AMMAN — Only through applying the concept of true citizenship, upgrading the education system and putting interfaith dialogue into action can the Kingdom respond to the repercussions of the Arab Spring on social coherence, intellectuals have said.

In a one-day seminar held by Al Rai Centre for Studies in Amman Wednesday on the situation of Arab Christians ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Jordan, scholars shed light on Christian communities in the region and their significant role in the development and welfare of their native countries. 

Christian and Muslim religious figures, officials and members of the media, among others, attended the event. 

Hadi Shobaki, head of the research unit at Al Rai centre and the seminar’s moderator, said the Pope’s visit to the Kingdom gives a special importance to such a discussion.

He highlighted the deep roots of Arab Christians in the region, saying they have always been there as an integral part of the civilisation of this part of the world.

Fadwa Nsirat, professor at Philadelphia University, gave a brief overview of the history of Arab Christians in the 19th century.

“Arab Christians enriched life in the 19th century, which is considered the Arab renaissance century at all levels,” she said, noting that during that era, Arab communities began using the printing press, and subsequently, published newspapers and utilised modern medicine, among other aspects of modern life in both Egypt and the Levant.

“Arab Christians did not only help preserve, but they also enriched Arabic, as well as the freedom of expression and thought,” the professor said.

MP Atef Qaawar said that despite the shrinking population of Christians in Jordan “for different reasons”, estimated at about 3 per cent, they have not ceased contributing to the development of the country.

For his part, Deputy Director of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies Amer Hafi said Christian existence in the region is proof that Islam promotes tolerance, acknowledging that there have been “mistakes committed” throughout the history of the region.

“Mistakes occurred in the name of religion such as during the Fatimid [Shiite] era, when Christians were forced to convert to Islam; but now we are living the era of interfaith dialogue. Muslims are aware that history in the region was made by Arab Christians,” he said.

He added that the Arab Spring has amplified the sense of religious identity, which is a challenge and a reason why Christians and Muslims should stand against division.

Author and journalist Nabeel Ghishan said the four papal visits to the Kingdom provide proof that Christianity and its culture were born in the Middle East.

Father Rifat Bader, the papal visit’s spokesperson and the director of the Catholic Centre for Media and Studies, referred to a book issued by the centre that explains the relationship between the Vatican and the Kingdom, which celebrates more than half a century of ties and two decades of establishing diplomatic missions.

By: Rula Samain- Jordan Times