By Arthur Brown
Your Rights & My Responsibilities: Biblical & Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights
IMES’ Middle East Conference 2013
June 17-21, Beirut.
This week’s post is a temporary departure from the norm, in that it is an announcement concerning our annual Middle East Conference. Each year IMES hosts an international conference addressing a variety of issues that relate to our mandate;
To bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.
Given recent events in our region, that without doubt impact the rest of the world in one way or another, it seems the need to reduce ignorance of the ‘other’ by seeking understanding, remains of critical importance. Whilst it will never be possible for all people to agree on specific elements of faith, politics and cultural expression, understanding what leads the other to behave in certain ways, will at least help people respond with a degree of understanding that can start a constructive dialogue, rather than a polemic, and often violent one.
Whilst the motif of human rights is broad, with many interpretations and diverse expressions in regards to practices, IMES believes that this framework provides a useful backdrop to reflect on a wide range of issues within and beyond the MENA region. Hence, the title of 2013’s Middle East Conference:
Your Rights & My Responsibilities: Biblical & Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights.
Too often it seems that talk of ‘human rights’, at least within a Western context, focuses on the ‘rights’ of the individual over and above their responsibilities in relation to social realities. The recent events concerning the blasphemous movie about the Prophet Mohammed provided us with a clear example of this. The producers of this movie cited strongly their right [doctrine?] of ‘freedom of expression’, paying scant attention to the wider implications of their actions. The response, based on an equally strongly held doctrine concerning the ‘defense of God’ from an Islamic perspective led to a wave of protests around the world [although not always violent in nature, such as in the case of the peaceful protests organised by Hezbollah in Lebanon], and deaths around the Muslim world.
MEC 2013 will help participants develop a discourse based not simply on an individualistic understanding of ‘human rights’, as is common in a typically Western narrative, but taking into account an approach that takes seriously corporate and social responsibility for the welfare of all human beings. It will further help participants gain insights into non-western, Christian and Islamic approaches to what is commonly referred to as ‘human rights’ in order to understand why clashes often occur, and what can be done to reduce such clashes.
Given also the rapidly changing realities within the MENA region, and the rise of a new wave of religious and political leadership, further questions concerning the human rights of minority groups, including those of Christians within the region, are a cause of concern for many. How will minority groups, including those from minority faith groups, fare within an increasingly Islamic paradigm? How might religious rights and freedoms be understood and practiced within the MENA context? This is a question that is often used to critique Islamic views on the nature of religious conversion and apostasy. And yet, there are, within the Muslim world, different views. The MEC will provide the opportunity to explore some of these issues with both local and regional Christians and Muslims.
In order to provide some context to the discussions, MEC 2013 will also have sessions exploring how the framework of human rights has developed, and how as a framework it is understood from both a Christian and Muslim perspective. These sessions will provide the foundation for the rest of the conference.
As IMES is also concerned with grass-roots practice, MEC 2013 will address a particular area of concern for us. This is the subject of human trafficking within Lebanon and the region. Human trafficking is a global industry that manifests itself in different ways within different contexts. Within the Lebanese context we will be exploring the three dominant forms of human trafficking that currently take place. These are; the internal trafficking of children for the purpose of child labour and exploitation; the trafficking of domestic workers that Martin Accad addressed in a recent blog post on this site; and the trafficking of women as part of the sex industry.
MEC 2013 speakers are made up of a mix of international, local and regional experts within their fields. Both Christian and Muslim perspectives will be presented by speakers from both faith traditions. In addition, MEC 2013 will provide Christian participants from around the world the opportunity to engage in honest and constructive conversations with Muslims around the issues being addressed.
The Middle East Conference is fully bilingual (English and Arabic) with simultaneous translation from both languages. MEC typically attracts around 100 participants from around the world. Church groups, students and those with an interest in Biblically sound witness to Christ in multi-religious contexts constitute the main participants.
The dates for MEC 2013 are Monday 17th – Friday 21st June 2013. The conference is held at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary on the outskirts of Beirut Lebanon.
For more details, and an application form please visit our website at: www.abtslebanon.org/mec. Further information will also appear from time to time on this site. But to be kept as up-to-date as possible on all MEC 2013 news, follow us on Twitter! @IMESLebanon.
We look forward to welcoming you to MEC 2013!