Arab Christian and Arab Muslim: Invested in brotherhood.

                  By Fr. Labib Kobti (Arab Roman Catholic Priest)
                   October 1999

 In my article I shall address the following:

 1) Harmony between Christians and Muslims
 2) What did Arab Christians give to Arabs?
 3) Example of our Prophets and great men
 4) Christians made in America
 5) Our responsibility together
 6) The Responsibility of Muslims toward Christians
 
 

 1)  Harmony between Christians and Muslims

 A friend, like a brother of mine, Issam Nashashibi, wrote me a letter from
 which I will quote:

 "As a child and early teen in Jerusalem, I grew up in a family who celebrated Christmas, Easter, and the two Muslim Holidays, Eid el-Fitr and Eid el-Adha. The family got together on those occasions.
We, as children, had the greatest time"..."I never felt any difference between me and my cousins, the Abu-Dayyehs. We are one family; we shared the good and the bad times then, as we do now. I did not hear of differences between Christians and Muslims until I left Jerusalem. I know there are no differences. The proof is my formative years in Jerusalem"...."These Jerusalem experiences make it
difficult for me to believe anyone who mentions differences between Muslims and Christians. To me, people who talk about these differences do not know what I know. In reality, the differences are imaginary. These alien images were planted by parties who want to keep us apart so they can remain in charge of our destiny..."

 In fact, we have been Arabs for about 6,000 years.
 We have been Arab Christians for 2,000 years.
 We have been Arab Muslims for about 1,500 years.

 Our community as Arabs is older than our different religious communities. We have proven that being an Arab is more important than being either Christian or Muslim, when we fought together against colonialism, and when we built our various countries. The colonialism of the past, as well as the present occupation do not differentiate between us. They see us as merely Lebanese, Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians... all suffering the same fate under the same circumstances.

 Some countries do not want any harmony between Arab Muslims and Arab Christians.  We have to be aware of that. We should put our hand together to fight against that. Let me tell you about the beautiful harmony we do have in our home countries, despite the up and downs.

 The Arab Christians are the minority; the Arab Muslims are the majority. Arab Christians were the first to build schools, universities, hospitals, and other humanitarian organizations. The majority of our Arab Muslims used to study in these schools and do so today, as well  Some schools have more than 70% Muslim students. That same percentage is at the Christian Bethlehem and Bir-Zeit Universities.
A high percentage of Muslims are at the Jesuit University and the American University of Beirut, as well.

 The Arab-Christian investment in their home country serves everyone, not just Christians. The relief services of Christian institutions serve everyone equally.

 If some Arab Muslims suffer economic hardship, it is not because of any actions on the part of their Arab-Christian brethren. It is because of the economic situation in Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon.  This economic hardship is affecting everyone, because of certain discriminatory  laws  like the one of the state of Israel against all non-Jews (Note: These laws never refer to "Arabs"), and because of the difficult situations in the other countries where resources are minimal.
And, as usual, the majority suffers  more than the minority.  Christians are less than 2% in the Holy Land, while the majority is their Muslim bloodbrothers.

 On this difficult economic situation, we as Arab Muslims and Christians are living and suffering the same. Some Arab Christians as well some Arab Muslims are rich, very rich sometimes, and they unfortunately forget their other brothers and sisters be they Muslims or Christians.

 The European countries and the USA, who are not always obviously Christian countries at all, have a separation between State and religion. These countries, far from being Christian like in their behavior at times, have only interest in their own wealth and the rights of their own people. They  do not look at us equally as Arabs and they do not help the Arab Christians. On the contrary, with their propaganda, they nourished divisions between Christians and Christians, and between Christians
and Muslims. This is why as Arab Christians, we fight against the Christian Zionists "made in  America" or in Europe.

 Every single Arabic City or Village where Muslims and Christians have lived together for centuries have a common heritage, same food, same way of dressing, same folklore and same traditions. The Israelis, for example, who came from here and there, do not have any common heritage in the cities that they created in Palestine or the settlements that they built. The Christians and Muslims have a common history that we have to carry from generation to generation and for centuries to come, as
our forefathers have done.

 Harmony between Christians and Muslims could become an example to the Jews who are living now with us. It would help in the future to build trust and cooperation on the land that belonged to our common prophets.

 2) What did Arab Christians give to Arabs?

 I do not minimize the great merits that Islam gave to  the Arabs.  On the contrary, it requires volumes to address the subject.  But as I represent the Arab Christian perspective, I  need to write about the merits of the Arab Christian.  Many times  these merits are ignored or forgotten by our beloved Muslim sisters and brothers.

 History and scholars acknowledge the merits of the Arab Christians, especially on these issues, among many others:

 a) Al-Mualakat: The Arab-Christian poets like Umru al Qais, Bin Yagoth,Yazid Ben Abdel Madan,Hthala Al Tai', Hatem Al Tai',Al Hareth Bin Abbad,Adi Ben Yazid,Zuhair Ben Abi Sulma, Al Nabiga Al Thoubiani,Antara Al Absi and many many others, just to mention some were Christians and many had their poems between the Mualakat in Mecca. These Mualakat were important documents at that time that showed the greatness of the Arabic language before Islam. The Mualakat influenced a lot of Muslim scholars and still speak to them today.

 b) The Holy Koran was written with the Arab characters which were created by the Arab Christians of Hira (See Arabiyya, C. Rabin, in Encyclopedie de l'Islam, 2nd Edition, Leyde et Paris,
1960, pp.579a-622b), (See also The History of Arabs before Islam, Jawd Ali, Vol. 8, pp.178-179; vol.
9, p. 689).

c) Many Arab Christians were scholars and served as ministers at the first Muslim Caliphates.  "The Christian Arabs of Gassanids in Syria and Montherits in Iraq came from the largest Arab tribe of Qahtan, and are related to the Arab tribes of Aws and Kazraj. As  ancient Semites, they were translators, men of medicine and sciences and great scholars, to whom Muawya Ibn Abu Suffian, builder of the Umayyad Empire, entrusted the administration of the state and enrichment of its culture and learning process. On the shoulder of those Christians, Muawyah, this king and Caliph and his successors, built the foundation of the Arab Golden Age which reached its zenith in the days of theAbbasid Caliph AI-Ma'moun 813-833." Jarir, and Al Akhtal, the famous poets with Al Farazdaq who enriched the Arabic Poetry during the Ummaiads era.

 d) The Arab Christians were the first to translate into Arabic a lot of books of philosophy, geography, medicine and history from Aramaic-Syriac, Greek and Latin. On this they were the bridge between the East and the West at that time, which helped the Arabs to build their own culture that would become the Golden Arab Age at the time of Al Mamoun.

 e) They worked the first Arabic Grammars

 f) They fought with their bloodbrothers the Muslims against the Christian Byzantines as well against the Persians, the Crusaders. Issa Al Awam who was a brigade leader with Sallaheddine against the Crusaders while some Muslim Kings were supporting them.The Arab Palestinian women of Al Jalil used to warn Salaheddine of the
crusader troops by lighting candles at night from their windows.

 g) They stood with their bloodbrothers and sisters, the Arab Muslims, against the Turks,(the Nationalist leaders that were hung by the Turks in 1916, were both Christians and Muslims) the French and the English. They built with them the national Arab countries.  And they still stand with them to build the future of  Palestine, to defend South Lebanon and the Syrian Golan Heights.Najib Azouri, who was the publisher of Al Yaqtha, the awakening, that was a newspaper warning of the Zionist Danger, since the end of the 19th Century.

h) Al Anba Shnudah of Egypt refused to meet the Zionist Rabai, while Sheikh Al Azhar met him.

 3)  Examples of our Prophets and great men:

True Muslims know the importance of brotherhood between Muslims and Christians.  The Great Prophet Mohammed (SAS) has respected and trusted Christians as bloodbrothers and bloodsisters to his people.

"This is a message from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything thatdispleases them.
 No compulsion is to be on them.Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against  all that they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.
 The Muslims are to fight for them.
 If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place  without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
 Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from  repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.  No one of the Muslim community is to disobey this covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)."
 May God's mercy be enough for the sincere love that Jews, Christians and
 Muslims have for him, and may his grace shine upon all of his three  children.
From Him do we originate and to him do we return."

 b) There was an old Christian man. During his prime, he had worked hard, earning his bread by the sweat of his brow. Now he was old, infirm and blind. He stood on a street corner, begging. People passed by. Some ignored him, while others took money and dropped coins in his hand. Till one day, the commander of the faithful, Hazrat Ali (AS) saw him there. And he wondered:

 "What an ill fate has be fallen this old man? Has he no son to look after him in his declining years?
Isn't there any way this poor soul could be saved from such indignity?"

 He inquired of the old man's friends and acquaintances. They all testified that the old Christian had been a hard worker in his good days but had no savings. He had none to look after him, so he haf started begging.

 "What a shame!" Hazrat Ali (AS) said. "As long as he was strong and able, he worked and served the society. All of us benefited from his labor, directly or indirectly. How can we forsake him now?"

 And with these words, Hazrat Ali(AS) ordered the Treasury of Muslims (Baytul-Mal) to pay the old man his full sustenance as long as he lived.

 c) Many other examples can be cited, such as the conquest of Jerusalem in 632 when  Patriarch Sofronius handed Caliph Omar the keys to the city. Caliph Omar refused the offer of Sofronius to pray in the Holy Sepulcher, saying that one day the Muslims would reclaim the place as a religious  domain.  So he prayed in what today is called the Mosque of Omar, only out of respect for the Christians and to preserve their Holy Places.

d) In Damascus the Masjed Al Amawi was previousely St. John's Church. Christians and Muslims used to pray at the same place for 72 years. The Muslims on Fridays, the Christians on Sundays.Only When the Christian community became a small community they transfered to a small place. The Historians say: "The Christians used to say their own prayers and the Muslims their own without any problem".

 4) Christians made in America

 Religious nationalism took its course in Christian Europe in medieval times and as far as the Seventeenth Century.  It played itself out in religious wars and persecutions.

 The same thing happened to the Arab people, who were dismembered. Their lands were flatly opened to the many conquerors who humiliated the Arab personality and destroyed Arab civilization.
They were Persians, Mongols and their tribes of Seljuk-Turks, the Kurdish and the Crusaders.  And thereafter the Ottoman Turks, who also were from the Mongol race, ruled and oppressed the Arab people and destroyed their identity and their national entity and convictions, subduing the Arabs for hundreds of years under their yoke.

 Today again history is repeating itself as we are trying to build our nationalies and countries.

 But what is worst of all is that is the Christians "made in America" or Europe who call themselves Christian Zionists have penetrated the Arab countries and have convinced some of our Arab-Christians and Arab-Muslims.
 They are trying to declare clearly their support for Israeli hegemony and occupation of our countries and our culture.

 They are more dangerous to Arab-Christians than to Muslims, because they come under the name of Christianity to destroy the harmony between bloodbrothers.  They are also one of the reasons why
some Muslims reacted to build Islamism and fanaticism.
 The Arab Christians and Arab Muslims should stand together against them. Arab Muslims should never confuse them with their bloodbrothers and sisters the Arab Christians. On the contrary, they should protect the Arab-Christians against such a dangerous phenomenon in our Arab-Countries, especially in Palestine, where they have the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

 5) Our responsibility together

 Brotherhood between Arab Christians and Arab Muslims is the most important
 investment in our future together.

 Irrespective of the name you use for the Eternal One, be it God, Allah, Hashem, Adonai or other; we have been enjoined by that power to live together. There is a reason for this. It is to bear witness, to love each other and to show that religion is a way to meet, to share, to love and to cooperate, and NOT to hate and destroy each other.

 Patriarch Michel Sabbah has commented, in one of his talks some years ago:

 "We are called to love each other. We should educate ourselves to love. From the churches, mosques and synagogues, the same exhortation should be proclaimed: Christians, love your Muslim and Jewish brothers; Muslims love your Christian and Jewish brothers; Jews love your Muslim and Christian brothers..."

 The blood of all our martyrs, Arab Christians and Arab Muslims, is mixed in the same soil. No one can separate the blood of those who died for a just cause: the Arab Cause.

 Shall we institute this brotherhood as a prophetic sign for a better future, or shall we permit "outside fingers" to destroy our unity?

 What will the future bring if we really love each other and build each other?

 Why do we allow fanaticism or exclusivism to take hold when we all know from experience that this is not the way, this is not what God wants of us?

 This exclusionist fanaticism is the will of only a small minority, and that "outside finger" is eager to help promote this, in order that it may tell the outside world that Christians are persecuted by the Muslim majority, and that therefore we, the government of the world, are the only power needed to bring harmony and to defend the human rights of others. We all know that this is a big lie. Others want only our resources and look to their own interests and do not care for a single inncocent child
among us.

 6) The Responsibility of Muslims toward Christians

 Arab Christians as a minority expect from their Arab Muslims as a majority a lot, just as Arab Muslims expect a lot from their blood brothers and sisters, the Arab Christians. Let us open a dialogue.

 a) Arab Christians want to be recognized as bloodbrothers and sisters. In fact a lot of Arab Christian family names are the same as the Arab Muslim ones, which means that we were brothers, sisters and cousins.

 b) Arab Christians need to be recognized as contributors to the Arabic history, language,litterature, grammer, nations etc.

 c) The decrease ofChristian presence in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land should be stopped.

 Several analysts predict that 25 years from now there will be no Christians living in the Holy Land.

 What is the Holy Land without Christians?

 What is the Middle East without Christians?

 Bothers and sisters should never leave each other. We were put together by God in the same land.
We need to stay together so as to respect the will of Allah.

 The Arab Christian presence should become an Arab and Muslim "RESPONSIBILITY."

 Arabs and Muslims should help Arab Christians to stay in Middle East and the Holy Land.They should stand with them.

 We do not need the state of Israel, NATO or the UN to act as our protectorate.

 We do not need any protectorate. History has shown that protectorates do not help, but create divisions. We have the ability to protect ourselves, if we believe that we are in reality, brothers and sisters, equal in rights and in duties in our home countries.

 Therefore, opportunities for serving any kind of government or civil administration should be based, not on religion, but on the ability of the person to serve his country. These opportunities should be equal and just, where everybody feels himself at home.

 And Muslims should trust their Arab-Christian brothers and sisters.  With them, they have lived a history of trust and harmony, where Arab Christians showed their great love to their land, heritage, tradition, history and people.  This is where, together, they served with loyalty and were faithful to the principles of sharing, cooperating and sacrifice.