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Christians in the Muslim World

“Geological Patience” in Dialogue

As vicar provincial for the Dominicans of the Middle East I have been visiting Iraq on an annual basis for over 15 years. In recent years I have spoken with my fellow brothers on an almost daily basis and the ongoing appeal from them is: «we cannot speak right now, but you are under an obligation to denounce the situation in which we live, a situation which has worsened dramatically in recent months».


Today, many Christians are tempted to flee, and it is understandable why. Many of them are already in Jordan, Syria or Turkey. Our presence there, as Dominicans, which first began 250 years ago, is extremely at risk now. It faces a very important challenge: to stay on, as representative of the Eastern Churches, which have ancient roots and which constitute a wealth for the universal church.


Today the Church asks itself where it should go, whether it should move towards Kurdistan, where it appears to be more tranquil, but there it fears it would be subjected to Kurdish control.


Certainly it is important not to fall into the trap of pessimism. The survival is a problem also for the Iraqi Muslims who desire to have a society which is open, tolerant and pluralist. It is not simply a problem for Christians. We need to continue to consider our Iraqi brothers, while retaining the courage to analyse the situation lucidly and seek solutions without losing hope.


This hope which derives for example from experiences such as the one with IDEO (Dominican Institute for Eastern Studies in Cairo: where most of the researchers who come are mainly all Muslim and traditionalists in the majority of cases.


In their approach to their work, the way in which they pose questions and carry out their research, they experience a strong desire to change things in their society, as was the case with the onset of modernity in the West; they study Hobbes and many other authors in order to understand what we have done and how. Also it is very interesting for us to accompany these researchers while at the same time respecting their freedom and leaving them free to discuss these ideas with us and ask us questions.


I would to put forward the following proposal: «Let us seek to move frontiers». Our fellow brother Anawati used to say that in the field of inter-religious dialogue we need a “geological patience”. With this patience and hope, leaving aside pessimism, we can succeed in taking some small steps forward.