The Qur’an declares that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).
For the last three months, I have been in Lebanon, doing relief work and visiting family. I spent my summer in the same refugee camp, Sabra and Shatila, that I grew up in. My mother still lives there.
Myself and my siblings who have also migrated from Lebanon to the west, have tried to get our mother to come with us. We would like her to live somewhere with better medical services and facilities, a safer place where political uprisings don’t turn into massacres and street wars, but Sabra and Shatila is her home, she says.
It’s where she met my father and married, the place she raised her children and, for the most part, she is comfortable, surrounded by friends and family.
Lebanon governs from a theocratic framework. In Lebanon, if you are not a member of the Maronite sect of the Christian faith, you cannot hold majority power or be president.
As a Palestinian Muslim refugee, the power you can hold is even less. There are jobs refugees are not allowed to have and businesses they are not allowed to own, regardless of education or experience. This year, the government temporarily allowed Palestinian Muslim nurses to work in hospitals due to COVID-19.
Because Lebanon’s political system is entrenched in religion, it hasn’t been able to form a government in over a year. The economy is a mess and basic services and human rights continue to take a back seat.
Outside governments use religion to prey upon disenfranchised and humiliated sects. There are areas of Beirut where the Saudi’s control because they have been able to sway a certain sect of Islam into their political agenda. Likewise, the Iranians and Turkish have done the same.
In much the same way the Republican Party in the U.S. has attempted to monopolize Christianity by tying a political agenda to faith in a way many are unable to unravel, so have outside countries with a vested interest in the politics of Lebanon inextricably tied their cause to deeply religious and cultural issues of the people living there.
It is always the lay people who suffer when governments fail.
In Lebanon, COVID-19 vaccines are in such short supply that they are being sold for $500 on the black market. That’s a costly expense even here in America, but in Lebanon this can be a person’s life savings.
As those in power play political soccer with the lives of the powerless, the average citizen is frustrated.
Human rights go out the window when people are hungry. Crime and corruption are the default setting for the ruling regime. Road closures are a constant hassle. When there is no medicine in pharmacies, violence becomes a more compelling option.
While I love the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and though I consider myself an optimist, I have lived through too many declarations with no teeth and annual observances not leading to fundamental change.
Massacres still occur in the name of religion. Those who perpetrate and manipulate this violence into existence take no responsibility for the bloodshed and pay no consequences.
In the United States, we love a declaration, but there needs to be some kind of accountability with it.
September is the 39th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. A massacre fueled by religious hatred and bigotry that I lived through at only 18 years of age.
I saw my neighbors slaughtered, pregnant women gutted and the cries of religious zealots to Jesus and the Virgin Mary as they sacrificed my loved ones in their name.
As a person who has been on the receiving end of religious violence, I am appreciative, but not impressed with declarations, decrees, resolutions and annual observances.
I look forward to the day we move past declaring good intentions on paper and write them on our hearts.
This is the humanity my mom believes in. Even in a refugee camp in Beirut Lebanon, she has hope to stay.
I, too, choose to have faith in humanity.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. Each article expresses only the opinion and perspective of the author and not any other columnist in the series. The other articles are:
Religious Minorities’ Plight Too Often Overlooked | Shane McNary
Remembering the Realities of Faith Freedom for All | Jaziah Masters
To Be Anti-Zionist Is Not to Be Anti-Jewish | Vinoth Ramachandra
Seeking Light Streams Amid Genocide’s Darkness | Scott Stearman
Senior Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, and chair of Islamic Studies at Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University. He is the author of Cloud Miles: A Remarkable Journey of Mercy, Peace and Purpose, and appeared in the short documentary “Mercy” (2018) and the feature-length documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” (2010).