Abraham's Tent

A SMOTJ Web Magazine


One of the most interesting aspects of dealing with members of the Arab culture is their process of conflict resolution, which can play a major role in working toward a peaceful settlement in the Mideast. I had heard of this many years ago from an Anglican Bishop who was, himself, of Arab descent. In each conflict, from murder to lesser offenses, there are steps that families can take to restore peace and avoid the retribution that is required to retain the honor of the victim’s family. If this is understood, the possibility of peace between Arab Christian and Muslim becomes more of a possibility. Douglas M.Johnston, Jr, in his excellent book “Religion, Error and Terror”, deals with the steps that must be taken to restore peace between families in that culture.



Douglas M.Johnston, Jr

Resources for peace and conflict resolution can be found in every religion. They also exist within most cultures. Unsurprisingly, there is significant overlap in the degree to which the indigenous cultural practices (often preceding the advent of major world religions) have become subsumed in the dominant religious traditions. This type of cultural engagement combines or complements official and unofficial diplomacy with traditional cultural rituals and practices in much the same way that faith-based diplomacy bridges religion with politics.

In this form of engagement, the parties to a conflict are encouraged, usually by members of their own tribe or culture, to resolve their differences through indigenous approaches. Governments can also adopt these methods themselves to create a participatory process... or they might choose to serve merely as a facilitating agent (providing the venue, financial assistance and / or logistics support). Below are representative examples of indigenous approaches from which governments can draw in resolving conflicts.

Traditional Arab Conflict Resolution

Many pre-Islamic Bedouin cultural practices were later embedded into Islamic traditions, including rituals designed to resolve conflicts and disputes. These tribal and traditional norms and values, or urf, came to be implemented with explicit reference to religious precepts and practice, thus creating a seamless interface between the culture and the religious. For instance, tribal leaders often use the Qur’an in administering the oath to parties in a dispute.

The Sinai Bedouin tribes even developed a special “team” within the tribe that specializes in 13 types of dispute resolution. Among other categories the team includes judges of war and peace, honor, women’s issues and camel issues. Palestinian have their own method of dispute resolution that derives from the practices of Bedouin tribes in the Sinai and the Negev deserts. There are three principle stages to this process. First, the offender’s family pays a sum to the victim’s family. Accepting the sum means there will be no revenge exacted. Next is the hudna (temporary truce) phase in which the negotiations begin. Finally, there is sulh, or reconciliation, when the parties decide the final outcome supported by a public ceremony (sulhah).

During the sulhah, the parties express remorse and forgiveness and read verses from the Qur’an and stories from the Hadith relating to forgiveness and patience. One example of such a verse comes from the Hadith: “But forgive them, and overlook their misdeeds for Allah loveth those who are kind. There are also symbolic practices such as a handshake between the families during the ceremony, as well as visitations by the family of the perpetrator to the family of the victim, where they drink a special kind of bitter coffee together. The family of the offender also hosts a ceremonial meal.

Further, there is a symbolic way of expressing humility by offering the victim’s family the opportunity to kill the offender. The victim’s family is also empowered by this gesture through the opportunity to assume the moral high ground by choosing not to kill. One way in which this unfolds is during the visit of the offender to the home of the victim in which he takes off his shirt and places a dagger in it, symbolically offering his life. There is a similar tribal practice among North African Muslims in which the offender lies on the ground beside a sheep, and the victim’s family approaches him, with the option of either killing him or the sheep. By killing the sheep, the member of the victim’s family restores his family’s dignity.

Shiite Muslims have also used traditional methods of peaceful dispute resolution, such as those used by Hezbollah among fellow Muslims. Hezbollah has capitalized on such methods to deal with vendettas and cycles of violence among rival clans, including mediation, shuttle diplomacy, negotiating restitution and financial compensation, protecting the accused from revenge killings, and other symbolic gestures.

For further study of conflict resolution, see "Religion, Terror and Error” by Douglas M. Johnston, Jr., Praeger Security International, Chapter 5.

Jeffrey Peter Agnes
LTC Thomas P. Curtis II
Contributing Editors
Rev. Michael P. Forbes
David D. Fautua
Readers are encouraged to write in letters to the editor with questions and observations at the following address: tent@smotj.org

Judaism is a monotheistic religion, with the Torah as its foundational text (part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible), and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Mishnah and the Talmud. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenantal relationship God established with the Children of Israel.

Islam is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion articulated by the Qur'an, a book considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God (Arabic: Allāh) and by the teachings and normative example (called the Sunnah and composed of hadith) of Muhammad (c. 570 BC – c. 8 June 632 AD), considered by them to be the last prophet of God.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and oral teachings of Jesus as presented in the New Testament. Most Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, fully divine and fully human, and the saviour of humanity whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament. Consequently, Christians refer to Jesus as "Christ" or the Messiah.