Religious Groups Weigh-In on Lebanon Conflict
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The fighting in the Middle East has been the subject of many a sermon these last few weeks in the United States. NPR's Rachel Martin visited three places of worship to learn what religious leaders are saying.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
The pews at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Washington D.C. aren't very crowded at the noontime Sunday service, but a few strong voices fill the cavernous sanctuary.
(Soundbite of congregation singing)
MARTIN: The congregation is mix of multi-generational Lebanese immigrants with families still in Lebanon. Twenty-two-year-old Deanna Rahd(ph) was supposed to fly to Beirut this week to see her cousins. Instead, she's praying for their safety.
Ms. DEANNA RAHD: It's been kind of a constant struggle to find out how everyone's doing and it's just been really, really stressful for all of us.
MARTIN: Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have fled their homes to escape Israeli military operations in the south. And recent attacks in the north of Lebanon have directly threatened the country's Christian population.
International organizations say there's not enough shelter, food, or fuel, and that even if a ceasefire is called, Lebanon is facing a massive humanitarian crisis.
Bishop Seely Beggiani of Our Lady of Lebanon, says that reality has hit his congregation hard.
Bishop SEELY BEGGIANI (Bishop, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church): The main problem right now is a kind of despair. Lebanon really thought they had turned the corner and had bounced back. And now all of the sudden, everything seems to be destroyed.
(Soundbite of singing in foreign language)
MARTIN: At the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Virginia, the message during Friday prayer services was of forgiveness and self-criticism, and Imam Kamarah Abdil hak-Mohammed(ph) had some tough questions.
Imam KAMARAH ABDIL HAK-MOHAMMED (Imam, All Dulles Area Muslim Society): And why do we carry revenge and vendetta in our hearts? Do you think we'll stand before Allah with that? Hmm? This is not the way of the Koran, and this is not the way of Muhammad.
MARTIN: Some here, like 61-year-old Sahid Taheer(ph), interpret the message to mirror his frustration with the situation in the Middle East.
Mr. SAHID TAHEER: The Muslims are not supposed to be aggressive. Muhammad was not an aggressor. He was a - believed in peace. He wanted to live with peace. But then when, you know, like, what Israel is doing in Lebanon, as an aggressor, then you need to fight for yourself. So the Lebanese Muslims and Lebanese Christians over there, they're fighting for themselves.
(Soundbite of congregational singing)
MARTIN: On Saturday, the Shabbat service at Washington's Adas Israel Synagogue was filled with prayers for Israel, and words of comfort for the suffering. But for many here, like Jerry Sandler(ph), those words aren't enough.
Mr. JERRY SANDLER: A neighbor of the sovereign state of Israel is sending missiles over that are killing women and children. None of that gives me consolation.
MARTIN: Rabbi Peter Wohlberg says he wants his congregation not to give up on the idea of a peaceful Middle East.
Rabbi PETER WOHLBERG (Rabbi, Adas Israel Synagogue, Washington, D.C.): We pray that this tragic moment will end and be overcome, and we will get back to that moment in time when there was dialogue and greater understanding, and possibilities seemed clearer, and there was more hope.
MARTIN: He's not the only one who has such tempered optimism. Mohamed Magid has been the head Imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society for 10 years. When asked what spiritual message gives him the most comfort during times of conflict, he quotes a Sufi poet.
Imam MOHAMED MAGID (Head Imam, All Dulles Area Muslim Society): Beyond right or wrong, there's a field. Meet me there. Beyond right or wrong, there's a field. Meet me there.
Believe me, we can have a better world if we agree that what we're fighting over is not worth risking our souls and losing our humanity.
(Soundbite of singing)
MARTIN: It's a sentiment Magid and other religious leaders hope will not only provide solace during the current conflict, but will eventually be taken to heart in the Middle East.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.
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