A step and experience by the Lebanese that can teach a thing or two to people outside the Middle East.
When Sheikh Mohamad Nokkari, one of the people who thought up a joint Muslim-Christian national celebration, met with us from Oasis back in November in Beirut, he spoke about the great resistance his proposal was encountering. Luckily, in the following months, the National Council for Dialogue seized the idea and made it its own. Eventually, the Lebanese cabinet approved it, convinced that a shared celebration could increase understanding between Christians and Muslims after so many years of war.
The figure of the Virgin Mary is as dear to Muslims as it is to Christians, albeit in different ways. Indeed, the Annunciation is well described in the Qur‘an because for Muslims it heralds the birth of a great prophet, but for Christians it stands as the first stage in the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Obviously, the idea of a joint Muslim-Christian celebration in Lebanon is also politically significant, for it is connected to a quest for stability in the country. At the same, at least in the minds of its sponsors, such a celebration cannot be reduced to power politics.
Our focus on Lebanon ends here, but behind such issues, there is a message that transcends the boundaries of the small Middle Eastern nation. More and more men and women from different religious backgrounds are coming together, not only Muslims, but also increasingly Orthodox Christians.
What outcome this tumultuous process will yield remains uncertain; what is certain is that it must be steered to avoid chaotic hybridization. We must find the right bases to support the practical fact of living together, firstly through mutual recognition. If we can have the same points of view, even when there is no complete agreement, we can truly discuss openly the implications of one another’s positions, be they religious or secular, in relation to how we conceive man, the cosmos and society as well as the bases that underpin them.
Lebanon’s Muslim-Christian celebration is an invitation as well as a challenge; it tells us that we can follow such a path and does so by showing how religions can imagine and find ways for people to live together. It does so ahead of politics, even if we cannot do without politics.
Lebanon’s example is proof that people can find common ground without eluding their history.