Welcome to The IMES Blog!

Welcome to the official blog of the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES), a research and resource institute of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon.

IMES addresses subjects significant to the MENA region prophetically, sensitively and in a non-partisan manner for the purpose of carrying out its mandate to bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.

Please enjoy the posts below from our team of respected scholars, experienced practitioners, student researchers and knowledgeable staff. New posts go live each week on Thursday.

Reflections on Citizenship

By Elie Haddad

I am a native Lebanese citizen. I was born and raised in Lebanon. I love Lebanon, despite the insecurity, uncertainty, and corruption that characterize the country, and despite having grown up during the civil war. Lebanon has left its mark on me. Even the years of the war have contributed to shaping me into the person that I am today. I love Lebanon with the good and the bad. Consequently, I care a lot about the welfare of Lebanon. But what does this mean for me as a follower of Jesus? Should I care more about the welfare of Lebanon at the expense of other neighboring countries? Should I care about the holders of Lebanese citizenship more than I care about the displaced in Lebanon such as Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians, and the stateless?

I am also a naturalized Canadian citizen. Continue reading

Reflections on Fear and Faith

By Arthur Brown

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:36 – 40

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighbouring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

-Ezra 9:1-3

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

-1 John 4:16b – 21.

Fear, it seems to me, has always been a dominant force, perhaps one of the most powerful motivating factors in many of our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Even for those of us professing faith in Christ – whose love we are told ‘drives out fear’ – there are many things that we fear, if we are honest, which have the potential to negatively impact our witness. Individuals, or typically groups of people, who are in some way ‘different’ are a common source of ‘fear’ and this fear can of course result in hostility, or simply avoidance. Neither option seems appropriate for those called to live out the gospel among the nations. Continue reading

Hospitality in an Age of Terror

By Suzie Lahoud

“By the exercise of hospitality we come to the knowledge of Christ.” – Augustine[1]

The week that the controversial US travel and immigration ban was first issued, I sat in my living room in Lebanon with a Syrian woman whose water had broken in her seventh month of pregnancy. Both she and the baby were now at risk. Yet she came, not for medical assistance, but because she and her husband couldn’t afford the $350 that they needed to pay their month’s rent before they and their four children were evicted.

A couple of days later my husband sat with a close friend who sought his counsel on whether or not he should take the risk of smuggling his two teenage sisters and elderly mother out of Deir ez-Zor, an ISIS occupied region of Syria. The roads had temporarily opened up and he was desperate to bring them to safety.

Terror is not knowing if you and your unborn child will last the night.  Terror is agonizing over whether or not your sisters and mother will make it out alive. Terror is wondering how you will keep a roof over your young children’s heads in the peak of winter.

Two weeks ago this travel ban again reared its ugly head. Yet such policies do not protect against terror, they perpetuate it.  Continue reading

How Should Arab Christians React to Persecution?

By Martin Accad

The Arab Baptist Theological Seminary has just completed its fourteenth Middle East Conference/Consultation, organized by its Institute of Middle East Studies, the highlights of which were presented last week through our blog. Under the overarching concept of “disorienting times,” we explored the four themes of “Persecution and Suffering,” “Emigration,” “Hopelessness and Despair,” and “Minoritization.” The four themes were well integrated and tied together through a specific logical framework: The persecution that the MENA church has suffered historically has driven it to a sense that its status as minority was not simply a matter of numbers, but that it has been subjected to a process of subjugation which we referred to as “minoritization.” This process, which has led many to despair and to a general sense of hopelessness, continues to drive many to the search for new hope through emigration.

The bombing of two churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday last April, which claimed more than 44 lives, was a gruesome reminder that there are many still in this region who would seek the complete demise and disappearance of Christianity from the MENA. Continue reading

How Can the Church Be Prophetic in Today’s Disorienting Times? Highlights from Middle East Consultation 2017

From June 19 to 23, 200 participants from over 20 nationalities participated in our annual Middle East Consultation (MEC) titled The Church in Disorienting Times: Leading Prophetically through Adversity.

Each of the first 4 days of MEC focused on one theme. This year, morning sessions began with a theological keynote, followed by a local response and two witness accounts. These sessions ended with a participant from the West who provided a global crosscheck.

We are looking forward to the publication of a book based on the consultation proceedings. For now, we will provide you in this post with a glimpse of the presentations and conversations that took place at MEC this year.

Continue reading

Acceptance of the Other: How Interfaith Dialogue Has Helped One Community Come to Life Again

By Kathryn Kraft

When she stood up from the little stool on which she had been perched throughout our interview, I saw that she was indeed pregnant. I’d guess about seven months. But, I thought, she already had seven children, a sunken eye, and a lost home!

I wondered if she wanted this baby or if her husband wanted this baby or if she was unfamiliar with the concept of contraception. My mind wandered to my London existence, where the norm is to choose if and when to become pregnant and where few people have more than three kids. And in London we can access free prenatal, neonatal and paediatric care, assistance with childcare and then free primary education.

This woman had none of these things, and the contrast between her existence and mine somehow to me summarised so well the stark reality of her story and that of her community. An ethnic and religious minority, displaced from her home. But like me in her energy and will to make a life for herself and her family. Continue reading

What the Poor Have Taught Me?

By Rupen Das*

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 2009 study by Tomas Rees on the relationship between poverty and religiousness found that personal insecurity (due to stressful situations, such as poverty) was an important determinant of religiosity.[1] The poor tend to be more religious.

I find the faith of the poor both intriguing and challenging. Intriguing – because I wonder why the poor would turn to God and Christ? Challenging – because they want to know the reality of God made possible in Christ – not a message or a theological proposition.  I would have imagined that they would be angry at God, and blame Him for their circumstances –  for their poverty and the injustices they face. Why would they ask God (or anyone for that matter) for forgiveness, when it would seem that they have been the ones who have been sinned against? From my perspective, it seemed that God has betrayed and failed them.

In a recent project, we asked the poor why they chose to follow Christ.  Continue reading

Getting the Trinity out of the Ivory Tower

By Mike Kuhn

Are there any “ivory tower theologians” out there?

I’ve never seen an ivory tower…and I suppose that’s the point. Ivory tower theologians are presumably dealing with things nobody cares about, things that make no practical difference in day to day life.

I remember chuckling at “Owl” as I read the Winnie the Pooh books to my children (a long time ago). Poor old Owl, supposedly a symbol of wisdom, was inclined to pontificate in ways that failed to connect with life.

Sometimes I felt a little like Owl with my kids. Maybe that’s why I hesitate to write this blog. I wonder if the Trinity is an “ivory tower” issue in theology that, in reference to the Muslim world, should not be brought into the conversation. However, since my hesitation owes more to the rancor that has dominated the conversation than to conviction, I’ll go with conviction. Continue reading

Can You Trust Muslim Kindness this Ramadan?

By Martin Accad

In post 9/11 anti-Muslim discourse, taqiyya has been redefined as a religious obligation for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims not simply for survival, but in order to serve the expansionist agenda of their religious community. According to the taqiyya-focused strand of the anti-Muslim moral panic, Muslims stand condemned for their participation in this hidden agenda even when no criminal or anti-social behaviour is apparent.[1]

As Shakira Hussein vividly describes, Taqiyya, best translated as “dissimulation,” may be one of the most misunderstood Islamic concepts today. Continue reading

What’s happening at IMES this June?

Without question, June is consistently our busiest month of the year at the Institute of Middle East Studies. As such, we wish to highlight a number of the projects that we have been working on as we seek to fulfill our institutional mandate: To bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.

1) Middle East Consultation 2017 – The Church in Disorienting Times: Leading Prophetically through Adversity (19 – 23 June)

mec-2017-poster4-finalWe live in disorienting times. This is a reality for the church in many parts of the world today, not least the church of the Middle East. Many factors, historical and social, have reduced the church to the status of minority, in which persecution and hopelessness have become a reality for many. How must our theology inform our response?

During IMES’ Middle East Consultation (MEC) 2017 – The Church in Disorienting Times: Leading Prophetically through Adversity, participants will seek to discern a biblical framework that avoids both self-victimization and triumphalism and encourages the church to prophetically embrace adversity in a way that activates growth and development rather than discouragement and stagnation.

MEC 2017 provides a unique context for the MENA and global church to address a range of critical issues, focusing on the themes of persecution and suffering; minoritization; hopelessness and despair; and emigration. Together we will explore how the Body of Christ can best respond to such challenges, exploring Biblical and theological responses when confronted with adversity.

Click here for additional information about MEC 2017.

2) ABTS Graduation: Another Big Year for IMES! (25 June)ABTS logo med

Immediately following MEC 2017 is the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary Graduation Ceremony. Not only are we thrilled to celebrate with our resident theology and ABTS online students, but we are very excited as this is IMES’ second year to graduate students from our Master of Religion in Middle Eastern and North African Studies (MRel in MENA Studies) program!

Having completed four core modules (MENA Islam; MENA History, Politics and Economics; MENA Christianity; and MENA Cultures), essential language learning, electives, and the MRel Final Project, our students have done remarkable work to make it to this point and have every right to be incredibly proud of themselves and their accomplishments. For our part, we at IMES are extremely proud of our graduates.

With regard to her experience, one of our soon to be graduates writes:

My time in the MRel program proved to be an extremely formative period in my life. Not only did it spur my growth both academically and spiritually, but it dramatically shifted the course of my life and ministry. It opened my eyes to realities and opportunities in the region previously unseen, while also providing me with a conceptual framework and analytical tools to engage in new and unexpected ways. It broadened my horizons from a Kingdom perspective, which has bled into every other area of my life. Moreover, I cannot overestimate the value of the relationships that were formed. I was challenged and inspired by my classmates, and was surrounded by faculty who supported and catalyzed my development. Looking back, I don’t think I could have ever predicted how such a simple decision would launch me on such a transformative journey, and I will forever be grateful to the faculty and staff who made that possible.

The MRel in MENA Studies program is a unique and innovative multidisciplinary program based in the MENA region. This postgraduate degree focuses on providing a strong theoretical understanding of the region and the issues that it faces, combined with an emphasis on developing applied skills needed to work in the region and among MENA communities worldwide. It is based upon a strong theological and Biblical framework in that each module weaves scripture and theology into its theory and practice.

3) MRel in MENA Studies: MENA History, Politics and Economics Residency (26 June –  7 July)

Capture MRel 2015Immediately following both MEC 2017 and the ABTS graduation ceremony, students in IMES’s MRel in MENA Studies program begin two very full weeks for the residency portion of their MENA History, Politics and Economics module, under the supervision of Dr. Rupen Das. As lead faculty for the MENA History, Politics and Economics module Dr. Das will be assisted by Jesse Wheeler as support instructor and Elias Ghazal as holistic formation instructor.

The MENA History, Politics and Economics module seeks to develop an inter‐disciplinary understanding of the historical, political and economic dynamics that have shaped the contemporary Middle East and North Africa. This course looks at the formative historical developments of the modern era, major macroeconomic issues at present, and the complexities of regional poverty. It seeks also to explore the manner by which such realities intersect with the idea of the Kingdom of God, as a lens through which to understand and engage with the contemporary MENA. As part of the residency, students will gain training in contextual analysis, needs assessment and problem analysis, project design (developing the logic for change), and peace-building frameworks and strategies, as well visit special ministry, NGO and historical sites and learn first-hand from a variety of practitioners in the region.

During their residency, students and faculty will be together in the same location for a unique and intensive learning experience, all the while gaining critical insight into the rich historical, cultural, and religious heritage of the Middle East. Instruction and learning is accomplished through a blended delivery system combining 2-week residencies and the use of distance learning technologies that facilitate discussion and feedback.

Click here for more information about IMES’ Master of Religion in MENA Studies program. Click here to apply for the upcoming MENA Christianity module beginning Fall 2017.

4) Khebz w Meleh (“Bread and Salt”)

KwM

Finally, IMES is proud to continue its Khebz w Meleh (KwM) initiative throughout the summer months. Young people today are growing up in a country surrounded by different faiths yet often lead separate lives. As a result, Christian and Muslim young people can experience barriers of ignorance, fear and mistrust in their communities, which sometimes progress into hostility or conflict. KwM, an IMES peacebuilding initiative, seeks to bring together young people from different faith communities to discuss their faith around a shared meal, empower them to spearhead social change within their communities, and build authentic relationships in the process.

KwM is all about…

  • Exploring faith: young people are encouraged and equipped to discuss their faith in ways which draw out both the similarities and differences between them.
  • Creating friendships: by bringing together young people in a positive and fun environment we provide the opportunities for them to get to know one another, work on projects together and build ongoing friendship built on trust and respect.
  • Changing lives: having been to events run by KwM the young people are challenged and enabled to live out the lessons they have learnt in their everyday lives amongst their friends, family and the wider community.

We at IMES are very much looking forward to the coming weeks and in interacting once again with our friends, students and partners and in making new acquaintances in our efforts to bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims within and beyond the MENA region.