Religion

Jordanian prince and Jewish scholar say Christianity is intrinsic to Arab culture

Prince Hassan and Woolf Institute head decry Islamic State's "savage" assault on Christians

If a goal of the Islamic State group and other jihadists was attained—the expulsion of Christianity from its birthplace in the Near East—it would “destroy the richness of the tapestry of the Middle East and [be] a hammer blow to our shared heritage,” said a Muslim Jordanian prince and a Jewish proponent of interfaith relations.

Writing in The Telegraph, Prince Hassan of Jordan, founder and president of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, and Ed Kessler, director of the Woolf Institute for relations among Christians, Jews and Muslims, said that Christian communities have been “intrinsic to the development of Arab culture and civilization.”

“This central role in our region and civilization is why it is abhorrent to us, as a Muslim and a Jew, to see Christianity and Christians under such savage assault across our region,” Hassan and

The two men called ISIS’ attacks on Christians, which the US State Department has classified as genocide, “sickening.” They said ISIS’ vision is an “apocalyptic” one that “harks back to a mythic Golden Age” of Islam. It is “solely the creation of the warped minds of today’s jihadists,” they charged. “Daesh want to take us to a new Dark Age, an age made even darker by the dangers that the gifts of science and technology pose in their hands,” they said, using an Arabic nickname for the jihadist group.

Helping to end this dangerous slide towards hatred, self-destruction and fratricidal conflict is the main challenge for all of us involved in interfaith dialogue. This requires us to step up our efforts to increase understanding that what unites the three great faiths of our region is far greater than any differences. We must stress, too, that respect for the past and learning from it does not require us to live there.

But this must be coupled with an honest recognition that all the Abrahamic scriptures – the Christian Bible, the Jewish Tanach and the Koran – contain texts which are divisive and include attacks on other groups. Throughout history, they have been used to justify the most appalling actions in the name of God.

These texts, which carry weight and authority, cannot be deleted or ignored.

So how do we counter their divisive message which, in the wrong hands, can be read as a license for bigotry and violence?

Problematic texts, the two said, must be seen in context: “It is vital, for example, to juxtapose texts from the same Scripture that offer a contrasting approach. Here, too, a better understanding of the sacred writings of other faiths may help us see the paradoxes and conflicts that we can fail to acknowledge in our own.

Above all, we must emphasize the importance of interpretation, which is central and common to all the Abrahamic faiths. This provides us with the ability to deal with texts that run contrary to what we regard as the fundamental values of our tradition.

Islam, said the article, teaches the right to freedom and the right to human dignity, and Judaism teaches that the preservation of human life takes precedence over all other commandments.

Though the authors left it unstated, Christianity has long held that forced conversions are not true conversions. But in the Near East today, that seems to speak for itself, as no Christian group is threatening to kill or impose a heavy tax on anyone who is unwilling to become a Christian.

 

Shawn Neal

John Burger

John Burger is a news editor at Aleteia. He formerly worked at the National Catholic Register and Catholic New York in the Archdiocese of New York. He has also written for a wide variety of Catholic publications.