Mohamad Ali El Husseini/Meeting a courageous peacemaker
Meeting a courageous peacemaker
On our last full day in Beirut, Rick, Jan, Betty and Bassam were busy preparing the assessment team's final report and recommendations for MCC's ongoing aid response in Lebanon and Gaza. With $100,000 U.S. at MCC's disposal, they are recommending peacemaking projects, relief distributions, job creation activities for women and youth and a cluster bomb awareness campaign. My co-workers also prepared a long wish list of additional proposals for helping war-affected communities in Lebanon and Gaza. With enough generous contributions, MCC could easily spend another $200,000 U.S. on public health work and other important projects.
While the rest of the group worked on their report, I took off to pursue an interesting story. In the aftermath of the war, a Shiite Muslim cleric was featured on a Lebanese TV news program for advocating a nonviolent response to Israel's actions. He was on a street in Tyre, southern Lebanon, distributing copies of a book he wrote, titled "Questions & Answers: About Violence & Non-Violence!" The book was written in Arabic and is also available in English.
One of MCC's Lebanese partner organizations, Permanent Peace Movement, got in contact with the cleric, El Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, and arranged a meeting. Fadi Abi Allam, the president of Permanent Peace Movement, was very excited to meet him because he is organizing a diverse group of peacemakers to celebrate the International Day of Peace in a park in Beirut on Sept. 21 (and MCC is providing a small grant to support this event). I went with Fadi and his colleague Sonia to meet Mohammad Ali El Husseini at the Beirut hotel where he has been staying since the Israeli bombardment damaged his apartment in the city's southern suburbs.
We met in the lobby. Mohammad Ali El Husseini wore the black robe and black turban that are typical of some Shiite religious leaders. He greeted us, gave us copies of his book and started explaining his belief in peacemaking and nonviolence.
"The same as you teach the soldier how to have a philosophy of war, you have to teach the people how to have a philosophy of peace," he said.
Mohammad Ali El Husseini's book cites Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as influences. He speaks approvingly of Jesus Christ's nonviolent life and teachings. Most frequently, he quotes Islamic proponents of nonviolence, such as Imam Muhammad Shirazi.
Fundamentally, Mohammad Ali El Husseini argues in his book that peacemaking and nonviolence are central to Islam and that violence is rarely justified. He writes: "It is no doubt that the method of non-violence is mostly and generally the solution and the effective alternative for many crises. Conflicts and clashes have occurred because of various reasons as fanaticism; hence solving these matters cannot be through violence but through communicating and debating, creating harmony between parties, and sitting [at] one table."
Mohammad Ali El Husseini said he believes that about 20 percent of his fellow Lebanese Shiite Muslims share his views on nonviolence. However, he said it is difficult for him to compete with more militant voices.
I left the meeting very impressed with Mohammad Ali El Husseini and hopeful that his aspirations — which include building a community center to teach about peacemaking — may be realized sometime soon. I was honored to meet this courageous peacemaker in a country that has been traumatized by war.
Mennonite Central Committee
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