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Dar al-Kalima University has launched this morning a two-day consultation in Limassol - Cyprus on FoRB (Freedom of Religion or Belief) in Southwestern Asia and North Africa (SWANA). The consultation is organized by the university and the Christian Academic Forum for Citizenship in the Arab World (CAFCAW) and is entitled “A Southwestern Asian and North African (SWANA) Consultation on FoRB”. 
In his opening remarks, Reverend Dr. Mitri Raheb, President of Dar al-Kalima University stated that there is a crucial need for SWANA approaches to FoRB, thus the importance of this gathering of several experts from different backgrounds (religious/non-religious, gender, geographical,...) and schools of thoughts (from academic and religious insitutions, grass-root movements, religious and political leaders, secular individuals…) to ask questions and address doubts about issues related to FoRB such as 1) “Is this a Western Agenda?”; 2) “Is this a conservative Christian tool for allowing foreign Christian missions in the region?”; 3) “Is this a regional priority and is there a need for FoRB?” (especially that SWANA has been suffering from Western colonialism, and facing growing poverty, political instability and the lowest quality of life; 4) “Does it fit into the SWANA context?” (could it based in this region on an individualistic concept and secular understanding of society? And could it assume that individuals have choices, especially when these are extremely limited?); 4) “What about a holistic understanding of FoRB? (including the freedom to say NO)”; 5) “What about reframing FoRB into SWANA priorities such as the framework of a civil state, equal citizenship, civil marriage, etc.?”.

Mr. Filip Buff Pedersen, Political Advisor at the Center for Kirkeligt Udviklingssamarbedjde (CKU) introduced participants to the what and the why of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), and the experience of his institution. According to Mr. Pedersen, there are different approaches when it comes to FoRB, but it is definitely under prioritized, misrepresented and misunderstood. Thus the important of developing and disseminating tools and resources about FoRB, such as the platform that offers free learning resources for faith communities, civil society, academia, and decision-makers.

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, the Consultation Program Manager, stated that “it is more than important to discuss what is Freedom of Religion or Belief from different perspectives, especially in a region that has witnessed restrictions on religious and non-religious individuals and communities, discriminations in personal status laws, as well as harassment and persecution fueled by ongoing wars, socio-economic crises, and the proliferation of authoritarian and highly conservative organizations, social groups, and government actions. This consultation marks an essential step in the development of Southwest Asian and North African cultures of upholding freedom of religion or belief towards the building of inclusive societies”.

The two-day consultation is structured into workshops and draft committee sessions with 20 participants from different Southwestern Asian and North African countries, from diaspora communities, and from European countries, along with plenary and concluding sessions. 

The objectives of the consultation are to provide a platform for SWANA stakeholders to share practices and experiences on the implementation of freedom of religion or belief in SWANA, to come up with contextualized recommendations, and to promote a better understanding of the matter.