Category: Christianity

‘Religion — phase two’


The relation between religion and the media, in light of the problematic concept of freedom, was examined in Beit Mery, Lebanon, this week.

An exciting conference, in which I participated, addressed this complex triangle in a context of post-Arab Spring tensions.

Participants of various backgrounds and cultural references from many Arab countries presented their opinion on the subject. I represented the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies.

As I am always interested in the theme of religious references and their role in the structures of different identity components, I was thrilled to see such diverse and complex identities gathered at the conference.

The hall in which it was held embraced Muslims and Christians, secular and spiritual people, conservatives and liberals, people from religious institutions and from civil society, in addition to all sorts of media representatives. Bloggers and social media activists were also present.

This varied mosaic added to the richness of the subjects discussed.

Points of views coming from hundreds of angles helped create a very active atmosphere of intellectual exchange. Elevated religious ideas, philosophical themes and humanistic trends were expounded at the same table, often with humour, fun and creativity.

The intelligent design of the sessions and their management met the expectations.

Indeed, tackling such an important subject as “freedom, journalism and religion” always requires a smart formula.

I was relieved to find out that it was not “just another conference”. The seriousness of the subject and the design produced a great environment, conducive to such intellectual exercise.

I always differentiate between religion as identity, and religion as representation. When religion is lived as an identity by its adherents, we need to look deep into emotions, mentalities and hidden forms of expression if we are addressing a serious issue. Yet, if a problem is related to a representation of religious affiliation, then a different approach is needed. In this case, it depends on the context it lives in.

This is often the situation of political parties that base their ideological discourse in religious conception and language. The conference in Beit Mery based its work on the latter embodiment of religious experience. Maybe it is a good idea for the organisers to think of another conference that tries examining the above-mentioned triangle with identity as its main flavour.

Though the conference discussed issues related to religious identities, its structure inclined to the representative mode of religions. It enriched the participants’ storage of religious-based images and shadows of images.

It was a great opportunity to map some of the crisis stimulating issues that reside deep in the conjunctions the freedom, journalism and religion combination.

I hope that the outcome, whether in publication shape or electronic format, will be an excellent foundation for what we might call “Religion — phase two”. Identity as concept and as a lived reality helps much in resolving many puzzles in the Middle East.

The writer is a media strategist, and an interfaith and intercultural specialist. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.


Religion in “Detained” Privacy Zones

Marwan al-Husayni *

Many questions related to religions keep revolving in my mind whenever I think of the link between the sacred and the non-sacred in a social context. One of these questions has to do with culture and the social representation of individual.

In our part of the world, religion, among other components of personal identity, is not considered a personal matter. The privacy zone which is supposed to limit the access to one’s private spaces by others is vulnerable in this regard. This is a strong aspect of our Eastern culture.

It is true sometimes that the collective controls the individualistic dimension of this culture, but this does not mean that it is justifiable. Many reasons stand behind the fact that individuality has weak presence in our societies. Certain individualistic behaviors which are connected to religion are dissolved in social pots. This is why many social spaces in the Arab World have more focus on rituals.

When thinking of religions in a social context, I usually ask myself: is religion an inherited structure or an acquired behavior? Is it an effect or an experience? An action or a reaction? A text or a context? I am not talking about religion as a set of teachings and guidelines. I am not even talking about it as a spiritual practice. What I am more concerned about is how we, as individuals, perceive religion on a personal level. How can religion become a total personal stand?

Privacy is not a popular word in our culture. It is also not a popular feeling. It belongs to the components of individual identity which is dissolved in social pots. Any personal instance of religious practice is often derived from the wider collective practice.

Religion is not a personal property in the Middle East. It is a property which is managed by society, state or political groups. The collective social management of religion is a mainstream in the Arab countries. Sharp examples of state management of religion are Saudi Arabia and Israel. Egypt and Lebanon are examples of political management of religions.

While writing this article, I knew about Vivian Hannah Salameh; A Jordanian Christian who is said to have been dismissed from her job after refusing to cover her head. She served for 25 years in one of the Jordanian banks before it was seized by another bank. The new administration dismissed her on the basis that she refused to wear the new uniform which includes a head cover. Reading the comments on this incident on Facebook, I came across incidents of women who were forced to leave their jobs because they wear a head cover.

Whatever were the policies of banks or companies in these cases, it is obvious that collective hegemony suppressed personal identities. These identities refused to lose part of their individual markers and melt down in social or corporate pots.

One of the recurrent words in the Jordanian media lately was the word “detained”. It was used in contexts of fighting corruption and managing the processes of reform in Jordan. When it comes to the relation between the individual and religion in our region, you cannot find the word “privacy” in the social dictionary. It is “detained” for complicated reasons.

* Media Strategist, Interfaith and Intercultural specialist

Rethinking, rejection or reform?


by Marwan Al Husayni | May 14,2012 | 22:28

I had the privilege to be in contact with two of the world’s revolutionary professors and thinkers. Both are deceased now. Mohammed Arkoun died in September 2010, Kamal Salibi died in September 2011. Both were 82 when they left our world.

I knew more about Islam from Salibi, who was Christian, and more about Christianity from Arkoun, who was Muslim. I learned more about the mechanisms of critical thinking and objective writing from both.

While working closely with Salibi in Amman on many interfaith and intercultural projects, I read most of Arkoun’s books. I was taken by his lifetime intellectual project “Rethinking Islam”. I was introduced to almost all aspects of his intellectual pulse before I met him in 2007.

I assisted Salibi in writing his diaries, “A Bird on an Oak Tree”, and officially was the editor of the book. I also used to translate between Arabic and English for him in daily academic works. He left Amman at the end of December 2003. The connection between us resumed through e-mail and Facebook.

I am not writing this article to just say that I knew the two professors. They both were great teachers for me and I benefited much from them intellectually. But they belonged to what I call “isolated identity”.

They were intellectuals whose works were rejected by wider Arab and Muslim circles, and were politically attacked for their archaeological efforts in history, knowledge and thought. They excavated and uncovered new epistemological layers for better understanding the history of early Christianity and Islam. Still, they were condemned for ideological reasons.

“Isolated identities” in the Arab world means that scientific thinking leads to rejection, discrimination then isolation. Neither of these two men took the mainstream conceptions for granted. They scientifically defied deeply rooted realities and revolutionised the way of looking at histories of Christianity and Islam. Their works faced a long process of isolation and distortion.

The mindset of “rethinking” always faces the mechanisms of rejection in the Arab region. This is how I feel and live it.

Arkoun and Salibi are remembered on some occasions and in limited circles, although they invested their lives in huge intellectual projects that are of great importance to humanity. For both of them ideology and private agendas are killers of scientific and critical thinking.

Sometimes, Salibi and I would spend a whole day editing one paragraph of few lines. The next day he would cancel the whole paragraph because “someone might hear an echo of distant ideology in it”, he used to tell me.

“I do not want to enrage anyone because scientific and objective writing must be as pure as light.”

He believed a scientific idea should introduce itself.

Arkoun talked about “the strategy of rejection”, which is a result of “imprisoning mind by ideology”. For him, ideology is ignorance; when mind is imprisoned by ignorance, it uses rejection to extinguish enlightened thinking.

Sadness was the end result for the minds of both Salibi and Arkoun.

When I last saw him, Salibi was leaving for Beirut with sadness in his eyes. I saw the same in Arkoun’s eyes while he was talking about “those who insist not to listen”.

When ignorance becomes a mainstream manifestation, what is the best identity marker that intellectuals should magnify: rethinking, rejection or reform?

The writer is media strategist, interfaith and intercultural specialist. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.