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Syrian refugee children convert to Christianity, Lebanese Priest involved

Special Reports | 2018-05-04 22:21:00
Syrian refugee children convert to Christianity, Lebanese Priest involved

 (Zaman Al Wasl- Ethar Abdul Haq)- It never crossed the famous Lebanese media figure Tony Khalife that he will contribute to formulating a proactive official Christian answer that would forbid what a well-known Lebanese priest named Madji Allawi was trying to accomplish by evangelizing Syrian children about two years later.

Allawi is widely known among the Lebanese, both for the activities and projects he involved himself with and his history. Nonetheless, one would have never guessed that more than a few Syrians would know the name Majdi Allawi hadn’t this man decided to get involved in the Syrian case, only to write a new chapter of its countless tragedies.

 Zaman al-Wasl seeks to shed light on his story from this sensitive perspective namely, trying to convince children to change their religion under the pretense of trying to help them rise from fallings they were never responsible for creating in the first place, and even if that was the case, they were never expected to shoulder its ramifications by the standard of any religion, doctrine, or principle.

Maybe the best place to start this report on Allawi is the beginning, as Zaman al-Wasl goes back to the history and career of Allawi in the Lebanese scene, relying on verified incidents that we’ve traced to more than one source.

The 40-something priest is a controversial figure even among Lebanon. Allawi deserted the religion of his family, Islam, and converted to Christianity when he was a child – mostly at the same age of the Syrian children he is allegedly trying to evangelize. 

But that is not all. Allawi is also known for opting not to conform to the traditional image of a priest, as he involved himself in social situations that stirred up sectarian tension in Lebanon. A famous case is the Mousa Sweidan one which will we shed light on later in this report.

Allawi says that he found Jesus when he was nine-year-old. He learned a bit about Christianity by attending the Christian religion class in his mixed school, which accepted Muslim and Christian students. It only took a young Allawi a few weeks to declare to his teacher that he liked what he learned and revealed his decision to continue with his life on the path of Jesus. He asked to be baptized when he was 11-year-old, where he was baptised at a cathedral in Byblos. 

Allawi conceded that he couldn’t preform all of the rituals (particularly the First Communion) because he was minor and his baptism was without the knowledge of his family. However, Allawi decided to run away when he turned 14-year-old and continue his life away from his family.

In his brief account of how he converted to Christianity, one can put his hand on a hard-to-understand contradiction. On one hand, Allawi said he was prohibited from preforming some Christian rituals because he was baptized as a minor and without the knowledge of his family. On the other hand, he explicitly said, “My family agreed to let me be baptized in 1981.”

Additionally, Allawi’s words raise a lot of question about the actual truth and purpose of his conversion – “My father told me that the act is up. I was baptized in light of political reasons that arose in the area.”

Majdi, who was baptized in an explicit violation even of the church’s laws, grew up and was declared a priest in 2005. He chose the path of sainthood. In his journey, he launched a number of activities that attracted the eyes of the media which always talked about his “humanity” and “love” that immersed everyone of all ages, and his “philanthropy” that provided food and shelter to dozens of drug addicts, homeless people, elders, convicted children. To carry out these activities, he had to start feeding and sheltering ventures in different areas in Lebanon which cost a lot.

The ongoing expenses of these ventures would exhaust major institution, where any state that adopt a policy of transparency to look into all of this and ask, where did all of that come from?

But when asked, Allawi simply answers, “from my father in the sky” and he couldn’t care less about he can gain money. He even went to say that he told his “father in the sky” once that he wants to completely devote himself to “develop human beings” and he didn’t want to distract himself with securing funding, so his “father in the sky” promised to take care of the funding, and so it was.

Case of Mousa Sweidan

Allawi descends from al-Laqlouk area and he is of a Sunni family as he himself acknowledged. Most of his 
ventures today are under the umbrella of his church and association that he called “Sa’adat al Samaa” (Sky’s Bliss), where he gathers around himself many children and minors, claiming to protect them and securing a future for them away from terrorism and crime as he puts it. 

Allawi’s ambiguity with regard to the sources of his funding can only be compared to the “source” of those children, as he simply says, “Jesus gave them as a gift” before expand on that, saying that this “gift” found its way to him thanks to social and family issues. Allawi admitted that the “state” or the Lebanese government is the one who refers children and minors to him, so he can take care of him and raise them without forgetting to note that “Lebanon took in Syrian and Iraqi refugees” in a very clear sign. In a related context, we should shed light on a major incident that imploded last year and its fallout are yet to blow over. Namely, the story of the Lebanese man Wael Sweidan.

Everything started when Allawi claimed that Mousa Sweidan threatened him after he took in Sweidan’s minor children (six girls and one child) in the wake of a family dispute between him and his wife, where authorities referred Sweidan’s children to the priest to “take care” of them. But things took a turn when the girls decided to renounce their hijab, which caused the father to attack and threaten the priest, thinking he was responsible for that.

The priest responded, “I took the children out of prison along with their mother. I brought them a Quran and something to pray on and told them to pray… They rejected me first, but they were touched by the love and respect they were shown.” He claimed that the minor girls took off their hijab as a sign of gratitude to him for what he did, as he adds: “They came to express their love for me: ‘please, our father, we want to take off our hijab.’ I told them ‘I love you just the way you are. I respect you’.”

Eventually, the little girls took of the hijab, and even took part in the church’s prayers according to Allawi. This further evoked their father and made him believe that Allawi was the reason that pushed them from Islam. Things developed and Sweidan, who felt that he lost any hope in getting his children back, publicly threatened him by weapon.

In the eyes of the public, Sweidan became the criminal and Allawi the victim. Authorities summoned Sweidan and forced him to sign a restraining order prohibiting him from being in the 20 km-proximity of his children or Allawi. Things took another turn and Sweidan was sent to jail later, and the chapters of this story are still being written, as it is difficult to narrate all of it in this report.

Sweidan’s encounter with Allawi is a live example that might give an idea of the way the owner of the “Sky’s Bliss” can treat non-Lebanese, especially Syrian refugees who have no one to protect them or their rights if they ever found themselves in trouble no matter how trivial. The very regime to which their “legitimate” government is affiliated is the one that they fled its brutality, while the opposition is disoriented and uncoordinated. On the other hand, the Lebanese government discriminates its own people on sectarian, partisan, and geographical basis, let alone the “alien” Syrians.

 Many indignities were committed against Syrians refugees in Lebanon in light of this unstable situation, and no one batted an eye both on the official level and in the media. Even a very serious offence such as altering the religious identify of Syrian children would have come to pass if it hadn’t been for a Syrian man who noticed accidently what happened to a nearby kid whom Allawi took under the pretense of taking care of him, but somehow the child became a Christian wearing the attire of Allawi’s church and following him wherever he goes. 

About a month ago, Allawi was shown in a video preaching at al-Rouh al-Qudus Church in what is known as “al-Insan village” in al-Maysra (the village is one of Allawi’s projects). Allawi explicitly says, “I have today raised a family of their own. What is wrong with all of our children going to the church.” But he quickly came to realize that not all the children he “raised” are from Christian families (our children as he puts it), “It bears repeating, and I hope everyone hears me. Yes. Mohammad, Ali, Mustafa, Sherbal, Yousef, Elen… Their presence here, they can be tomorrow’s saints.

That is better than having them grow up to be terrorists, hostile, addicts, or perverts.” If we were to take Allawi’s eloquence into consideration, as he always chose his words and phrases carefully, we would only think that how he matched the order the names “Mohammad, Ali, and Mustafa” with the order of the imagined fates (terrorists!). Such a phrasing wasn’t arbitrary, and was completely deliberate. That is not he point, though. It is not about a readied accusation that has become something of a trend that follows every Muslim, but it is about forcing children, who may don’t have the senses to make appropriate decisions, to convert into another religion under the pretext of trying to protect them from a life of terrorism.

Incidentally, Allawi was shown uttering these words as a group of children was surrounding him. Some of them were sitting on the ground, while others, including a Syrian child called A.M., was sitting next to him and wearing the attire of his church and reciting prayers with him. This is what shocked the child’s relative who happened to watch this video, where he recognized his relative (Just by watching the vide, one can easily conclude that the child is not aware of the meaning or the sensitivity of what he is doing, and it is just a game to him, which is something normal for a child of his age).

Contrary to what has been circulated about the child A.M.’s fate, that Allawi pulled him out of a juvenile prison by paying a ticket, sources confirmed to Zaman al Wasl that A.M.’s story is in reality a purposeful abduction through the way of tempting and luring. 

The child was living in a disjointed family, as his parents have neglected him almost completely, so he had to make a living through selling stuff (like flowers) on the streets. Certainly, these practices undermine a child’s self-worth since it is not too dissimilar to begging, not to mention it might subject the child to a lot of violations by people with ill intentions, or those who are trying to lure him into doing things that he can’t realize their legal ramifications.
Which was the case, as some women who appeared to be nuns, according to our sources, started seeing the child frequently, trying to change his already-miserable life and tempting him with toys, food, and having fun. A number of children who were selling flowers in the same street with A.M. saw that.
However, the nuns were focused on A.M., because he was the low-hanging fruit as he lives in a broken home. The nuns managed to draw the child, as he asked his father for more money to buy more flowers so he can sell them, and that was the last time.
As previously mentioned, A.M.’s family wasn’t paying that much attention, so when their child went missing, they simply thought he was at a relative’s or a friend’s house.
Things stayed that way until one of the child’s relatives was told about the nuns who were seeing A.M. frequently, and most likely they had him at the church that Allawi run.
The child’s family rushed to get their kid back, but the church didn’t let them see him. He remained detained at “The Sky’s Bliss” before a narrative about him being pulled out from a life of crime to take care him was promoted.

When A.M. was shown in the video preforming Allawi’s rituals with him, the story of the Syrian child became clear to all, and the purpose of the nuns’ visits was revealed. The “Compassion” of the “Sky’s Bliss” man was exposed.

It’s forbidden

Even if Allawi doesn’t particularly care about the backlash to his practices from the Muslim community in Lebanon, which is evident in his defying tone and frequent statements, it is very interesting that Allawi doesn’t concern himself with the laws of the church that he, supposedly, familiar with.

What is even more interesting is that Allawi himself was physically present when a well-known Christian priest said it is forbidden and not right to baptize children. Zaman al-Wasl tracked this matter and it turned out that the leader of the Copts in Lebanon, Rwyes al-Aroushlimi, was once asked if it is okay to baptize a Muslim child as per his father’s request. His response was very unambiguous at all, “No, it is not. The child should be baptized depending on the faith of his parents.

 If her parents don’t believe in Christianity, how could he be baptized!? Based on what faith? And who is supposed to teach him about this faith.” Allawi, interestingly, appeared on the same show, which is hosted by the Lebanese media figure Tony Khalife, on the very same night. Allawi was sitting next to al Aroushlimi and had nothing to comment at that time.

This was before the story of the Syrian child A.M. broke out and also before Allawi’s words on “Mohammad, Ali, and Mustafa”. After the two incidents, there has been some criticism from Christian figures over which stressed that what Allawi did was unsanctioned.

One of those was the priest Agnis Mary al Salib, who is known for its vehement support for Bashar al Assad and her statements against the Syrian people’s revolution are ample and well documented. Priest Agnis stressed that baptizing children is unsanctioned and has to have a legal framework. She added that baptism is only acceptable after the age of minority unless the baptized child’s family requested this and gave their written consent. Even if that was the case, the child has to have his Baptismal promises renewed, so he can prove his approval to the decision that his family had taken on his behalf when they had him baptized.

The priest Abdou Abu Kasm seconded that opinion, but more clearly and briefly, “we can’t baptize children against their families’ wishes. Baptism is only for adults.” Abu Kasm agreed with Mary al Salib in her criticism of those who help people to evangelize them, adding that those can’t be Christian or belong to the church.

The question is, then, why does Allawi insist on his methods and violate the laws of the church? The answer comes in several parts. There is a hidden part, related most likely to the impunity Allawi enjoys, as he is assured that he will not be prosecuted by the state or the church, which enticed him to baptize Christian children and evangelize Muslim children, and continuing his ways.

The other part is very clear and can be concluded from Allawi’s past when he was baptized a Muslim child. Since then, he has been obsessed with drawing as many children as he can to what he was drawn into, something that is supported by Allawi’s wild desire to realize saint status, as he sees that the path to this status is arduous and one can only achieve it by baptizing and analogizing as many people as he can.

The profound dream of sainthood is not some wild speculation we’ve made, but it is something that Allawi himself expressed repeatedly, through his words and actions. He presents himself as someone who treats everyone with love and compassion irrespective of any religious or sectarian consideration. He always makes sure to depict himself as an angelic figure whose only purpose is to give people their salvation, claiming to be one of the pure, guarded, protected ones in the eyes of “our father in the sky”.

The hidden scar

Allawi’s strive to establish himself as a popular saint ahead of his official inauguration was obvious. This started a few years ago when he contracted a very serious disease and had a car accident. In the first incident, Allawi narrated how his health was progressively worsening and he had to undergo surgeries that led to complication and infections that impeded him from being able to eat or drink anything, which, in turn, led to a third surgery and having a part of his stomach and duodenum removed.
Passionately describing his pain that came along his paling figure, he added that his -year-old son, Chris, gave him a gift in the form of a zunnar that” he brought to me specifically from the priest Charbel Makhlouf.” “I wrapped it around my neck, and I never take it off unless when I take a shower because he is tied very securely.”

And then one day, according to Allawi, “I woke up and found the zunnar’s node loosened by itself. I realized that this was a message from the Virgin and from the Saint Makhlouf that I was healed from my pains that I came to think that I will never be cured from them. I asked for a snack and for the first time in months I was able to eat normally without vomiting or feeling pain. I returned to my former self, and this is my testimony before God and before the people.”

As for the car accident, Allawi also made sure to describe it in depth, and hoe he was protected by a divine hand, and thanks to his son Chris, the same son who was the very reason he was healed, even though deadly car accidents can and do happen every second, and it already happened that many had mordaciously survived.

Perhaps the “hidden scar” in the endeavor of Allawo towards sainthood is particularly exposed when he mentions the name of the three who baptized him as a Muslim child – Father Lewis Matar, who is charged with writing the wonders of the Priest Charbel Makhlouf. Apparently, the fact that Father Matar is still alive, while the other two died, encourages Allawi to record as many wonders as possible in his log that maybe can afford him to call himself a saint.

In his sainthood journey, Allawi doesn’t seem to get bored of repeating the same phrases and statements that he uses to present himself as an angelic savior who was tasked with easing the pain of everyone that come in this way. He saved the girl that was raped, the child beggar, the found infant, and the addict on the verge of demise, and many many more without asking about their identities or faith, and without forcing anyone to embrace Christianity. However, we come to find “Mohammad, Mustafa, and Ali” not to mention A.M. and many others whose stories are yet to be revealed and told. All of those actually have become Christians or about to by their choice and as per their will even though the concept of willingness is not yet fully manifested for any child. All religions, and even laws, are aware of this.

In this context, Allawi’s lengthy response wasn’t a surprise after the issue of baptizing and evangelizing children was brought to public attention, “When there is rape and homelessness, the very definition of a Muslim, Christian, or Druze is redundant. All religions fall and the human being rises. Yes, the human being is above all, his dignity is above all. We refuse to lose ourselves to the spirals of sectarianism. When we enter those mazes, we lose the way.”

However, when one hears Allawi’s response and then looks at those baptized and evangelized children surrounding him, you have to ask, why all religions fall when it comes to drawing a child to the church and association of the Sky’s Bliss, but suddenly there is only one voice that matters when he is inside that church and within the grasp of his priest Allawi? And how can we believe that a priest positions the dignity of a human above everything else when he violates the most basic rights of children and drives them to change their convictions obliviously, and even without the knowledge of their families, even though infringing on the established rights of children are something of very serious consequences.

Lastly, it should be said that Zaman al-Wasl is not interested, in this report, to dive into the spirals of sectarianism. Otherwise, Zaman al-Wasl would have approached this matter from a completely different angle, without just settling for citing priests from the church that prohibits and criminalize the infringement on children’s rights and baptizing and evangelizing them before adulthood. We don’t think that citing a priest responding to another is sinking in the spirals of sectarianism. However, there are most likely more chapters to this story.

Zaman Al Wasl- Ethar Abdul Haq
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