Resources for Teachers and Students on Reverend Benjamin Weir

Prepare: The Reverend Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian missionary to Lebanon, was kidnapped by Shiite militants in 1984 and held as a hostage for 16 months. His background, and a brief account of his ordeal, can be found in the archives of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

Read: Benjamin Weir's Architects of Peace essay is excerpted from his memoir, Hostage Bound, Hostage Free. In this brief passage he reflects on the process of being bound by captors and being freed by faith.

Explore: During the time Benjamin Weir was being held hostage in Lebanon, Iran was at war with Iraq. The Shiite militants holding Weir hostage were sympathetic to Iran. Israeli officials approached the United States with a secret proposal to broker a deal where 508 American-made anti-tank missiles would be traded to Iran in return for Weir's release. This deal was finally approved by US Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, and became the first of two arms-for-hostage swaps. A scandal ensued when details of this swap were made public, and a special presidential review board, called the "Tower Commission," was appointed to investigate. Excerpts from the commission's report can be found on the website of The American Presidency Project, which is sponsored by the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Write: In his book, Hostage Bound, Hostage Free, Benjamin Weir reflects on the clash of faith between himself and his Muslim captors. He writes, "…I was dismayed at the radical difference in perspective about faith in daily life. I respected the Muslims' sense of dedication and desire to be found in the will of God. But I wished for them a greater sense of freedom and openness to consider other alternatives. I was also disappointed that there were no extended opportunities for exploring together the meaning of faith and trust in God in daily life."(151-2) Using multiple sources, compose a four-to-six page research paper examining the present level of conflict between Muslims and Christians worldwide, and exploring whether such conflict is inevitable given the disparity between two divergent faith-based worldviews. Would extended opportunities to explore the meaning of faith help resolve the tension between two religious cultures?

Extend: The International Association of Muslim Scholars has recently released a fatwa, an authoritative ruling based on Islamic teaching, which condemns the practice of taking hostages for political purposes. The fatwa is exemplary of Koran-based scholarship, and integrates a number of fundamental Islamic principles into the rationale behind the ruling. An English translation of the fatwa can be found on the Islam Online website.

Biography of Reverend Benjamin Weir