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“Young people want religion ...but without fanaticism”

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Silsilah regularly follows the commentaries of Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit born in Cairo and presently a professor of Oriental Theology at St. Joseph’s University in Beirut, Lebanon. In an article which came out on February 24, 2011 in an on-line publication which Silsilah regularly receives, Fr. Samir comments on the recent events in North Africa and the Middle East – Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. He points out two stark items: (1) these “revolutions” have seen basically young people at the fore and (2) “international conflicts” have not been given high importance.

Fr. Samir mentions in his article that in these countries the average age of the population is between 29 and 31, and that half of the population is under 30. Unfortunately in these same countries unemployment runs high and the youth feel that their need for a job is not being met. The young people are also those who have been exposed in the media to the values of democracy, freedom, equality and justice. These then – the desire for employment and the values mentioned - have propelled the demand for change.

In the countries that have experienced the revolution of the youth in the last few weeks, issues linked to the Palestinian struggle, the liberation of Jerusalem and relations with the US or Israel have not emerged. Fr. Samir also mentions that “no one has made claims in defence of an Islam that must rule the earth. They do not want ideologies; they want realism.”

The news item referred to a ceremony in Biel, Beirut on February 14 to commemorate the death of the assassinated Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. It was said that the Ave Maria was sung by a Lebanese Christian soloist and this was interwoven with the Muslim call to prayer performed by an Islamic singer.

This underscored the observation that in these events “young people want religion…but without fanaticism, which excludes all opposition between people of different religions.” It was observed that in the huge crowds demonstrating, people of particular religious orientations did not form blocks among themselves. The crowd was a healthy mix of people of different persuasions. This describes in a way what Silsilah promotes, a dialogue between and among people of different religions and cultures based on the spirituality of one’s own religion.

Especially in Tunisia and Egypt, the demonstrations expressed the disaffection of the people for Ben Ali and Mubarak but there was no violence inflicted on these erstwhile national leaders. It is also noteworthy that issues of international politics did not get to center stage in these demonstrations which were basically against the governance of the respective countries. Otherwise, speeches against the Western democracies, say, might foment an outburst of animosity towards these democracies and trigger violence against the American/European nationals still within Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen or Libya.

It is the hope and prayer of the rest of the world, and of Silsilah, that these leaderless demonstrations of people power seen in the last two weeks will not be derailed by groups with their own agenda which are not helpful to the establishment of a culture of dialogue and a tolerance for otherness.

By Sislsilah Dialogue Movement




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