1. Their education made them believe that the 7th Century Islamic expansion has put
an end to Christian presence in the Middle East. Therefore, for them the Arabs and
the Palestinians, in particular, are only Muslims and not also Christians
2. The curriculum of many American Theological Seminaries seems to make a jump
from the Apostolic period to the division of the 12th century, between the Eastern
and Western Christians or to the Reformation of the 16th Century.
3. The “Evangelicals” continue to try to keep the Middle East Christians unknown
because they are not like them or “born again”. For example, a director of the 700
Club TV program refused once to show a 15 minutes video on the Middle East
Christians, afraid that if the Americans realize that the Arab Christians exist they
will discontinue to give money for mission in the region.
4. The American Media. Because of a lot of misleading in the Media about the Arabs,
many Americans do not know the truth about the tradition and history of the Arab
Christians and the possible constructive common living between them and the Arab
B. Many ignore the meaning of the term “Arab”. Because I speak Arabic, I was often asked, in some American Christian circles, when I was converted from Islam? My answer always was that I became Christian at “Pentecost”, which happened 700 years before the coming of Islam
Therefore, most Americans seem to ignore the fact that the term “Arab” does not refer to a race and even less to a religion, but rather to a language and a culture. An “Arab” is a person who partakes in the history of the Arab world. The same notion was in fact proposed by the Prophet Mohammad who, according to a hadith, stated: “To be Arab is not a question of race or genealogy but of language. Whoever speaks Arabic is Arab.” Therefore, when one speaks of Arab Christians, one means Christians of Arab culture and language. Also “Arab” does not mean Islam, even though Islam used the Arabic language since its origin. Today, the majority of Muslims in the world do not use Arabic.
Therefore, the Christians who originated in Palestine, came to the Arab peninsula, centuries before Islam. Some were Copts, Arameac or Syriac. Their present number, in the Middle East, is close to 13 millions or about 7 per cent of the total Arab population. They are found in the Eastern Mediterranean and the North African countries.
II. Old Challenges
1. Their Persecution by the Romans until 330 AD.
2. The Early heresies, which included “Gnosticism”, “Marcionism” and “Montanism”
3. The Christian divisions that were exacerbated by the “powers and principalities” of
this word, like the Byzantine Empire, which started in 330 AD and by the prevailing
Hellenic culture, particularly the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato.
4. The Islamic expansion, made some Muslim leaders exercise economic, political,
sociological, familial and cultural pressers that led to the convergence of about 80
percent of the Christians to Islam. The Arabic language was then spread in the M.E
and those who were speaking Coptic, Arameac or syriac started to speak Arabic.
However, they continued to use their old languages in their worships. The concept
of religious minority (thummi), which was applied to the “People of the Book” has
later become, in some countries, equivalent to the notion of “second class citizens”
5. The Western Christian Missions, which included the Catholic missions, as from
1552 and the Protestant missions, as from 1806. These missions divided further the
Arab and other Middle East Christians.
B. The Common Challenges with the Arab Muslims were the following:
1. The Crusades. These were addressed by the western Christians, not only against the
Muslims in Jerusalem but have also massacred Jews and thousands of Orthodox
Arab Christians in various parts of the Middle East. During the Gulf war, Rev. Jerry
Falwell said once on CNN: Now that our army is in the Gulf, We can distribute
freely the Bible. That was considered, by many, as a sort of new Crusade.
2. The Ottoman domination from 1517 to 1917. It introduced the “Millet” system,
which made the religious communities become socio-political entities . In that way,
it legalized divisions between the branches of the same religion and between the
monotheistic communities. It also increased inter-religious problematic sensitivities
and tensions, as well as the possibility of loosing the pluralist nature of society.
3. Western Colonialism. In addition to their negative effects on the Arab countries,
they coincidentally happened with western Christian missions to the Middle East in
the Middle Age and the 19th century. Unfortunately, this made Muslims in some
countries regard some local Christian communities, as political and cultural “fifth
columns” of the western political and cultural powers.
The Arab Christians responses to the old common challenges included the following political, social and educational contributions to the Arab and Middle East societies.
1. The promotion of Modern nationalism. The concept of “Arabism” or “Arabity”
was promoted in the 19th century by the “Monotheist Intelligencia”, mainly the
Arab Christians, who used then the secular humanist concept of “Nation State”
(watan). That concept separated the State from Religion and established equality
between citizens, regardless of the religion, ethnicity and culture.
2. The struggle for National Independence. Through Arab nationalism, the Christians
participated actively in various movements of independence from the Ottoman Empire,
the British and the French mandates as well as the imperialism of other foreign powers.
3. The promotion of Education: This was done through the Christian schools and
universities including those established by the western Christian Missions. The
hope was to enable the younger generation to develop the national culture, to improve
the national socio-political procedures and to secure national economic development.
4. The initiation of Ecumenical Movement: The aim was to witness to the Oneness of
God, which is not only transcendental but also historical, through the unity of the
Church. This movement became a sign of hope for inter-religious understanding and
for the unity of the socio-politically fragmented Arab region.
III. New Challenges
A. The Ethnic and/or Religious Revivalism. Some religious revivalist movements decided to oppose their religious and cultural particularities to the secular humanist theories and criteria of their political, religious and cultural experience. Unfortunately, some of these movements have been using or misusing politics to fulfill their ideals or have been permitting political powers to use and misuse their religion for the pursuit of their particular interest.
B. The Conflict of Cultures. For many centuries, the Middle East has been a crossroad of cultures that made its people suffer a schizophrenic way of life. Nowadays, because of the attempts to return to the ethnic or religious nature of the Middle East societies, people of that region are facing the challenge of two apparently conflicting cultures.
1. The first is the so-called western culture, which is regarded by many Middle Eastern
“monotheists” as being the result of western secular humanism. According to them,
that ideology has invested power in the human being to the extend of marginalizing
and even eliminating God through the materialist, nihilist and atheist ideologies.
Moreover, many of them consider also that this culture and its values were propagated
internationally through western colonialism, Christian missions and the UN.
2. The second cultural trend is the monotheistic reaction to the “western culture”.
Accordingly, the Israeli Jews and the “fundamentalist” Muslims consider that “power”
should be re-centered in God and that the State and Religion should be reunited.
Unfortunately, the Zionist and “fundamentalist” expressions of this trend, go often to
the extend of asserting God’s power at the expense of the human being who could even
be eliminated in the name of God or of “His people”.
In fact this phenomenon of reviving the ethnic, religious and cultural particularities is no more exclusively Middle Eastern. It has become a serious challenge to the concept of Plurality in the whole world.
C. More Economic Deterioration. Some Arab Gulf States are rich because of their oil resources. However, the Arab people in general are poor because the income from these oil resources is unjustly distributed or mainly invested in the military armament required by the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and promoted by some western powers. Also, a major part of this income is spent to feed the Arab market with the products of the western countries, which are pursuing in the region, their self-centered economic interest.
D. The Shortage of Democracy. Many regimes in the Middle East do not permit their people to practice “democracy” or “Shawra”, with the pretext that their national security is threatened by foreign intervention. This anomaly has been supported by some western powers, whose national and international securities are at stake. Consequently, some of these Middle Eastern states have not been able to solve, in their societies, the issues of minority rights, equality in citizenship and freedom, including the freedom of religion.
E. The Foreign Interventions. Because of its geographic position, between continents and its natural resources, the Middle East region has always been important to foreign states in the fields of economics and national security. One could recall the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottoman Empire and the European colonialism, particularly the British and the French Mandates. In this regard, we could also mention the Super Powers of the cold war and recently, the American policy of globalization, of war or Crusades against Terrorism or against Evil. The American foreign policy is deeply criticized by the Arab Muslims and Christians for the following reasons:
a) It is a double standard policy, since the US attacks Iraq but does not criticize Israel.
b) “Globalization” seems to be a policy of trying to make the world become like the
USA in the areas of “Democracy” and culture or “Civilization”
c) It is a policy of self-interest aiming at controlling oil.
d) It is ethically problematic, as it seems to be replacing monotheism by “money theism”,
in relation to the market economy
e) It is permitting the American “fundamentalist Evangelicals” to show that the US power
is Christian. Some of those “Evangelicals” seem now to be distributing the Bible in
Iraq saying that the USA has open the way to Christ. Accordingly, they seem to be
forgetting that the real Christians believe that God’s Kingdom is not from this world
and that His power is the Holy Spirit
A. The Lebanese National Committee for Muslim-Christian Dialogue. The Christian and Muslim leaders in Lebanon formed that committee with the following mandate:
3. To discover in the heritage of all religions involved, common values conductive to
common living in societies and states, which do not have to be neither secular, nor
theocratic or ethnocentric and, at the same time, they should respect religion as well as
religious, ethnic and cultural differences. Accordingly, they should secure religious
freedom and the freedom of conscience, which are rooted in the shared convection
that God has created the human being at “His image and likeness” as believed by
Jews and Christians and “equal like the teeth of the comb” as said by the Muslims.
A. Understand the Middle Eastern Ethos. The main characteristics are the following:
1. Religion and politics are interrelated. This is due to the fact that the Middle
East has never been radically affected by the Industrial or the French revolutions.
2. The identity of the human being is communal. In the Middle East every
individual is recognized socially and legally as a member of a religious or an ethno-
religious community. In Judaism there is the concept of the “Chosen People”, in
Islam, the notion of “Umma” and in Christianity, the “Church”.
3. The sense of history is ever present. For Jews, Christians and Muslims, the "past"
is relevant to the "present" and to the "future". In particular, the Christians considers
that their God is the same yesterday, today and forever, as said in (Heb 13:8).
4. The sense of holiness is quite alive. The monotheists have always view their
Middle East land as holy, and the city of Jerusalem as symbol of the convergence in
history of the “divine” with the “human”. In that sense, Jerusalem becomes the City
of Peace between all people.
This means that western secular humanist theories and criteria cannot be used to analyze societies in the Middle East. This also means that the Middle East region bears seeds of destruction, conflict and war; but, at the same time, it carries divine potential for dialogue, reconciliation and peace.
B. Review Christian missions to the region. This should lead them to promote partnership instead of proselytism with regard the Middle East Christians and other religious communities.
C. Support the Christians of the Middle East. This should aim at a) securing the continuation of their presence and particular witness to God’s love, unity, Justice and Peace, on behalf of the Universal Church. b) helping their work for God’s Peace and practically, support their contribution to solving the Arab/Israeli conflict by helping the Palestinian authorities recognize the right of Israel to exist and by pressing Israel to approve the Palestinian right of self-determination. c) Helping them promote inter-religious dialogue within Monotheism. This will help the people concerned liberate themselves from their old traumas and to prove that religion is not a cause of war but a factor of peace. Such a dialogue could help the Jews, Muslims and Christians discover in their respective spiritual heritage, values for common living in Justice and peace.
IV. Responsibility of Arab Christian and Muslims in the USA
Some Arabic speaking Christians and Muslims presently living in the United States and are enough sensitive to the spiritual values of their respective religions involved and to the political concerns of the Arab societies and states, should meet occasionally for the following purpose:
A. To explore ways of explaining to the American public that the Arab Christians exist and that the word “Arab” does not refer only to the Muslims but to the common cultural expression of various religious and ethnic people in the Middle East. Accordingly, the Arabic speaking people are not only Muslims but also Christians.
B. To explore ways of promoting and assisting Muslim-Christian dialogue groups, working in the Arab World for common living Justice and Peace in that region.
C. To help limit the danger of fundamentalism everywhere. The Arab Christian Churches represented by the Middle East Council of Churches, consider that the American so-called Christian Zionism is trying to aggressively impose an aberrant expression of the Christian faith and an erroneous interpretation of the Bible, which is subservient to the political agenda of the modern State of Israel. They also recognize that the American Christian Zionists are lobbying the US government to continue to finance Israel’s expansionist agenda.
The NCCC/USA and the mainline American member Churches have already expressed strong opposition to the Evangelical Zionist Christian Movement.
D. To determine how to contribute to the efforts of Arab-Americans aiming at reviewing the US policy towards just peace in the Middle East.
Detailed outline of a presentation made at Al Hewar Center in Vienna, Virginia on Wednesday March 17, 2004.
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