict, when struggle and infighting are engendered, dialogue becomes crucial. Perhaps we could live without coexisting in a positive, cooperative way, but such is a miserable and barren life, because the ”other” is essential in everyday life and is also the condition for existence, knowledge, life and the afterlife.

The more this plague of division spreads, the more we need to give. My fellow religious leaders and I remain in service to the nation and the citizens, as doctors and nurses, looking after Lebanon and caring for it until its well-being prevails.

Sheikh Sayyed Hani Fahs is a member of the Supreme Shiite Islamic Council in Lebanon. This article is part of a series on religious leaders speaking out, written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


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