The Role of the Universities in Fostering The Islamic-Christian mutual living and Dialogue. A lebanese Endeavor

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The Role of the Universities in

Fostering The Islamic-Christian mutual living and Dialogue.

A Lebanese Endeavor
Professor Mohammad Munir Saad El-Dine

University professor and Islamic and Pedagogical researcher

Imam Ouzai College of Islamic Studies, Lebanon

IAU Seminar on Intercultural Learning and Dialogue in Higher Education

Central European University (CEU),

Budapest, Hungary

12 and 13 November 2004


It is of great pleasure and happiness that we meet to discuss dialogue, mutual- living, and tolerance which are taking place in a frame of human relationship where minds and souls interact to exchange ideas, situations, knowledge, values, high principles and social understandings among divine religions that show its deep, common relations and close characteristics between its cultural dialogue and not otherwise.

God had created us different and wanted us to be like this and made these differences among all his creatures Man, plants, animals, colors, shapes and sizes, etc. He says “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed sings for men of sound knowledge.”[ Surah 30.Ar.Rum, V.22 [. Also, God Says” And if your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made mankind one nation, following one religion, but they will not cease to disagree. Except him on whom your Lord has bestowed His Mercy and for that did He create them.”]Surah 11. Hūd, V118-119[
This difference, numerousness, and variety is God’s wish because this difference necessitates dialogue ond conversation. And Dialogue, in its different forms requires the presence of differences in situation, thought and in vision. But this difference should not be a means for separation but rather for love, cooperation, understanding, and friendship. The acceptance of numerousness, variety and difference is nothing but the corner stone of dialogue. It is useless to change this difference into conflict and clash. God says “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nation and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At – Taqwa (Piety).”[ Surah 49. Al – Hujurat, V.13

Upon this, difference becomes a natural trait; and if people comply with its ethics and admit its laws it becomes a positive social trait for it will be among the principles of first creation. Yes, the problem begins only when this difference changes into clash and division where everybody becomes weak and helpless. It is God’s wish that controversies take place where agreement emerges from differences and coordination comes from the womb of dispute. Still, had God willed, He could surely have made mankind one nation or community of challenging minds,whims and appearances, but He made them different nations and tribes of different colors, religions and interests to meet, be close and cooperate to complete each other. He meant by this, to make humanity in its essence built up on variety and numerousness. When human communities understand this holy wisdom, they will deal with it the way God willed. That is, through dialogue, tolerance, good will, and good wording where variety and numerousness become the source of life and power not of conflict, fight or division.

Role of Universities
Universities, one of our educational institutions, and in special the religious faculties and colleges, are supposed to train and educate their students on dialogue, forgiveness and common living in inserting skills and strategies in their educational curriculums.

It is unfair to limit education only on these academic fields leaving behind our upbringing residing in a high academic tower neglecting the social conditions and in not giving it our attention and care. We should concentrate on the conversational style with the educated person and share him in the educational process. Verily, real pedagogy is the one, which is able to form intentions, to explore abilities, to recognize inclinations, to support skills that make man more able to deal with facts and to upraise him to higher esteems and applicable objectives.

Furthermore, one of the responsibilities of the Ministry of Pedagogy and Higher Education is to prepare and train the academic staff on concepts of dialogue, tolerance and common living along with other things and to solve all problems that many rise in not seeing them applied.
To see practical training down to earth, it necessitates to have both Muslim and Christian students visit Muslim and Christian religious places, participate in feasts and happy and sad occasions, common environmental work, dedicate a day for public service, present films that may group both Muslims and Christians, join sportive ceremonies and scout camps, lectures, research work and workshops and to implement the theater in producing issues that deal with dialogue, tolerance and common living. In addition to having students do certain studies about certain social traits that are connected to education, curriculum and human rights. We can also ask students to collect information and facts about a certain specific trait, to analyze the contents of some school books that reflect the image of the opposite side and how well does a Muslim know a Christian and vice versa. Such an image is, unfortunately, shaken at both sides because the bridge of knowledge is missing except in few limited cases.
Also, there could be cooperation among the faculties of pedagogy and arts that could prepare artists and pedagogical men who can work hand in hand, both Muslims and Christians in issuing series of books that treat through image, word and caricature all cases that deal with dialogue, tolerance and common living. Really, I wish such series be a well-planned work with distinct clear objectives having its subjects and contents tested and verified before being published and distributed. This could be only done through objective plans, follow up and perpetual evaluation.

It would be better if we ask students to observe situations presented in Media that discussed dialogue, tolerance and common living in addition to Islamic-Christian understanding and cooperation: topics like fanaticism radicalism, and violence. They could also prepare files and gather information about past events through interviewing older people about social and historical events that show full cooperation in social, political and educational phenomena.

Besides, it is also possible, in teaching, to use solid social phenomena in presenting real events that deal with dialogue, tolerance and common living and to gather facts and information where students could do their best through their controversies; where another groups can be assigned to deal with the different sides of the problem to discover its multi complications.
Results, ideas and deductions could be exchanged, discussed and defended by all participants or by reshuffling the educated persons into different groups where methodology could be developed and principles and values are stressed.

Instead of asking questions and activities that simply need to recall taught information, we can ask questions with open answers and problems that require deduction and inventive projects and means that lead to unusual solutions; all for the sake of moving the concepts of dialogue, tolerance and common living from the frame of abstract theories to everyday behavior, values and skills.

When we talk about the teaching staff, whether in universities or schools, and in special those who teach comparisons among religions definitely there should be a kind of coordination among the Christians and Muslims for, undoubtedly, one period of a religious lesson is enough to make a student forget everything he has been taught of openness in other courses without scarifying the solidity and the specialty of each religion.
Religious education plays an important role in the field of Islamic-Christian dialogue, tolerance and common living. It cares for teaching and upbringing students on concepts and religious values. For example in a religious lesson about comparing religions and their curriculums, a sort of confrontation to the other religion may occur even through the students’ questions and explanations. Here emerges the role of the instructor in guiding them properly to respect others’ religion and truth.
When we talk about religious education we mean that one which opens up onto other religions in being understanding, cooperative, tolerant, inclusive to the common factors like creation, life, death, resurrection, morals, family etc. Wisdom doesn’t reside only in contexts for there are hidden facts in practices made by simple people who have narrowed the horizon because of their up bringing, education, teaching, interests and situations they have been subjected to. The best books made by fanatic teacher could be upsetting and bad, whereas, the worst kind of books could be made by a good conversed, tolerant and open-minded teacher look one of the best. The question is, what happens in the classroom when the teacher closes the door?

We like to confirm here that in teaching religion, information should be given objectively with the possibility of making contacts with the followers of the other religion. Besides, the mission of teaching is to introduce other religions, leading to a state where we can understand ours elves better as human beings, hence a better understanding of humanity as a whole. Verily, the fact, which says that religions, in most cases, are misused, is good enough to disclose its real content and meaning. It becomes a must, then, for both Islam and Christianity to work together to face such a problem. Conversation (dialogue) cannot take place unless we ours elves accept and tolerate each other, exchange knowledge, and know ours elves and others as should.

It is necessary that our curriculums get rid of the heavy burden of captivity. Let us orient ourselves towards evoking and encouraging history; to cooperation, understanding, tolerance and dialogue. Let our aim be the right education where our promising generations receive the right image about the others. Let cooperation, understanding and common living emerge between Islam and Christianity to rebuild the Islamic-Arab culture that emphasizes the noble values of this culture.

As for the fields of cooperation, understanding and common living, they are varied and numerous starting off with the alley and the street where the mosque and the church are, ending up with cooperative firms and all over Islamic- Christian institutes.

The aim behind is to enrich students with skills, attitudes, values, freedom of criticism, dialogue, respect to others and to accept them as they really are to implement them practically.

A Lebanese university Trial

A university is a high educational institute formed by a society of fixed aim and mission. Its role is to offer higher education to the society and to support it with high qualified human resources to face all challenges and. A university is part of the society it is found in and interacts with. It does not only concentrate on the educational side, but also on the social side as well. It teaches the forms and rules of the society and tries to prepare scientific researches, which are the core functions of all universities. The university, thus, becomes the mind of the society; whereas scientific researches become the mind to all other universities. Higher education, in its basic means, leads the society and guides its developing actions. That’s why we insist on having our universities as a starting point and reference in dealing with all issues concerned with Islamic- Christian dialogue, tolerance and common living. Also, the university should accomplish its full role in spreading the education of these values, prepare the modern references in these domains because the problem doesn’t reside only in presenting the literary side of these values and what is inside, but in applying and implementing these literary values and principles in our educational environment.

Education has its role in supporting the dialogue, tolerance and mutual living for its effect on minds. A university can offer a solid ground of culture and education a fact that requires, constant care and interest in the university curriculums to develop and promote. Graduates should be educated, open-minded and far away from domination and mental terrorism.

Starting from the role of the university and its necessity in employing such a role to serve its community, with respect to dialogue and mutual living, and, trusting our experience and evaluating process to such issues in denying and rejecting the previous experiences that relied on limiting the vital topic of dialogue, and in grouping powers to confront all dangers that may face our society, we see that one way to reach our aim is through heading directly towards the university and its faculties and institutes to get it out of its isolation and to direct it toward its society to face its problems and to participate in solving them ; as well as, to prepare its members through their physical, mental and spiritual power without forgetting to stand in face of all materialistic benefits , in running away from religion and heading towards corruption in its different forms . We should work harder on having purposeful dialogue and in knowing one another, as should employing this dialogue as means of salvation to a better mutual life.

As for the university, trial which started off with the blessings of the faculty of Iman Al- Owsa’I for Islamic studies in Beirut, was the first of its Kind on the Lebanese level, and was built on: -

I) Pre- university Teaching Direction:

The first aim of this trial was to group all Islamic educational institutes that care for pre- university teaching; then, on a second base, to put all the basic needs, elements and general standards especially to the Islamic educational curriculums for the elementary and secondary teaching. A fact which was achieved and a booklet was issued under the supervision of the educational unit in the faculty of Imam Ouzai College of Islamic Studies in Beirut, which I had the pleasure of being the chair, and included titles about dialogue, tolerance and mutual living like: -

    1. The need, for a student, to know the courtesy of conversation with others .To stick to punctuality and objectiveness in speaking to others. To recognize the importance of Islamic- Christian dialogue and limit its causes and fields. To stay away from conversation with others. Fanaticism in opinion when the right is verified.

    1. The student is to reject absolute fanaticism in conduct with him and others as well, and to stick to the principle of tolerance with other non- Islamic religious sects. To make sure to build fruitful relationships with the members of other religions. The teacher should clarify to the student the missions of prophets and messengers and their characteristics. The student is to understand Jesus’s Message (pbuh) where justice, mercy, compassion and understanding are established among the members of the society.

That was an achievement made by an Islamic university educational institute that wished with the help and cooperation of other Islamic institutions to achieve and make possible for our students to work with an open mind to search for knowledge and look for the truth to agree on the right form of conversation, tolerance and mutual living to see them out of isolation; and from theory into application.

When we raise such an image, we realize that Islam confirms a tolerant society with itself and others convicting violence and fanaticism and calling for friendship and understanding taking into consideration that dissimilarity is a form of universal law.
II) University Teaching Direction

Lebanon enjoys the abundance of religious sects, mainly are the following:-

  1. Islamic sects: - Sunnites, Shiites, Doruze and Alawis

  2. Christian sects: - Maronites, Catholics, Armenians (Catholics), Catholic Syrians, Caldonians, Latin, Orthodox, Orthodox Armenians, Orthodox Syrians, protestants, Coptic’s and Assyrians.

Some of these sects have their own universities and faculties few of which are religious. Of these faculties is Imam Ouzai College of Islamic studies in Beirut which launched its initiative, to be the first of its kind on the Lebanese level ever since the independence era, calling all authorized religious faculties and universities in Lebanon by the Ministry of Higher Education to deal and converse about their role in facing all the challenges and problems that are facing the Lebanese society.

Twelve Islamic and Christian faculties and university colleges answered the invitation followed by another two and were distributed as follows:

  1. Six Islamic faculties and university colleges.

  2. Eight Christian faculties and university colleges.

The first meeting was held on Tuesday, December 6,1997 and was followed by other successive meetings till nowadays.

Faculty and college delegates used to meet regularly in peaceful and moralistic atmosphere suitable for dialogue where everybody participated with big effort and efficiently depending much on mutual respect, honesty, openness, trust, patience, punctuality and kindness.

We started from common mutual aspects between Islam and Christianity and from the need to face all challenges through consciousness, support, cooperation and understanding. Also we exchanged ideas, facts, information and expertise, which increased the knowledge of each team about the other in a wise, objective way. There were many meetings and differences but nothing was able to spoil our friendly relations where each team kept his own beliefs, fixedness and specialties; yet we did our best within the available possibilities, to change that mental image in prejudging each other. There was no discrimination but full cooperation, and mutual understanding. Each team was so careful to learn from the other. We both agreed on keeping away from prefixed beliefs because such issues will lead nowhere but to dead end.

We tried to discard each others’ fears which lead to isolation, non – participation, ignorance and distortion of others’ image .We did out best to build a cozy atmosphere rich with confidence and mutual work for a better society. We used to converse following God’s words “ And argue not with the people of the scripture, Jews and Christians, unless it be in a way that is better, with good words and in good manner, inviting them to Islamic Monotheism with His verses, except with such of them as do wrong.”] Surah 29, Al-Ankabut, V.46[
Our meeting was based on equal word, the word of truth and justice, which treats all equally. God says:"O people of the scripture, Jews and Christians, Come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but Allah, Alone, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall others as lords besides Allah.[ Surah 3 Āl – Imran,V.64]

These meetings led to many intellectual, social and personal relationships in the form of visits, sharing of happy and sad moments, conferences, attending university discussions and in getting introduced to many Christian and Muslim intellectuals. For example, during the seventh conference for Islamic students’ guild which was held in Beirut, and as part of the planned program of visits for the participants, we attended a lunch invitation from the chancellor of Al-Kaslik university and the Dean of the Charitable Theology College which was a convenient occasion to exchange ideas and dialogues.

From a personal experience, I would like to say that personal relationships make man reconsider things about prejudged sentences and about building friendly relationships based on mutual respect and in accepting the differences because dialogues encourage mutual openness in spreading intimacy and friendship.
All had realized the importance of bringing up such continuous communications, which act as a useful credit to deal with the present circumstances as well as a successful

Tranquilizer, through fruitful and continuous education, that depends on tolerance and could face crises and search for means to surpass them. And, since education can reach far more horizons than those which rotate on political decisions, it becomes a must, then, that all-Islamic and Christian scientists and men of religion to double their effort and consider them as their first priorities.

In these meetings, we did our best to enrich ourselves from the springs of the Heavenly messages that shorten the distances between man and his brother man. The following were the procedures that emerged from these meetings: -

  1. A conference was held in Beirut, UNESCO palace, on Wednesday and Thursday the 2nd and 3rd of December 1998, which was about " Values in Education and Communication." Many Muslim and Christian lecturers participated representing the religious faculties and colleges in Lebanon.

  2. Some of the implemented recommendations were issued like:-

    1. A visit was made by the students of Saint Paul’s college for philosophy and theology to Iman Al- Owsa’i college for Islamic studies where a discussion took place between the students and the tutors followed by a visit to the college library.

    2. An equal visit was made by the students Imam Ouzai college of Islamic Studies to Saint Paul’s college in Harisa . A distinguished discussion took place between the tutors and the students followed by a tour on campus

    3. A visit made by the students of Imam Ouzai of Islamic studies to the Islamic – Christian studies center and another for the High college for Religious sciences at Saint Joseph (Jesuit) university accompanied by some tutors where they were introduced and had the chance to see the Oriental library (Al- Shrqiyyah).

    4. Many students from different Islamic colleges and faculties visited Ataya church, in Achrafiya area then they visited the Applicable Pastoral Studies Center, in Ghazir area, which is related to the Charitable Theology Faculty at the Holy Spirit University.

    5. A meeting conference was held at the Islamic Studies University College in Tripoli for all religious faculties and university college representatives adopting the comparative study course among religious, taught at Al-Owsa’i Faculty and the Islamic- Christian Studies Center at Balamand university, and the way to teach it and its objectives.

    6. Planning a scheme to activate the meetings between faculty members and students within limited objectives and activities that include:

  1. Lectures and conferences about the family, ecology, modern moral crises, etc.

  2. Exhibitions that include publications prepared by faculty members and institutions, in addition to researches, periodicals, magazines and mutual students’ activities.

  3. All common and mutual works

  4. Establishing common student committees that represent colleges and faculties to cooperate with the general committee to enhance and activate meetings and activities

  5. Exchanging publications and researches among faculties and institutes

  6. Having faculty members and institute instructors participate in common, mutual researches.

  7. Having faculty members and institute instructors cooperate in supervising and discussing theses and dissertations.

  8. Issuing a common bulletin in the near soon and a common magazine in the future.

g) Establishing a Common student committee that represents all faculties and institutes, two nominees from each. The total number of the members of the committee was 88 students and I had the pleasure to be their coordinator. Many Muslim – Christian meetings were held. Few were those who could imagine how enthusiastic these students were because at first they lived apart from each other because of the Lebanese civil war. They didn’t know each other and were afraid of each other. Love, intimacy and desire to do mutual work overwhelmed their meetings. They all worked and put plans for the coming academic years to serve their society. I myself participated in those meetings and I was very happy to see that morale, overwhelmed as well as mutual respect and the willingness to work as one team. In the end, everybody was happy to accept the lunch invitation at the Charitable Theology Faculty.

          1. Two lectures were held in the year 2004 about "Ecology and Faith and " "Man’s position in creation". These two lectures were discussed from the Islamic – Christian perspectives.

In the end, I had the pleasure to suggest the following things to the faculty and institute representatives.

    1. The need of having a full documented work among faculties and institutes to form a library in the field of Islamic – Christian dialogue and mutual living.

    1. To activate the role of faculties and institutes to face all reasons that may lead to the retreat of Islamic- Christian dialogue and that a faculty member should be of high standard in understanding the concept of dialogue and mutual living as well human rights and to students’ psychological, social and religious merits. Also, there should be a full cooperation between faculties and institutes on one side, and the family and the society on the other.

Our aim was to implement the values of these strategies through the active participation of students to learn and live these concepts to become life style and verily applied. And this could be achieved through saving a tolerant, cooperative and understanding university atmosphere upon which depends the relation between teachers, students and the administration making of the university a complete human educational unit where dialogue, tolerance and mutual living become its main base and axis.

These universities, then, can participate in holding training sessions and in having everybody share in evaluation. We can also have, as mentioned before, common researches among faculty members where supervision and evaluation could be agreed on.
These are samples of the dialogue, tolerance and mutual living concepts between Muslims and Christians as well as of the suggested ideas where we should all cooperate to succeed and implement. It is a challenge to everybody and for everybody. A challenge to our honesty in having a practical application to these promises and to the lecturers’ intentions and to those working in the field of education. A fact that requires continuous and patient effort until these values become a necessity and indispensable. The problem lies in the lack of dialogue, tolerance, and mutual living between Muslims and Christians.
To conclude, I would like to say how beautiful life becomes and how colorful cultural development will be in an open, democratic world of different roots. Even, it will be more beautiful when a person deeply loves his/her religion without being fanatic towards others. Also, how great it will be when the people of the same country meet in spite of the differences in origin, color or religion or from different schools, universities, clubs, worshipped places and factories on one goal or factor which is love and peace.

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