Living in a country that holds eighteen diverse religious sects, has constant political conflicts, and fosters intolerance and instability encouraged me to try and change these facts. I had witnessed the war in Lebanon as a child; I was raised in a Catholic Christian conservative environment that I belong to. I was, and still am, a believer of my faith, but I don’t want my life to be limited to one identity. So, I decided to become active in civil society and studied journalism as a means to express my opinion and influence people. Even though I didn’t have the chance to work in my field, I became a trainer where I practiced the art of expressing opinions and thoughts in front of an audience.
As someone who is involved in the intercultural and interreligious dialogue domain, I hold a big responsibility the more that I’m opened to the world and appreciative of all its differences. My intercultural and interfaith journey has included attending and organizing camps and interreligious academies inside and outside Lebanon (Germany, UK, Jordan), working on “Empowering Youth in Democracy,” and shadowing religious leaders and peace builders’ activities. For example, a Muslim group would participate in activities held by a Christian leader in order to better understand the Christian tradition and vice versa. After the program’s success in Lebanon, we moved it to Bosnia and Herzegovina where we grouped together Bosnian and Albanian participants for one week. There, the participants discussed their ethnic differences and planned for several interfaith events. Another program we worked on and is still running is called “Lebanon: a Better Image." It focuses on grouping together youth from different cultural, religious and political backgrounds and raising awareness on the psychology of extremism, acting against xenophobia, and valorizing the holistic approach on Human Rights Education.
Together, the group encourages mutual cultural understanding, discusses ways to combat anger based on stereotypes and promotes active citizenship and in the development of youth policies.
I’ll be celebrating this upcoming Eid in Switzerland, while earning a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Interreligious Studies from the University of Geneva, which will be considered another pillar to empower this open-minded mentality.
As part of our community service activities this Ramadan, we are working hard on implementing the "Love your Neighbor as Yourself" initiative in Lebanon. The refugee crisis is always reminding us that if we really want to connect to the values of the holy month, we have to accept- into our comfortable and safe lives- those who come to us from far away or from different areas in the same geographical zone.
This is how God finds us at this very dark time of the history: by knocking at the door, looking for a haven, for a place to rest and recover.
And this is how we should welcome our neighbors.
Here lies the importance of staying involved in the intercultural and interreligious dialogue domain. Lebanon, the country of differences, always calls us to keep the spirit of dialogue. I am challenged to maintain a thoughtful state of mind, where peaceful approaches always win in the communication process.
Joseph Matta's reflection comes to the Parliament of the World's Religions as part of the 2017 Interfaith Ramadan series, empowering interfaith allies, Muslim and those of other spiritual and religious backgrounds from around the world, to share their stories of service, community and gratitude during the month of Ramadan. Please contact the Parliament at [email protected], or tag us at #RamadanPoWR to share your own story.