1 Your Excellency, Provost Farvardin, Dean Montgomery, Esteemed members of the Rihani Family, Distinguished members of Min Ajl Lubnan, Ladies and Gentlemen, For six years from 1982 to 1988 I had the privilege to serve the President of Lebanon as his Senior Cultural Advisor. During that period and through my years of serving the President, I came to understand the role of Lebanon in the progress and development of the Arab world and in helping to promote democracy and the cause of peace in the Middle East. I also came to understand that Lebanon is more than a country – it is a message. Lebanon and its message, ever since the dawn of history, has survived despite all the forces that are rallied against it. As the poet has said: Time has failed to destroy two things: Lebanon, and the aspirations of its people. Nowhere is this message more eloquently expressed than through the tongue of her poets, authors, and artists. It is a message that emphasizes above all the inestimable blessings that flow from the harmonious co-existence of differing peoples and faiths, as well as the vivid apprehension of the catastrophes that must inevitably result from the breakdown of such co-existence. Ameen Rihani, the great Lebanese-American writer and thinker, was the bearer of such a message not only addressed to his people and the peoples of the Arab world, but also the peoples of the West – especially the people of his adopted America. Rihani played the role of cultural ambassador between East and West and became an oracle who foresaw with piercing clarity the nature of the spiritual challenges confronting both America and the Arab world. One of the most powerful themes that seemed to inspire Ameen Rihani’s thought was peace among the religions of the world. He drew on Lebanon’s rich tradition of inter-religious experience, shaped by its position as a cross-road of history and as a geographic meeting point between Islam and Christianity. He believed that no religion represented the final or absolute truth, but that all of them were channels through which man could approach and apprehend the divine. In his “Will and Testament,” written in September 1931, he declares his faith in the unity of all religions: I am a believer in the unity of religion, for in its mirror, I see reflected the images of all Prophets and Messengers—Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Socrates, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Baha’u’llah…They have all come from one source, and their faces merge and unite and become reflected in one unified face, a most holy symbol, representing the face of God Himself. I counsel you to adhere to unity. In theoretical terms, religion is that luminous living link between man and his one and only God. In spiritual terms, religion is the joy derived from discovering, without mediation, the mysteries that lie behind this unique link. In practical terms, religion is, above all, the recognition of the Divine Truth spoken by whoever has taught a single letter taken from the book of love, of piety and of charitable deeds. It is also in following the example of these teachers and 2 emulating them in thought, word and deed; each of us attaining this according to his capacity; for God has burdened no soul with more than it can endure. Like few individuals before him, Rihani was able to integrate within himself a deep empathy and understanding for two vastly different worlds. To America he addressed words of both praise and admonition, praising its youthful energy and enterprise while warning of the dangers of excessive materialism and corruption. His writings in Arabic focused on themes of modernization, and he advised the Arabs that chauvinism based on religious intolerance was the greatest obstacle to their progress and prosperity. Rihani strove to introduce each culture to the other, hoping to create a synthesis of their best and most noble elements, which he believed would enable humanity to face the spiritual and material challenges of the modern age. Ameen Rihani’s place in the modern history of the Arab world has been aptly defined in these words of one of his contemporaries, the renowned Arab poet Ahmad al-Safi al-Najafi: Rihani is the embodiment of the history of the Arab people Their encyclopedia The treasury of their Literature And the annals of their Renaissance. He is the mirror of their virtues and their vices, He is their intellectual leader… In Rihani is found the wisdom of the philosopher and the sensitivity of the poet. In his hand he carries the staff of the teacher The lamp of the pioneer, And the sword of the commander. Ladies and Gentlemen, Tonight is a special night in which those of us who have worked so hard to see a dream come true must render thanks to Almighty God who has blessed our efforts and allowed us to succeed. We must also thank this great university that has always encouraged diversity in all its forms, and now once more allows us to establish this important lecture series. But our greatest debt of gratitude must be expressed to the distinguished members of “Min Ajl Lubnan” and the Rihani family. Their generosity and hard work made all this possible and I earnestly hope that now that the seed has been planted they will continue to nourish it until it grows and becomes strong enough to survive on its own. Now that we have laid the foundation we need to create an endowment that will guarantee the development and progress of this project. No words of gratitude can ever adequately express my everlasting debt for the unstinted assistance and enthusiastic encouragement that I have received from the following friends and colleagues. Mr. Provost, thank you for taking the trouble in the midst of your demanding responsibilities to drop me a line of encouragement every now and then which helped enormously in alleviating pressure and inspiring new energy. 3 Mr. Dean, thank you for your leadership and for being there whenever I needed advice and direction. In the desert Mr. Dean, the Arabs followed the stars for guidance and direction, here in the heart of the industrial West you have been my star. To Dr. Saúl Sosnowski, Professor and Associate Provost for International Affairs, I want to say that his support over a number of years has not only helped our work enormously but that his friendship, above all, has enriched my life. Dr Paul Shackel thank you for your friendship and your directorship of the Center for Heritage Resource Studies and your chairmanship of the Anthropology Department. I know now after a journey that has taken me 54 years that my work has always been aligned with the ultimate goals of anthropology which I regard to be the enrichment of cross-cultural understanding and the enhancement of prospects for international exchange, social justice, and world peace. Finally Dr. Shackel, the prodigal son has come home. To both Dr. Jonathan Wilkenfeld, Director of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management and Dr. Carol Pearson, Director of the Academy of Leadership, I extend an equally heartfelt expression of thanks and gratitude for the honor they have done me by inviting me to serve as Senior Scholar in the Center and the Academy. My work has benefited enormously as a result of this association, for the most urgent need of today is leadership in resolving conflict and above all religious conflict. To Assistant Dean Cindi Hale, profound thanks for the guidance and much needed help in building the Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace Project, and for the moral support that has been generously bestowed upon me. Professor Miles Bradbury of the Department of History has been my co-worker and fellow traveler on a journey that has taken us to that inner sanctuary of an intellectual life enlightened by the light of the spirit. It is always very difficult to accord recognition to the contribution of every individual who has helped to bring such an event as this into being. And I must crave your indulgence if I do not list them all here. But I am duty bound to thank Miss Poupak Moallem, my colleague and assistant, for her outstanding services and professional competence.
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