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University of Balamand > Spotlights > Father Georges Massouh

Father Georges Massouh
To Another State of Mind

Behind the desk of Father Georges Massouh in his office in Tueini, there is an icon portraying the eighth-century Christian saint John of Damascus. The Damascene would be pleased to know that an icon with his picture is on display thirteen centuries after his death, for he was an avid defender of the significance of holy images, and for this reason came under attack by iconoclasts. 

A native of Damascus, St. John was of Arab ancestry, and in the icon he is wearing a turban, normal Arab garb for his day. He spoke Arabic and wrote in that language as well as in Greek, and was very interested in Muslim-Christian relations. That is why his portrait is where it is, for Father Massouh is the director of the Center for Christian and Muslim Studies, and an admirer of the saint.    

Father Massouh first joined the University of Balamand in 1995, where he contributed to the growth of the Center for Christian and Muslim studies and was appointed its director two years later. At Balamand he believes that he has found his natural place. “The University has a rich identity that combines the legacy of the Antiochian Church, the Lebanese national identity, the Arab identity, and displays an openness to Islam.”

Since joining the University, the cigar-smoking priest (his preference is for Cohibas) has focused his research on various aspects of Christian-Muslim studies, publishing both in scholarly journals and in the daily newspaper An Nahar where his column “3oubour” is very popular. He explains that he chose to name the column “3oubour,” an Arabic word that connotes transition from one place to another, to make the point that his writings aim to take the reader from a state of mind to another.  

In addition to his responsibilities as director of the center, he also teaches courses on Islam, Christianity, inter-religious relations, Islam i​n modern Christian thought, and Christianity in modern Islamic thought.

Holder of a licence en mathematiques from the Lebanese University, Father Massouh obtained an MA in Orthodox Theology from the Institut Saint Serge in Paris in 1992. He subsequently served the church as a deacon, and was ordained a priest in 1997. He currently identifies himself as a “revolutionary priest,” and is clearly, in appearance and substance, not at all what one would call a stereotypical priest.  

Father Massouh obtained a doctorate in Islamic Studies from the Institut Pontifical des Etudes Arabes et Islamiques in Rome. At the time, he says, the Church had high hopes that a Christian- Muslim dialog would help bring the two religions closer together. “After consulting Monseigneur Georges Khodr, I chose to study Islamic Studies because I was interested in the socio-political and philosophical side of these studies,” he says.

The Christian-Muslim dialog was not able to realize its potential, says Father Massouh, because of the decline of moderate Islam. He argues that, to date, Muslim clerics around the world have failed to call for the separation of church and state in national affairs, and this, he argues, makes establishing a unified working platform difficult. The difference between moderate Islamic jurists and radicals is that moderates call for the establishment of an Islamic state through dialogue, while radicals call for the establishment of an Islamic state by force.

Author of a book and a number of scholarly articles on the subject, he is currently finishing another work that addresses the issue of religion and the state in modern Islamic thought, and the status of non-Muslims in the Islamic state. In this new book, he argues that there have been no scholars (fakih) in Islam that call for the separation of religion and state since 1925 when Ali Abd Al Razik published A Religion, Not a State. Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s Islamic Justification for Political Secularism (Al Islam wa Ousoul al Hokm). In that work, says Father Massouh, Abd Al Razik argued that the caliphate should be considered a human innovation, rather than a religious imperative. “Abd al Raziq contended that Islam is a religion, not a state, a message, not a prescription for governing, and this was a major departure from the traditional view that religious and political spheres are intertwined and inseparable in Islam.”  However, Abd Al Raziq lost his position as scholar and jurist at al-Azhar as a result of his writings.
A native of Sadd al Bouchriye, Father Massouh is married to Maguy Wehbeh. They have three daughters, Razane, 18, a first year student in civil engineering, Nour, 15, and Rana, 12.  While his preference is for Cohibas, he also enjoys an occasional Partagas, and,  while writing, likes listening to the Mezzo channel, that plays classical music.
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