Religion & Liberty Online

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti on Islamic Reformation, Clash of Civilizations

Abdel-Latif Derian
Abdel-Latif Derian
Joe Carter put up a very good clarifying post on Wednesday about Western politicians and religious leaders envisioning a moderate Islam that might follow the template of the Protestant Reformation. In “Let’s Stop Asking Islam to Be Christian,” Carter wrote that what Western elites really want is for Muslims “to be like liberal mainline Christianity: all the trappings of the faith without all that pesky doctrine that might stir up trouble.”

Indeed, Christians and Muslims hold radically different notions about the “true faith” and the nature of God. This would have been unquestionably obvious to St. John of Damascus (676-749) who authored the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith and served as a high counselor to Muslim rulers.

Now some of the same Christian communities that date to the era of the Damascene church father — or earlier — have been wiped out or targeted for extinction by Islamic terrorists. Read “Syrian Christian refugees feel fortunate to have fled Islamic State,” an L.A. Times report on the “several thousand Assyrian Christians who fled in late February as the militants advanced into dozens of largely Christian villages along the Khabur River in eastern Syria.”

In a Q&A published in Al-Hayat (reprinted on the Al-Monitor site), Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian spoke to questions of Islamic violence and terrorism and asserted that “we have to confront distorted concepts.” As Grand Mufti, he is the most prominent Sunni Muslim cleric in Lebanon (go here for an account of how Egypt aided his election last year in a move to advance moderates). Excerpts from the interview follow.

Why reform is “absolutely necessary”:

Reform … aims to clarify the correct concepts of the Islamic religion and to defend our religion from the distortion and slander campaigns. Reform will save our societies and allow Muslims to live in the world. For our part, reform starts, as you mentioned, in religious education from childhood and in the mosques … These days we are in the midst of a comprehensive reform process. There is a reality that needs major reform. But our situation in Lebanon is relatively better than in other countries and societies. The desired reform is focused on our institutions, on our religious guidance capabilities and in our religious media. No doubt, all this will require long-term action. But we have already started and we have seen a great response from within our religious, educational and media institutions, and those of our society.

On terrorism:

Despite our suffering from the escalating waves of terrorism, we have to work hard through religious, intellectual and civil society institutions to address the distortion of the [religious] concepts and to protect our young people and our future generations by embracing them and by undergoing serious reform, as well as by restoring confidence in ourselves and in the Lebanese and Arab people … who do not accept nor want violence and terrorism by any party. That is because violence and terrorism have no religion or sect, and their confrontation is a responsibility that is shared by everyone because they affect everyone without distinction. Moderation is power because it is a work method and the nation’s [umma] project and religion. Extremism and terrorism are weakness because they target innocent and unsuspecting people. A few individuals will not be able to harm the majority’s project and methodology.

[ … ]

We the moderates, ulemas and the major religious and educational institutions have missed many matters in the affairs of religious education, schooling, religious edicts and in religious care in mosques. But we now have to realize that great responsibilities in the above-mentioned areas lie on our shoulders. We have to be aware of that. Reform can succeed, especially since most Muslims are with us in this. [Most Muslims] are hungry to hear the voice of religion, rational thinking and good exhortations.

On coexistence and basic freedoms:

Coexistence, which I like to call the “one living” within a diverse community, is an essential part in our understanding of our religion and our dealings with each other in our different religions and sects, and with our communities and world communities. There is no doubt that this living should be cemented by a set of understandings, procedures and formulas. Other religious heads and I are honestly and sincerely working to promote the “one living” values in our homeland, Lebanon. I think we have come a long way in promoting these values. We have had a spiritual summit in Dar al-Fatwa after I assumed the position of grand mufti. We have issued a statement emphasizing the unique and distinctive formula in Lebanon and in our diverse East, and that this formula should be promoted. We have also emphasized the shared responsibility of the Muslims and Christians in confronting extremist and exclusionary thought and practices that are taking place in some of our countries. We will have regular Islamic and spiritual summits to promote Islamic-Islamic and Islamic-Christian relations. And I am very contented regarding the strength of our situation in Lebanon and I think that we have a sufficient immunity against sectarian strife because society is aware of Lebanon’s role and mission inside Lebanon and around the world.

On the clash of civilizations:

We have received a formal invitation from the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs to visit the United Kingdom. This is our first visit to Britain. Of course we accept this invitation because we are committed to confirm the mutual understanding between cultures and religions, and to strengthen the Lebanese-British relations for the benefit of both countries. The visit will include meetings with high-level British officials. And we will have meetings with Muslim and Christian religious figures. During the visit, we will meet with Islamic societies and the Lebanese community. We consider that human differences require convergence and knowing the other in order to live in peace and love and mutual respect. The theme of the Islamic-Christian dialogue, how to promote it and how to rebuild the bridges of communication and understanding between the civilizations will be a topic of discussion during our meetings. We have to replace the concept of clash of civilizations with that of convergence of civilizations because it would be beneficial for all humanity to live in peace, love and cooperation, not to live in mutual fear, strife and collision.

Read “Revisiting the ‘clash of civilizations’ theory” at Al-Monitor.

John Couretas

is a writer and editor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.