A library of books collected by a 72-year-old Greek Orthodox priest-a library used by the whole community-was torched in Lebanon on Friday (Jan 3) after the priest was accused of insulting Islam.
There are differing accounts regarding the source of the accusations against Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, who has managed the Al-Saeh (Travelers’ or Pilgrims’) Library in Tripoli, near Lebanon’s northern border with Syria, since 1972.
Apparently an article in the library, which was published several years ago by Father Sarrouj, allegedly contains content considered blasphemous toward Islam. Before the fire, the priest had met with Islamic leaders in Tripoli in an attempt to clear his name. However, on Thursday Jan 2 one of his employees, Bashir Hazzouri, sustained a gunshot injury; the library was torched the next day.
Following the burning of the library, a local official declared Father Sarrouj innocent of wrongdoing. “Father Sarrouj has nothing to do with the article,” said local security chief Imad Ayyoubi at a press conference. “The website is from Denmark and [the article] was published on Jan. 7, 2010. Whoever seeks to incite strife in Tripoli is destined for imprisonment, [as are] those who carried out the attack.”
Tripoli’s MP (Member of Parliament) Robert Fadel said that the police knew who was responsible for the attack and that they would be brought to justice. “The security agencies know the perpetrator and should arrest him… There will be no political cover for anyone,” he said.
Meanwhile a local Salafist Sheikh, Salem al-Rafei, said the person responsible for issuing a fatwa against Father Sarrouj should be punished, rather than the perpetrators themselves. “I call on [the police] to prosecute those who incited, ordered and issued a fatwa in favor of the attack rather than the fervent boys who carried out the attack,” he said.
Dozens of locals joined in the clean-up that weekend, and supporters launched a fund to rebuild the library “better than it was.” Around two-thirds of the library’s estimated 80,000 books are thought to have sustained damage, from both the fire and the water used in extinguishing the flames.
Local sources told World Watch Monitor that the library was very popular. One man said, “Father Sarrouj has run this amazing library for decades. He is a person who loves books! And he’s also the Greek Orthodox Priest of the parish in the center of Tripoli. If you didn’t know how to find something, Father Sarrouj and his assistant Amal could find every single title.”
Another local, Nivine Afiouni, told L’Orient Le Jour that many students of the local University used the library. “Father Sarrouj is a friend and long-time acquaintance,” said Afiouni. “He always defended the unity of Tripoli. He was speaking to the whole neighborhood, saying ‘as-salamu alaykom‘ [‘hello’]. He has helped many students at the Lebanese University in making donations of books. He is a humanist.”
Father Sarrouj told the Daily Star that he forgave the perpetrators and that the “greatest victory” was the support he had received from Christians and Muslims alike, and the harmony fostered by the attack.
He also said he was not interested in pursuing the arsonists. “That is for the security forces,” he said. “The government brings them to justice, not me. I am only here to love them. I am here to carry them on my shoulders.”
Source: World Watch News
Father, thank You for the faithful testimony of Father. Sarrouj so clearly recounted by both Christian and Muslim neighbors who have seen experienced his kind, gracious life. We pray Your protection over him and for the restoration of the library he has built and shared with so many. As he reflects the light of Christ to those around him, we pray that in the midst of these tragic circumstances You will draw many to Yourself, and that You will strengthen the faith of Christians in the community to live godly lives of service, forgiving, as he has, even those who oppose them. In the name of Jesus whose love overflows from our lives to others, Amen.