Christian-Muslim Arab Dialog in the Holy Land
Geries S. Khoury §
It was on Monday, July, 24, 2006, at six in the evening, when I watched on TV an elderly woman being interviewed by Al-Jazeera reporter in the southern suburb of Beirut. She had a weary smile on her face because of the blast made by Israeli shells that left no tree, stone, house, bridge, street, school, hospital, or a building inhabited by innocent Lebanese civilians intact.
Jean d'Arc, the old lady, stands in front of her humble house, weary and worn out, her eyes reflecting long hours of insomnia. With her trembling hand, she holds a cigarette which she puffs at leisure, and each puff carries her pain and the deep wounds inside her. She smokes and talks to Al-Jazeera reporter, her eyes fixed on her husband Hanna who also looked exhausted as he sat in a corner in the room. He looked around sorrowfully unable to utter a word.
Jean d'Arc moans and feels sorry for the destruction she sees around her. She tells the reporter:
"I'm tired but I'll stay here. I won't leave. I'll stay here with my husband and my friend Fatima. We'll live here together, and only here."
Reporter: "But there's danger and the shelling is still going on and the Israeli destruction machine won’t stop. You've to think about the risk you're taking."
Jean d'Arc: "This isn't the first time in which Israel demolishes Lebanon. I didn't leave before and today I'll not leave my house."
Reporter: "Who's this lady with you?"
Jean d'Arc: "This is Fatima, my soul mate. She's not a guest. She owns the house. We'll never leave each other whether in good or bad times. We'll live here together."
Jean d'Arc then turned her head toward her friend and said: "Come, Fatima." Fatima came out. She was an old woman and her eyes had little hope in them.
Reporter: "What do you say, Fatima, about this situation? Do you realize that you're in danger here because of the Israeli shelling?"
Fatima: "I'm not scared of the shelling or of Israel. I fear only God and nobody else. I'm staying here with Jean d'Arc; we'll live or die together. Look into the room, it's full of the Virgin Mary's and St. Charbel's icons, and there's also the picture of Imam Ali near them. We live together."
Reporter: "Who is Jean d'Arc talking to?"
Fatima: "With her daughters. She has three daughters and she's consoling them."
Jean d’Arc: “Hello, yes my daughter. I am fine thank God. Don’t worry. I hope to see you soon. Your father’s good but very tired. He’s always silent and never says a word. He spends his time thinking and moaning. May God help him, my daughter? Hello, Fatima wants to hear your voice and to assure you about the safety of the birds.”
Fatima: “Hello, how are you? We’re fine. We depend on God; whatever He wants to happen will happen. I want to tell you that the birds are fine. They’re inside the house, and we have a new bird now that Mohammad bought. Yes, we’re staying together; don’t think much about your parents. I want to tell you that the birds aren't scared and we’re not afraid of the Israeli shelling. May God protect you? Ok, peace is with you.”
Reporter: “What would you like to say to the viewers?”
Jean d’Arc: “Fatima and I are staying here and we’re not scared. We won’t leave each other. We’ll live or die together. God is great and He’ll protect us and our country Lebanon. We want nothing but peace and we want people to love each other, like Fatima and I love one another and are happy together.”
I watched this interview and it deepened my faith in Christian-Muslim brotherhood and a life together. Fatima and Jean d’Arc are indifferent to history of dialog and its methodology, or of the challenges that it faces. They are indifferent of what writers write about dialog, or of what the Patriarch or Sheikh says. They have the intuition and natural faith in living or dying together, and this is the spontaneous dialog of life that cares less for protocols, or theories, or the media. It is a dialog of life and a life of dialog; it is a dialog in its simplest sense, but within it deep meaning can be unfolded.
This is national unity, and this is the most sublime form of dialog, shared existence and solidarity between the followers of both religions, Christianity and Islam.
In 1976, I was writing my doctoral dissertation about the meaning of the concept of "philosophy" and "philosopher" among several Muslim thinkers in the Middle Ages. Abu Nasr Al-Farabi was one of those thinkers. As I was thumbing through one of his books on philosophy, my eyes fell on a sentence that seemed to me at that time to be puzzling and interesting. The sentence appeared in Al-Farabi's book The Attainment of Happiness in which the “Second Teacher” (Al-Farabi) acknowledges that Greek philosophy had reached the Muslims through translations done by Christian scholars and their schools, which hosted tens of philosophers, doctors, and Muslim scientists (1). Al-Farabi said, "This science called philosophy started in ancient times among the Chaldeans, and they were the original inhabitants of Iraq, then it moved on to Egypt, then to Greece where it lasted for several centuries, and later it reached the Syriacs, then the Arabs. Whatever had been said in that science was in Greek, then in Syriac, and finally in Arabic" (2). After reading Al-Farabi's words, I asked myself, "Syriac? Arab? Christians? Who are they? And how come they have this great role?"
My queries were genuine, plain and unexaggerated because during the years I had spent at schools I had not heard about Arab Christians and I had not read in history or literature books about any Arab Christian personality who lived in the Middle Ages, except the poet Al-Akhtal and a few other names that I could hardly remember. History books contained and still contain the same material. General history is that of the West and the two great wars, and Arab history focuses on Islamic history and does not address Arab Christians, their existence or their role in the history of the Arabs. Thus, Al-Farabi's statement engendered in me a strong desire to know more about the history of Arab Christians in the Middle Ages and what their role had been.
After finishing my dissertation on Islamic philosophy, I started to know little by little about the heritage of Arab Christians and their role either from the Jesuit Al-Mashriq Journal (3) which Father Louis Shikho filled with articles about the Syriacs and Arab Christians and their philosophy and theology, or from the Arab Christian manuscript index prepared by George Jarraf (4), or from the books of Samir Khalil, Father George Qanawati (5) and others on Arab Christian literature during the Middle Ages.
The material about Arab Christians is abundant, rich and varied. It includes philosophy, medicine, religious debate and dialog, literature, history, geography and the sciences. Some of these topics have been published, but most of them are kept in thousands of manuscripts and are available in libraries in the Arab world or the western world.
At that time and after consultation with my teachers, Fathers Boji and Samir Khalil, I embarked on the study of a manuscript by Ibn ‘Adi on the dialog between him and a Muslim on the subject of incarnation and the essence of Christ; thus, this was the topic for my second dissertation (6).
After finishing my studies, I returned in 1980 to work in Tantur Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem and I also began teaching at Bethlehem University. I noticed at the beginning of the 1980s that Islamic religious movements gained strength and power and that some people started to talk about tension in the air. This feeling and tension made me ask: If we were able to meet with each other after the emergence of Islam and if we at that time were able to engage in dialog with each other, why then do we not meet today, purge the atmosphere and remove all misunderstanding and clarify positions and deepen our knowledge of each other's religion and strengthen our national unity and deprive the occupation and abject villains from planting the seeds of division among Palestinians?
Indeed a group of Christian and Muslim academics met and discussed the matter and decided after several meetings to set up an institution that would look into and supervise Arab Christian-Muslim meetings. Thus Al-Liqa' Center for Religious Studies and Heritage in the Holy Land was established in 1982, the first of its kind in the world because its founders were Christians and Muslims. It is a center independent of Christian and Islamic institutions but deals with them with mutual respect and hears their voice when needed.
This road of dialog was not paved with flowers; it was rather full of obstacles, challenges and difficulties. The fiercest challenge came from the Israeli occupation, which tried to thwart our project by direct or indirect measures, such as putting up roadblocks during the days of conferences and lectures or calling lecturers to meet with the military authorities during their lecture time, or asking some members of the conferences committees to meet with the military authorities at the time of the conferences were scheduled. But the steadfastness of our Christian and Muslim brothers before these challenges did not leave any chance for the occupation to prevent us from holding our meetings or conferences.
Another challenge came from some factions or Islamic religious movements and also from some Christians who exerted pressure on some of the founders of Al-Liqa' Center. They failed because both Christians and Muslims realized and believed in the importance of our task and goals. We at all times responded to the queries and accusations of the few who doubted our task accusing us of proselytizing or of serving western ambitions:
“You are not right. There is a difference between proselytizing and dialog. We do not proselytize, but we want to meet and know each other. We want to deepen our knowledge of each other's religion and free ourselves of presuppositions and presumptions, as well as from the ignorance that binds and imprisons us, thus weakening and killing us. Our goal is to have positive communication and to free our hearts of the fear of others. We want to set up bridges of dialog not in order to change the other but to open windows to the others and to know their religion instead of judging it. We do all this in order to demolish all barriers that separate the followers of the two religions, the children of the same nation.”
Therefore, what we need today is dialog and not preaching, taking into consideration that the mission of Christians is one of preaching about Jesus the Savior. But as a Palestinian Christian and an Israeli citizen, I do not think that preaching at this time is one of the priorities of the local church. I may even say more than this. Preaching in the Holy Land weakens, embarrasses and isolates the church. Thus instead of becoming a grace, preaching becomes a curse in the current context in which the church is living.
I think that Christians have to declare this position before calling upon Muslims for dialog because some of the following issues will be the first things that come to their mind when they hear the word "dialog":
1. International proselytizing movements that have as their goal at the beginning of the 20th century the penetration of Islamic life and intensifying proselytizing activities. John Mott, the head of International Missionary Council, says in his summation of missionary conferences that were held in 1924 in Jerusalem, Istanbul, Bermana and Baghdad that "the time has come to penetrate Muslim life." As Mott says in his book The World of Islam Today, "Deep changes have taken place in the Islamic world and this call for looking for new grounds for preaching activities" (7).
2. The conflict between the East and the West and the superior and imperialistic view of the West toward the East and the Arab countries, especially after the signing of Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916, which has caused a huge rift in the unity of the Arab world and divided it into emirates and states to weaken it and exploit its natural resources and control its political and economic future. Thus, in light of colonial oppression, "people regarded the call of dialog a screen to cover the clandestine goals of domination and national betrayal" (8). As a result, the call for dialog is at once rejected by the Muslims. When they hear about dialog they become full of doubt and suspect its integrity. In this context, His Holiness Patriarch Micheal Sabbah encourages dialog saying, "The difficulties and shocks that we see in our daily life should not separate brothers and should not make us forget the truth of unity on the land, unity of heritage and unity of culture" (9). It is important here to call to mind what has been mentioned in the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs document about the necessity and importance of dialog between Christians and Muslims in the East, stressing the fact that such a dialog is an integral part of our common origin history and a genuine quality of our Arab identity. The document says, "Our common existence, which extends through many centuries in spite of all the difficulties, is the solid ground on which we build our common work for the present and the future in order to create a balanced and equal society in which no one feels an alien or an outcast. We drink from the same fountain of cultural heritage which we share, and each of us has contributed to the emergence of that heritage according to their ability and thought. Our cultural proximity is our historical inheritance which we are determined to preserve, develop and activate, so that it will become a basis for our common living and brotherly cooperation. Christians in the East are an inseparable part of the Islamic cultural identity; likewise, Muslims in the East are an integral part of the Christian cultural identity. We are responsible for each other before God and history, and therefore we are obliged to look unceasingly for a common formula of co-existence and fruitful, creative interaction. By this we guarantee stability and security for every believer in God and shun hatred, bigotry, sectarianism, and the rejection of the other. We are convinced that our spiritual and religious values can help us overcome the problems that emerge as we go along in living together. This obliges us to look at each other with the spirit of openness and mutual recognition because the individual is an enemy to what he ignores. The world of today is torn by fanaticism and racial discrimination; but we are looking forward to establish the foundation for common existence that would be an example to the whole world, instead of deforming the purpose of God in us and becoming a reverse picture of what the modern man desires to achieve: peace, reconciliation, and cooperation on the basis of true and genuine citizenship. God wanted us in His wisdom to live together in this part of the world, and we accept His will and hope that it will widen our hearts so that they will have room to include all people irrespective of their different affiliations" (10).
3. The attitude of most Orientalists toward Islam and Muslims and their distorted writings about Islam as a religion and about the Prophet (May the peace of God be upon Him) and His call, has indeed provoked the feelings of Muslims and aggravated their doubt about Western calls for religious dialog.
4. The position of some western countries, such as France which is the sole supporter of Christians in Lebanon against Muslims and Druz, was a major cause in increasing the doubt of Muslims regarding the intentions of the West and its relations with Islam and issues of justice, peace and stability in the Middle East region.
5. The position of the West toward the Palestinian cause since the beginning of the 20th century and until the present time has been biased toward the Zionist movement and Israel, starting with Balfour declaration in 1917 and the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Western countries have acknowledged and supported the political and economic issues of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, and they have been indifferent to the Arab and Islamic interests. Such attitudes have grievously affected Christian-Muslim relations and raised doubts about the calls for religious dialog at any time and any place. These doubts have been engendered because of the position of the West toward our Arab causes, especially the Palestinian cause, because the West was content with taking resolutions in the UN Assembly but refusing to implement any of them. On the other hand, our people see that the resolutions related to Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran are entirely implemented by the international community. This kind of double-dealing is the main cause of the continuation of the trust crisis between the East and the West and reduces opportunities for dialog and cooperation, a matter that is harmful to both sides.
6. Certainly, we cannot ignore history and the harmful consequences of the Crusades in the hearts and minds of Muslims, who have had the worst from Western Christians. All this was in the name of the cross and had the support of the Western church. The Crusades made the Muslims regard Christians in the East as an extension of the West in the heart of the East that should be looked at with caution and restricted in movement (11). Thus the relations that Christians and Muslims knew before the Crusades in the East froze. Believers from both sides started to mistreat each other and look at each other with eyes of doubt.
7. A good number of western and Christian missionaries were prejudiced toward Christians in the East at the expense of Muslims, particularly in educational institutes. Added to this is that most educational institutes followed in their curricula an educational and social system that was in essence against Islam and Muslims, affected by the Crusade mentality and the superior colonial education.
8. The general Western position and the position of the US in particular toward the war and destruction in Iraq and the killing of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians under the pretext of destroying the unconventional arms of Iraq—not existent in reality—worsened the relations between Christians and Muslims, created a wall between them, and contributed to the aggravation of doubt in the calls for dialog and the relations between the East and the West.
9. The September 11 attacks were the very thing that completely brought down the relations between the West and Islam, especially after the anti-Islamic statements made by leaders of western countries such as George Bush and the former Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlesconi. As a result of the September 11 attacks, a decision was taken to invade Iraq and occupy Afghanistan and dub Muslims in general and the Palestinians in particular as terrorists.
On the other hand, we see the similar superior attitude of some Muslims towards Christians from the same nation that makes many Muslims think and feel that there is no real need for religious dialog. This results in the repulsion of Christians and the creation of different reactions including their reluctance to open dialog with Muslims. I think that this attitude that is callous to dialog (from the Muslim side) has its source in several Koranic verses that can be easily misinterpreted or misunderstood. An example of such verses are "Religion for God is Islam" (12) and "You were the best nation to come out for the nations" (13). When reading or hearing these verses, Christians may wonder, "If religion for God is Islam, what is the use of dialog and meeting together with Muslims?" They may also wonder, "If Muslims were the best nation on earth, where do I stand as a Christian?" Yes, Christians truly wonder, but at the same time they forget what Peter says in his epistle which carries more or less the same meaning, "A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart" (14).
These subjective queries and attitudes, the feeling of superiority over others, and belief in being special and distinct are caused by superficial knowledge or total ignorance of the other's doctrine, traditions and spiritual heritage, considering that ignorance is an enemy of man, an enemy of dialog and an enemy of common existence.
Presumptions and false ideas about Islam and Muslims, as well as sometimes describing them as traditionalist and regressive, constitute a barrier in the relations between Christians and Muslims and cause tension in their relations, especially among some socially and culturally sophisticated Christians. This is what some Christians in our land believe; this talk takes place in salons and in small groups. These Christians think they are right, believing in their fancy, deceiving themselves and burying their heads in the earth just like ostriches. But the truth is just contrary to this.
External appearances have never been the basis for dialog or an important factor of joint existence. Jesus Christ warned us against appearances when He reprimanded the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like unto white sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (15). Indeed, the result of such feelings of superiority and narrow factional thinking is isolation, closeness and fear. All this also results in the melting and eliminating of the self, a kind of self-suicide. This is what nobody desires. Jesus did not want it for us; He urged us to be open to others and engage in dialog with them even if they disagree with us as much as He disagreed with the Samaritan woman. This will never happen if we do not have the courage and the love that know not how to envy or hate.
Thus, I stress that the culture of dialog and absorption alone are sufficient to guarantee common living and existence and cooperation, while the mentality of exclusion, superiority, isolation and fear leads to melting and disintegration.
In spite of all these difficulties, challenges and worries, we were determined to go ahead in holding annual Christian-Muslim conferences and meetings in the Holy Land, in which we discussed several religious, doctrinal, social, moral and human topics. We in Al-Liqa' Center have published more than twenty volumes in this field.
Dialog is a cultural act in which participants could express their thoughts freely, in an attempt to know one another and not impose thoughts on each other. Thus dialog becomes an ethical practice based on the good intentions and good will of participants. Dialog encourages humility and shuns domination or waywardness or rejection of the other.
When we talk about Christian-Muslim dialog, we actually talk about dialog in which humans outgrow themselves because they talk about God and faith. Such talk can take place only through friendliness and total frankness, and therefore it is necessary to be objective and scientific because it is a dialog of understanding, not judgment of the other, a dialog that aims at knowing the religion and doctrine of the other as they are and not as we wish to understand them. Understanding and knowledge are the goals of dialog; this requires patience and effort. The end result of participation in dialog is to ensure continuous and permanent communication and interaction and break down all barriers of separation.
Dialog between Christians and Muslims is a dialog about God and doctrine, which are a basic requirement in the two monotheistic religions. Then we can reach a dialog about the human being, that is, a dialog about life. Both the Bible and the Holy Qur’an call the individual to faith and work, which are two basic dimensions in the life of believers. The first dimension, that of faith, is a freedom from this world and a preparation to meet God; the second dimension is work for justice and peace. Accordingly, the Bible and the Qur’an become a human dialog and openness, a human faith and prayer, a human struggle for the liberation of people.
We conclude from all that has been mentioned that dialog is an ethical practice that aims at the continuation of interaction and communication between the members of the family of human beings in order to liberate them from their presuppositions and presumptions, from their fear of, isolation from, and ignorance of the other. Cardinal Martini says in this respect, "Communication and interaction need courage to be able to put up with the danger of rejection and the indifference of the other. It also demands perseverance and successive attempts. This continuous effort is based on the hope that every man and woman possesses in the bottom of their hearts true desire to engage in genuine dialog with others, and that this desire is accompanied by a stronger desire for reconciliation and peace" (16). Furthermore, religious dialog does not aim at tearing away the other from their religion, but at making an opening through which to look at the other and strengthen doctrine and belief. Hence dialog is the service of the word of God that dignifies man and is part of our education because its light overcomes darkness and ignorance, removes conflict, and creates an atmosphere of reconciliation in which all doubts and presumptions melt. Dialog strengthens friendship and brotherhood.
What reinforces our talk here is Jesus' meeting with the Samaritan woman near Jacob's well (John 4:1-42). Jesus was a Jew and, in the eyes of Jews, the Samaritans were regarded unclean and outcasts who should not be approached. In spite of this enmity, Jesus was determined to meet with the Samaritan woman, talk to her and ask her for a drink. The Samaritan woman was surprised at Jesus' behavior and said, "How come you a Jew that ask me for a drink of water and I am a Samaritan woman?" After a lengthy dialog between them, the Samaritan woman discovered the reality of Jesus and knew His identity and ran quickly to her town calling among the people to come out and met this unusual man she has met at the well who knows "everything." This is what happened, and the people of the town came out and met with Jesus and asked Him to stay with them because they believed in His words after He has spoken to them and made sure He was indeed the savior of mankind. The consequence of dialog that begins between two parties that do not know each other or have not met before and have been enemies was the discovery of truth after listening and talking to each other. On the other hand, we see that the knowledge both parties reached enabled them to overcome the oppression of ignorance, which is an arch enemy to dialog and is the main cause for rejecting one another and the continuation of enmity and hatred. Knowledge of the Samaritan woman and the inhabitants of her town had engendered love and acceptance of the other instead of rejection and exclusion. It also helped create friendship instead of enmity and cooperation and solidarity instead of isolation and hiding behind our fears and selfishness. From this perspective, I stress the fact that dialog has a message and needs patience, calmness, courage, modesty and strong faith; so that we can know the other as he is really is, because true knowledge alone can lead us to happiness. As believers our ultimate joy can be attained when we listen to the word of God and act on it, "Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it" (Luke 11:28).
The Eastern Catholic Patriarchs have expressed the concept and conditions of dialog in clear words, deep meanings, and rich spirituality. It is necessary that dialog begin on the basis of those principles and concepts. They write, "Dialog is a spiritual attitude before anything else in which the individual stands before God and talks to Him, thus his self is sublimated and heart and emotions purged. This is reflected in the individual's dialog with himself and with others -- individuals and groups. Dialog is a spiritual state that carries us from isolation to absorption, from rejection to acceptance, from labeling to understanding, from distortion to respect, from vindictiveness to mercy, from enmity to friendship, from competition to completeness, from repulsion to interaction, and from conflict to brotherhood. Dialog with the other means to know and acknowledge him, to know him as he sees himself and in his full personality, and to acknowledge him as our complement and not as an enemy or competitor, away from presuppositions and presumptions, interests and selfishness. In such circumstances, dialog is transformed into mutual richness without any of the parties conceding themselves, their heritage, their personalities or identities. No doubt that bigotry in all its kinds in the name of God, nationality, sect, land, race, language, or cultural or social affiliation, is the arch enemy of dialog. The difference between the believer and the bigot is very wide: the believer is used by God, while the bigot uses God; the believer worships God, while the bigot worships himself, claiming he is worshipping God; the believer listens to the word of God, while the bigot distorts His word; the believer elevates himself to the level of God and His Love, while the bigot constantly threatens other people; the believer pays homage to God, while the bigot undermines God's majesty and power; the believer does God's will, while the bigot puts his will before God's will. Indeed, the believer is a grace to mankind, while the bigot is a curse. Bigotry is a form of the denial of God and man at the same time. In the bigot, the power of love and faith is turned into a power of hatred and enmity and aggression. He thinks that he is doing God's will if he attacks whoever differs from him in religion, race, color or heritage. In the believer, it turns into a power for coming together, cooperation and construction (17).
I think that the Christian-Muslim dialog in its general sense is almost impossible, due to social differences among believers, the multiplicity of their languages and their distribution over a large area of land, east, west, south and north. Besides, they have different traditions, cultures, social behavior, daily chores and future dreams. I say this in spite of my knowledge of official meetings between Christians and Muslims in which many theoretical issues are lightly and impractically discussed.
On the other hand, the Arab Christian-Muslim dialog in the Holy Land in particular and the Arab world in general is possible for several reasons:
1. The Arab quality is original in us and in our history, before even the rise of Christianity and Islam.
2. A common language and common history unites us; there are no social, behavioral or ethical differences between Arab Christians and their brothers Arab Muslims.
3. A dialog is imposed on us in our daily life in which we share bread, home and nation. Our dialog is a dialog of life and not a dialog about theories. Our children study in the same schools and study the same curriculum. They play together and face their dilemmas and dreams together. The factors of dialog create constant dialog between us because our dialog starts during our childhood and goes on until our death.
4. Our Arab dialog is not new. Whatever we do is basically nourishment to a tree whose roots go deep in history. There had been dialog between Arab Christians and Muslims during the time of the Prophet (May the peace of God be upon Him) and also during the period of the Caliphate and after. There are thousands of manuscripts in Arabic, some of which have been published and many others have been kept in several libraries in the East and West waiting for those who would collect study and publish them that they may become a wealth for the Arab library and the international community. They would encourage dialog in the Arab world and in the world in general because they will provide evidence to all that Christianity and Islam have always been a factor of unity based on love. Both religions call for brotherhood and build bridges of love and coexistence between believers on condition that they listen to the voice of God in their hearts (18).
5. Cultural cooperation and cooperation to build the Arab civilization did not take place only in the Middle Ages. It also went on powerfully and determinedly when Christians and Muslims faced the Turks and Turkish powers. Christians and Muslims planted the seeds of Arab nationalism and together founded the Arab renaissance. This matter has greatly affected and is still influencing the creation of an atmosphere of dialog and shared existence.
6. Many political positions have contributed to the creation of dialog, communication, and the building strong relations between Arab Christians and Muslims. For example, I would like to mention the position of the Orthodox Church in Syria, which opened its doors before the large number of Muslim worshippers on Friday in 1937 when Turkey ordered the closure of mosques in the Alexandrian region when an international committee visited the location to reach a resolution whether the region was part of Syria or Turkey. For fear that Muslims might demonstrate after Friday noon prayer and negatively affect the resolution of the committee; the Turkish government ordered the closure of all mosques to prevent Muslims from gathering in mosques for prayer. At once, the Patriarch took a decision to open the doors of the churches to Muslim worshippers. After prayer, Muslims and Christians went out in a demonstration expressing their unity and their position and demanding the annexation of Alexandria to Syria. Says Riyad Najeeb El-Rayes in this respect, "Orthodox Christians opened, one hour after the Turkish edict to close the mosques, their Byzantine and Roman Churches and transformed them into mosques where the Muslim population held the Friday noon prayer. That was indeed a national parade. For the first time in their lives, Muslims held Friday noon prayer in churches together with Christians. The Muslim imam stood in Christ's temple reading from the Holy Qur’an and the muezzin climbed up the pulpit to call people for prayer. This spontaneous Christian attitude was the greatest national incident in the history of the Syrian struggle for the Arab nationality of Alexandria. It strengthened in the hearts of the Syrian people the Arab national sentiment in light of Christianity and Islam after rumors had spread that religions destroy nationalities" (19).
This symbolic event will remain a motive and an example of shared living and national unity. In order to reinforce this position we see that dialog and communication between us are essential and indispensable.
We mentioned earlier that dialog is a Christian-Islamic call at all times and in all places. It becomes even a necessity at a time when the media serve as propaganda that aims at creating enmity and division within the same community of people on the basis of religion and at a time when loud voices calling for sectarianism and religious bigotry are heard. In addition, there are political factors that the Middle East region is living through, which nurture aggression and enmity among the peoples. Here we shall mention several reasons that motivated us to start dialog, underscoring its necessity for openness and understanding of one another. These causes are:
1. The Lebanese Civil War: The international and Israeli media spread the rumors that the Lebanese Civil war was a religious war between Lebanese Christians and Muslims. We know for sure that it was not a religious war but a war instigated by international policy which seeks to re-fuel it today in order to tear Lebanese unity, hit the Palestinian resistance and make the Arabs busy with a war that could have been avoided. This imposed war and propagandist media aimed at spreading religious discrimination, but we were rather encouraged to bring the people of the same nation, Christians and Muslims, together in order to increase our awareness and reject war and expose the plans of the enemy.
2. The victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran contributed and assisted the growth of several religious currents in Palestine during the past three decades. As a result, many citizens were worried. This matter urged us to study some of these aspects scientifically and objectively in order to avoid religious fanaticism and work on deepening the understanding of each other.
3. The Zionist movement that led to the establishment of the state of Israel has exploited Judaism wrongly and interpreted it politically in order to serve its policy and thought. The result of this was the suffering of the Palestinian people, their dispossession, and the confiscation of their land, the destruction of their villages, the killing of Palestinian youth, and living in very harsh and austere circumstances. This narrow religious thought was preceded and followed by western Christian fundamental thought that supported Zionism and is still supporting the state of Israel. Western Christian fundamentalists chose the city of Jerusalem as a center for the embassy known as "The International Christian Embassy," established in 1974. In order to restrain the leakage of this Christian fundamental thought among Palestinian Christians, it was necessary for us to declare in our dialog our attitude toward Christian fundamentalism that serves no one but the Zionist movement and the enemies of our people.
4. The wrong exploitation of Judaism and its political interpretation serves Israel only and contributed to the emergence of Islamic currents that followed the same policy or strategy; that is, the exploitation of Islam and its political interpretation for the justification of political positions or acts.
5. The emergence of some Islamic movements in the Holy Land was an important reason for the necessity of dialog in order to cooperate, understand each other, strengthen national unity, meet around the word of God, discuss the difficulties and concerns of the nation and people, and thwart those who wish to fish in murky waters.
6. Confronting the aggressive policy of Israel and educating the Israeli authorities that continue their aggressive media campaigns against Palestinian Christians and Muslim on the basis of divide and rule. Our dialog and educational work were a reflection of our national unity and the unity of our people.
7. To confront the Christian minority that encourage "religious persecution" and who claim that Christians in the Holy Land are being persecuted by the Muslims and that their rights are usurped. Such a claim is wrong. Its aim is either to serve the Israeli and western policy that seeks to distort the image of Islam and Muslims by claiming they use violence and force, or to follow a policy of self-pity in order to get financial support from western institutions. To those self-effacing people who run after money and who seek to have their pictures published in western media we say: Dignity, citizenship and participation in building the nation, and respect for others are the only means to guarantee a shared existence. Here we need to remember the saying of Jesus Christ, "What would benefit man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?"
8. Arab Christian-Islamic dialog has become necessary and indispensable in light of international developments during the past few years, especially after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the struggle between Chechnya and Russia, as well as the Gulf crisis and the war on Iraq, and the invasion of Afghanistan and the conflict in the Sudan. All these struggles and wars, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union, have contributed to the distortion of the image of Islam and its association with terror and violence. This was and is still the role of the majority of Western media. This is a matter that creates a crisis of confidence between Christians and Muslims, as well as a tense atmosphere. I believe that western aggression started in the media during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, then George H. W. Bush, and reached its climax during the presidency of George W. Bush. All of them are from the Evangelical Christian fundamentalist current and have no respect for Islam and Muslims due to their ignorance, pride and clear position that supports the Zionist movement and the state of Israel.
9. Our dialog is a necessity of life; our life is a continuous dialog. This is how it was during the days of our forefathers and this is how we want it to remain forever. Here we need to draw attention to some unethical practices, quarrels and aggressions, such as taking the property of others by sheer force, and the attempt to insult and blackmail people. Such practices have nothing to do with religion, but if they are done by a Muslim it is transformed into a religious case. The opposite is also true. Thus we have to be cautions of these aspects and separate them from religion and not to listen to the voices that try to make them a religious issue because the results of such a matter harms our national unity and shared existence. The only beneficiary of it is the enemies of national unity and those who have no self-respect.
We have also to be aware of conspiracies that are woven to untie our national unity and distract us by internal strife. Here I want to cite the example of the Shihab Eddin Mosque in Nazareth and the resulting repercussions that hit the heart of Christian-Muslim unity. This case and the resulting local and international developments, political and religious almost fired up sectarianism and factionalism among the same people. It would have built barriers and obstacles between the same people, if not for the rational behavior of Christian and Muslim officials who thwarted the attempt of many to fish in murky waters. I believe that a good mind, strong faith, cooperation, and the prophetic voices that call for brotherhood and shared existence have played a significant role during the Shihab Eddin events. Sages and believers in the merciful God joined efforts and were able to remove all tension and purge the atmosphere. Christians and Muslims in Nazareth went back to normal life and shared existence.
1. Our dialog is a necessity that is wanted by all of us in order to meet, understand each other, and live together in a complete and healthy society. We work together to elevate our society believing that openness to others is strength while closeness is weakness and a suicide.
In order to preserve historical truth, it is necessary for us to mention that some international and local institutions misuse dialog for propaganda and for gaining political, social and financial benefits, or as a factor for public relations between peoples and countries. This dialog gradually loses its meaning, and the credibility of those who use dialog constructively weakens. This indeed harms the relations between religions, peoples and countries.
I would like to divide dialog into two kinds:
1. International dialog: I believe that international dialog between religions, even though it takes place in goodwill, is not sufficient and in its general framework is impractical because the chief players in dialog meet in a certain country for a few days in order to discuss some important issues. From the time they arrive at the country we see the participants preparing for their return home, and therefore they seem to say goodbye to each other before even making each other's acquaintance, provided that they find a common language in which to converse (or otherwise using translators). In addition, the cultural factor and the daily concerns differ between participants, thus adding more difficulties to true communication.
In spite of these difficulties, international dialog between religions remains important in that it expresses the desire of participants in the dialog and their goodwill to meet with each other in order to understand and become close to each other. In fact, such a matter encourages local dialog. We would like here to stress that international dialog can be very successful if it offers a chance for participants to exchange their experiences. Thus it becomes an international educational school for constructive dialog instead of taking place within the framework of the relations between international religious institutions, or for the purpose of achieving political gains that have been planned before.
Furthermore, international dialog allows participants to get to know each other's thoughts, learn from them and enrich their own experiences. International dialog is a window whereby people can know international thought and add it to their local experience. Thus international dialog becomes a place for thought reproduction and enrichment and learning from the experiences and thoughts of others.
2. Local dialog: This is the kind of dialog that takes place within the same cultural and geographical framework and between two parties that belong to the same people and who have the same language and the same traditions, morals and customs as well as the same daily concerns. If the two parties engaged in dialog belong to two different peoples and have different cultural backgrounds, then the factor of shared existence is an important factor for dialog and understanding in order to create an atmosphere in which both peoples will live in security, respect, stability, and integration for all the members of the local pluralistic community. I here see that from the perspective of "the culture of dialog” the invitation of religious groups to meet and discuss daily concerns and to understand each other is a very good move which serves the word of God, man and the nation in which they live. Local dialog is extremely important in building bridges of friendship and love between people and religions on the international level, since local experiences and their rich, deep and diverse intellectual product are like good and strong seeds in a large field. It is important to pluck out the weeds. Local dialog, compared to international dialog, is like yeast to dough. Thus all local religious institutions must encourage dialog and meeting because in this they contribute to the creation of a quiet life for the local community and brings peace to the world, the peace of coexistence and shared living between sects, religions and local cultures.
1. Goodwill: God has urged in His holy books to do good and shun evil and to have goodwill in our actions so that we do not hurt other people. Goodwill is a foundational essence that reinforces constructive dialog. It can be found in our love for others, the kind of love that Jesus and Prophet Mohammad (May the peace of God is upon Him) urge us to have. Jesus teaches us “to love your neighbor as yourself" (20) and Mohammad (May the peace of God be upon Him) tells us that “none of you can believe unless he loves for his brother what he loves for himself" (21). In addition, the Holy Qur’an calls for this dialog with goodwill and says, "Do not argue with the people of the book except with goodwill" (22).
The best example on love, respect and regard for the feelings of others is what Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab did when the Patriarch of Jerusalem opened for him the gates of Jerusalem. In his book The History, historian Said Ibn Batreeq writes, "When Safronius opened the gate of the city, Omar and his retinue entered and sat in the square of the Holy Sepulcher. When the time for prayer arrived, he said to the Patriarch, "I want to pray." The Patriarch said to him, "Emir of believers you can pray where you are." Omar said, "I don't pray here." Then the Patriarch took Omar to Constantine Church and spread a carpet in the middle of the church. Omar said to him, "No, I don't pray here either." Then Omar went to the step at the gate to the Church and prayed alone. Then he sat up and told the Patriarch, "Do you know why I didn't pray inside the Church?" The Patriarch said, "I do not." Omar said, "If I prayed inside the Church, Muslims who will come after me would take it from you and say 'Here Omar prayed' " (23).
The vision of Omar was a prophetic vision. I believe his attitude has kept many difficulties and clashes away from Christians and Muslims. We read in history books about the reaction of Muslims angry at Caliph Omar Ibn Abdel Aziz, who also wanted to return the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus to Christians who demanded to have the mosque back because it was originally a church. When Omar responded to the demand of Christians, Muslims became angry and said to him, "How could this be after we have prayed in it. How could we give it back to Christians and to turn it into a church?" (24) Such position makes us think deeply about the difficulty of the situation if Omar had prayed inside the Holy Sepulcher and then Muslims demanded to have the Church. Many wars would have been declared and much blood would have been shed if the holiest place for Christians—the Holy Sepulcher—had been converted into a mosque.
2. Accepting One Another As Believers in the One God: If there is goodwill, parties that engage in dialog on religion would have the conviction and acknowledgement that each of them believes in the one eternal God, the creator of this world out of nothing. Monotheism is Christian and Muslim. In his epistle to the Ephesians, Saint Paul writes, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (28).
The whole church acknowledges the Nicene Creed since 325 A.D., which says, "We believe in one God, the creator of heaven and earth" (26). Besides, the First Vatican Ecumenical Synod offered us clear instructions about the unity of God and faith in one God. The instructions say, "The Church believes and realizes that God is one and He is true and living, the creator of heaven and earth and He is their Lord. He is the eternal omnipotent God, He is limitless and His perfection and will are boundless" (27). Such unity of God is also confirmed in the Holy Qur’an, "Say He is the only eternal God" (28).
The acceptance by parties that engage in dialog of one another as believers in one unified God helps pave the way to dialog. Muslim scholars are called upon to make a modern and contextual interpretation of several Qur’anic verses that "accuse Christians of heresy" and "polytheism" because they believe in the Trinity (Al-Ma'eda 72-73). We Christians do not believe in three Gods. The Christian faith and the doctrine of the Trinity do not comply with what is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. We stress our belief in one God. Bishop Salim Bastors says in this respect, "Here we need to stress that our faith in one God cannot be refuted by our faith in the Trinity, because the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not three separate gods but one God in which we distinguish three persons, that is, indivisible personal characteristics. In the same way as we distinguish between the human and his mind and soul without separating between them, so we distinguish between God and His mind-word and His spirit, but we do not separate these three. Thus in our prayer we declare our faith in the Trinity that is one in essence and is indivisible."
"Thus we affirm that Christianity is a unified religion, and its doctrine of the Trinity is a deepening in God's mystery and an interpretation of God's epiphany in the human world. We do not content ourselves by saying that God has sent his prophets to the world, but that He came in the person of His Word Jesus Christ and in His Holy Spirit. The Word of God and His Spirit were present among us. The trinity that the Holy Qur’an considers a heresy is the worship of two persons "without God", that is, they have no relation with God. We are innocent of such a trinity because the Word and Spirit of God do not exist without God. They are personal characteristics of the One and Only God" (29).
However, in spite of all the philosophical teachings and theological interpretations from the first centuries of Christianity until today, it remains difficult and almost impossible to offer a rational explanation of the doctrines of the three monotheistic religions. Therefore, religious debate and mutual accusations about the veracity of the Bible and the Holy Qur’an do not serve anybody but create tension between the believers in the three religions, especially between Christians and Muslims. Each religion is based on holy teachings and a heavenly book. We all know that there if a difference between Christianity and Islam, this will remain till the end of time. Such a position has been confirmed by the Holy Qur’an in Surat Al-Haj, where we read, "For every nation we have made a path that they take that they do not quarrel with you, and call upon your God that you are on the right path. If they argue with you say: God knows better than you, God will judge between you on judgment day on the things on which you disagreed" (30).
Thus, Christianity and Islam are two different religions. In order to have a proper dialog with each other we have to acknowledge doctrinal differences, and also stop accusing each other of heresy and polytheism.
On the other hand, there are moral principles that are common in Christianity and Islam which make it easier for us to engage dialog. In his message addressed to African Muslims, Pope Paul VI says, "We wish to express our appreciation to the followers of Islam living in Africa because they and we have common principles which open for us a wide door for fruitful and constructive dialog and for common Christian and Muslim co-existence" (31).
The common moral and doctrinal principles in both religions bind us to cooperate for the dignity of man and general welfare. This would be possible only if we incarnate our faith in the reality in which we live. "True faith must help all the children of God in love which is the true helper and the true builder of a society." This love, which is the basis of morality, has to go beyond ourselves in order to discover God in the poor, the needy, the oppressed and the marginalized who are in need of our assistance and solidarity to bring back to them their lost and usurped dignity. We read in the Gospel of Matthew that on judgment day we will be judged for our acts. Christianity believes that faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone" (32). And the Holy Qur’an urges believers to do good, saying, "Righteousness is not to direct your faces to the east or west; righteousness is faith in God and judgment day, the angels and prophets. Give alms to relatives, orphans, the poor, the homeless and those who ask for alms, and those who hold prayer and pay tithes, and those who fulfill their pledges, and those who are patient in hard times, and those who tell the truth" (33).
The moral principles common to Christianity and Islam, in addition to their belief in one God, constitute a strong foundation for dialog and cooperation for the good of people and the dignity of man who is God's creation on earth.
3. Dialog Is Not Religious Propaganda: The purpose of dialog is not to make one party adopt the religion of another, because in proselytizing and religious propaganda we move away from the reality of religion. Al-Talibi says, "Dialog does not help find common solutions to problems and it does not have to end in agreement. The function of dialog is to clarify discussion, open it and enable all parties to go beyond themselves and avoid being stubborn in their positions as the only true ones" (34).
These honest principles were a basis and an important cause in the success of the dialog that took place between Arab Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages. Abdullah Ibn Ismail Al-Hashimi (35) who lived at the beginning of the 9th century A.D. and who was a relative of the Caliph Al-Ma'moun (36), and who was known for his piety, Islamic fervor, meditation and fulfilling all religious duties, gave the most beautiful and strongest basis to dialog with Christians when he wrote a letter to his friend Abdel Maseeh Ibn Ishak Al-Kindi (37) in which he said, "What urged me to do that was my love for you… I will reveal my religion to you, the religion that God gave us and all his creatures… I am not arguing with you except with good words, mild statements and lenity of expression" (38).
Al-Hashimi ended his speech saying, "You can make any complaint you want, may God keep your health, and you can say whatever you want and like, and you should feel glad to express your opinion and prove your point. You have full security, and we accept the judgment of the mind as long as none of us imposes his religion on the other" (39).
Bishop Elia Nasibin (40) mentioned in his first meeting with Minister Abu Al-Qasem Al-Hussein Ibn Ali Al-Maghribi (41) that the purpose of dialog is not for religious propaganda but for knowledge. In this meeting after Elia had explained the question of the Trinity and the unity of God to the Minister, the Minister was not fully convinced. So Elia added, "If the purpose of the Minister in this is to know our religion and acquit us of the false accusation that has been attributed to us, I have said what I wanted to say; but if his purpose is to argue and debate I ask him to exempt me from this except for what relates to religion" (42). The Minister's answer was, "What I intend from my speech with you is to know your religion and to acquit you of false accusations. I also want to argue and perhaps object to what you say." Thus we see that the basis of dialog is goodwill, which allows for freedom of expression and makes speakers feel secure. Only God judges believers, and in the Holy Qur’an we read, "God only knows who has gone astray and He knows who have found the right path" (43).
Yes, this is the significance of true dialog: It is not propaganda but knowledge, and it is not mandatory but a free expression of one's religion, belief and search for truth.
4. Dialog Is Not Pretension But Plain Interaction
Dialog has to bring down all obstacles and negate hypocrisy and pretension. It demands plain and frank interaction and obliges those who participate in it to express themselves truly and honestly without aggression or provocation and without making any concessions out of surrender or flattery. The belief of Christians and Muslims is a call from God; it is a light that God throws into the heart of man; God shows whoever He desires to the right path. The Holy Qur’an witnesses this by saying, "You do not bring those whom you love to the right path, but God brings whoever He wants to the right path and He knows the good believers" (44).
Al-Hashimi expressed the importance of frankness in dialog by saying to Al-Kindi about one thousand years ago, "I have seen bishops known for their knowledge and good education, and famous for their religious Christian fervor, showing true piety in this world. And I debated with them seeking the truth, and shunning all kinds of hypocrisy, flattery, authority, stubbornness, and luxury. I offered the security to prove their point and say whatever they had to say" (45).
Al-Hashimi also asked Al-Kindi to write frankly about his religion, and said, "Write what you have from the matter of your religion, whatever your hand can write, and whatever you can prove with good reason. I offer you security to prove your point and do not keep what you know about your belief. I have no choice but to listen to your argument with patience and attentiveness. We have given you full freedom and we do not wish to be called arrogant and unjust; this is something that we do not wish" (46).
Habib Ibn Khidma, known as Abu Ra'ita Al-Takriti Al-Ya’qubi (47), replied to the demands of requesters concerning the Trinity, "Your claim and description of the unity of God in the Trinity is something we do not have to believe in because we deny it. We have been called to argue with you and we wish that you would do us justice in your speech in a commodity we have inherited from our forefathers and all of them take part in it. In speech we are all equal and alike. Do not press us to commit ourselves to a matter until you hear our response to it, so that we would have full knowledge of your case" (48).
Thus dialog is an exposition and not preaching, an exposition of the doctrine of both parties in order to communicate, interact and understand each other, not to quarrel, through friendly talk that would bring their hearts close to each other and help them walk together in the path of God. For this reason, the purpose of dialog is understanding and not judgment. True dialog brings hearts together instead of separating them. Those who participate in dialog have to imagine the fate of man in God and by God only.
It is not easy to identify the themes of dialog because they are different and diverse and are affected by time and place. In spite of this, I will try to talk about the themes for dialog in two different time periods: the Middle Ages and the Modern Age.
There are two kinds of dialog in the Middle Ages:
1. Dialog based on the knowledge of each other's religion. This is the true dialog since knowledge of religion contributes to the achievement of the goals of dialog and reaping the fruit of the meeting between the parties that engage in dialog. An example on this kind of dialog is the debate between Al-Hashimi who sent a letter to a friend called Al-Kindi in which he wrote, "I have sailed in the world of religions and examined it all and I have read all that Christians wrote about their religion. I read especially the old and new books that God had given to Moses and Jesus and other prophets" (49).
2. Dialog in order to know each other's religion truthfully and deeply. An example of this kind of dialog is the debate that took place between Bishop Elia of Nasibin and Minister Abu Al-Qasem Al-Hussein Ibn Ali Al-Maghribi. The Minister wrote to Elia, "What I intend from my debate with you is to know your religion and acquit you from the false accusations that have been attributed to you" (50).
In addition, to these two kinds of dialog, we see that during the Middle Ages the themes addressed by participants in dialog varied. Some of them were doctrinal and others were ethical:
1. Unity of God
2. The Trinity
3. The position of Mary in the Bible and the Holy Qur’an
4. Meaning and conditions of prophecy
5. The Bible and the Holy Qur’an: Qur’anic Revelation and Biblical Inspiration
6. Heaven and hell
7. Explanation of Christianity and its doctrines
8. Explanation of Islam and its doctrines
9. Religious duties: Prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc
10. Ethical and moral issues
In addition to what I have mentioned concerning the themes for dialog that Christians and Muslim discussed during the Middle Ages, there was also the "religious debate" which occupied a large space in the ethics of bilateral relations. The purpose of "religious debate" was to call and convince the other group to embrace the religion of the other by highlighting the negative points in a religion and criticizing the doctrine of the other. This kind of "religious debate" contradicts the true concept of dialog and shared existence. It is important to focus on the study of ethical kinds of relations and learn from some of the positive points, especially those that deepen the study and interpretation of faith and doctrine.
The concerns and issues of the 21st century differ from those of the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. Thus the subjects of dialog between Christians and Muslims today differ from what they had been in the past. We also believe that the subject of dialog is related to the context in which it takes place. Our world today in terms of population and space differs a lot from what it had been one thousand years ago. Christians and Muslims are much more numerous today than they were one thousand years ago. For example, the geographical location in which Muslims lived in the 8th and 9th centuries in the East was small and limited, while today Muslims are spread all over the world and have different nationalities. Thus when we talk about dialog in our present age we should keep in mind the particularities of local dialog and those of international dialog. The subject of dialog is closely related to the place where dialog occurs and its kind.
In international dialog in which the media plays a significant role, the level of dialog remains at the level of exposing the similarities between Christianity and Islam and whatever relates to them in faith and daily life issues. Such dialog does not address the differences in both religions.
On the other hand, local dialog focuses on issues that citizens face daily since both Christians and Muslims who engage in dialog and who know about each other's faith have to address the daily concerns of people from Christian and Muslim perspectives. For example, they address issues like occupation, oppression, unemployment, racial discrimination, human rights, war, peace, justice, violence, terror, education, social issues, health, ethical and medical concerns. Discussing these issues strengthens understanding, closeness and shared living between people, provided that they are discussed truthfully and frankly without hypocrisy or flattery. Thus frank and plain dialog is the only force that strengthens national unity, national work and committed position in order to achieve freedom, independence and lives of dignity.
It is important that we say frankly here that local and international dialogs in their present shape are deficient. The lack of some fundamentals constitutes a threat to their continuation and their goal. For example, if dialog continues to take place between academics, religious men and politicians who believe in shared existence, the fruit of dialog remains limited to a small circle unable to spread its message and educate others because it lacks the necessary tools to penetrate the popular base and educate people about the necessity of respecting the other and the importance of shared existence either on the same land or with other nationalities.
Thus we reiterate our vision about the significance of systematic and balanced education and the role of the mass media in helping us to know each other and our shared history, heritage, identity, citizenship, belonging and culture. Thus horizons will be open to all people, young and old, and knowledge of each other's culture will increase and solidarity and participation in social and human issues will be stronger.
The other point that we need to be aware of in the culture of dialog is not to be contented with talk that brings the two religions together or what is common between the two religions. On the contrary, we must face differences between the two religions objectively and theologically through the work of specialists who have studied religions and their spiritual heritage in depth for the purpose of clarifying our doctrines as they are and not simply for the purpose of understanding them the way that is easier for us. The aim of doctrinal dialog is not to convince each other falsely, but to increase each other's respect for the faith of the other and remove all misunderstandings that each party has about the religion of the other; all this will help reach shared brotherly co-existence (51).
Christian-Muslim dialog has to be a major factor in strengthening the ecumenical movement for Christians and unifying their word before the unified Muslim body, since the Sunni majority agrees with the Shiite minority about many doctrinal interpretations, contrary to what is taking place among Christians who belong to hundreds of different churches and denominations, which are always cautious to defend and hold on to their theological positions. The Mariology, Christological and Ecclesiastical theologies that differ from one denomination to another not only perplex the Muslim participants who are in dialog with the Christians, but also perplex the Christians and create an intellectual and theological crisis. For Muslims all Christians are "people of the book" and they are "one body." The Holy Qur’an does not talk about Catholics, Orthodox or Protestants but speaks about "Nazarenes." Similarly, the Holy Qur’an does not talk about eastern and western theologies, but speaks about the "people of the book." Thus, as Christians in general and as Palestinians in particular, we have to address this reality and unite our position and our theological dialog before our Muslim brothers, otherwise we will force them to deal with us as the Turks dealt with us, that is, as millahs and not as a unified Arab Palestinian Christian local church. As an Arab Palestinian Christian who belongs to a religious minority that does not exceed 2% of the population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and 1.7% in Israel, and counts for 6% of the total Palestinian population, I say in a loud voice that we have little chance of survival as Arab Christians unless we adopt dialog and local theology as a style and strategy for our life and in our dealings with Muslims. I do not mean to say here that Muslims do not need Christians, because our shared existence is the only guarantee for our cultural and Arab identity and the absence of any of the participants weakens our identity and threatens our existence. For completeness we need constant dialog and full participation in our daily life and in building our nation. In order for this to happen, Muslims have to present and interpret their faith and doctrine within the cultural and political and social context in which we live so that intellectual and daily life interaction continue among the people of the same nation.
The church in Palestine needs to hold dialog with Muslims. In order for dialog to take place, the church needs local theology, because it is the only perspective that appreciates the need for dialog and addresses daily life issues objectively and realistically. The theology of dialog and local theology are the same thing and are inseparable. One supports the other, resulting in the continuous existence of the church in the Holy Land, a church of people, the living stones, and not a church of stones. I see in the theology of dialog and local theology the prophetic voice that works for keeping the church lively, lustrous and spiritually rich; it is the voice that keeps Christians believers on their land, in their homes and in their church. Here I want to stress the fact that Christians need to stay in their land for their own good and for the good of the church and Muslims; both Christians and Muslims need to understand the importance of the presence of the other. I say this because Palestinian Christians have two characteristics: First, they are Arabs, like Arab Muslims, sharing the same language, history, culture, daily concerns, pain and hopes; secondly, they are Christians, who share with western Christians their beliefs and other ethical issues.
Western Christians or Arab Muslims do not have these qualities. Thus Arab Christians who combine in their personalities two different and complete natures are the only ones capable of being a true bridge for understanding, dialog, friendship and true cooperation between the East and the West. Thus, not having Christians in the East benefits neither the West nor the East. From this perspective, I would like to call upon the local church to assume its true role. I also call upon Western Christians and Arab Muslims in general and the Palestinians in particular to give Arab Christians their role so that they would be able to perform their mission for the benefit of all. Western Christians and Muslims need to take serious steps to stop Christian emigration and to create an encouraging atmosphere for shared existence in mutual respect, love, security and stability.
At the same time, I call on the western church to work to strengthen its relations with the Muslim minorities living in western countries. I believe that strengthening Christian-Muslim relations in the West and the respect of western Christians toward Islamic values, doctrine and individual Muslims will inevitably contribute to the success of dialog and help the continuation of our shared existence. Dialog in our East cannot succeed unless it also takes place in the West, and dialog in the West cannot succeed unless it succeeds in the East. Only in this sense can dialog bring down all separating barriers and obstacles. I also stress that dialog in the East in general and in Palestine in particular is extremely important because it is considered a credit for the local church which will push it to survive in the heart of local history and not in the margins. Besides, the face of the dialog in the local church reflects the face of the ecumenical church and demands that it launch dialog with Muslim minorities. Here we should take into consideration the Muslim minorities in western Christian countries, which have characteristics that differ from those of Christian minorities in the Arab world. We as Christians in the Arab world are religious minorities, but we belong to the same people, culture and history. We share the present and future; in the West Islamic minorities are scattered in several countries and live in western countries for several reasons: economic, political and social. These Muslim minorities have no national or social or cultural ties with the western countries, but they are in need of understanding with the people of those countries since they live, work and learn together. Thus there is the need to integrate these minorities in the activities of daily life, on the one hand, and to preserve their spiritual and cultural heritage, on the other. The opposite of this leads to the creation of extremist and fundamentalist currents that would corrupt and damage society and misuse Christianity and Islam.
The Arab Christian-Muslim dialog should not be restricted to the academic level only; we have to work with the popular base as well in order to impart this idea to most people in cities, villages and refugee camps. We believe that our dialog is the dialog of life in all its aspects; it is not a dialog of occasions and situations. Thus we call upon the higher Christian and Muslim institutions to form a common committee with full and clear privileges to follow the many and urgent daily life issues of people before it is too late. I am not content with seeing clergy shaking hands with sheikhs on occasion, while, at the time, people in the street curse John or Ahmed, Ali and George, and Fatima and Hannah.
Our dialog is to live our life in peace and love with each other and accept the doctrine of one another. Our dialog is our life because we are one people, Arab Palestinian, Christians and Muslims. We are proud of our Arab nationality without it becoming an idol for our worship. We believe in one and the same God and we work together for our dignity, rights, freedom, and common fate. Thus we need to keep this dialog, this understanding and this shared existence. We must fight against the planting of weeds in our fruitful field. Work for our national unity is not only a national duty but is also a religious duty. We cannot afford to be lazy, weak, and indifferent.
Finally, in light of the importance of dialog, meeting and understanding, I will suggest the following points which will contribute to the enhancement of shared existence between Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land:
1. Continuously holding the Arab Heritage Conference for Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land under the auspices of Al-Liqa' Center for Religious and Heritage Studies, and attracting the largest possible number of attendants from all over Palestine. The conference will help keep the understanding, co-existence and agreement that we have today.
2. We have to be alert to the fact that we should not become the victim of political programs that aim at planting the seeds of sectarianism in our society.
3. We have to give special care to the upbringing of our children in schools and universities. We need to offer our children objective education, especially in history and literature, which highlights the role of Arab Christians and their contribution to the building of the Arab cultural monument in all its aspects. I consider this point to be an important basis for dialog and mutual respect. Christian pupils who learn in the same school with their Muslim brothers learn Arab history and literature objectively and with transparency, and they learn about Arab Christians and their role and their participation with their Arab Muslim brothers in building the Arab civilization, history and nation. They learn about some caliphs who encouraged Christians to write, translate and engage in dialog and about the high-ranking positions Christians occupied in the administration of the Islamic Caliphate. These things generate friendly relations, mutual respect and a strong sense of belonging without the feeling of alienation and division. Additionally, knowledge of the negative relations with Muslims in the Middle Ages and afterwards is necessary so that Christians can avoid all negative relations at the present and in the future. Thus everybody has to ask for a change in the curriculum, so that the new curriculum in history and literature would reflect our history objectively without favoring one party and excluding others. We must reject a policy of illiteracy and specialization and demand true knowledge of history without distortion or forgery.
4. We have to publish our literary and dialogic heritage instead of simply keeping it as manuscripts in libraries in order to highlight the historical truth of shared existence between Arab Christians and Muslims. There are thousands of manuscripts in Arabic that contain topics in religions, social and ethical dialog, as well as articles on religious debate, and others on social and political relations. Thus history is rich and has special features which teach us a lot about the experiences of our ancestors, the logic of their dialog and the topics they discussed freely. It is important to mention that some of this heritage has a negative and ugly face, but it is important to learn from the negatives of the past so that we can avoid them in the present and future.
5. We have to include religious education in all our private and public schools. I would like to see Muslim students learning about the Christian religion from specialized Christian teachers. Likewise I would like to see Christian students learning about Islam from specialized Muslim teachers. I say this because Muslim students know very little about Christianity, and Christian students know almost nothing about Islam. We want our sons and daughters to be taught by specialists in Christianity and Islam. Then Muslims and Christians can know each other very well. This is the best that we can wish for. Individuals see what they do not know as an enemy. Ignorance is tantamount to injustice and has dire consequences.
6. We need to invest in the existence of schools and private educational institutions in the Holy Land in which Muslims and Christians get their education. We need to develop all kinds of programs and cultural, sports, educational, and social activities that help strengthen national unity and knowledge of each other, and reduce conflict between students, parents, teachers and administrations, believing that the mission of schools is to deepen relations of love, friendship and respect of those who are different from us, at the same time accepting and acknowledging their rights. In addition, students need to spend some time discussing extracurricular topics that interest young people such as identity and belonging.
7. I call upon the clergy and Muslim preachers to talk in their Sunday and Friday sermons about religion and the spirit of religion, and avoid talking about topics that might provoke others and create an atmosphere of sectarianism and factionalism. I see that the role of preachers is important in educating believers and the children of our nation, and strengthening relations of love and national unity. This love and national unity that everybody talks about will never succeed if Christian religious people and some seculars keep on criticizing Islam and Muslims by claiming that Muslims persecute Christians in the Holy Land and adopt unjust measures in their treatment of Christians. I do not quite understand what they mean by the Muslims persecuting Christians, and why they bring this up whenever they meet with tourists and foreign reporters. How could they talk about persecution when we have not heard once about attempts by Muslims to prevent Christians from going to churches and practicing their religious rituals? We have not even heard about attempts to prevent Christians from doing their daily chores such as building their homes, opening offices or commercial stores. We have not seen Muslims demonstrating against Christian schools; in fact, the opposite is correct. Muslims bring their children to Christian schools. We have not heard of Muslims forcing Christians to sell their houses or properties. Besides, do the rare mixed marriages between Christians and Muslims upon the consent of both parties indicate any kind of persecution? Was there any one case of rape? If there were no such thing, why then do we turn the problem into an aggression of Muslims against Christians and give it a religious character? This is a social issue and has nothing to do with religion. It has to be treated from a social perspective with emphasis on education at home, school, church and mosque. We need also to point to mixed marriage and its problems and likely negative effects on the family in particular and on the society in general. We do not encourage mixed marriage. At the same time we wonder: Where is awareness? Education? Religious institutions? The family and its role in raising children? The questions are many and the answers are few if not nonexistent. Then what religious persecution do the Western papers write about? And why this interference? Who appointed them to speak on behalf of it? Why this hypocrisy, you scribes and Pharisees? What if a Muslim behaves improperly or violently with a Christian, does this mean "persecution of Christians?" Many Christians treat each other with contempt and many mistreat each other. There are hundreds of examples of this.
Then if all these things do not exist, why do people talk about religious persecution? There is no answer to this question except that they please those who like to hear lies and rumors and calumny, or to gain the sympathy of Westerners and collect money under the pretext of "persecution of Christians." In both cases those who follow this path have no self-respect and are hired hypocrites whose aim is to lacerate our national unity, and in this they achieve the aim the enemy of our people, the Palestinian cause and the Arab nation seeks to achieve. On the other hand, unity will weaken and finally collapse if some sheikhs keep on using repulsive expressions and terms that provoke Christians. It is most unfortunate when Christian individuals who live near the mosque or in its surroundings hear the Friday noon sermon from some imams who use repulsive words in an aggressive manner, such as "the Crusaders," the heretic Crusaders," "the heretic," the Western barbarian Crusaders," etc. How can we then talk about national unity at the time when religious and political officials allow these people to raise their voices in a way that is destructive to national unity, dialog and shared existence? This is a huge responsibility that everybody is called upon to shoulder. Suppressing it is equal to approving of it, which is wrong and sinful. I do not mean by this that the imam preacher cannot criticize the west and its policies because Arab Christians also criticize the West. Christians and Muslims criticize the West when it stands against our national interests. The imam preachers, if they are really concerned about national unity and shared existence, should not generalize the statements they make and make them hit those who are near and far. They need to remember that they and their Arab Christian neighbors are blood brothers, brothers in pain and dream.
We have to know unless we stand together none here in our East and nation will have dignity, especially in light of the new world order, globalization and brutal aggression against our nation, culture, rights, and our very existence. Whoever wants to criticize the West and western Christians let him do so if he is right, but he has to distinguish between western Christians and the Arab Christians who hear the sermon every Friday noon and greets them before and after prayer. Thus dialog and shared existence cannot be strong unless we shun generalization and respect each other. This can hardly take place unless we know ourselves and the others well because the happiness of man grows whenever our knowledge of him widens and his sorrow increases when our knowledge of him lessens.
8. We have to work for openness to the other, their culture and civilization. We have to cooperate with their educational, ecclesiastical and human welfare institutions, in order to present to them our cultural and religious identity correctly and not the way others want it to be. In order to be able to achieve we have, especially at Al-Liqa’ Center, to double our external activities and impart this message to the largest number possible of western institutions and organizations so that they can understand and know our religion, history, culture and spirituality. All this will deepen relations of friendship and understanding and reinforce principles of peace and justice in our world.
9. Honest and truthful dialog between religions and cultures is an important and effective factor to reach peace and achieve justice between peoples in the world, believing that peace between religions and dialog between cultures is the only way to peace and justice among peoples. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI urges us to practice the principles of dialog saying, “Our effort to meet and reinforce dialog is a valuable contribution to the building of peace on a solid foundation, and thus we all have to engage in truthful and original dialog, based on the respect of the dignity of every person…” (52).
The theologian and scholar Hans Küng in his book A Global Moral Project writes, “There could be no human co-existence without international morals that bring nations together. There could be no peace among nations without peace between religions. There could be no peace between religions without dialog between them.”
10. The audio-visual and written mass media can play an important role in dialog, understanding and shared existence as well as in strengthening national unity by disseminating news related to programs, conferences, seminars and activities that aim at the understanding of each other and focus on the necessity for mutual respect. The media need to avoid as much as possible the minor incidents that create tension and which are exploited by some to plant seeds of sectarianism. I say this because most of the misunderstanding that takes place between Christians and Muslims does not have any religious background and or doctrinal differences; rather the misunderstanding takes place due to disagreement on private matters which could occur also between Muslims themselves or between Christians themselves. On the one hand, it is easy to bring religion into these matters, and on the other it is an escape from reality. I believe that the main reason for misusing religion or sects is either seeing in the other a weak party or the feeling of injustice and the confiscation of his rights by force and violence by another more powerful party. This usually happens due to the absence of law and the legislative authority or due to the indifference of officials who are supposed to implement the law either because of fear or because they wish to encourage an atmosphere of bigotry and sectarianism. Thus the role of reasonable people, officials and spiritual leaders is to be alert to such aspects and address them. They also need to increase the awareness of the citizens not to rush and take emotional positions that may harm to all.
2. Our society in general and our political leaders in particular have to be cautious against planting the seeds of sectarianism during the parliamentary/ legislative and municipal elections. We realize that our society is a compound society made up of various religious groups that live in our villages and cities. Sometimes the programs and slogans of some factions and religious groups do harm to others, or are misinterpreted by others, but in some cases the harm is intentional and has a religious background. In all cases talk begins about sectarianism, factionalism and fanaticism. Talk about what are negative increases in spite of the fact that we see in the same locations common factions that have candidates from all religions who launch their political and social programs. The aim of this is very clear, to polarize some groups and gain their votes by igniting religious fervor without actually caring for the consequences of such behavior that leaves deep wounds and affects badly our unity, common task and public welfare.
Taking advantage of these circumstances by some highlights on the one hand their frivolity, weakness, national irresponsibility and lack of political awareness; on the other hand, stresses their insult to the intelligence and dignity of others and their exploitation by cheap means and for personal interests.
What makes things worse is the situation after the elections when the season of appointment begins. There would be then much talk about discrimination by religion and sect. No one can deny how harmful this behavior can be to the unity of our society, public welfare, and strengthening of the sectarian dimension. It also encourages religious fanaticism. Such behavior takes place sometimes in institutions, schools and private institutions and in other fields of life.
It is important to mention here that such talk and accusations that disturb shared existence are not limited to mixed villages and cities but can also be found in villages and cities inhabited by people from the same sect who suffer from disagreements and aggression. Because they are mixed, the family takes the place of religion and the sect takes the place of electoral promises. This proves that religion is exploited by some for personal interests and thus religion is misunderstood by others and is regarded as a factor of division not unity and a cause for hatred instead of love and cooperation and public welfare.
Dealing with these matters is not easy in our society, which is characterized by the dominance of nepotism, tribalism, the extended family, religion and discrimination between poor and rich as well as between inhabitants of cities and villages. I believe that the reasons for these phenomena are ignorance of each other, the absence of democratic awareness and clinging to emotions rather than reason and logic. There is need to straighten the path and spread awareness and to design an educational program that calls for unity and respect of one another on the basis of objective dialog, with the participation of all citizens, and appointing those with competence for jobs, and proper leaders for the community. Thus we will have put a limit on the exchange of accusations based on factional and religious backgrounds.
3. Ignorance, the main enemy to dialog, is a human disease. I say this because the western look at Islam and Muslims in general and especially at Arab Muslims has a sense of superiority and a kind of condescension that leads in most cases to total exclusion of Muslims and dealing with them as if they do not exist or as if they are not part of the human global community. The West usually deals with Arab Muslims in order exploit their natural resources for the interest of western societies and economies and in order to deepen their dominance of Arab Muslims countries and their people. Such a treatment naturally arouses the anger of Muslims and Arabs and strengthens the feeling of enmity between peoples. It will eventually lead to war, hatred and conflict, thus fortifying the historical obstacle that already exists, with negative effects on cultures, peoples and religions.
The West in general and the US in particular do not know much about our Arab history and literary heritage, and much less about Islam. Whatever the West knows about Islam is usually distorted. Islam is regarded as the common enemy especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For more than two decades, most Western mass media focused on the "diabolical nature of Islam," presenting it to the West as a religion of backwardness, violence and terror. The best example on this enmity and ignorance is the caricatures a Danish paper published about the Prophet (May the peace of God be upon Him) and about Muslims and Islam. The caricatures hurt and provoked Muslims all over the world. In addition, the Danish paper made clear its ignorance of the feelings and traditions of people who belong to another faith. I also believe that the US President George Bush and his administration are the most dangerous provokers and inciters against Muslims and Islam, not only because of their ignorance but also because they aim to achieve their imperial and colonial goals through the invasion of Arab Islamic countries under the pretext of spreading democracy, liberty and human rights. Yes, they talk about rights but in every country they occupied or colonized they deprived national inhabitants of the simplest human rights and exploited their natural resources. Whoever opposed this policy had his dignity insulted and was labeled as a terrorist.
Thus the West is called upon to change this wrongful policy, open new windows on the Arab culture and have more knowledge of Islam as a religion. The West needs to deal with the Arabs and Muslims on an equal basis and open doors for political and economic dialog. The West needs to listen carefully to the wounds of the Arab nation because of this unilateral policy. The vision that can be seen today especially as a result of US foreign policy is that the West is not concerned about the achievement of justice and peace in the Middle East, either because it reaps benefits from the current prevailing situation or because it can hardly face Israel and ask her to respect international legitimacy and implement international resolutions related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The implementation of international resolutions by Israel will bring about justice and peace in the Middle East region and in the whole world.
The current situation in these relations which lack trust increases the difficulty of dialog between Christians and Muslims in the Arab world. Our role as citizens and children of the same nation is to overcome the obstacles and difficulties and defeat them through dialog and respect of each other. We need to be an example of shared existence to the West and everywhere. The Arab Christian is different form the western Christian, and what brings us together—language, culture, identity, belonging and one God—is much more than what can divide us as members of the same family.
1. Nader, Abert Nasri, Kitab Al-Jama’ Bayna Ra'iai Al-Hakimayn, Beirut, pp. 65-68
2. Al-Farabi, Abu Nasr, Kitab Tahseel A-Sa'ada, introduced and edited by Dr. Ja’far Al Yasin, Dar Al-Andalus, Beirut, 1st edition, 1981, p. 88, para. 54
3. The Jesuit Al-Mashriq Magazine is a Jesuit periodical issued in Beirut, Lebanon, its first number appeared in 1898, and it was founded by Father Louis Shikho who was also its chief editor who published in it several articles on the Arab Christian heritage throughout history. The publication of the magazine stopped for several years until the Jesuit Brothers decided to publish it again.
4. Graf, Georg, Geschichte Der Christilichen Arabischen Literatur, in: Studi e Testi, no. 118, 133, 146, 147, 137, Citta Del Vaticano, 1977
5. Dr. Father George Qanawati, Dominican Friar, born and lived in Egypt and was interested in the study of the role of Arab Christians in the Middle Ages, especially Palestinian dialog. He has several books and articles in this field. Dr. Father Samir Khalil is a Jesuit who was born in Egypt and during the past 40 years he was one of the most interested scholars in the study of Arab Christian literary manuscripts. He published several books and articles ion this subject, and he is one of the founders of the Arab Christian Heritage Series published in 20 volumes—critical studies and publication of Arab Christian manuscripts in the Middle Ages.
6. Ibn 'Adi, Kitab Al-Masa'el: Bayanaho wa -Ithbataho ‘Ala Anna Al-Masih Jawhar Wahid, introduction by Dr. Geries Sa'ed Khoury, Nazareth, 1978
7. Mott, John, The Islamic World Today, p. 350-380
8. Al-Mawla, Dr. S’oud, Christian-Muslim Dialog: Necessity of Adventure, Dar Al-Manhal Al-Lubnani, 1996, p. 129
9. Sabbah, Patriarch Micheal, The Second Pastoral Letter: Ask for the Peace of Jerusalem, in: Patriarch Sabbah's Pastoral Letters, Latin Press, Beit Jala, 2005, p. 57, para. 58
10. Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, The Meaning of Christian Presence in the East, 1992, in: Al-Liqa' Journal, no. 1, 1992, pp. 71-101, see also pp. 92-93
11. Al-Mawla Dr. Sa’oud, Islamic Dialog, previous source, p. 37
12. Al-Imran, 19
13. Al-Imran, 110
14. 1 Pet. 2:9
15. Matthew 23:27
16. Martini, Cardinal Carlo Maria, The Challenge of Communicating with the Other, in: Al-Liqa' Journal, nos. 3, 4, (2005) p. 154
17. Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, The Meaning of Christian Presence in the East, previous source, p. 92, para. 47
18. See previous source, Graf, Georg.
19. Al-Rayes, Riyad Najeeb, Christianity and Arabicism, Riyad Al-Rayes for Publication, London, 2nd ed. 1991, p. 88
20. New Testament, Luke 10:27-28
21. Sahih Al-Bukhari, Dar Ihya' Al-Turath Al-Arabi, Beirut, vol. 1, Kitab Al-Iman.
22. The Holy Koran, Surat Al-'Ankabout, verse 46
23. Said Ibn Batreek, Kitab Al-Majmou' 'an Al-Tahqeeq wal-Tasadi, in: Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Oreintalium, vol. 51, Scriptores Arabici, Tomus 7, 1960, cfr. Pag. 17
24. Ibn Al-Batreeq, same source, p. 44
25. Ephesians 4:5-6
26. All the synods of the ecumenical church ratified the Apostles' Creed and declared their faith in the one God: The Nicean Synod (325), First Constantinople Synod (381), Chalcedonian Synod (451), Florence (1443), then the First and Second Vatican Synod.
27. The works of the First Vatican Synod, The Doctrinal Constitution, chapter 1
28. The Holy Koran, Surat Al-Ikhlas, verse 1-2
29. Bostros, Bishop Dr. Saleem, Christian-Islamic Relations: Past, Present and Future Vision, in: Christian-Muslim Relations, Strategic, Documentation and Research Study Center, Beirut, 1994, p. 232
30. Surat Al-Haj 69
31. La Documentation Catholique, n. 1546, 1969, pp. 771
32. James, 2:17
33. Surat Al-Baqara 177
34. Al-Talibi, Mohammad, Islam and Dialog, in: Muslim and Christian Issues, The Pontifical Center for Arab Studies, Rome, No. 4, 1978, pp. 1-26
35. Abdallah Ibn Ismail Al-Hashimi is the cousin of the Abbassid Caliph Al-Ma’moun. What we know about him from his letter is that he was a learned and enlightened man and a Muslim noble. He occupied a high-ranking position in the Islamic nation.
36. Caliph Al-Ma’moun is the 7th Abbassid Caliph (813-833). He was one of the caliphs who encouraged scholars in translation from Greek, Persian and Syriac.
37. Abdel Masih Ibn Ishak Al-Kindi is a Christian theologian and philosopher who lived during the reign of Caliph Al-Ma’moun and he was a relative of his and a true friend to Abdallah Ibn Ismail Al-Hashimi.
38. The letter of Abdallah Ibn Ismail Al-Hashimi to Abdel Masih Ibn Ishak Al-Kindi calling upon hi to covert to Islam; also Al-Kindi’s letter to Al-Hashimi replying to his letter and calling upon him to convert to Christianity. Strand, 7 Adam St., Bible Lands Mission’s Aid Society, London, 1912, pp. 6-7
39. Previous source, p. 27, The Qur’anic verse says, No obligation in religion, Al-Baqara 257
40. Elia Barshinaya, called Ibn Shibna, was born in Nasibin in 975, and he was a Nestorian. He became a hermit at a very young age and was ordained a priest at St. Michael's Monastery near Al-Mosel. He was appointed Bishop of Nasibin in 1008 and remained in it until he died in the middle of the 11th century. He wrote a lot in Syrian and Arabic. His literary works include a message in which he talked about the councils that took place between him and Minister Abu Al-Qasem Al-Hussein Ibn Ali Al-Maghribi.
41. Shikho Louis, The Councils of the Bishop of Nasibin, in: Al-Mashreq, no. 20 (1922) p. 37
42. Khalil Samir, The Councils of the Bishop of Nasibin (First Council), in: Islamic-Christian Issues, the Pontifical Center, Vol. 5 (1979) p. 61
Note: Samir Khalil published the First Council only in the source mentioned previously, with a French introduction and translation from p. 31 – p.117. Father Louis Shikho published all the councils in Al-Mashreq, No. 20, (1922): 33-44, 112-122, 267-272, 366-377, and 425-434
43. Surat Al-An'am.
44. Surat Al-Qasas.
45. Al-Hashimi's Message, previous source, p. 11
46. Al-Hashimi's Message, previous source, p. 26-27
47. Habib Ibn Khidma, known as Abu Ra'ita (825). He was the Bishop of Takrit Church. We do not know much about his life but we know he classified many messages and articles in religion such as the letter proving the truthfulness of Christianity and the Holy Trinity. He had a message on incarnation and the Trinity Message in which he addressed Muslims.
48. Georg Graf, Die Schriften Des Jacobiten Habib Ibn Hidma Abu Ra'ita, in corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Oreintalium (CSCO), Vol. 130-131, Scriptores Arabici, Tome 15, Louvain, 1951
This volume includes Arabic texts translated into German. The text referred to is Habib Ibn Khidma's saying in his First Message from the Arabic text, pp. 3-4.
49. Al-Hashimi's Message, previous source, p. 70
50. Elia's Councils, previous source, Shikho, p. 37
51. Bostros, Bishop Saleem, Christian-Islamic Relations, previous source, p. 227
52. Pope Benedict XVI; see Al-Liqa' Journal, nos. 3 and 4 (2005) pp. 167-168
53. King, Hans, Global Moral Project, translated from German by Joseph Ma'louf and Ursula ‘Assaf, The Paulist Library, Junieh, Lebanon, 1998, p. 267
§ Geries S. Khoury, Ph.D., is the Director of Al-Liqa Center, Dean of the Theological Department at Mar Elias.(This article was translated from Dr Khoury’s book: Arab Christians and Muslims: past, present and future, published by Al-Liqa Center, Bethlehem, 2006,Chapter 3)