Welcome to the IMES Blog!

Welcome to the official blog of the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES), a research and resource institute of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon.

IMES addresses subjects significant to the MENA region prophetically, sensitively and in a non-partisan manner for the purpose of carrying out its mandate to bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond.

Please enjoy the posts below from our team of respected scholars, experienced practitioners, student researchers and knowledgeable staff. New posts go live each week on Thursday.

Is It for the Poor to Seek Justice and Liberation?

Hnde im Netz

By Rupen Das

I have been intrigued that nowhere in Scripture does God encourage or exhort the poor to seek justice. [1]

Throughout the Bible, the responsibility for social justice and care for the poor and those on the margins of life is on society as a whole, on every individual. Micah 6:8 states in no uncertain terms what God requires:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

More importantly, this is not just a challenge to only the people of God but to everyone. Right at the beginning of Micah, in verse 1:2, the prophet declares: “Hear, you people, all of you, listen, earth and all who live in it.” Continue reading

Can Someone Please Take Out the Trash? A Family Systems Approach to Lebanese Dysfunction

flag_of_lebanon-gibran

By Robert Hamd

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion…

Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful…

Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting, and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again…

Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.

Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran in 1934 captured the hearts of the people of Lebanon in his prophetic words about his beloved country. I think poetry has the capacity, with razor-sharp words and emotional accuracy, to describe the actual reality experienced on the ground. In a mere 23 lines, Gibran encapsulates the broader complexities and paradoxes of Lebanon in his poem, “Pity the Nation.” According to Gibran, the country that is to be pitied is one that is unwilling to honestly assess its repetitive behavior, or, once it is evaluated, does not have the courage to change. Continue reading

Subjects of Objectification or Kindred Spirits? Images and Stories of Refugees

mourning sham

by Kathryn Kraft*

Did you know that many Syrians who flee their country choose not to register with the UN as refugees? There are many reasons for this, but one important reason is that they don’t like the images that the word ‘refugee’ conjures. If they were to officially become refugees, they would be eligible for various types of assistance, including food rations and possible resettlement to another country. But they absolutely do not want to lose their identity. They see themselves as Syrians first and foremost, and also associate with their chosen career, their extended family, their interests and passions.

The media seems to have landed on a simple but somewhat misleading image capturing ‘the refugee’, Continue reading

When Will It All End?

Environmental hope concept with a pile of dirty trash at a garbage dump with an emerging new green tree growing out of pollution as a metaphor for the persistent power of nature and global health.

by Elias Ghazal

After a year of fruitless negotiations, empty promises, and shady contracts, the garbage crisis is back in Lebanon! Piles of toxic waste have lined streets of towns and villages, emitting harmful gases, contaminating underground water streams, and causing an environmental disaster at a national level. The solution to this problem is not unknown. In fact, multiple eco-friendly solutions have been proposed and discussed by environmental experts in the field. Yet, one year later and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on makeshift solutions, we are back where we started, and perhaps in a worse situation, now that we have additional tons of untreated waste.

Just as the solution to the garbage crisis in Lebanon is not unknown, the reason behind the failed solution is not that mysterious either. Continue reading

Reflections on the Burkini: Symbol of Oppression, Liberation, but mostly Power

Sign stop Islamic swimsuits burkini.

by Martin Accad

You may be thinking: ‘Not another blog about the Burkini!’ Many of us have grown tired of these divisive issues. The building of minarets in Switzerland, of another mosque in America, or the debate over whether Muslim courts with limited jurisdiction over family affairs should be allowed to emerge in the West; all of it has become rather tiresome.

Let’s face it: the matter has become little to do with women’s rights to dress as they please, or their not having the right to wear certain garments. This is about a deepening and growing social rift and struggle within western societies.

Continue reading

Listening, Visiting, and Engaging Arab Christians (Part 2): Considering Arab Christian Perspectives on Palestine

by Wissam al-Saliby*

In my May blog post on the generalized regression of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa, I concluded by promising a follow up blog post on what role the global Church can play to counter this regression. Last week, I began a reflection on how churches that feel called to serve the Middle East can play a role – rather than what role to play. In today’s installment of my post, I will discuss the importance of listening, visiting and learning in relation to Israel and Palestine – an enduring conflict and a pivotal region. Continue reading

Listening, Visiting, and Engaging Arab Christians: Prerequisites for Western Churches Advocating their Rights (part 1)

By Wissam al-Saliby*

Two months ago, I wrote a blog post on the general regression of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. I had concluded by asking “What role, if any, can the churches in the West play to foster the respect of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa?” In today’s blog post (and also in next week’s blog post), I will provide a partial answer to my question by reflecting on how to play a role, rather than what role to play. I will emphasize the importance of listening, visiting and learning, and the importance of allowing Arab Christians to expand your perspective on the complex dynamics of the region. Continue reading

Christ, Transforming His Global Church by Meeting Us in Our Syrian Sisters and Brothers: Highlights from Middle East Consultation 2016

mec 2016 med

Middle East Consultation 2016, held 20 – 24 June at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon, focused on The Refugee and the Body of Christ: Exploring the Impact of the Present Crisis on our Understanding of Church. Recent consultations have explored the challenges and opportunities for discipleship in the region (MEC 2014) and the complex issue of identity for new-found followers of Christ (MEC 2015). One of the significant discipleship challenges identified in 2014 was that of ecclesiology, particularly as it relates to gatherings of Christ-followers from multiple social and religious backgrounds. This insight, coupled with the current reality of the refugee crisis, informed our thinking with regard to developing the theme for MEC 2016. Continue reading

Mission in a World Gone Wild and Violent: Challenging the Monochromatic View of Islam from a Silent Majority Position

By Martin Accad

[Note: This post was first published on Fuller Theological Seminary’s ‘Global Reflections Blog,’ in preparation for Fuller’s 2016 Missiology Lectures on 3-4 November. To learn more, click here]

On May 16, 2016, the day that I am writing this blog, we are commemorating the secret deal between Britain and France known today as the ‘Sykes-Picot agreement.’ Following secret negotiations in 1916, Britain and France agreed on the new borders of the Middle East as they predicted the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI (1914-1918). A third minor party to the agreement was the Tsarist government of Russia. But following the Bolshevik Revolution and the end of the Tsarist era, Russia would fall out of the agreement, and the Bolsheviks would make the agreement public on 23 November 1917, provoking what one scholar has described as ‘embarrassment’ to the British, ‘dismay’ to the Arabs, and ‘delight’ to the Turks (pun intended!)[1]

In the summer of 2014, the group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS – or in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) went on a rampage, conquering and massacring Christians, Yazidis, Shiites, and any Sunnis who disagreed with its program. Continue reading