Lebanon’s top Sunni pledges peace-building to Global Ministries delegation

IMG_1033.jpgLebanon’s top Sunni Muslim met with a dozen leaders from the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on May 6, and during the discussion he denounced the actions of radical groups, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, who was elected the Grand Mufti of Lebanon in August, told the delegation that they are on the same road for peace and justice.

Derian warmly welcomed 12 people from the Global Ministries delegation— a group of executive and program staff from the UCC and Disciples on a two-week tour of the Middle East—to Dar El-Fatwa in Beirut, the Sunni Muslim office of authority in Lebanon.

“That is not respective of religion, nor is it corresponding to the values of a religion,” Derian told the group, speaking about violence by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. “The true followers of religion are the victims of these attacks.”

“We come at an important time in the Middle East,” said the Rev. Jim Moos, co-executive of Global Ministries and UCC national officer. “We are committed to peace and justice in the region, and interfaith relations with our brothers and sisters, and we are thankful to pray with our Muslim friends for peace in the region and work with them to show that not all Muslims are fanatics or violent.”

Moos explained the upcoming Middle East Initiative, a focused advocacy effort of Global Ministries that begins across the UCC with General Synod (June) and the Christian Church at General Assembly (July), and added that interfaith dialogue is a key part of the initiative.

Derian was in agreement. “You are most welcome to this house, a house of Islam, a house of Lebanon and a house of people working for peace,” Derian said. “It’s true you are coming at a key time.”

Derien’s advisors said that Dar El-Fatwa, which is responsible for interpreting Islamic law, cooperates with 12 of the 18 religious sects in Lebanon, and that those sects agreed to denounce actions by ISIS as criminal acts.

Many moderate Muslims have spoken out against the rise of extremists groups—like ISIS, who claim to be followers of Sunni Islam—and are working closely with other Muslims, as well as Christians and Jews, to strengthen their relationships.

At almost every meeting during the tour, Global Ministries’ partners emphasized and re-emphasized the critical nature of interfaith dialogue in finding peace.

“Our fate as Christians here is connected to the fate of Muslims,” said George Sabra, president of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut. “Our main concern is how to preserve the Christian presence and how we will have a role in what is emerging in the Middle East.”

To close the hour-long discussion, Moos asked Derien to share with Lebanese Sunnis that Global Ministries stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Lebanon.

“We are different [in our faiths], but we agree that this difference does not spoil the love and peace on the journey toward justice,” Derian said. “I believe it as a true Muslim.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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