Muslim scholars say Middle East will suffer without Christians in the region
Two Muslim scholars, a Shiite and a Sunni, stated recently at a Vatican Synod that Islam endorses respect for Jews and Christians; and the Middle East will suffer if Christians leave the region.
The two Muslim scholars are Muhammad al-Sammak (Sunni), adviser to the chief mufti of Lebanon and secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue; and Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad Ahmadabadi (Shiite), a professor at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, CNS said.
Sammak and Ahmadabadi addressed the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East on the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI. The synod, ongoing until Oct. 24, aims to support Christians in the region where Christianity was born, AFP said.
Sammak said, “The Christian presence in the (Middle) East, working and living alongside Muslims, is as much a Christian as an Islamic necessity,” the AFP reported.
He also said the “new and accidental phenomenon” of Christian persecution for their faith is the act of misguided, fundamentalist, politically manipulated Muslims who show “Islam in a different light than the one it truly reflects,” CNS reported.
Sammak said he hoped that the synod, beyond being a “cry of Christian suffering,” will mark the start of “Islamic-Christian cooperation that can protect Christians and watch over Islamic-Christian relations,” according to CNS.
Iran’s Ayatollah Ahmadabadi said there is a need to protect minorities because “the stability of the world depends on the stability of the livelihood of small and large groups and societies,” Reuters reported.
Ahmadabadi added, “This stability could only be achieved when all can live without fear and threat from others. This is our duty to bring about such conditions,” according to Reuters.
In a meeting with reporters before the synod, Sammak said the ancient Muslim practice of harsh punishment on Muslims who convert came from a time “when changing religions meant joining the enemy.” However, he cited the “golden rule” of Islam, that “there is no compulsion in religion,” CNS reported.
Ahmadabadi said religion is a private matter, “but conversion means something else.” When pressed to clarify, he said publicly announcing one has left one’s original faith is “propaganda” that is unacceptable, CNS said.
The purpose of the synod is to determine how to protect minority Christian communities in the Middle East, and to determine ways to promote harmony with other religions, Reuters said.
Christians have been emigrating in alarming numbers, of late. A century ago, they comprised 20 percent of the population in the Middle East, compared to only five percent today, Reuters reported.
Both Muslim scholars stressed however that aside from Islamic radicalization, there has also been a growth of fundamentalism in Israel, and among Zionist and Christian movements in the U.S., Reuters said.