The following post is from Patrick Anderson, CBF’s Interim Executive Coordinator.
I have traveled to Lebanon several times with Chaouki and Maha Boulos. Thanks to Chaouki and his friend Sheik Fayez, I have had the opportunity to meet with numerous persons of Muslim, Druze, and Christian faith traditions; some in government and some not. One person who is on my mind a lot these days is Abbas Zaki, who when I first met him was the Palestinian Ambassador in Lebanon. Today he has a similar assignment in Israel.
Abbas Zaki has been a very hospitable host. He has spoken freely and candidly about Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon and elsewhere, the troubled past between Hezbollah and Israel, a difficult history with Christians and Muslims, and more. Miami Pastor Bill White was with us a few years ago when we visited Zaki. Bill was in Lebanon to preach in a public “celebration,” which resembles an old-fashioned revival meeting, in Beirut. In our conversation with Abbas Zaki, we described the event and Chaouki invited him to attend. To our surprise he agreed.
Zaki arrived at the auditorium where the services were held in a limousine as part of a small convoy of vehicles. He was accompanied by an entourage of stony-faced men who kept a close eye around him. I ushered the group to the front row of the crowded hall while the people were already participating in an energetic time of song and praise. Abbas Zaki sat next to me. He stood when everyone else stood, bowed his head and prayed when everyone else prayed, listened raptly to Bill White’s evangelistic sermon, and otherwise participated in the service. He seemed deeply interested and comfortable, more so than his entourage, who I could not help but assume were heavily armed with concealed weapons.
At the close of the service after the invitation and the somewhat chaotic time of special prayers for salvation, healing, and other expressed needs, Abbas Zaki asked to address the people. He took the microphone. Everyone recognized who he was and a quiet fell over the place. He spoke passionately and seriously for several minutes. I do not speak Arabic and did not understand the words, but as I watched the crowd listening, I saw many faces streaked with tears. He received a long and sustained applause when he stopped. I walked him and his associates to his car. He spoke to me in English, expressed appreciation for being invited, kissed me on both cheeks, expressed friendship, and got in his car and left.
Later I learned what he had said to the crowd. He expressed his sorrow for past conflicts between Muslims and Christians. He apologized for any wrongdoing on the part of Muslims. He spoke of his love of God and his desire to live peacefully. He expressed appreciation to Chaouki and Bill and others for the evening’s meeting and promised to remember the night for a long time.
It was a powerful night.
At the end of November I will be part of a Baptist-Muslim dialogue in Boston co-sponsored by several Baptist and Muslim organizations. The primary purpose is to demonstrate that disparate religious people can be friends, live side-by-side, talk together, fellowship together, and get along despite the disparities in religious traditions and beliefs. The purpose is not to see which group can win the other over to their set of beliefs, but instead to lower the rhetoric which often spews from our religious adherents or claimants.
We need to know each other. When I read of dangerous events or flammable words spoken in the Mideast, I think of Abbas Zaki who lives there and tries to be at peace. When I hear angry and hateful words spoken about Islam from my Christian sisters and brothers I am sad, quick to interrupt and correct when possible, and again I see the face of Abbas Zaki flash before my face. When I see angry mobs claiming devotion to Mohammed storming an embassy or clashing in far off streets, I consider the difficult task people like Abbas Zaki have among their own people.
We all have work to do among our own people. In the famous words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”