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.

MEC 2018 – Jesus Christ and the Religious Other: Toward a Biblical Understanding of Islam مؤتمر الشرق الأوسط ٢٠١٨

In the 21st century, religious diversity is a fact of life. Be it the result of historical precedent or technological advancement, immigration or proselytization, religious diversity can be as disorienting for some as it is enriching for others. For the committed follower of Christ, how are we to make sense of and respond to the non-Christian religions we encounter? Importantly, how does our understanding of religion and religious phenomena impact our proactive Christian witness?

It is in light of such questions that we find ourselves returning to the text, to the witness of scripture and to the great women and men of faith upon whose shoulders we stand, for guidance. In this vein, IMES is pleased to announce Middle East Consultation 2018 – Jesus Christ and the Religious Other: Toward a Biblical Understanding of Islam. Through the course of MEC 2018 (18 – 22 June) we will work toward discerning a Biblically grounded theology of Islam and religion which constructively informs the Church in its thinking, attitude, and approach to ministry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Participants and contributors at MEC 2018 come from across the region and the world, providing a unique opportunity to reflect upon the critical challenges of Islam, religious diversity and Christian witness in light of scripture and the study of religion. MEC 2018 will feature high quality presentations from multiple perspectives, personal testimonies, interfaith forums, intimate breakout sessions, and opportunities for all participants to engage in robust discussion.

Middle East Consultation 2018 will be held 18-22 June at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Beirut, Lebanon. Save the date! 

مؤتمر الشرق الأوسط ٢٠١٨ – يسوع المسيح وموقفه تجاه “الدين”: نحو مفهوم كتابي للإسلام

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في القرن الحادي والعشرين، بات التنوع الديني حقيقة واقعية على مستوى العالم أجمع. وسواء كان ذلك نتيجة الأحداث التاريخية أو التقدم التكنولوجي أو الهجرة أو التبشير بديانة أخرى، فالتنوع الديني يربك البعض ويُثري البعض الآخر. وبالنسبة لأتباع المسيح الملتزمين، كيف يمكننا أن نفهم الديانات غير المسيحية التي نصادفها وكيف نتعامل معها؟ والأهم من ذلك، كيف يؤثر فهمنا للدين والظواهر الدينية على شهادتنا المسيحية؟

في ضوء هذه الأسئلة ترانا نعود إلى النّص والشاهد الكتابي، وإلى النساء والرجال المؤمنين العظماء الذين نعتمد عليهم لنحصل على التوجيه اللازم. ففي هذا الإطار، يسرّ معهد دراسات الشرق الأوسط أن يعلن عن مؤتمر الشرق الأوسط ٢٠١٨ يسوع المسيح وموقفه تجاه “الدين”: نحو مفهوم كتابي للإسلام. من خلال مؤتمر الشرق الأوسط ٢٠١٨ (١٨-٢٢ يونيو/ حزيران) سنبدأ بوضع إطار لاهوتي مبني على أساس الكتاب المقدس لفهم الإسلام والدين وهذا من شأنه أن يحاكي الكنيسة في تفكيرها، وموقفها، ومقاربتها للخدمة في الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا.

يأتي المشاركون والمساهمون في مؤتمر الشرق الأوسط ٢٠١٨ من جميع أنحاء المنطقة والعالم ليقدّموا فرصة تأمل فريدة من نوعها حول التحديات التي تنشأ من الإسلام والتنوع الديني والشهادة المسيحية في ضوء الكتاب المقدّس والدراسات الدينية. سيقدّم مؤتمر الشرق الأوسط ٢٠١٨ مشاركات قيّمة من مناظير متعددة وشهادات شخصية ومنتديات حوار ما بين الأديان وحصص الانخراط الشخصي وفرصًا متعددة لجميع الحاضرين ليشاركوا في المناقشات العميقة والهادفة.

سيُقام مؤتمر الشرق الأوسط ٢٠١٨ من ١٨ حتّى ٢٢ يونيو/ حزيران في كليّة اللاهوت المعمدانية العربية، بيروت، لبنان. دوّنوا ذلك في مفكرتكم!

A Modest Proposal for Changing the World اقتراح متواضع لتغيير العالم

By Mike Kuhn

While traveling recently through North America, it struck me frequently that normal Christian folk are increasingly face-to-face with people of other faiths, especially Muslims but also with Hindus, Buddhists and others.

I watched Somali women line up for childcare outside a center in Seattle, WA. Syrians were picnicking in a park in Langley, BC, Canada. I stopped into the LA area with its incredible mix of nations from all over the world. Even my Tennessee and Carolinas stops were punctuated with stories and conversations about Iraqi and Rwandan neighbors and ESL classes for refugees.

It was good for me because I stopped watching news media and listened to people. Continue reading

IMES Regional Brief – November 2017

IMES is launching its bilingual “Regional Brief,” which picks up on key news of a political, religious, economic, and social nature, happening in the MENA region. After shedding some biblical and theological insights on them, they will be presented in a way that serves churches and Christian organizations both in the MENA region and globally.

The goal of the Regional Brief is to increase the global body of Christ’s understanding of the region and to provide it with insight and recommendations for ministry.

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LEBANON

The Church in Lebanon Needs to Balance Its Compassion between a Critical Situation at Home and the Safe Return of Syrian Refugees to their Country

On the 17th of October 2017, the Information Office of the Presidency of the Lebanese Republic announced President Michel Aoun’s call for the return of Syrian refugees to the safe areas of Syria, due to Lebanon’s inability to bear the consequences resulting from the Syrian presence in the country. This was in accordance with a statement issued by the Lebanese President during his meeting with the ambassadors of the UN Security Council, the ambassadors of the European Union, the United Nations envoys, and the League of Arab States. He announced the existence of at least two and a half million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a figure exceeding that registered by the UN Commission referring to one and a half million. Read more

لبنان

على الكنيسة في لبنان أن تجد الموقف المتّزن في التعاطف مع الواقع اللبنانيّ الحرج وإمكانيّة العودة الآمنة للنازحين السوريّين إلى بلادهم

أعلن المكتب الإعلامي لرئاسة الجمهورية اللبنانية بتاريخ 17 تشرين الأول 2017، دعوة الرئيس ميشال عون لعودة اللاجئين السوريين إلى المناطق الآمنة في بلادهم بسبب عدم قدرة لبنان على تحمّل العبء الناتج عن التواجد السوري في البلاد. وذلك بناءً على تصريح رئيس الجمهورية في لقاء مع سفراء الدول الخمس الدائمة العضوية في مجلس الأمن الدولي وسفراء دول الاتحاد الأوروبي ومبعوثي الأمم المتحدة وجامعة الدول العربية، حيث أعلن فيه عن وجود ما لا يقل عن مليوني ونصف لاجئ سوري وهو رقم يتجاوز الإحصاء المسجل في مفوضية الامم المتحدة الذي لا يتعدى المليون والنصف، وأضاف أنّ هذه الزيادة تفرض ضغطًا اجتماعيًا واقتصاديًا على البلاد. المزيد

PALESTINE / ISRAEL

Palestinians and Israelis Should Move Beyond Self-Victimization to Counter Balfour’s Historic Injustice

Today, the 2nd of November 2017, marks the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, a British document born of war-era realpolitik, ethno-nationalist aspirations, and millenarian zeal. Understood as an historic milestone by some and a monumental betrayal by others, the Balfour Declaration called for “[t]he establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – under the suzerainty of the British Empire – “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Read more

فلسطين/اسرائيل

على الفلسطينيين والإسرائيليين أن يتجاوزوا ذهنيّة الضحيّة لردع الظلم الناتج عن بلفور

اليوم 2 نوفمبر/تشرين الثاني 2017، يصادف الذكرى المئوية لإعلان بلفور، وهو وثيقة بريطانية وليدة حقبة الحرب والواقعية السياسيّة، والطموحات القومية العرقية والحماس الأخروي. إعلان بلفور، الذي يدعو إلى “إقامة مقام قومي في فلسطين للشعب اليهودي” يعتبره البعض علامة فارقة في التاريخ، أمّا البعض الآخر فيعتبره خيانة عظمى. وتضمّن هذا الإعلان تحت وصاية الاستعمار البريطاني، أنّه “لن يؤتى بعمل من شأنه أن ينتقص من الحقوق المدنية والدينية التي تتمتع بها الطوائف غير اليهودية المقيمة في فلسطين.” المزيد

IRAQ

The Return of Iraq’s Christians Could be the Hope for the Country

On the 15th of October 2017, the Iraqi central government forces reasserted their military and political control over Kirkuk, in northern Iraq following a growing push for independence that led to a Kurdish secession referendum on the 25th of September 2017 where 93% of Kurds expressed support for independence. Read more

العراق

قد تكون عودة مسيحيّي العراق رجاء مستقبل البلاد

في يوم 15 تشرين الأوّل الماضي، شدّدت القوّات العراقية سيطرتها العسكرية والسياسية على كركوك في شمال العراق محاولةً ترجمة الموقف العربي من التوجه الكردي إلى إنشاء دولة مستقلة. وقد ظهر التوجه الكردي هذا في استفتاء أُجري في تاريخ 25 ايلول 2017 حيث أعرب 93% من الأكراد تأييدهم للاستقلال. المزيد

EGYPT

Egypt’s Christians and Muslims May Need to Promote a Common, Biblically-Sanctioned Understanding of God to Counter Religious Violence

Thursday, the 12th of October, witnessed an attack on Coptic Priest Samaan Shehata in al-Marg, a poor area on the eastern side of Cairo, resulting in his death. Ahmed Saeed al-Sonbati, who had been charged previously with beating his father and setting his house on fire, struck Shehata in the head and abdomen with a cleaver while he was in Cairo gathering collections for his parishioners in al-Fashn (in the governate of Beni Suef about 150 km south of Cairo). Read more

مصر

على مسيحيّي ومسلمي مصر أن يعزّزوا مفهومًا مشتركًا لله، يُجيزُه الكتاب المقدّس، لمواجهة العنف الديني

يوم الخميس 12 أكتوبر/ تشرين الأول لقي الكاهن القبطي سمعان شحاتة مصرعه طعنًا بسلاح أبيض في أحد شوارع منطقة المرج شرق العاصمة المصرية القاهرة. أمّا منفّذ الاعتداء المدعو أحمد سعيد السنباطي، فهو متهمٌ سابقًا بالتعدي على والده بالضرب وإشعال النيران بمنزله. وقد قام الجاني بضرب الكاهن شحاته على رأسه بالساطور وطعنه بالسلاح نفسه في بطنه فيما كان الأخير يقوم بجمع التبرعات لرعيته في أبرشية الفشن في محافظة بني سويف جنوب مصر. المزيد

SOUTH SUDAN

The Church in South Sudan Leads the Way in Promoting the Role of Women and Has an Important Responsibility in Developing a Comprehensive Understanding of Peace and Reconciliation

On the 17th of October 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Conflict Resolution and Peace addressed a letter to the international community calling for serious initiatives to be taken regarding the conflicts and problems facing South Sudan, after the deterioration of its security and the degradation of its humanitarian condition. Read more

جنوب السودان

الكنيسة في جنوب السودان سبّاقة في إبراز دور المرأة الرياديّ ولها دور مهم في إنشاء مفهوم شامل للسلام والمصالحة

في تاريخ 17 أكتوبر/ تشرين الأول 2017، قدّم مسؤول مفوضية الأمم المتحدة لحلّ النزاعات وإحلال السلام، خطابًا دعا فيه المجتمع الدولي لأخذ مبادرات جديّة تجاه النزاعات والمشاكل التي يواجهها جنوب السودان، لاسيّما بعد تدهور الوضع الأمنيّ وتردّي الوضع الإنسانيّ. المزيد

TUNISIA

Controversy over the Prohibition of Marriage of a Muslim Female to a Non-Muslim Male in Tunisia Sheds Light on the Importance for Christians to Understand Legal Diversity in Islam

Tunisian authorities have lifted the ministerial order that had previously prohibited the marriage of Muslim Tunisian females to non-Muslim males, announced Saida Garrach, the spokesperson for the Presidency of the Republic, on Thursday the 14th of September, 2017. Read more

تونس

جدلٌ في مسألة تحظير زواج المسلمة من غير المسلم في تونس يشير إلى أهميّة التعرّف على التعدّديّة الفقهيّة في الإسلام من قِبَل المسيحيّين

ألغت السلطات التونسية منشورًا وزاريًا كان يحظّر زواج التونسيات المسلمات من غير المسلمين، وذلك وفقًا لما أعلنته الناطقة الرسمية باسم رئاسة الجمهورية، سعيدة قراش، يوم الخميس 14 سبتمبر/أيلول المنصرم. المزيد

IMES Blog Relaunch – November 2017

allahThe Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) is pleased to announce that new content for our blog will be arriving this November 2017. We have been under construction these last few weeks, and as such ask your forgiveness in the delay of our relaunch. But, our team of respected scholars, experienced practitioners, student researchers and knowledgeable staff will return soon to address important topics and critical events significant to the MENA region prophetically, sensitively and in a non-partisan manner for the purpose of carrying out the IMES mandate to bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.

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