When speaking of Islamic-Christian coexistence in Arab societies, or even of the coexistence between Islamic sects themselves, the idea sounds like a nice slogan or an unrealistic poem, with all the sectarian congestions currently happening in numerous Arab countries. However, accepting this means sliding downhill toward irreconcilable conflict. This is why all efforts are being made today to revive the coexistence concept, which is gradually being overshadowed by sectarianism, through workshops and seminars specified for the youth who hold in their hands the decision whether to coexist with the other or not.
In Lebanon, a workshop held by the Adyan Foundation gathered youth from Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan to discuss “Islam, building Islam and coexisting,” based on the Amman Message (a statement made in 2004 by King Abdullah II of Jordan, calling for tolerance and unity in the Islamic world) in partnership with the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies in Jordan, in collaboration with the Ministry of Islamic Awqaf Trust Affairs and funded by the European Union.
Political exploitation of religions
There is common ground between Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, since in all three countries, there are various Islamic sects living in the same society along with Christian sects. Even though things can easily get out of hand, initiatives to reunite are often quickly taken. In the workshop, youth from different sects sat down together to express their concerns and disclose their real thoughts with the presence of someone else, perhaps listening to them for the very first time.
For example, Peter Alfy, a young Egyptian, thinks that the issues between the youth is a result of the political exploitation of religions and often of pushing the young generation toward more issues and conflicts for political purposes only. Alfy, from the Coptic community that has survived numerous security events linked to sectarian conflicts, thinks that things are getting better now since the regime is changing, allowing coexistence to become desired after a long period full of problems. He emphasizes the common values that bring down all conflicts, such as the lofty principles that confirm the importance of non-atonement of others. Alfy tried to directly communicate with other young people coming from Egypt, both Muslims and Christians, to create a framework they could carry out once they go back to their country. However, no one hides their concerns about politics coming between their people and taking advantage of the youth again, especially those who are not mature enough to understand the political purposes of sectarian conflicts. While Egypt has been trying to recover from numerous problems, it has witnessed the past few years as a result of playing the sectarian card, Lebanon is still caught deep within the crisis. Sarah Obeid, a young Lebanese woman, says, “We are trying to break the stereotypes and draw a different picture about Islam than the one being promoted by terrorism and extremism.” Sarah thinks that a religious dialogue among youth is necessary for them to talk about their concerns, ideologies and thoughts openly, and for them to hold onto their religious identity, which is one of the humanitarian dimensions, without it creating a problem with others. There is no doubt that bringing up sensitive matters, especially a matter concerning Islam and coexisting with other religions, was controversial during the dialogue sessions, for such subjects raise thoughts that need thorough studies and distancing from shallowness.
The youth participating in the workshop tried to get over a lot of problems raised by Islam and coexisting, most importantly the religiously strict movements that many are concerned about. Young Jordanian Mohammed Kanaan suggests moderate Islam as a solution for all current conflicts, because there are theologians encouraging extremism that distances them from the essence of Islam. Kanaan thinks that the solution starts with King Abdullah II’s Amman Message. It shows the importance of moderate Islam, which is far from extremism and the attempt to eliminate the other who might be from a different Islamic sect. He also reminds us that Christians of Jordan, for instance, are one of the oldest Christian societies in the world and Jordan can be considered today a country that aims for a real coexistence through the rhetoric of theologians, the educational curricula, awareness programs and youth guidance seminars, so they don’t get dragged by the strict Islamic movements, which have asserted a noticeable presence in the past few years.
The youth returned to their countries after participating in the workshops in Lebanon. They carried with them a lot of new ideas they might not have thought of in their societies that might be rife with sectarianism. The vice president of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, Amer al-Hafi, explained to Al-Hayat that there was an effort to implement an all-embracing humanitarian speech for youth, in spite of the religious and cultural differences, especially since there was plenty of internal influences such as false slogans, the apostatizing of others and the negative way in which some look at Islam leading to a reaction from Islamic youth.
The director of the Cross Cultural Studies Department at the Adyan Foundation, Nayla Tabbara, confirms that nothing could stop the trend of taking advantage of youth except spreading awareness through workshops and programs that target this group. Knowing about the other person’s religion, or even about Islam itself, creates an obstacle for extremism. Maybe the questions raised in the minds of the youth returning to their countries are many, but at least now they are thinking instead of being driven by a well-promoted politico-religious trend.