Muslims Must Protect Arab Christians
Kamal Nawash and Pierre Maroun
The last 10 years have not been easy for Arab Christians. Numerous events, including the U.S. invasion of Iraq has inspired the belief that the “Christian West” has declared war on Muslims of the Middle East. Many Muslims see military operations against Muslim majority nations by the United States as religious in nature because the United States is viewed by many Muslims as a Christian nation.
Unfortunately, some radical Muslims have attacked Christian Arabs in retaliation for American military attacks against majority Muslim nations such as Iraq. Most notably, churches have been attacked in Egypt and Iraq by extremists who now view their Christian countrymen with suspicion because they share the same religion as the Majority of Americans.
In addition, there are allegations that certain dictatorships in the Middle East have allowed attacks against churches in their respective countries in order to bolster government arguments that the attacks are done by Islamic extremists and that the oppressive governments are needed to fight those extremists. This allegation was made against Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
The relationship between Arab Christians and Muslims has not always been tense. In fact, the history of Christian/Muslim relations in the Arab world has been historically remarkable and beneficial for the entire world. For example, in the early days of Islam, Arab and Middle Eastern Christians translated scholarly Greek philosophy and religious work into Arabic. This, in fact, helped propel the Muslim nations into a global power with advances in science, mathematics, astronomy, and arts while Europe was still sinking in what is known as the dark ages.
In return, some hundreds of years later Arab Christians translated scholarly Muslim work in the sciences; mathematics, astronomy, medicine and the humanities from Arabic into Latin and Greek, which helped kick off the European renaissance and transformed Europe into a leading world power. This wealth of knowledge could not have existed had it not been for the unique Islamo-Christian relationship.
Most of the Arab Muslims in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, an area known as the Levant, have Christian ancestry. Historically, one of the reasons that Christian/Muslim relations have generally been good and productive is due to the fact that most Arab Muslims had Christian relatives. The close family relations between Middle Eastern Muslims and Christians have historically produced unusual results. Thus, during the height of the Muslim empire, it was not unheard of for a Christian to be a general in a Muslim army under the Caliphate.
In modern times, Arab Christians continue to be leaders in the Arab world. In the early 20th century, the leaders of Arab nationalism were Christians. The creator of the Baath Party (Renaissance) in Iraq and Syria was a Christian named Michel Aflaq. Christians such as George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh were among the major leaders and founders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
The second in command in Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a Christian by the name of Tarek Aziz. In Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority Christians hold high positions in governments. In Lebanon, Christians hold the highest position where the President of the country must be a Christian. Even Arab countries that are 100% Muslims rely heavily on Arab Christians. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and UAE depend heavily on Lebanese Christians in everything related to commerce, construction, media, as well as in the bridging of relations between East and West. In the United States, the founders of Arab American organizations which defend Muslims, and who advocate for Arab civil rights are mainly Christians i.e. James Zogby, James Abourezk, Khalil Jahshan and Naila Asali.
Thus, the recent attacks on Christian churches in Iraq and Egypt are absolutely unusual to the local Muslims, and they are indeed unacceptable and rejected by all true Muslims worldwide. Accordingly, it is the duty of every Muslim to protect and preserve Middle Eastern Christians whether they are Chaldean, Maronite, Copts or Orthodox for these Christians are part of the main fabric of Middle Eastern societies and not intruders as some radicals have been trying to portray them.
According to the Holy Qura’an (Quran), Muslims must defend and protect all people who live amongst them. Middle Eastern Christians don’t just live with Muslims; they are family. The number of Christians in the Middle East has been dwindling, in part, due to attacks by radicals. This must be stopped. Middle Eastern Christians must be preserved because Christians have historically been essential to the prosperity of the Middle East. Therefore, more Muslim leaders must voice their support for their Christian neighbors and vow to protect them with all available means as they would protect their own families.
Middle Eastern Christians are precious jewels in the Middle East. They were the first followers of Jesus Christ who Muslims refer to as Issa Ibn Maryam, or the son of the Virgin Mary who is considered by the Holy Qura’an as the purest woman in the history of mankind. Furthermore, Middle Eastern Churches are the first churches to be established anywhere in the world. After all, the Middle East is the cradle of Christianity and Middle Eastern Christians are a living history.
Kamal Nawash, President, Free Muslims Coalition
Pierre A. Maroun, President, American Lebanese Center for Cultural Research