- Library and antique bookshop in Tripoli torched in early January
- Restoration is driven by community crowd-funding
- People from all faiths have contributed to the effort
- Many hope the project can be a focal point for better community relations
A priest's flock is crowd-funding $35,000 to restore a renowned Lebanese library, which was set on fire a few weeks ago.
Between a quarter and a third of the 85,000 titles in the Maktabat al-Sa'eh (The Pilgrim's Bookshop) in the northern city of Tripoli were destroyed by the fire, according to reports, including a pair of 200-year-old Muslim manuscripts.
The 40-year-old antiquarian bookstore and library in the old city souk of the Serail neighborhood is the life's work of Ibrahim Sarrouj, a Greek Orthodox priest.
Since the attack by suspected Muslim extremists, hundreds of people have come out in support of Sarrouj, helping with the clean-up, donating books and setting up an online crowd-funding effort to refurbish the library.
At the time of writing, almost $25,000 has been pledged.
Sarrouj says it is unexpected but he is thrilled by the way people of all religious backgrounds have joined together to help.
"(It was) a great source of joy for me that the burning of this library brought together Muslims and Christians, and especially clergy and Muslim sheiks," he said.
Social community support
Sarrouj is a popular figure in Sunni Muslim-majority Tripoli, well-known for preaching in favor of coexistence and religious tolerance. There are significant Christian and Alawite minority populations in the city.
But the city, which is just 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border with Syria, has seen intensified sectarian violence and growing extremism over the past two years, including battles between supporters and opponents of the regime in Lebanon's neighbor to the east.
In the days prior to the fire, Sarrouj says he received a threat via text message. It concerned a rumor that a pamphlet insulting the Prophet Mohammed had been found inside one of the library's books. The rumor was later discounted by authorities, according to Sarrouj.
According to local reports, around 9.30 p.m. on January 3, a group of men broke into the library and set it ablaze with petrol. Fire services arrived only a few minutes later and doused the flames quickly, saving the majority of the library's precious contents.
The day after the fire, Mu'taz Sall