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Christians in the Muslim World

Amman: photo of an uncertain future

Guests of the royal Hashemite family and those responsible for the different Christian churches and communities have met in Jordan to discuss the future of Christians in the Middle East.

While the world anxiously awaits the decisions of the American congress, the king of Jordan meets the representatives of all the Christian churches and communities of the Middle East in Amman to reflect on their future. In truth, discussions had previously taken place concerning this meeting but, literally speaking, a providential coincidence made it necessary to insert it in the short time between the announced American attack and its unforeseen suspension.



In the congress room of the Hotel Le Royal, the picture of Arab Christianity that emerged is accurate, as all those responsible for the different communities were invited, but it could become dramatically obsolete the moment Syria starts a war. The consequent disorder would in fact cause tremendous difficulties for the presence of Christians in the Middle East. All those participating in the meeting were very aware of this enormous risk, starting from the message of the Coptic Pope Tawadros II. All present were against resignation or violence.



A simple reading of the titles of those present, which could be useful for a student of Church History, is sufficient to give an idea of how complex the presence of Christians in the region is: Copts, Syrians, Melkites, Maronites, Armenians, Chaldeans, Latins… Then if we consider that not one of the interventions failed to recall the amazing progress in civilization that has taken place in the Middle East, which both Christians and Arab Muslims have inherited, we can clearly see a reality, which from the scholar’s point of view is an incredible richness. But from a practical point of view this is a heavy burden to carry, especially when we realize that, in the long run, it is the same for Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants: freedom of worship and conscience, citizenship, reform of religious education, contrast of extremism and violence, equal rights for all.



The words of Naghib Mahfuz in his controversial novel Children of our Alley come to mind. In fact the Egyptian Nobel Prize Winner provocatively represented the Middle East situation through the mirror of an area of Cairo: ‘The surrounding inhabitants […] envy us and talk about our inexhaustible patrimony and our invincible leaders…All this is true, but they ignore the fact that we are as poor as mendicants’. In the Middle East today facing a war, the outcome of which we cannot foresee, with two million Syrian refugees and a diffuse violence negative for our already low economies, limiting ourselves to recalling our glorious past may be consoling but it is of no help for the future.



This is quite clear to Prince Ghazi, the king’s cousin and chairman of the meeting. Having already inspired ‘A common word’ a word for all, in his opening speech he stigmatized the recent attacks on churches, observing that ‘Christian Arabs are singled out in some states – for the first time in many many years – […] for the simple reason that they are Christian’ and not only because of the general upheaval in the region since 2011. However, in his intervention he also implied that the problem does not concern only Christians. “ The type of democracy we aspire to is not to gain power through elections, so that the majority can repress the minority. This is a dictatorship of the crowds, it is demagogy and injustice, it means consolidating divisions and starting civil and sectarian wars”. The Islamic State, he observes, cannot be based on the opinion of the majority but on general consensus and democratic culture also means the division of powers, balance among them, working for the same rights for all citizens, whereas Ali Gomaa the ex-mufti of Egypt strongly criticized the intolerant religious discourse which monopolizes diverse mosques, hoping that at least this remains inside the places of cult, and it is not broadcast to the surrounding streets.



All told, these are the same requests made by the Christian community and this proves that they are only anticipating the future of their country. If there is no room for them, there will be no room for pluralism within Islam. The organizers of the meeting are very aware of this link which is certainly one of the motives that inspired them, as much as the preoccupation for the future of Arab Christians.