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 plans to address 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.

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

Hope: An Ecclesiological Identity or a Prophetic Act?

Last week, 20-24 June, IMES held it’s thirteenth annual Middle East Consultation – The Refugee and the Body of Christ: Exploring the Impact of the Present Crisis on our Understanding of Church. ABTS Faculty Member and Head Librarian Walid Zailaa was inspired to weigh in on the conversation in the post below.

by Walid Zailaa

The ongoing brutality of war in the neighboring countries has indirectly driven the evangelical church in Lebanon to reconsider its internal structure. As a result, the church has dramatically expanded its programs, activities, human and financial resources to partially meet the growing needs of the people. In such times and not surprisingly, the church is increasingly conforming with the institutional model due to the radical demographic changes that have been altering the rules of the game in the region. The church’s intervention is not anymore a onetime relief, food aid, or a onetime spiritual or educational program; it is responding to a constant need for people who have become part of the community due to the protraction of the crisis. Continue reading

Takfīr and Church Unity: A Lesson from an Unlikely Source

 by Mike Kuhn

A new word keeps showing up in the news describing radical Islamic groups—takfīr.  It’s the English transliteration of an Arabic word that means “to anathematize” or “to declare someone apostate or an infidel.”

The ideology of takfīrī groups (e.g. ISIS, al-Qaeda, etc.) draws a very tight circle around what is acceptable belief and practice.  In order to belong to the group, one must repudiate moderate interpretations of the Islamic faith in order to conform to takfīrī values and behaviors which are compulsory with very little room for variance.  Any divergence is “unbelief” and carries the stiff penalty of exclusion at best or death at worst.  Takfīrīs control through power and enforce conformity.

And how is that working for these groups?  Continue reading

Should we wish a ‘Blessed Ramadan’ on our Muslim friends?

By Martin Accad

A few days ago, the month of Ramadan began. ‘Ramadan’ is the name of the current month, the ninth in the Muslim lunar calendar, which has come to symbolize the 29 to 30-day Muslim fast, one of Islam’s five pillars. The social media, over the past few days, have been filled with Ramadan-related posts and comments. Given that Facebook conveniently connects you mostly with like-minded people, the posts I have been seeing are for the most part either pious ones from my Muslim friends or well-wishing ones from sympathetic non-Muslims.

But from time to time, both in my network and, I am sure, in other ‘less Muslim-friendly networks,’ there is also the odd voice of dissent, Continue reading

What’s Happening at IMES this June?

Without question, June is consistently our busiest month of the year at the Institute of Middle East Studies. As such, we wish to highlight a number of the projects that we have been working on as we seek to fulfill our institutional mandate: To bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond. Continue reading

Current Evidence of the Generalized Regression of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa

by Wissam al-Saliby

As I was going through Facebook a few days ago, I saw the following post by an Egyptian friend.

Facebook Disappearances 2

This seeming human rights violation by Egyptian authorities is symptomatic of a greater and general regression with respect to fundamental human rights in the stable States in the Middle East and North Africa.

In Turkey this month, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch accused Turkish security forces of committing serious human rights violations against Turkish civilians and Syrian refugees. Media, freedom of speech and of opinion is threatened amid political and security tensions.

In Tunisia, Egypt and Israel human rights activists risk prosecution and the freezing of their assets. Earlier this month, Egypt arrested members of a satirical street troupe for their improvised street films, critical of the Egyptian president, which went viral. Even the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah followed suit this month and detained a 27-year old for his Facebook posts. Continue reading