The Salafist Gathering in Tripoli is pursuing its dialogue with the Maronite Church to educate the Christians on what it considers “Islam’s pure wellsprings,” to discuss the points of disagreement, and to identify the common denominators that would buttress national co-existence on the bases of civil peace, national unity and the concept of “you have your religion and I have mine.”
In that context, the Salafist Gathering, which includes a number of sheikhs who follow Salafist doctrine, returned the visit paid to the Salafist Gathering by the president of the Episcopal Commission for Islamic-Christian Dialogue, Father Antoine Daou, two weeks ago in Abi Samra, Tripoli. The Salafist Gathering’s sheikhs paid a visit to the Antonine School in Ajaltoun, Keserwan, where they held an extended meeting with a number of prominent Maronite figures that included Ambassador Abdullah Bouhabib; the secretary-general of Sagesse University, Antoine Saad; the head of the cultural movement in Antelias, Antoine Saif; Sheikh Ghassan el-Khazen; Brig. Gen. Sassin Assaf; and the expert Antoine Saad.
The Salafist visit was significant because it was the first visit by Salafist sheikhs to a Maronite monastery and the first Salafist-Maronite dialogue where “all matters were discussed calmly and honestly and in full transparency,” according to Daou.
The president of the Islamic Brothers Association, Sheikh Safwan Zoubi, explained to the attendees the concept of the Salafist call and answered their questions. He asserted that Salafism is not a religious novelty but a call for going back to Islam’s “pure wellsprings,” to clean Islam from religious fads and myths, and to raise Muslim generations on those notions. He pointed out that the transgressions that are committed by some groups and attributed to Salafism do not reflect that movement, and that not all Salafists are alike. He said that Salafist movements should be dealt with according to each movement’s approach, practices, history and aspirations toward the partner in the nation.
Sheikh Zoubi admitted to the participants that the Salafists, and all Islamists, seek to establish an Islamic caliphate, but that such a goal remains elusive and almost impossible. He said that the Salafists believe that an Islamic caliphate can be achieved by Islamizing society, not by revolutions, coups and popular movements on the street, as others are trying to do it. He stressed that there should be coexistence between those who disagree with each other in this country and in the present reality, which cannot be changed in the short term. He called for codifying the relationship between the different opinions inside and outside of Islam whereby the relationship is not conducted in a haphazard and instinctual manner.
Sheikh Zoubi stressed the need to identify the secular political forces that support religious extremism and that are trying to use it to blackmail the Christians in order to extract further gains from them. He added that identifying those forces and preventing them from using that political tactic would help the nation avoid a lot of discord and security tensions.
For his part, the president of the Islamic Forum for Preaching and Dialogue Sheikh Mohammed Khader stressed the need for continued dialogue in order to identify the points of disagreement and buttress coexistence and cooperation in light of those disagreements, which are “part of God’s plan”. He drew attention to the current problem of using religious slogans for political purposes. He called for agreeing on a flexible formula that can be used for positive communication among all political and religious parties in Lebanon.
Daou said that those meetings have set the stage for future cooperation. He praised the Salafist Gathering’s sheikhs, who have presented an agreeable picture of Islam by visiting a Maronite monastery for the first time to hold talks with Christian figures. He pointed out that the meeting was an opportunity to explore the depths of Salafism when the knowledge about that movement is superficial, and that after the explications by the Salafist sheikhs he found that pure Salafism is a return to the “wellsprings.”
Daou told As-Safir that politics is distorting Salafism by stoking fear in the West’s view of Islam, and that some militant Islamist movements are contributing to that by issuing religious edicts calling for the demolition of churches and banning the greeting or offering of condolences to Christians. He said that such acts are not part of Islam’s tolerance and greatness and are far removed from Salafist doctrine as explained to us by the Salafist Gathering’s sheikhs.
He added, “We are living by Islam and the Muslims are living by Christianity in a common environment. We are all people of the book and we are all God’s children. There should be no differentiation between us, especially when we read in the Quran verses calling for knowledge, truth, tolerance, respect and affection toward Christians. Therefore we are not asking for our rights from the Muslims because these rights are guaranteed by the Quran, which is followed by Muslims.”
Daou stressed that Muslims and Christians have no choice but to communicate and co-exist with each other. He called for rejecting extremism from any side because if extremism spreads it will harm everyone.
As-Safir learned that the meetings between the Salafist Gathering, Daou and the Christian figures will continue and expand, paving the way for a direct dialogue between the “advanced and scientific” Salafism and the Papal Nuncio in Lebanon Gabriela Katcha, and then with the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara al-Rai.