SPNL participation in Delos4 workshop in Malta: case study on Hima Anjar-Kafarzabad cultural and spiritual values

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon – SPNL represented by Bassam Alkantar, SPNL’s Media Campaigner participated in The Delos Initiative fourth workshop held in the Franciscan Retreat House of Porziuncola in Malta from 24- 26 April 2017, in cooperation with the University of Malta – Institute of Earth Systems.

St. Paul’s Church & Grotto, Rabat, Malta: Christianity has almost 2000 years of history in Malta. According to tradition, it was brought to the Islands by none other than the Apostle Paul himself in around A.D. 60. The welcome given to the survivors is described in the Acts of the Apostles (XXVIII) by St. Luke: “And later we learned that the island was called Malta. And the people who lived there showed us great kindness, and they made a fire and called us all to warm ourselves… “

Bassam Alkantar with Thymio Papayannis, Delos Initiative co-ordinator, and Director of med-ina.org

The Delos Initiative on sacred natural sites in technologically developed countries was launched in 2004, in the context of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) of IUCN and its Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, currently a Specialist Group (SG/CSVPA). The Initiative is jointly coordinated by Thymio Papayannis from MedINA and Josep-Maria Mallarach from Silene.

Xemxija has a concentration of important archaeological features that include several prehistoric rock-cut tombs dating from around 4000 BC, as well as the fragmentary ruins of a megalithic temple. The area also has a number of features from the Punic and the Roman periods, including a 2,000-year-old tomb. The site is fully flourished with a rich and divers flora some of it are endemic to the Island of Malta

The Prehistoric Temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra are found in a typical Mediterranean garigue landscape, overlooking the sea and the islet of Filfla. They are managed by Heritage Malta, the Maltese National Agency for museums, conservation practice and cultural heritage. These unique monumental buildings were constructed in the Neolithic, around 3600BC. They stand witness to unprecedented developments in art and architecture in an age where only very basic resources were available.

The workshop focused on the presentation and critical analysis of case studies with a primary emphasis on Islam and on those relevant to more than one living religions and will extract lessons learnt concerning the integration of spiritual concerns in the management of natural sites.

The case study presented by Alkantar titled “Selected Hima with spiritual values: Anjar -Kafarzabad in the Bekaa Valley”.

The Delos4 case studies and lessons learnt will be reviewed for inclusion in the updated and more encompassing IUCN Guidelines on Sacred Natural Sites to be published in the future.
The case study presented by Alkantar and co-authored with Assad Serhal titled “Selected Hima with spiritual values: Anjar -Kafarzabad in the Bekaa Valley”.

“Hima is a traditional approach for the conservation of natural resources that has been prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula for more than 1500 years. It started with the tribes who depend on scarce natural resources for their livelihood in harsh environments. This community-based conservation approach evolved in tandem with Islam, which added to it the important values of equity, distribution of benefits, common goods and participatory decisions. Prophet Muhammad (s) claimed the first two Islamic himas at Holy Cities Mecca & Medina , as a conflict resolution approach, among rival Arabian tribes”. Said Alkantar.

Over the last 60 years, the Hima community-based approach to conservation has declined and been replaced by the centralised governmental management of natural resources. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) is currently leading the revival of the Hima approach for the conservation of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in collaboration with elected local authorities. He added.


One of the most striking features of Lebanon is its tradition of religious pluralism, making the country unique, in particular in the Middle East, but also beyond. To date, 18 confessions have been officially recognized by the State. Religious diversity is compounded by ethnic diversity.
Since 2004, the SPNL has helped to establish 18 Himas in six Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBBAs) , many of these Himas convey a spiritual and religious significance. The best example of the harmonization of the cultural and spiritual aspirations with the conservation of nature, is Hima Anjar -Kafarzabad.

Located in Bekaa Valley. Hima Anjar -Kafarzabad was announced in 2008, it constitutes of wetlands, agricultural/forest lands, and the Western Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Anjar includes important archaeological sites, most notably The Islamic Anjar Castle that is classified as a World heritage site. The town’s establishment is normally attributed to the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I at the beginning of the 8th century as a palace-city. After being abandoned in later years, Anjar was resettled in 1939 with several thousand Armenian refugees from the Musa Dagh area.

Aanjar includes important archaeological sites, with a religious significance, most notably The Islamic Castle that is classified as a World heritage site. The town’s establishment is normally attributed to the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I at the beginning of the 8th century as a palace-city. Other than a small Umayyad mosque in Baalbeck, we have few other remnants from this important period of Arab History.
This almost perfect quadrilateral of ruins lies in the midst of the richest agricultural land in Lebanon.
Excavations revealed a fortified city surrounded by walls and flanked by forty towers.The great palace of the Caliph and the Mosque in the South-East quarter occupies the highest part of the site.

The Umayyad city of Anjar (Lebanon), seen from the palace.

Back in 1939, when the French brought the Armenians to Anjar, they designed the land to be as a flying eagle shape with the Orthodox Church being the head of the eagle and 3 small villages on each wing carrying the same names of the six villages in Mount Moussa. The right wing carries the Catholic Church and the left Protestant Church. The resident area was distributed equally to each families (400 meter square each) and so as the agricultural lands.
Adopting the community based approach, Hima Anjar -Kafarzabad is the best example of how Lebanon is a country where 18 different confessions coexist in relative peace and harmony. Activities in the last 9 years, makes the site an appropriate model for nature protection and integrated management of sensitive areas.
The 5th IUCN World Conservation Congress, in Jeju, voted on 2012 for SPNL’s motion to promote and support community resource management and conservation as a foundation for sustainable development. Motion 122 recognizes the various forms and names of Community Conservation, such as Al Hima (ﺍﻟﺣﻣﻰ), Mahjar, Agdal, Qoroq, and Adat.

SPNL believes that Local Conservation Groups role is necessary for the improvement of conservation actions. Among the identified LCG groups, SPNL has found that youth represent three quarter of them.
SPNL considered the need to develop the capacities of youth to support in the conservation of Himas.
In 2014, SPNL established the Homat Al-Hima fund to serve this purpose.
“Homat Al-Hima is an Arabic slogan widely used to recognize the individuals and groups acting as Hima guardians and Heroes. Homat Hima are motivated, well trained & equipped young from local Hima communities, aspiring to lead on activities Give exposure to their communities work including environmental, economical and social concerns, and to assure the conservation of the site and its key biodiversity Promote it spiritual and religious significance, and the ecological and cultural services it provides.”
Homat Al Hima (HH) are intrinsic to the Hima communities, the same villages and towns are inbred and inborn. The experiences Nature and Biodiversity bring to people are mainly local.
HH understand their Hima weather and climate as well as their local wildlife, the way they know their families, friends and community members they have grown among since their early childhood.
Today they are well trained on Communication and Management, Landscape, Social Media, Business Planning, Event Management, and Water & Sustainable Agriculture.


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