Sunni Scholar: Christian Emigration a Muslim Issue

Tells Synod That Christians Are Essential to Arabic Identity

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2010 ( The emigration of Christians from the Middle East impoverishes Arab identity and culture, a Muslim scholar told synod fathers Thursday.

Muhammad al-Sammak, a Sunni Muslim who is secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, addressed the synod of bishops on the Middle East, which is under way at the Vatican through Oct. 24.

Al-Sammak is an adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The Muslim official told the synod fathers that the presence of Christians in the Middle Easts is a «Christian as well as an Islamic need» and a need «not only for the East but also for the entire world.»

Due to emigration, the Christian presence in the region is vastly reduced, accounting now for only about 5% of the population.

«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,» al-Sammak said. «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.»

Al-Sammak said he was emphasizing in the Vatican what he had already emphasized in 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.»

He said Eastern Christians 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 safeguarded its language.»

Alliance with Arabia

Al-Sammak said that as a Muslim, he thinks it very important for the Vatican to focus its attention on the problems of Eastern Christians, and he expressed hope that the Saudi Arabian initiative in favor of interreligious and intercultural dialogue would be a source of cooperation with the Vatican.

He also reflected, «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.»

But, al-Sammak continued, targeting Christians because of their religion indicates two corollary problems: an attempt to «break [our national societies] apart and to take away the ties of their complex tissue built up and recognized over the past centuries,» concretely in failing to give Christians fully equal citizenship. And secondly, to present Islam in a different light than the true one.

He said these two problems are «bad for us all — Christians and Muslims — and offend all of us in our lives and in our common destinies.»

The Sunni leader said Christians and Muslims alike are called to respond to these issues, promoting equality of rights and duties, and denouncing «the culture of exaggeration and extremism […] 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 Quran, we put ourselves at the judgment of God about our differences.»

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