The Dalai Lama once said, “I believe all religions pursue the same goals, that of cultivating human goodness and bringing happiness to all human beings. Though the means may appear different, the ends are the same.”
During a recent visit to the ancient maritime town of Byblos, Lebanon, I had the pleasure of witnessing how Christians and Muslims coexist in such a small area.
Upon arriving in Byblos, I took a taxi from the bus station to the old town. During the journey the driver who had a cross hanging from his rear-view mirror, uttered “Ya Allah Ya Kareem” (Oh God, Oh Generous/Honorable), terms which are specifically revered highly by Muslims to praise God. It reminded me that the word Allah, God in the Arabic language, is addressed to both Christians and Muslims talking about the same God. It was impressive to see how religious differences can be unified through language cultivating a sense of togetherness, elements of coexistence and cooperation that exceed the boundaries between religions.
While walking through the narrow and windy streets, I found myself at the entrance of a little mosque which stood a few hundred yards from a little church. The humble exterior of the two places of worship were exceptionally similar and it was difficult to tell that they were indeed places of faith. I felt that this not only promoted equality among the religions but humility and peace within communities, as opposed to many religious institutions today which display their faith from afar, and may create barriers for those who may otherwise feel welcome.
The ringing of church bells and the Imam’s call to prayer further demonstrated this beautiful coexistence in such a small space. I had found a wonderful example of a place which allowed me to feel close to God while entering a church, a mosque and simply walking through the town hearing and seeing the surrounding of picturesque Byblos.
In light of the many conflicts in the world today, where religious differences play a significant role, it was refreshing to see such a peaceful setting, notably within the Middle East.
There is much to be learnt from the historic people of Byblos, who have preserved this interfaith tradition up until now. A tradition that celebrates the principles of tolerance and solidarity to unite people against those who misuse religions to cause disharmony in the world.
Written by Jennifer Miftaroska, a current regional intern at the WYA Middle East office in Lebanon.