Lebanon Has The Arab World’s First Ever Ordained Female Pastor: Rola Sleiman In Tripoli Is Pioneering

A blog reader sent my way a Huffington Post article that was published yesterday about how Lebanon has the Arab world’s first ever female pastor: Rola Sleiman, who heads the Presbyterian Church in Tripoli, up North.

Rola was ordained as Reverend Rola Sleiman on February 26th, 2017 in a 23-1 vote that makes her, historically, the first Arab woman to ever be the head of a church. In fact, Reverend Sleiman was actually heading the church for the past few years as a pastor, but without being ordained she was unable to perform Communions or Baptisms, and needed to have a male priest oversee her work.

She is now the spiritual leader of her congregation, a job she’s been technically doing since 2008 – except right now, she doesn’t need any men of the cloth to supervise her anymore. Rola Sleiman thinks “it’s not a big deal” that such an event occurred. She says “I was serving my Church and will continue serving.”

But this is a big deal. The fact that a Presbyterian Parish in Tripoli ordained a woman to be their spiritual leader speaks volume about the strides forward that some parts of Lebanese society are doing. Rev. Sleiman is the first woman – ever – in the entire Arab world’s Christian population be be ordained as a priest. In other words, she’s the first woman to break into a calling that’s only been reserved exclusively for men.

That small congregation in Tripoli will now have the honor to be headed by Rev. Rola Sleiman for the following years to come. She’s a woman who is now championing equality in facets of Lebanese – and Arab – societies that we never thought could be broken into. It’s fitting that this occurs at the start of the international month for women empowerment.

Rola Sleiman’s ordainment is of vital importance in the climate of the world today where far-right groups are taking power and throwing minorities and women rights to the back of any tangible importance. As she told Huffington Post: “If the Church discriminates against women, what should we expect of the state? Christ is love, and love does not distinguish between men and women.” She is breaking tradition, ancient rules and cultural sensitivities.

In fact, she may be breaking some of the strongest traditions in the country and the region. For many, their highest form of authority is the priest who has always been a man. This time, it’s a woman. I hope Rev. Sleiman becomes the champion that her position permits her to be.

Of course, this will not change the status quo of the fight for equality between the sexes in Lebanon or the Arab world in general, but it can change some of its dynamics. To have a woman be ordained as a priest for a congregation – even if it’s small – and have that congregation not be opposed to it (as is obvious through that 23-1 vote) speaks volumes about how far we’ve come as a society, and it makes me proud.

In a country and a region where woman, despite being a demographic majority, are vastly under-represented be it in religious affairs, politics, business, etc… Rola Sleiman’s ordainment speaks volumes.

There will be people in this country, Christians and otherwise, who will have a problem having their Church headed by a woman. Catholics and Maronites don’t even allow it. But in a landscape filled by men, a change of perspective and, therefore, a change in direction is what is needed. Rev. Rola Sleiman can be that catalyst towards change in the heart of the Lebanese Church and the face of Arab Christianity.

Here’s to many more years to come in joyous and prosperous service of your altar and congregation, Rev. Sleiman.

Iran To Execute Youcef Nadarkhani, a Pastor, For Converting to Christianity

This is Youcef Nadarkhani

Youcef Nadarkhani is a 34 year old man who converted to Christianity at age 19. He came under the Iranian government’s radar in 2006 when he applied for his church to be recognized by the Iranian government.

Three years later, he went to local officials to complain about the indoctrination of Islam at his children’s local school, saying that his children should not be forced to learn about Islam. He was subsequently faced with a court order to renounce his Christian faith, which he refused to do. He is now facing the death penalty, being put on death row.

The Christian pastor faced charges of “apostasy” and “evangelizing muslims.” The widespread condemnation has led  the Iranian court to accuse the pastor of committing rape and other crimes as well. As of today, he is still alive.

For reference, Iran is one of the signatories of the Human Rights charter, as well as various United Nations agreements, which guarantee religious freedom. The US congress has also unanimously approved of a resolution to condem the sentencing.

The Iranian government is known to carry on execution sentences at random times. Nadarkhani’s sentencing can be carried out immediately or dragged on for years. His supporters fear his case might be used by the Iranian government as leverage against the sanctions imposed on the country.

Youcef Nadarkhani with his family

I honestly cannot fathom how some governments can rationalize decisions like this in the 21st century. Not only is the Iranian government violating every single human rights agreement it has signed, it’s also doing so flagrantly. How can a government sign an agreement to ensure religious freedom and then kill those who do not follow the religion enforced by the state?  How can the judges of said Iranian court remain sane with them fabricating charges for a man whose only “fault” was to change religions?

Even Nadarkhani’s wife was arrested and found guilty before she appealed the decision and got released two weeks later. Her arrest was seen by many as a pressure on her husband to renounce his faith.

Religious minorities in Iran, such as Christians, Jews, Bahais, etc… face social marginalization, persecution and political isolation. The Iranian government, however, saves its hardest punishment to those who “abandon” Islam. It even has fatwas that demand the death of apostates.

Iran’s secretive judicial system leaves the international community questioning Nadarkhani’s fate. But the international pressure being put on Iran by various governments and organizations is paying off. Pastor Nadrakhani would have been executed already if his case hadn’t caused outrage.

It looks like world is still concerned with religious freedom, as is evident by people from various political fields (conservatives and liberals), countries and religious views (Atheism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity) coming together to help Youcef Nadarkhani. So what can we do? We can help by spreading the word. The more people know about Nadrakhani’s case, the harder it will be for such oppressive governments to let it slide. It is high time we stand up for our basic liberties, such as our freedom to choose whatever religion we want to follow. When it comes to one’s relationship with God (or any other entity), the government should have no say – let alone punishing a person for not having the relationship it deems appropriate.


PS: For the Lebanese reading this who will accuse me of being one-sided, the same applies to the Saudi government’s oppressive view towards religions (and other basic liberties) too.