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10-24 OCTOBER 2010

The Catholic Church in the Middle East:
Communion and Witness.
"Now the company of those who believed
were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32)

This Bulletin is only a working instrument for the press.
Translations are not official.

English Edition


12 - 14.10.2010






When I was honored with the invitation to the Special Synod for the Middle East, I asked myself two questions. The first is the following: why is this Synod consecrated to the Christians of the East? And the second: what does it mean to invite a Muslim to this Synod, what role can I play there now and in the future?
As for the first question, to try to answer it brings up many more questions.
First of all, had the situation of Eastern Christians been a good one, would we have needed to call for this Synod? And then, can this Synod ensure the serenity and confirm their roots in the land of their fathers and ancestors, in this land where the light of Christian faith arose to embrace the whole world?
Personally, as a Muslim, I truly believe it is very important for the Vatican to focus its attention on the problems of Christians in general and the Eastern Christians in particular, this East source and cradle of Christianity. At the same time, I hope that the initiative of the Saudi Arabian king Abdallah Ben Abdel Aziz in favor of interreligious and intercultural dialogue can move the Arab and Islamic attention to this cause, under all its national, religious and human dimensions, so that these two initiatives, the Vatican and the Saudi Arabian one, can complete each other towards the resolution of the problems of Christians in the East, knowing that this is one and the same Islamic-Christian issue.
As for the second question, I don’t think I was invited to this Synod to learn about the difficulties of Christians in certain Eastern states. Our suffering as Easterners is only one. We share our suffering. We live them in our social and political delays, in our economic and developmental regression, in our religious and confessional tension. However, this fact of making the Christian the target because of one’s religion, even if this is a new and accidental phenomenon for our societies, can be very dangerous; the greatest danger is that it poses the problem of reciprocity. This, in fact, is a phenomenon foreign to the East and which is, more so, in contradiction with our religious cultures and our national constitutions. Because this indicates two very serious facts:
First, an attempt to tear away at the fabric of our national societies, to break them apart and to take away the ties of their complex tissue built up and recognized over the past centuries. Then the attempt to show Islam in a different light than the one it truly reflects and in opposing what it professes and in contradiction on what it is fundamentally based upon, the knowledge of the differences between peoples as one of the signs of God in creation and as the living expression of God’s Will, as well as the acceptance of the rule of pluralism and the respect for the differences and faith in all Divine messages and in what God revealed. The Holy Koran says: “Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (for the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous.” (3:113-114).
Two negative points demonstrate the problem faced by Eastern Christians:
The first point concerns the lack of respect for the rights of fully equal citizenship when faced with the law in certain countries. The second concerns the misunderstanding of the spirit of the Islamic teachings, especially the part relative with Christians which the Holy Koran qualifies as “nearest among them in love to the believers ” and justifying this love by saying “this is because there are priests and monks among them and because they do not behave proudly”.
These two negative points, with all they entail as to negative intellectual and political content, and in all they imply as attitudes relative to the agreements and their applications and cause as worrisome and harmful actions, are bad for us all - Christians and Muslims - and offend all of us in our lives and in our common destinies. For this, we are called upon, as Christians and Muslims, to work together to transform these two negative elements into positive elements: in the first place, through the respect for the bases and rules of citizenship which accomplishes equality first in rights and then in duties. In second place, in denouncing the culture of exaggeration and extremism in its refusal of others and in its wish to have the exclusive monopoly on an ultimate truth, and in working towards the promotion and spreading a culture of moderation, of charity and of forgiveness as the respect of the differences of religion and beliefs, of language, of culture, of color and of race, and as we are taught by the Holy Koran, we put ourselves at the judgment of God about our differences. Yes, the Christians in the Middle East are being tested, but they are not the only ones.
Yes, the Christians in the Middle East in fact do need support and help, but this should not ease their emigration or turning within themselves, nor through the abandonment of national and moral duties towards them by their Muslim partners. To ease emigration, this is forcing them to emigrate. To turn in on oneself, is to slowly suffocate. To Abandon the right to defend the rights of others for a free and dignified life, is to diminish the other’s humanity and abandon the constants of faith.
The Eastern Christian presence, which works and acts with Muslims, is a Christian as well as an Islamic need. This is a need not only for the East, but also for the entire world. The danger represented by the erosion of this presence on the qualitative and quantitative levels is a Christian as well as an Islamic concern, not only for Eastern Muslims, but for all Muslims all over the world. Furthermore, I can live my Islam with all other Muslims from all states and from all ethnicities, but as a Middle Eastern Arab, I cannot live my being Arabic without the Middle Eastern Christian Arab. The emigration of Christians is an impoverishment of the Arabic identity, of its culture and of its authenticity.
For this reason, I underline once again here, before the stands of the Vatican, what I have already said before the stands of the venerable Mecca: I am concerned with the future of Eastern Muslims because of the emigration of Eastern Christians. To maintain the presence of Christians is a common Islamic duty as well as a common Christian duty.
The Christians of the East are not a minority by accident. They are at the origins of the presence of the East before Islam. They are an integral part of the cultural, literary and scientific formation of Islamic civilization. They are also the pioneers of modern Arabic renaissance and have safe-guarded its language, the language of the Holy Koran.
Since they were at the forefront in the liberation and return of sovereignty, today they are also at the forefront to confront and resist occupation, to defend the violated national rights, especially in Jerusalem, and in occupied Palestine in general.
Any attempt in approaching their cause without considering these true facts, rooted in our national societies, ends up in the wrong conclusions, based on the wrong judgment and lead in consequence to the wrong solutions.
Therefore, it is very important that this Synod be something more than the cry of Christian suffering which echoes in this valley of pain which is our suffering East. Hope rests upon the practical and scientific foundations the Synod may give in favor of an initiative of common Islamic-Christian cooperation that can protect Christians and watch over Islamic-Christian relations, so that the East, the place of Divine revelation, remains worthy of raising the banner of faith, charity and peace for itself and for the entire world.

[00003-02.05] [NNNNN] [Original text: Arabic]


During the past few decades, religions are faced with new conditions. The most important aspect of this is over-extended confusion of their disciples in real scenes of social life, as well as in national and international arenas. Before the Second World War, and in spite of technological developments, the followers of different religions, more or less lived in their own national boundaries. Neither the enormous problem of immigration existed nor did exist such expansion of communication that connects so many different social groups together. Neither the world had become such a “global village” that “connects” so many destinies together! But today we witness the great changes that have occurred in the past half century and that this transformation continues with an incredible pace. This not only had a qualitative effect on the rapport between religions but also affected relationships between different segments of religions and even with their own followers. Certainly no religion can stay indifferent toward this rapidly changing state.
At the end of the second millennium, multi-culturalism within societies was more or less accepted worldwide. Up until then, understanding of a multi-cultural society was much different than what we experience today. And the newly entered culture into a society could have only been accepted as "the new Culture" and not on the basis of its own merit and excellence. But today there are less and less societies and groups who would defend a monolithic cultural society. The Balkan experience proved that cultural and ethnic dominance of one group over others could not be defended while disregarding other existing groups within that society. This is an important factual necessity and not an isolated intellectual perception.
In societies where different ethnic groups with their own languages and religions have been placed, for the sake of social stability and ethic sanity, one is required to respect their presence and their rights. Concordance of interests and social welfare on national and international levels is as such that no one group or country can be disregarded. And this is the reality of our time. As described, mutual understanding between religions reflects this newly positioned status, and in the future will necessarily have to take these new conditions into consideration. All will be sharing each other's destinies. Today, this idea is being shared by many opinion leaders and gradually more and more of masses of people are siding with this reality. A prerequisite for this kind of thinking is to put aside our formal classical and conditioned viewpoint on other religions and cultures in order to be able to have a more objective vision. We have to look with understanding, respect and sympathy to other cultures.
At the same time it is undeniable that there still exist biased and reactionary viewpoints which are derived from a historically prejudiced, expansionist and supremacist political and cultural system of thinking. But I believe that in the long term, this kind of discriminatory and chauvinistic thinking is diminishing and bound to fade away.
Besides these transformations, other cultural and intellectual changes have been shaped, although mostly in the sphere of Western and industrialized world. This has brought some sort of query and doubt in the mind, even on those issues that previously seemed "inevitable". Now there seems to be an increasing desire and craving for discovering "others", other cultures and ways of lives, other philosophies and religions. This wish apart from being a curiosity is more an inner and spiritual need. This is mostly frequent among the youth and thinkers in these societies. Here the importance is that this movement will certainly affect spiritual understanding of religions of each other. But it should be noted that the major tendency today is the attention paid to Asiatic faiths, and the new religious sects that are offspring of industrialized societies with mostly spiritual basis. These groups find more and more followers every day. We should also consider what the ideal condition is for the believers and followers? How is the best situation achieved? It seems that ideal world would be the state where believers of any faith freely and without any apprehension, fear and obligation could live according to the basic principles and modes of their own customs and traditions. This right which is universally recognized should in fact be practiced by the states and communities.
Furthermore, the right of interpretation of each faith should be given to the believers of that religion, as long as this interpretation is based on scientific and basic spirit of that religion. The truth is that those believers have the better recognition and right of the interpretation of their own faith better than anyone else. It need not be mentioned that of course each faith must have its own present-day exegesis, without which it would be a hard task. No one is allowed to make an interpretation on behalf of others and decide on their behalf. Each faith has its own logic and method based upon its own requirements and its own moment in time. Any adaptation and conformity outside of this framework which is not recognized by the faithful, has no legitimacy and therefore is not effective and lasting.
This is good for the essence of each religion and their believers that disciples of each faith could practice their rights without any shame and fear and live according to their own historical heritage and culture. Stability of the world depends on the stability of the livelihood of small and large groups and societies.
This stability could only be achieved when all can live without fear and threat from others. This is the most important element in achieving an ethical and social stability and peace. This is our duty to bring about such conditions.
The rapport between Islam and Christianity, based upon inspirations and propositions of the holy Quran, since the establishment of Islam in Saudi Arabia, has been founded upon friendship, respect and mutual understanding. In the holy Quran, Jesus is referred to as the "Word of God", and believing in him has been set as a basis for believers, to the point that any doubt in his guidance has been denounced. " ..... You will find [that] the closest to the believers are those who say we are Christians that is because among them are learned priests and monks and they are not arrogant.. .. " Ma'eede Sura, ch. 82
" ... When the angels say: Oh Myriam, Allah bestows you, the glad news of the birth of a son, whose name is Jesus, illustration in this world, and shall be honored in this world .... " Al-Omran Sura, ch. 45.
It is unfortunate that during certain periods in the past 1400 years, at times because of political considerations, there have been dark moments in this relationship. But one should not relate these illegitimate acts of certain individuals and groups neither to Islam nor to Christianity. According to the teachings of the Quran, in most Islamic countries, notably Iran, as it has been stipulated also by law, Christians live side by side and in peace with their Muslim brothers. They enjoy all legal rights like other citizens and perform their religious practices freely. At the end, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the holy Father, Pope
Benedict XVI for his timely and vital remarks in the speeches in Jerusalem and in Istanbul regarding the importance of continued healthy and friendly rapport between Christians and Muslims. Such approach and manners are essential for all believers and certainly important for peace in the World.
Thank you, and may God bless you!

[00017-02.04] [NNNNN] [Original text: English]

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