Articles on Christians and Muslims

Lebanese Archbishop Speaks of Solutions in the Middle East

ROME, APRIL 20, 2012 ( Born in the mountains of Lebanon in a small village called Akoura, Archbishop Paul-Mounged El-Hachem was appointed in 2005 the Apostolic Nuncio of Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Apostolic Delegate in Arabia, which includes Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need interviewed the archbishop.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about how you came to this position?

Archbishop El-Hachem: For 29 years I had been a professor of Islamic Law at the Lateran University. In 1997, I sponsored a conference in Lugano [Switzerland] on Christian-Muslim relationships in Lebanon and the Middle East. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, attended. Pope Benedict XVI, knowing the importance of having better Christian-Muslim relationships, called and asked me to be Nuncio to that area of the world. I was 71 years old at that time.

Q: There is a misconception that there are no Christians in the Arab and Gulf States and in fact there is a large community?

Archbishop El-Hachem: We have very large Christian communities in all the Gulf countries. Let us take Kuwait for example: The population is about 3.1 million, of which 1 million are Christians. The Catholic population is about 400,000 the majority are Filipinos and Indian.

Q: The majority of Christians are in fact foreign workers?

 Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes labourers but also professionals, such as doctors and engineers. It is almost the same proportion in every country and we can say that the Christians constitute at least a third or a quarter of the population.

Q: Notwithstanding this important minority, the life of a Christian in the Gulf States is not always easy?

Archbishop El-Hachem: It varies from country to country. In Kuwait we have three Catholic churches – officially recognized as churches. The other communities, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox have their own churches.

Q: In many of these countries Christians face various restrictions. In some countries like Saudi Arabia, the Church cannot construct churches, whereas in Qatar an opportunity has been given to the Church. Is there generally ‘freedom of religion’ or only ‘freedom of worship’ and if so what is the difference?

Archbishop El-Hachem: Indeed in Qatar, I inaugurated a big Catholic Church in Doha, one of the biggest Catholic centres in the world. The Emir of Qatar gave 600,000 square metres to build 16 Christian churches. Now let me answer the important question you posed, the difference between religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Lebanon is the only country in the Arab world and the Middle East that openly declares in Article 9 of the constitution that every Lebanese has the complete freedom of conscience, which means that he can believe, he can choose the religion he wants and if he wants he can change from one religion to the other; a Muslim can freely become Christian and Christen can convert to Islam without any difficulties. This is well entrenched in the law.

Q: …but Lebanon is an exception….

Archbishop El-Hachem: It is an exception, but we have to recognize that Lebanon is an Arab country. It is a founder and member of the Arab League. It is a founder and member of the Conference of the Islamic countries and yet it has in its constitution that freedom of conscience, and it is only in Lebanon.

Q: So this is the model that we would like to see?

Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes that is what we hope and the model we would like to see. This is what inspired Blessed Pope John Paul II to call Lebanon as more than a country…

Q …A message to the world…

Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes, a message to the world. In the other countries, unfortunately we have religious freedom but with restrictions. In Saudi Arabia for example, we cannot have churches and yet we have priests there working without difficulties on the condition that they do not openly manifest or proclaim the gospel. In the Emirates for example, we have enough churches, Catholic schools, and the freedom to teach catechism in the churches but not in our schools. In Kuwait, the Muslim students in Catholic schools receive Islamic instruction and yet the Christians students are not allowed catechism classes despite that fact that the Christian population in these schools is about 60%. The government response is: ‘you have full freedom to teach catechism on Friday and Sunday in your church’.

Q: So the governments in these countries, for the most part, take the position: You are a guest, you are a minority in our country. You have the freedom to worship but you do not have the freedom to evangelize. Church services have to be within the churches or on church grounds and there is no freedom of conscience in a sense that if a Muslim wishes to convert he is forbidden.

Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes, that is true and I have to say that in some countries – even in Kuwait – there are some cultural centres that officially are supposed to give foreigners an idea about the Kuwaiti culture and Muslim religion, but in reality these centres are for proselytizing and the conversion of Christians to Islam. This is highly encouraged but never is a Muslim officially allowed to convert to Christianity.

Q: If we assume that the majority of Muslims wish to live in peace and are moderate, why do not we hear from this silent majority? Why is it that we only hear from the fundamentalist and we only hear about the violence against Christians?

Archbishop El-Hachem: What you are saying is very, very important. The Western countries must have a better understanding of Islam. Their behaviour and interaction should not provoke and encourage the fundamentalist and the fanatics to take power. I am absolutely sure that the events of September 11 were not approved by the majority of the Muslims. It was an action taken by some fundamentalists, fanatics like Bin Laden. This fanaticism and violent reaction was a response against the behaviour of some countries. The other issue, which altered, dramatically, the behaviour and mentality of many Muslims is the Israel-Palestinian issue.

Q: That is the heart of the matter?

Archbishop El-Hachem: That is the heart of the matter. The other is the consequences of the way in which the State of Israel was founded and how the Israelis behave towards the Arabs. If we go back to history and describe the reception the Jews received from the Arabs when they came to the Middle East prior to the founding of the State of Israel we discover a very friendly reception. Before the founding of the State of Israel more than 500,000 Jews were living in Egypt. More than 200,000 were living in Beirut, Lebanon, and more than 300,000 were living in Yemen in a perfect and harmonious relationship. The first Jews who immigrated to Palestine received a very hospitable reception from the Arabs. They sold them land. They lived a peaceful coexistence until the founding of the State of Israel. Since that time, and the fact that the Jews have declared Jerusalem as their own, the Muslims have felt humiliated. All this contributes to a deeper antagonism and provokes the further radicalization of Islam.

Q: What is the answer?

Archbishop El-Hachem: The answer is peace. The answer is what the Holy See has suggested from the very beginning; two states for two peoples with defined and secured boundaries and to re-introduce the good relations the Jews and the Muslims had prior to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Q: Concerning the radicalized relations between Christians and Muslims there have been suggestions favouring the idea of a ‘positive secularization’, which I suppose is another variant on the separation of state and faith?

Archbishop El-Hachem: In the western countries that is possible. The idea of secularization is not possible in the Middle East. The idea of secularization is a concept that does not exist in the Middle East for both Christians and Muslims because in the Middle East people are by nature religious. It is much better to speak about citoyenneté, ‘citizenship for all’ whereby the citizens are allowed to pursue their own religious values. Islam is not just religion but is both religion and culture. Every act of a Muslim has both a religious and cultural value. I will never forget when the then President of Lebanon, President Rafic Al-Hariri prior to his assassination, wanted to introduce the idea that religion should only be taught in the mosque or the church. One of the prominent leaders of Hezbollah told me: ‘What is Hariri thinking? He wants to remove God from Lebanon, he cannot do it…God has the right to be in Lebanon’.

Q: So this then is the thrust of the argument; it is for the recognition of the citizenships regardless of religious tradition?

Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes, to recognize equality, independent of religious belief; that all have the same rights, duties and obligations to be recognized and entrenched in the law of the state. The ideal for us is the constitution of Lebanon and for that I think Lebanon can be our model. I think the other important program for the Muslim world today is to understand democracy, the rights of man and to realize the importance of all forms of liberty. One of the greatest decisions of the Second Vatican Council, which for me, was a wonderful act of courage, is the declaration of religious freedom that states that every human being has the full right to have any religion he wants – and that is great and beautiful.

* * *
This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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An article from The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups uniting behind a faith-based approach to the BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement.

For many, faith was both a source of solidarity and a cause for action at this weekend’s national Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference — whether they attended the event or not.

On Saturday, the panel discussion “A Faith-Based Approach to BDS” brought together leaders from national Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups to examine the ways that “interfaith coalitions can be used to promote the [BDS] movement,” according to discussion moderator Susan Landau, who works with Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace.

During the panel’s question-and-answer session, many audience members asked how they could get more involved in the BDS movement through their churches, synagogues and mosques.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb from Jewish Voice for Peace — a grassroots movement that works to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians — said young Jewish people, who might feel “alienated” by their synagogues’ compliance with Israeli actions, “come back into Judaism through their Palestinian human rights work. They find community there.”

Gottlieb, who spoke at the panel, added, “There is a generational shift in the Jewish community. People see what’s going on in the Middle East, and they are not so easily fooled about Israel’s human rights abuses.”

Panelist Natalia Cuadra-Saez from the United Methodist Kairos Response — a pro-Palestine group — also believes that through her work with BDS, “church is relevant again.”

“It’s not just about hollow words and hypocrisy,” she said. “When we see our churches taking action for something, we come back to them.”

Faith has also informed the political views of pro-Israeli individuals at Penn and in the greater community.

“I hope my faith inspires my politics, and that my politics are consistent with my faith,” said Bill Borror, senior pastor of Media Presbyterian Church in Media, Pa.

However, Borror, who was one of 14 signers of a recent statement denouncing the BDS movement’s rhetoric, believes that American Christians should think strategically about what will bring a just peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“To think pragmatically is an extremely Christian idea,” he said.

College sophomore and Hillel’s Israel Sector Intern Josh Cooper said that personally, his faith contributes only partly to his support for Israel.

While he believes the question surrounding BDS is largely geopolitical, his relationship to Israel “is not just political and academic, but also rooted in my Jewish faith,” he said.

“Israel is still a very religious factor in my life, but not to say it biases me in my position towards BDS. Social justice is also a major religious factor in my life.”

Saturday’s panel also featured Rev. Graylan Hagler, national president of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice and Cyrus McGoldrick from the Council on Islamic-American Relations.

Panel members explained what each of their affiliated religious groups have done — and can still do — to advance the BDS movement and refute pro-Israel arguments.

Hagler censured pro-Israel Christians for their unilateral support of Israel, urging them to “unhitch [their] theology from Christian Zionism.”

“From a traditional Christian perspective, the response is always if you harm Israel, you will be harmed,” he said. “But there is a difference between the Israel of the Testaments and the Israel of today.”

This sentiment was echoed in Gottlieb’s qualification of Israelis’ right to land in the Middle East, the belief in which she said has culminated in a “terrible sin committed towards Palestinians.”

She added, “The concept of [Jewish] ‘chosen-ness’ is dependent on ethics, but we have really lost our right to claim that land because of our chosen-ness.”

While some of the speakers drew on scriptural and ethical arguments, other speakers used the floor to encourage specific actions that would directly support the BDS movement.

Cuadra-Saez cited a mandate in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which discourages investment in companies “that directly or indirectly support the violation of human rights.”

The UMKR, she said, has drafted a resolution advising United Methodist Church leaders to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard for their “involvement in the Israeli occupation,” according to the resolution.

“[Founder of the Methodist Church] John Wesley said, ‘Do no harm,’” Cuadra-Saez said. “Well, we do do harm when we profit from those who profit from occupation.”

McGoldrick captured the common theme of the discussion — escaping the “common culpability” of less active supporters and “turning principle into action.”

“In Islam, if you believe in something you must act on it,” he added. “This isn’t something just to discuss academically — it’s about life and death.”

It is encouraging to see that respectful dialogue between our two faiths is a goal which is being pursued worldwide. Here we see that a joint Islamic-Christian movement in the Philipines seeks to educate the youth to engage in peaceful inter-faith dialogue.

Source: Asia News

Zamboanga – “Spreading a culture of dialogue between Christians and Muslims means educating young people to get to the bottom of their faith and encourage them to work together for the good of their communities”, says Fr Sebastiano D’Ambra, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Zamboanga (Mindanao) and founder of Silsilah, a movement for interreligious dialogue speaking to AsiaNews. Active since 1984, over the years Silsilah has become a beacon for Muslims and Christians in Mindanao, for forty years, victims of the war between Islamic rebels and the Philippine military.

Fr. D’Ambra says: “After years of meetings with Muslim and Christian leaders, we realized that our task was not simply to speak of dialogue, but  way to respond in a concrete to the reality around us.”

In 1986 Silsilah kicked started the Summer Course of Muslim Christian Dialogue to form young leaders of both faiths. For 25 years, the summer courses are organized every year between April and May and the classes continued even in during the most difficult for Christians in Mindanao, such as the murder in Zamboanga of Fr Salvatore Carzedda (PIME) in 1992.

“Over the years we have trained more than 2 thousand young people – says Fr D’Ambra – who now work as a leaders in various areas of the island, in turn creating groups and initiatives between the two religions. ” On 20 September, the movement opened a center for dialogue in Manila, in the district of Quiapo home to the Nazarene sanctuary and the Golden Mosque, symbols of the presence of the two religions in the archipelago.

In Mindanao the initiatives of the Summer Course has also affected areas with Muslim majority hostile to Christians and characterized by ongoing violence. In Basilan, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremists, a few months ago a relationship between the bishop and high Islamic authorities began. They are working to address concrete problems of the city, led by some Silsilah graduates.

“We teach our youth the dialogue and respect for nature – said the missionary – explaining the passages of the Bible and the Qur’an that speak of these matters.” In Balun, a protected area in the center of the island, Christians and Muslims, have joined forces to block mining in the area. With the help of Silsilah volunteers they have collected signatures throughout Mindanao. In January 2010, more than 10 thousand people demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the Manila government against pollution and destruction of protected areas.

The concrete proposal of Silsilah and its work with the new generations has drawn even the most reluctant and conservative Muslim leaders to the movement. Recently the movement translated the letter sent to 138 Muslim scholars to Benedict XVI in 2006 to seek common ground for collaboration between Christians and Muslims into the local language.

Fr. D’Ambra noted that the publication of the document, together with the concrete testimony of Silsilah among the Muslims of Mindanao, many Islamic leaders began to question whether their communities are open dialogue with Christians.

“The letter is signed by many Islamic leaders of the world – he stresses – and this has also pushed even the most entrenched characters to consider the possibility of interreligious dialogue, love of God, love of neighbor, All content common to both faiths. ” In a meeting with more than 500 ulema that took place recently in Zamboanga, a prominent Islamic leader, who has never had direct relations with Silsilah, praised the movement citing passages on the relationship between Christians and Muslims in the Koran.

The priest said the opening of Islamic leaders is possible if dialogue is transformed from a simple strategy in the form of spirituality on which to base one’s life. For nearly 20 years the movement has proposed chastity and community life to young people as an opportunity to give one’s life to interfaith dialogue. The proposal is spreading even among Muslim women, who take a vow of chastity, and without leaving their families, begin the same spiritual journey of serious dialogue with God and neighbour.

An encouraging report from tells of a planned peace conference in London, to be attended by 12,000 Muslims and people of various faiths.

LONDON – More than 12,000 young people from all over the UK and Europe are expected to attend a ‘Peace for Humanity’ conference in London.

The event is being organised by Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI), an Islamic organisation working for peace and integration and will take place at Wembley Arena.

The conference will be opened by MQI’s founder, Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a leading Islamic scholar and thinker.

He will use the conference to issue a “Declaration for Global Peace and Resistance against Extremism” which will call for end to terrorism and extremist violence. He will launch a drive to secure one million signatures to support the declaration.

The “Peace and Humanity” conference will host a full day of speeches, entertainment, multi-faith sessions and collective public action to spread messages of peace, harmony and cohesion throughout communities and across religions following the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

It will also include a collective peace prayer involving all main faiths 10 years after that called by the late Pope John Paul in Assisi.

Video messages of support will be shown from the Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon. Nick Clegg, the Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, Rt Hon. Eric Pickles and the Leader of the Opposition, Rt Hon. Ed Miliband.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has also supported the conference.

Ban Ki-moon has also sent a message of support.

The conference will also hear from Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes, Dean of Royal Air Force College Dr Joel Hayward, Sajjad Karim MEP, UK Muslim scholars Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (also known as Timothy Winter) and Vice-Chancellor of Al-Azhar University, Cairo,prominent young scholar Shaykh Hassan Mohi-ud-Din Qadri, Mrs Ghazala Hassan, Dr Musharaf Hussain.

A special session of collective peace prayer will be held in which religious leaders of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims will perform prayer for global peace according to their respective religion.

Building on previous internationally recognised Minhaj-ul-Quran events, including the Fatwa on Terrorism and the Anti-Terrorism Camp, this event will bring together eminent faith leaders and communities, dispelling myths and enhancing unity in the name of peace.

In his Global Declaration for Peace, Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri will say: “We send a message of peace and fraternity to all of humanity’s innumerable states, nations, communities and individuals along with a call for respect, dignity, compassion, equality, solidarity and justice for, and between, all people”.

“We address our call for peace, tolerance and respect to all people everywhere, but especially to political and religious leaders and decision-makers as well as to scholars, teachers and journalists”.

“We reject unequivocally all terrorism because at the heart of all religions is a belief in the sanctity of the lives of the innocent.

The indiscriminate nature of terrorism, which has in recent years killed far more civilians and other non-combatants than it has combatants.”

With all of the publicity given to a tiny number of American preachers burning the sacred texts of other faiths, the Associated Baptist Press reports on an initiative of the Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First to come together and read each others’ sacred texts, to foster mutual understanding and respect.

WASHINGTON – Christian clergy across the country will organize readings from the Koran and other sacred texts Sunday, June 26, as part of an initiative to counter anti-Muslim bigotry and negative stereotypes of Islam.

Announced in a telephonic press conference May 17, Faith Shared : Uniting in Prayer and Understanding is a project of the Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First.

“The anti-Muslim rhetoric that has pervaded our national conversation recently has shocked and saddened me,” said Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a religious freedom organization that seeks to unite diverse faith voices against extremism.

Gaddy, an ordained Baptist minister, is also pastor of preaching and worship at Northminster Church in Monroe, La., one of 50 congregations in 26 states recruited so far to invite Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders to read each others’ sacred texts in order to send a message both in the United States and Arab world.

Contrary to highly publicized anti-Islam statements from some U.S. Christian leaders, Gaddy said churches involved in the Faith Shared project “want to read each others’ scriptures instead of burn them.”

Tad Stanke of Human Rights First, a human-rights advocacy organization with offices in New York and Washington, said tactics that show disrespect for Muslims hurt the reputation of all Americans and make it harder for the U.S. to speak with authority on human-rights issues in the Arab world.

Washington National Cathedral will serve as anchor congregation for the June 26 scripture readings.

“Few things are more important for the future of our world than to respect, to honor and to commit ourselves to the well-being of every person,” said National Cathedral Dean Sam Lloyd. “As Americans and people of faith, we must use our great traditions to come together for mutual enrichment and understanding.”

By coming together to read from and hear each others’ sacred texts, organizers believe Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy will model respect and cooperation in ways that create concrete opportunities to build and strengthen working ties between their faiths.

“This initiative is good for religion and good for our nation,” Gaddy said.

Information about how to organize a service and a list of participating churches can be seen at

Manti Christian and Muslim women taking part in the seemingly trivial activity of cooking classes together reached understandings that changed their world view in the process.

Krista Ramsey writes in her column at about their experiences.

Fatma Serim’s hands fly as she shapes and reshapes a glossy sheet of dough using an oklava, a small drumstick-shaped Turkish rolling pin.

Around her, Zeynepnur Kuran and Fatos Budiyar pull open kitchen drawers looking for spatulas and spoons to make tiny stuffed dumplings called manti.

The women, all Muslim émigrés, are as comfortable in the kitchen as if they were whipping up a family meal in their native Turkey. In fact they are 5,500 miles away, chopping and stirring in the basement of the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church. Around them a circle of Christian women make notes on their recipes and take turns trying the oklava.

The Turkish women are followers of a version of traditional Islam that emphasizes hizmet, service for the common good, and uses small, personal interactions to further interfaith understanding.

In a world torn apart by religious conflict, pounding walnuts into crumbs or shredding cabbage may seem like humble ways to promote unity. But the Christian and Muslim women alike say the cooking classes are building personal relationships and dispelling religious stereotypes.

“We could go a long way toward world peace if you could get a bunch of women together stuffing grape leaves,” says downtown resident Sandy Lingo. “We’re all working together and talking. We’re all alike – except that they’re better cooks.”

The classes grew out of a shared meal and conversation between the Muslim women and Mount Auburn pastor, the Rev. Susan Quinn Bryan. The women are members of the Niagara Foundation, a non-profit started by Midwestern Turkish-Americans to promote global fellowship. Now up to 25 women meet Saturday afternoons to cook and eat together.

For Deer Park resident Wanda Chandler, the chance to meet Muslims and ask frank questions about Islam has countered her earlier religious teachings that Muslims were evil.

“Last week we talked about why they wear their headwear. We talked during the meal that separation breeds fear,” she says. “I think this is what everybody needs. So many Christians are really fearful.

This dispels the fear.”

Jean Snyder of Florence has used her relationships with the Muslim women to counter biased comments by relatives.

“I can say, ‘That’s not my experience with Muslims,'” she says. “I can’t imagine someone not feeling welcome and warmed by these ladies. It seems impossible to think that anyone could think they don’t belong in the United States or shouldn’t practice their beliefs.”

Sema Duygu Deger of Mason says the more she meets with her Christian friends – whom the Muslim women have begun calling ablalar, or sisters – “sometimes it is hard to see any difference.”

While they are careful to respect each other’s beliefs, both the Muslim and Christian women openly follow their own practices. As they sit down to eat together, Snyder blesses the meal “in Jesus’ name.” And when it’s time for their daily prayers, the Muslims retreat to an upstairs room beside the sanctuary.

“There is no special place to pray to God,” says Mehriban Ulas of West Chester who, on her name tag, has written beside her Turkish name an English name that sounds somewhat similar – Mary.

Each cooking class is followed by a shared meal (“Sit Christian, Muslim, Christian, Muslim – like boy, girl, boy, girl,” says the Rev. Quinn Bryan) and discussion around a religious topic.

The women say they’re constantly astonished at the intersections of their faiths.

When the Mount Auburn women showed their guests a stained-glass window of the biblical parable of sowing seeds on different types of soil, the Muslim women quoted their own version in Turkish.

When a Muslim woman read from the Quran the story of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, “It could have been from Luke – I almost wept,” said the Rev. Kathy Barlow Westmoreland, pastor of St. John’s Westminster Union Church in Delhi Township.

Westmoreland says the classes are helping all the women practice their faith without being threatened by other faiths.

“One of the most common things said in scripture,” she says, “is ‘Don’t be afraid.’

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