VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the intervention given Thursday by special guest Muhammad Al-Sammak, political advisor to the Mufti of Lebanon, to the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. He was invited as a representative of Sunni Islam.
The assembly is under way in the Vatican through Oct. 24, and the synod fathers are considering the theme “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness.”
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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.