For more than two thousand years, Christians have lived all over the Middle East and been an integral part of it. These Christian communities have contributed in so many ways to the vital stability of the region -and to what became mainly Muslim close to 1400 years ago- politically, financially and educationally. Middle Eastern Christians have also helped shape their particular nations, tribes and Arab and Muslim cultures, enough for many to call themselves religiously Christians and culturally Muslim. Regrettably, in the 21st century the Middle Eastern Christians are leaving to new worlds and continents leaving behind a world they shaped for good or bad.
This exodus and its causes, ignored in both the East and the West, create a growing crisis with moral, humanitarian, and security implications. Unfortunately, some in the West are encouraging the emigration of Christians without knowing that they hurting Christianity not helping it. The United Nations Committee for Refugees recently estimated that 850,000 Iraqi Christians have left since 2003.
This is an enormous and huge loss for those who stay, as well as for regional culture, diversity and politics. The number of Palestinian and Israeli Arab Christians has dropped from 17 percent of the population in 1894 to less than 1.5 percent today, and since the creation of Israel in 1948. To summarize, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Israeli conflict, and recently the “Arab Spring” did not make it especially helpful for Christians in the Middle East.
The current situation is more catastrophic and heartbreaking because Christianity has its original roots in the Middle East. In Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt, Christians were much bigger in numbers and now the numbers are decreasing rapidly. While today, Christian communities lend to the region plurality and diversity, the loss of Christianity would fundamentally alter the full Arab culture made beautiful by its diversity, and could end up being a full blow to hopes of democracy in the region.
In her most recent article, Dr. Azizh Alhibri stated that “The desecration of cemeteries in Libya, the murder of clergy in Iraq and Syria, the attacks on churches in Egypt are all beyond the imaginations of civilized nations and educated spiritual region. Recently, suicide bombers targeted worshippers leaving their church in Peshawar and killed at least 60, including women and children and two Muslim policemen guarding the church. A gang of armed terrorists attacked a couple of weeks ago, the sleepy village of Ma’loulah in Syria. Several of its inhabitants were killed, its historic monasteries and churches were pillaged, and the crosses were removed.”
I find it depressing that so many of the Christian Arabs have left for another country looking for better life and more opportunities. Therefore, It is critical that Muslims not only reject violence against Christians, but also actually promote civil harmony and religious freedom in their societies. Muslims must become a voice for their Christian neighbors amongst them regardless of the source of that violence. For their part, Christians in the Middle East should hold fast to their ancient homelands, maintain their historic presence, and not flee to the West. They must continue their witness, and permit their difficulties and suffering to be a sign of hope and peace for their fellow citizens.
We Muslims cannot stand silent and must present a prophetic voice of justice and unconditional love for religious minorities amongst us Christians being in the forefront. Muslims must treat others, as they like to be treated and must live the values of Islam, which calls on them to live in light of three values: politics of justice, economics of equity and covenant of community.
Hence, I call on all Muslims to commit themselves to the following principles:
1. Our faith is built on mercy, compassion peace and justice, not violence. Hence, We speak for a faith that does not condone violence against our Christian neighbors, or their churches.
2. All Muslims stand in support of the Christians of the Middle East
3. We affirm our belief that the Muslims of the Middle East are thankful for many of the Middle East Christians who continue to bless the Middle East with their presence and witness to the Almighty God.
4. We Muslim must be united with a common action and a common call for a culture of passion for compassion that reaches out to all inhabitants of the Middle East.
5. We speak again all form of violence and attacks on Christians in the Middle East.
6. Neither mass exodus of Christians nor Christianity becoming history in the Middle East are choices for us, Muslims.
7. It is our mission, as Islam calls us, to wipe out the tears still flow in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and in the Holy Land and the Middle East off the faces of all people.
8. We will not set still as long as any community of faith is undermined, deprived of its basic rights to survive and flourish or forced to live as fugitives or refugees.
9. The Middle East will never be of Muslims only as it is much more beautiful and stronger through its diversity and pluralism. Christians continue to be equal players in its future, politics and culture.
10. We declare that Jerusalem as the “Spiritual birthplace” of the Church can never be emptied of the followers of Jesus as equal citizens of the city.
11. We would not accept and we do not want a Middle East without Christians.
12. We insist that Christians remain in the Middle East, not simply as minorities, but as citizens enjoying full equality under the law, and therefore in a position to continue to contribute to peace, justice, and stability.
13. Governments and the UN to promote Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of belief and expression. This element of international law must be to the fore, and all states should be expected to adhere to it.
By: Imam Yahya Hendi, President of Clergy Beyond Borders