Gregorios III

Leter to Muslims

9 8 2016
Letter of an Arab Christian Patriarch
to his Muslim brethren in the Arab world
to mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s promulgation
of the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions
(Nostra Aetate 1965)
 
Protocol 601/2015D                                                                                                                              Damascus
17/11/2015
 
 
To my beloved Muslim brethren in the Arab world!
 Hearty fraternal greetings, with love, blessing and prayer!
 
Dearly beloved brethren!
 
Strong feeling prompts me to address this message to all you Muslim brethren, especially in the Arab world, a message addressed to the variously titled kings, princes and presidents and to all beloved fellow-citizens.
 
I have been led to write this letter due to current circumstances, overshadowed as they are by the takfiri movements that have brought devastation to our countries, especially Syria and Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
 
The relationship of the Church with Islam
 
The document issued by the Second Vatican Council on 28 October 1965 starts with mention of various confessions. It is entitled, Declaration on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions. Conferences and lectures about the declaration have taken place on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of its promulgation during the Second Vatican Council, presided over by the Blessed Pope Paul VI. The patriarchs and bishops of the East were, of course, involved in this council, and among them was a conciliar hero, Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh, the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch. A paper was presented to the Central Committee of the Council, in the name of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church on June 5, 1962, that stated, "We wish to prepare a declaration on Islam and other monotheistic religions. Christians, who are often in contact with the adherents of these religions, would be happy to receive positive education from the Church about them, which would go beyond unconditional rejection of them as idolatrous.” (See p. 440 of The Melkite Greek Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council, Arabic, 1992).
 
Unity of Mankind
 
"In our time... the Church examines ...what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship....One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men, until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light."(Nostra Ætate No. 1)
 
Respect for all religions
 
"Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing `ways,´ comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites ... The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ `the way, the truth, and the life´ (John 14: 6)...” (ibid. No. 2)
 
The religion of Islam
 
“The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honour Mary, his virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the Day of Judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
 
“Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” (ibid. No. 3)
 
Universal brotherhood rejects all discrimination
 
“We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: `He who does not love does not know God.´ (1 John 4: 8)
 
“No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.
 
“The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, colour, condition of life, or religion.” (ibid. No. 5)
The rationale underpinning the document
 
The Church was motivated to address this subject due to three considerations:
1-                  The position of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI as delegates on visits to countries in the East, where Christianity only comprises a fraction of the population.
2-                  The position of the Church as light and leaven in the lump of this world. If the leaven is to work it must be kneaded into the dough. Thus it behoves the Church to recognize the dough of this world, and especially the values advocated by the various religions. No harm can result to the Church from this position because, if she have the mind of Christ, there is no force able to prevail against her. But rather, by opening herself she increases her effectiveness and relevance.
3-                  The worldwide unity of the human family is an invitation to the Church to discover the nature of its position and mission. Though world unity has increased, yet the forces of evil and atheism have redoubled, so the Church stands alongside all people of good will to work towards peace for all mankind.
 
There have never been any Ecumenical Councils that touched on the relationship of the Church to other religions. Though attempts had occurred in this direction, there had been no specific results from the whole procedure. So it seems that the declaration Nostra Ætate – together with the secretariat set up in the Vatican in 1964 and also with the message of Paul VI to the Church calling for dialogue with all believers and people of good will - all amounted to the beginning of a new dawn in the burgeoning relations between the Church and other world religions.
 
The principles contained in this document are based on those outlined in many documents of the Second Vatican Council, including two of the most important afore-mentioned conciliar documents, one entitled, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium (1964) and another constitution entitled, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern world – Gaudium et Spes (1965). We shall limit ourself to those sections that set out the Church’s relationship with Islam and Muslims and with non-Muslims in general.
 
Non-Christians
 
“Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God...But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church No. 16)
 
Essential equality among all people
 
“True, all men are not alike from the point of view of varying physical power and the diversity of intellectual and moral resources. Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, colour, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent. For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honoured. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men.” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World No. 29 ii)
 
“Therefore, although rightful differences exist between men, the equal dignity of persons demands that a more humane and just condition of life be brought about. For excessive economic and social differences between the members of the one human family or population groups cause scandal, and militate against social justice, equity, the dignity of the human person, as well as social and international peace.” (ibid. No. 29 iii)
 
“Human institutions, both private and public, must labour to minister to the dignity and purpose of man. At the same time let them put up a stubborn fight against any kind of slavery, whether social or political, and safeguard the basic rights of man under every political system. Indeed human institutions themselves must be accommodated by degrees to the highest of all realities, spiritual ones, even though meanwhile, a long enough time will be required before they arrive at the desired goal.” (ibid. No. 29 iv)
 
Close solidarity between the Church and the whole human family
 
“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.” (ibid. No. 1)
 
Those principles and guidelines contained in the documents of the Second Vatican Council that took place fifty years ago have applied to many initiatives, conferences and publications. These documents have become the constitution of the relationship between Christianity and Islam. So the Popes have reached out to Muslims, especially on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and on other occasions. This is also the basis for the activities of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
 
We recall in particular the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI on The Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness (14 September 2012). This document was issued following the convening of the Synod of Bishops on the Church in the Middle East in Rome (10 - 24 October 2010). It is an echo of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Here are some excerpts from this document about Islam and the relationship between Christians and Muslims:
 
“Interreligious Dialogue
 
“The Church’s universal nature and vocation require that she engage in dialogue with the members of other religions. In the Middle East this dialogue is based on the spiritual and historical bonds uniting Christians to Jews and Muslims. It is a dialogue which is not primarily dictated by pragmatic political or social considerations, but by underlying theological concerns which have to do with faith. They are grounded in the sacred Scriptures and are clearly defined in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium and in the Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions - Nostra Ætate. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike believe in one God, the Creator of all men and women. May Jews, Christians and Muslims rediscover one of God’s desires, that of the unity and harmony of the human family. May Jews, Christians and Muslims find in other believers brothers and sisters to be respected and loved, and in this way, beginning in their own lands, give the beautiful witness of serenity and concord between the children of Abraham. Rather than being exploited in endless conflicts which are unjustifiable for authentic believers, the acknowledgment of one God – if lived with a pure heart – can make a powerful contribution to peace in the region and to respectful coexistence on the part of its peoples.” (No.19)
 
Relations with Muslims
 
“The Catholic Church, in fidelity to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, looks with esteem to Muslims, who worship God above all by prayer, almsgiving and fasting, revere Jesus as a prophet while not acknowledging his divinity, and honour Mary, his Virgin Mother. We know that the encounter of Islam and Christianity has often taken the form of doctrinal controversy. Sadly, both sides have used doctrinal differences as a pretext for justifying, in the name of religion, acts of intolerance, discrimination, marginalisation and even of persecution. (No.23)
 
“Despite this fact, Christians live daily alongside Muslims in the Middle East, where their presence is neither recent nor accidental, but has a long history. As an integral part of the Middle East, Christians have developed over the centuries a type of relationship with their surroundings which can prove instructive. They have let themselves be challenged by Muslim devotion and piety, and have continued, in accordance with their means and to the extent possible, to live by and to promote the values of the Gospel in the surrounding culture. The result has been a particular form of symbiosis. It is proper, then, to acknowledge the contribution made by Jews, Christians and Muslims in the formation of a rich culture proper to the Middle East.” (No.24)
 
Full participation in national life
 
“The Catholics of the Middle East, the majority of whom are native citizens of their countries, have the duty and right to participate fully in national life, working to build up their country. They should enjoy full citizenship and not be treated as second-class citizens or believers. As in the past when, as pioneers of the Arab Renaissance, they took full part in the cultural, economic and scientific life of the different cultures of the region, so too in our own day they wish to share with Muslims their experiences and to make their specific contribution. It is because of Jesus that Christians are sensitive to the dignity of the human person and to freedom of religion which is its corollary. For love of God and humanity, thus honouring Christ’s two natures, and with eternal life in view, Christians have built schools, hospitals and institutions of every kind where all people are welcomed without discrimination (cf. Matthew 25: 31ff.). For these reasons, Christians are particularly concerned for the fundamental rights of the human person. It is wrong to claim that these rights are only “Christian” human rights. They are nothing less than the rights demanded by the dignity of each human person and each citizen, whatever his or her origins, religious convictions and political preferences.” (No.25)
 
Religious freedom
 
“Religious freedom is the pinnacle of all other freedoms. It is a sacred and inalienable right. It includes on the individual and collective levels the freedom to follow one’s conscience in religious matters and, at the same time, freedom of worship. It includes the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public.[21] It must be possible to profess and freely manifest one’s religion and its symbols without endangering one’s life and personal freedom. Religious freedom is rooted in the dignity of the person; it safeguards moral freedom and fosters mutual respect. Jews, with their long experience of often deadly assaults, know full well the benefits of religious freedom. For their part, Muslims share with Christians the conviction that no constraint in religious matters, much less the use of force, is permitted. Such constraint, which can take multiple and insidious forms on the personal and social, cultural, administrative and political levels, is contrary to God’s will. It gives rise to political and religious exploitation, discrimination and violence leading to death. God wants life, not death. He forbids all killing, even of those who kill. (cf. Gen 4:15-16; 9:5-6; Ex 20:13)” (No.26)
 
Religious tolerance
 
“Religious tolerance exists in a number of countries, but it does not have much effect since it remains limited in its field of action. There is a need to move beyond tolerance to religious freedom. Taking this step does not open the door to relativism, as some would maintain. It does not compromise belief, but rather calls for a reconsideration of the relationship between man, religion and God. It is not an attack on the `foundational truths´ of belief, since, despite human and religious divergences, a ray of truth shines on all men and women...” (No.27)
 
Living here is possible!
 
“The attention of the whole world is fixed on the Middle East as it seeks its path. May this region demonstrate that coexistence is not a utopia, and that distrust and prejudice are not a foregone conclusion. Religions can join one another in service to the common good and contribute to the development of each person and the building of society. The Christians of the Middle East have experienced for centuries the dialogue between Islam and Christianity. For them it means the dialogue of and in daily life. They know its rich possibilities and its limitations. They have also experienced the more recent dialogue between Judaism and Christianity. For some time now, bilateral and trilateral dialogues have taken place between Jewish, Muslim and Christian intellectuals or theologians. These offer fruitful opportunities for encounter and the study of various issues, and they ought to be supported. An effective contribution in this regard is made by all those Catholic institutions or centres for the study of philosophy, theology and other disciplines which have long been present in the Middle East, and carry on their activity there in sometimes difficult conditions. I express my appreciation to them and I encourage them to continue their work as peacemakers, in the knowledge that every effort made to overcome ignorance and to promote knowledge deserves to be supported. God willing, the happy union of the dialogue of everyday life and the dialogue of intellectuals or theologians will slowly but surely contribute to improving relations between Jews and Christians, Jews and Muslims and Muslims and Christians. This is my hope and the intention for which I pray.” (No.28)
 
Letters of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs
 
The letters of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs are a local Eastern expression of the teaching of the Church contained in previous documents.
 
In fact the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs (CECP) is called to examine the situation of Eastern Christians with regard to their presence and historic role in the context of the predominantly Muslim Arab Eastern community. This was the subject of many messages since the founding of the Council in 1991. Thus we read in the first letter from the first meeting, a paragraph with the same title as this letter of mine, as follows:
 
“To our Muslim brothers
 
“We turn to our Muslim brothers with an open heart and honest intent. Our living together down the centuries constitutes despite all difficulties the solid ground on which it is our duty to establish our present and future common action, in the service of an egalitarian and harmonious society, where no-one, whoever he may be, feels alien or rejected.
 
“We are drawing on a unique inheritance of civilisation. Each of us has contributed to form it according to his own special character. Our relationship to civilisation is our historic patrimony. We are keen to safeguard it, allow it to evolve, re-establish and reenergise it, so that it may be the foundation of our living together and our fraternal mutual help. The Christians of the East are an inseparable part of the cultural identity of Muslims. In the same way, the Muslims in the East are an inseparable part of the cultural identity of Christians. Hence, we are responsible for each other before God and history.
 
“An Exemplary Vocation”
 
In this second section, the Council explains the common exemplary vocation of us Christians and Muslims.
 
“It is incumbent upon us to seek constantly the form, not only of coexistence, but of creative and fruitful relations which would guarantee stability and tranquillity to every believer in God in our countries, safe from the machinations of hatred, fanaticism, discrimination and rejection of the other. We are convinced that our authentic, spiritual and religious values are capable of helping us to overcome the problems that encumber the road of our living together. That obliges us to look at each other in a spirit of reciprocal openness and mutual determination to get to know each other. For that man is an enemy whom one does not know.
 
“The world today is rent by the scourges of quarrels, fanaticism and discrimination under its various forms. We are desirous of laying down foundations for living together that would be exemplary for our world, instead of defacing God’s plan for us and presenting an image contrary to the longing of people today for peace, concord and mutual help, at the level of a healthy and sincere citizenship.
 
“God willed, in his unfathomable wisdom, for us to be together in this region of the world. We accept this will with great openness of mind in the hope that it will enlarge our hearts’ capacity, until there is room for all, whatever the range of their allegiances.” (Letter of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs on the occasion of their First Meeting in Lebanon, 19-24 August 1991)
 
The Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs published several messages, of which not a single one omits advice on communicating with Muslim citizens. The third message (1994) is dedicated to this vital issue for us Christians and Muslims and bears the following title: Together before God for the welfare of the Individual and Society.
 
“Co-existence between Muslims and Christians in the Arab World”
 
This title is a programme of work for all of us: we have to fulfil it in order to live together before God in the light of faith and for the sake of human society.
 
This letter is addressed to Eastern Christians. But like the present letter specifically addressed to Muslims in the Arab world, it is also applicable to Muslims and Christians in the West, and to Muslims all over the world. I shall simply cite a few paragraphs from that historic, reflective letter.
“We address our letter to our brothers, to our beloved children, to all our fellow citizens and particularly to our Muslim brethren, and to all persons of good will in the world. We join our voice to all those which, in our countries and throughout the world, are calling for encounter and constructive dialogue among the faithful of all religions. (No. 7)
“Humans will thus become capable of building the “civilisation of love” which glorifies God, and towards which every person is moving today, despite the difficulties and obstacles in the way.” (ibid.)
“Queries
“Considering this question from the point of view of coexistence, we find ourselves facing the following challenge: how can equality between Christians and Muslims living in the same Arab country be guaranteed? We are in fact today at a crossroads and are still confronted with the same question: how can unity between the Muslim and Christian spirit be kept in educating Arab personality, in every Arab country where Muslims and Christians coexist? Whilst preserving religion as an essential element in citizenship and public life, how can we surmount the obstacle of discrimination between citizens because of their religion? How can we surmount this difficulty in real life? (No. 35)
“Christians wish to be considered citizens in the full sense of the term and not as a minority asking for protection. We should like all of us to be filled with the light of their religion in their involvement with public life. Besides, there must also be a legal framework allowing all to participate equally in civic life, including political, economic, social and other decisions.” (ibid.)
Our teacher giving general guidance on the Church's position towards Islam and Muslims is his Holiness Pope Francis. He always mentions in his speeches and positions, the need for Christians and Muslims to live together for the good of human society, to build together a civilization of love, so that all people may have life, and have it in abundance.
 
This is the official position of the Catholic Church and must be the position of all of her children, pastors and laity.
 
We are expecting similar documents from the Islamic world, especially from Muslims in Arab countries, but also in European countries where there are more Muslims today than ever before. We need to hear many clear authoritative, credible voices to be a real answer to questions from Christians and that at a level equivalent to the official Church documents, issued by the Church’s highest authority!
 
In writing this letter, which is central to my convictions, I am relying on these historic Church documents, and unswervingly citing the ideas contained therein in almost all my pastoral messages, lectures and speeches at conferences and in interviews in countries all over the world. There follow passages from my lecture entitled, "Church of the Arabs: Church of Islam." (See Perspectives magazine, issue No. 27-2004, published in Arabic by our Church’s Liqaa Conference Centre.)
 
In this presentation we talked about spiritual faith and convictions, matters relating to concepts of interest to Christians and Muslims alike, for we must work together for the development of our society.
 
The concept of religion
 
“The true concept of religion does not allow you to exploit the expression, “My religion. Your religion.” Perhaps that is the meaning of the Qur’anic verse, “I have my religion and you have yours.” (Surah 109, al-Kaffirun, Renegades) Your religion (according to your own human thought) limits you and ties your hands, makes you small, scatters you, dividing you into small groups, but my religion (which I am proclaiming to you) raises, unifies and draws you together, making strong links between you and others.
 
“In this sense, the Christian who has really become a new creation cannot shrivel up and isolate himself to concentrate on himself or even isolate himself in a group, community or church. As a bishop and Christian Patriarch, I am not for Christians alone. I am a man, for my brother man in order to bring the Gospel to him, not as though it were my gospel, or the gospel of a particular community, but the Gospel in a deep sense, as a new annunciation, a beautiful, spiritual, universal announcement for the world.
 
"That's what drove me to launch some remarks that were noised abroad and echoed repeatedly over the last thirty years. I was a student at Holy Saviour School, and then Archbishop of Tarsus and Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem (1981). In my address to His Holiness Pope St. John Paul II during my first visit to His Holiness in Rome (February 12, 2001) with a group of bishops, priests and faithful of our parishes (some 700 persons), I took this position when I made profession of my Catholic Christian and humanitarian faith, saying, `I am Patriarch of a Church which is the "Church of the Arabs," and in the geographic and demographic context also "the Church of Islam."´
 
“In all of this it is imperative to respect the personal identity of Christians and Muslims. We must not let Muslims feel that there is any intention to destroy or violate their personality, lifestyle or convictions…But they should feel safe and respected. And where there are conditions for interchange, that any osmosis should be informed by mutual awareness, respect and openness.”
 
Church of the Arabs: Church of Islam
 
"These phrases are not the subject of social or sectarian or political opportunism. Both terms `Church of the Arabs´ and `Church of Islam´ are derived from the heart of the Christian faith, specifically inspired by the Gospel and the doctrine of the divine incarnation. Both illustrate the Christian faith in the absolute, in Arab Middle Eastern society. These expressions are a practical application of the doctrine of the incarnation, on the ground, actually, in history, geography, society and in our contemporary Arab land.
 
“These convictions are not a simple free choice or even a strategic one, associated with the conditions of a well-defined political or social situation, for example in Lebanon or Syria. No, these spiritual convictions are theological, spiritual and existential, emanating from the core of my conscience and thought, in our Christian, human and pastoral experience. They have as their departure point the conscience, thought and experience of us all!
 
“I express these convictions, because I consider them essential and of fundamental importance in helping us better understand the questions that always confront us as pastor and that confront above all our faithful people. They are living every day amidst this great sea of problems, suffering and struggling to make a daily living and understand Gospel values, faith values and their mission in the world in which they live, while we are talking of living together, common life, fellowship, dialogue, meeting, tolerance, forgiveness, love and teaching them to work to put aside everything that can divide our world through the clash of civilizations, religions and cultures. Those Christians who are living every day with very deep difficulties and substantial changes in their life and are suffering have need of an answer to their (and our) questions: what is our role, what is our mission in this predominantly Muslim Arab world? Why should we stay here?
 
“We Christians and Muslims are called to be creative pioneers and inventors in `our meeting´... in order to build together an Arab society that we can feel to be our society, home for all of us who are citizens of this great Arab world.
 
“Therefore, we cannot leave our Western fellow Christians alone in their quest to understand Islam, in East-West dialogue and relations between the Western world and the Arab and Islamic Eastern world. So we must tell them, now more than ever, the importance of our role in this matter, just as we must tell our fellow-citizens about the importance of our role alongside them in their civil and religious dialogue with the West.
 
“Are not the current Arab and global conditions an urgent call to activate this unique, harmonious role? Does not the current practical pressure on the Arab and Islamic world constitute an urgent appeal to intensify Christian-Muslim interaction in our region, in order to rally our forces for the advancement of our common Muslim-Christian Arab future, at the beginning of this third millennium?” (Above are cited sections of the talk.)
 
Muslim-Christian dialogue[1]
 
“We therefore call for a spiritual dialogue of our beautiful faith.  “Come to a common word,” for the word that was given to me by God in my Christian faith is truly mine, but not only for me; it is for my society, for my fellow-men and I must bring it to them as a light of love and as a call to love, a sign of hope for the other person, that he may grow in his religion and delve deeper into his faith, not so that I may despise him or he may despise his own religion.
 
 “It is of very great importance for people to love their religion and the Word of God for mankind, and know it in ever greater depth, preserving and defending it. But one must be open to the other person, to his convictions and faith. If not, we fall into relativism, which is the greatest enemy of faith.
 
“Jesus calls us to preach that faith, saying, `Go ye into all the world´ and `teach all nations.´ (Matthew 28: 19) And Saint Paul exhorts us, speaking to his disciple Timothy, saying, `Preach the word…in season, out of season.´ (2 Timothy 4:2)
 
“There is no monopoly on the Word of God. It is just as much the other person’s as it is mine. Our Muslim world is afraid of our preaching, but does not cease preaching Islam. That is an unreasonable position. We require our Muslim fellow-citizens to acknowledge our freedom to bring the good news to others, with love and respect for their faith, but we do not require anyone else to embrace our faith. It is enough if people can find out about it and come to esteem and love it. Conversion is the work of God. Do not attempt to convert a friend, or loved one.  God converts whom he pleases.
 
“The Word of God is for me and its revelation is to me, but not to me alone. I must allow others to share in it. We must have, as we say in the Arabic proverb, bread and salt. But it is not bread or salt that enables us to live together. What matters is rather how we can share together in the Word of God in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. How can we feed each other by the Word of God? How can the Word of God become an essential food? As we say in the Our Father, `Give us this day our daily (epiousion) bread.´ The Our Father is really a call to share together in the Word of God.
 
“We thank God for the many, beautiful relationships between Christians and Muslims that occur especially in everyday living. However, I would like us to share together in the Word of God, since that is what unites us, draws us together and gives us strength, reinforcing our faith. Let us not be afraid to love the Word of God in our brothers and sisters. Let us not be afraid of verses from the Qur’an and let them not be afraid of verses from the Gospel or from the Torah. These are the Word of God for us all, every one according to his own calling. I would like to tell our Muslim brethren not to fear our faith. Let us all rather be afraid of using words of vengeance, criticism, pride and haughtiness. The Word of God does not despise anyone. It is not proud, boastful or puffed up. It does not engage in bad behaviour or enjoy retaliation. It does not rejoice in evil, but in good. It rejoices in love and believes all things. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13)
 
“Words of God and words of men
 
“Let us love the Word of God, for the Word of God is for us all. Let us share these words, proclaiming them in song and loving them. Let these words of God be for our friendship, living together and mutual relationship. Instead of using empty, lying flatteries, let us nourish ourselves with earth’s most beautiful words and feed each other with these same heavenly words that God addresses to the children of men, for God is bountiful and bestows his life-giving words on us all. Let us not be afraid of the words of God, but rather let us fear the words of men. Let us so act that our human words be changed into words divine.
 
“I propose founding a forum to be called The Forum of the Word of God, so that Christians and Muslims can meet together and together discuss and meditate upon the Word of God.
 
“Our zeal for the Word of God should be a means of sanctification for us and for deepening our faith. We must not allow our zeal for the Word to become a weapon to exploit others, judging, persecuting and compelling them to embrace our faith, any more than we can allow the Word of God to become the cause of conflicts, disputes and confrontations between our faithful and those holding different religious convictions. Nor should it become an instrument of terrorism and a pretext for one group to claim superiority over another. The Word of God (not we ourselves) is the true judge between us and those who are not of our faith.
 
“And why be afraid of having churches and mosques? If they were symbols of defiance, we would have cause to fear, but as signs of faith they may stimulate instead our hopes and expectations.
 
“Why be afraid of allowing churches to be built and the Gospel to be preached? Why be afraid of Christians praying as a community? Surely those who are in the light need be afraid of nothing!
 
“Let us not be afraid. The Prophet Muhammad was not afraid of a Christian or Jewish presence, but combated paganism. Today all of us Christians and Muslims are called to fight against today’s new paganisms: incredulity and unbelief.
 
“I say to my Muslim brethren: don’t be afraid of our faith, but rather be afraid if we neglect our faith and indulge in unpleasant habits. To my fellow-Christians I say: don’t be afraid of the words of those Muslims who keep and preserve the Word of God.” (Christmas Letter 2007)
 
“Fear not, little flock”
 
I am pleased to convey to you, dear friends, what was published in my Letter for the Feast of the Nativity 2006, entitled, Peace, living together and the Christian Presence in the Arab Middle East, which addressed Christians, as I address you, with these words, “Fear not, little flock,” and speaking to each of our children individually, “Fear not, little flock.” (Luke 12: 32)
 
Do not be afraid to be what Jesus told you to be, “Be light and salt” (Matthew 5: 13-14) and leaven, and a servant and witness representing Jesus, and consistent in following his teachings in the Gospel, in full openness to your fellow-humans who have their own faith and values.
 
“`Fear not little flock.´ We address each of our children individually and say, “Tell them: I am a fellow-citizen.
 
“I am a believer with you.
“I am a servant with you.
“I am a witness with you.
“I am building with you, in one and the same homeland.
“My future is your future.
“My progress is your progress.
“My language is your language.
“My Arab identity is one with yours.
“I am and will remain with you and for you.
“Just as we have journeyed along the same road for the last fourteen hundred years, so we wish to continue with you in this third millennium.
 
Appeal to our Muslim fellow-citizens: the concerns of Christians
 
“In seeking to convince our Christian faithful to stay in their homelands, where God has planted them, we find we absolutely must talk, with them and in their name, on the basis of our responsibilities as Arab citizens in Arab countries, to our Muslim brethren, those in government, sheikhs, theologians, cultured people, muftis and all Muslims and tell them frankly what the fears are that haunt us, and what kind of fearful attitudes amongst us impel some of us to emigrate.
 
“They are not just purely religious reasons, but they also have a social, ethical and cultural aspect.
 
“So when we are talking about living together and citizenship, their concomitant conditions and principles absolutely must be recognized as permanently binding duties for Muslims, just as they are for Christians.
 
“This is what we mean by speaking of separation between religion and state, Arabism, democracy, the Arab nation, and human rights. Laws which are based on Islam as sole or chief source of legislation and application are a source of division and quasi racial distinction between citizens on the basis of religion and are an obstacle to equality before the law, diminishing equality of citizenship. One could say the same about fundamentalist parties, that strictly follow the Islamic Qur’an and those fundamentalist movements here and there to which are attributed (whether truly or not and with or without reason) acts of violence, terrorism, murder, church burning and extortion and exploitation of citizens on the basis of religion, while the perpetrators rely on the fact of being in the majority, to humiliate their neighbours and workmates.
 
“Those things make Christians feel troubled, fearing an unknown future in a society that is in the majority Muslim. Often they are characterized and stigmatized by epithets such as fifth columnists, crusaders, impious (kuffar), and collaborators with the West and with Israel.
 
“Those and many other such things are the cause of fear amongst Christians and ought to be, to our way of thinking, the subject of study circles, congresses, conferences and meetings in the Arab and Muslim world. Those problems should be treated with a great deal of objectivity and Christians and Muslims together should identify the real wound underlying the haemorrhage of Christian emigration.
 
“Neither Protégés nor Dhimmis
 
“Through this 2006 Christmas Letter, we are speaking to our Muslim brethren in all confidence and charity and that is the reason for our frankness. We tell them plainly, we and all our faithful, want to live together and continue the journey of previous centuries, but we wish that our Muslim brothers would not call us dhimmis, or protected people. We would like them to consider us as real citizens, like they are, having the same rights and the same obligations as them. We wish to build our countries, our homelands, together and collaborate towards a better future for them and for us all. That has always been the role of Christians throughout history and that must still be our role today in the third millennium of the Nativity and in the fifteenth century of the Hijrah.
 
“We do not ask for the protection of our Muslim fellow-citizens, but equality and an equal opportunity for work and a job. We want a common life, living together with all that that implies, charity, trust, respect, dignity, shared responsibility, solidarity and progress together, to which we are prepared to devote ourselves sacrificially for the sake of our homelands. We wish to feel this atmosphere in all Arab countries without exception. Christians are Arab fellow-citizens in every Arab country, whether their numbers are small or large, whether they are poor or rich. All have the right to full citizenship in every Arab country without exception. They have the right to complete freedom in the practice of their religion and the building of their churches, alongside the mosques of their Muslim brethren. Those are the kinds of attitude and behaviour which would really give Christians the feeling that they were in security and would lessen the load of emigration. We say to our Muslim brethren, we Christians have an extraordinary strength: we have our convents, monasteries, schools, universities, welfare societies, our social and cultural societies, our medical centres and hospitals; all those we are ready to place at your service. But if we emigrate, all these capabilities will be scattered and destroyed. The losers will be Arabs, Christians and Muslims alike.
 
“We wish here to affirm again that our positive living together and the preservation of the values of Christian and Muslim faith are the bases of our real co-citizenship. The greatest challenge for Christians and Muslims is how to be able to live our faith in the world of globalization and how manage to pass on this precious, holy deposit to new generations, especially young Christians and Muslims, who are both exposed to the same dangers in today’s world.
 
“Reflections on the Christian Presence in the Arab East
 
“Finally, at the end of this letter, I return to the beginning and to the three terms in its title, “Peace, Living Together and the Christian Presence in the Arab Middle East” and I sum it up in the following paragraphs:
1.                   Living together is the future of these Arab countries and is valuable for both Christians and Muslims. It means accepting the other as he is, respecting him and venerating him, recognizing him as fellow-citizen, with all concomitant human rights, those of every one on earth and especially in the East.
2.                   Christians are an important element in that living together. There is no living together without pluralism, meaning that our society comprises Christians in all communities, Muslims in all their groups, Druze and Jews.
3.                   This living together is threatened by emigration, of which the most important and dangerous causes are the wars, calamities and crises whose origin is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the injustice that flows from that. In the same way, products of this conflict are extremism, fundamentalism, violence, the ideology of terrorism and feelings of enmity and hatred in society and lack of equality in rights and job opportunities. There is also a lack of opportunity for participating in different posts of responsibility in the countries, their governance and parliament, ministries and other services.
4.                   If the haemorrhage of emigration continues, it means the East will be void of its pluralism. There will be a collapse of what we call living together. In those circumstances, Christians would not able to resist the series of calamities, crises, wars and conflicts.
5.                   But what may yet help Christians to resist in the face of all these difficulties and not emigrate is the conviction of faith that remaining in Arab countries, where Christianity was born and where God has planted them, is in itself an apostolate, vocation and mission. The framework of this mission is the Church, especially from the fact that the Antiochian Christian Church here, as I always repeat, is an Arab Church from its roots and ethnicity. Moreover it is Church of the Arabs and Church of Islam and Emmanuel Church, God with us and for us. It is also the Church with and for the other: the other is the Muslim fellow-citizen in our Arab society which is in the majority Muslim, in which Christians are responsible for bearing the Gospel message, and proclaiming its values in society, so that the Church may be present and witnessing in society, participating and interacting with it.
6.                   The atmosphere suitable for all these elements cited above - pluralism and living together with all that goes with that - is peace in the region; peace that is lasting, complete and firm, that may be the warranty for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
7.                   On the other hand, if Arab countries and Muslim citizens really care about pluralism and living together and if they feel the Christian presence is important in the region, then Christians have to be able to enjoy full fellow-citizenship with all the rights that go with it. It is absolutely indispensable that Arab countries unite their voices to bring about a civilized, just and peaceable solution for the Palestinian question.
8.                   If that does not happen in the near future, the haemorrhage of emigration will grow, as will Islamic fundamentalist movements, violence and terrorism and young Muslims will very simply fall victim into their net. That means that we should pass on to our young up and coming Arab generations a sombre inheritance and a black future. Then Arab Muslim society would lose the components of its pluralism and living together and there would be realized, unfortunately, the prophecy about the clash of civilizations, religions and cultures.” (Above are sections from my 2006 Christmas Letter)
 
I regret that this is what we see today!
 
Date of the Nativity and date of the Hijrah       
 
We have lived in the Arab world together, as Christians and Muslims, over our common history, by the Islamic Hijri and Christian Gregorian calendars. The dating systems refer to the glorious Nativity: the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Hijrah, the birth of Islam. It is good for us to refer to both dates in the daily news. This is an important lesson to teach our younger generations. That is why we call on the media and others to refer daily to these two dates, and not to just one date, whether AD or AH.
 
Dear friends
 
That common living together for 1435 [Islamic] years implies a great deal of consensus and co-operation, solidarity and harmony in the fields of literature, science, language, building and construction, art, music and architecture, and all Arab Islamic and Christian sciences. This co-existence is proof that living together is not an illusion, and not just security, not just the subject of meetings, conferences and Muslim-Christian dialogue. It is a real period of history, set out in a well-documented collection of various documents and unequivocal evidence.
 
Not even living together is the categorical answer capable of convincing all those who are sceptical about the success of Christian-Muslim dialogue ... Yet cohabitation, or coexistence, or successful daily-living in an historical dialogue that has been successful for decades and generations is the answer to this question, as it is evidence of the success of the dialogue of life, which is the ultimate goal for every conference or meeting, study, education or PhD thesis.
 
Is Islam the solution?
 
I remember a funny and telling incident: I was invited to attend the graduation ceremony of students at Hebron University in Palestine, in around 1988. During the ceremony, a group of young people came towards the theatre, carrying a banner that read, “Islam is the solution.”
 
I rose from my seat and walked behind the young people. I told them, “We Muslims and Christians have the solution in our hands!” The young people took a positive attitude and included me in their procession.
 
I take it that this slogan "Islam is the solution" is a call to Muslims to become aware of their role and mission as Muslims, according to the true teachings of Islam. If the young people were glad that I had fallen in behind the slogan "Islam is the solution," though I was a Christian and a bishop (then), it meant that Christianity is the solution! Christianity and Islam are both the solution! Christians and Muslims who follow every one of the values of faith, the Holy Gospel values and the values of the Qur’an ... they are together the solution for a world that needs solutions and the values of hope and faith and love.
Real openness
 
It is good to note that Muslim shaykhs and scholars begin their homilies and exhortations, speeches and lectures, in all circumstances, particularly at Interfaith Conferences, by remembering the Holy Prophet, and following his mention with the phrase, "And peace be upon all the prophets and messengers!"
 
 
Dear friends
Does not that collective mention of the names and titles of the prophets and messengers create a beautiful family? Is this not true Islamic openness that draws everyone together without discrimination? As the Qur’anic verse says, "O mankind,” (all people, not just followers of one religion only) “We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.” (Sūrat l-ḥujurāt [The Dwellings] 49: 13) This is what is stated in the Gospel about Jesus, "He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." (John 11: 52)
 
Is not this Islamic openness? It carries its own message while referring to that of others ... It calls for anyone who wishes to do so to enter, (“There shall be no compulsion in religion.”(Sūrat al-Baqarah [The Cow] 2:256) and does not disbelieve the message addressed to others ... especially the people of the book! Especially Christians and Jews!
 
Islam, which we love
 
This is the true religion of Islam! This is the Islam that we lived together! This is Islam, which we love! This is Islam, which we appreciate, this is the Islam, which we as Eastern Christians want to defend and safeguard, protecting its followers from any distortion, alteration, deviation, curtailment, error, exploitation... or disfigurement ...
 
This Islam is the solution! This is the Islam that we have lived with you! This is the Islam whose progress we want to accompany, in order to build together a better world, a world where there is room for both Christian and Muslim generations, to live in dignity, freedom and security, safety and prosperity, creativity and development ...
 
Islamophobia on account of takfirism
 
We as Arab Eastern Christians, in contact with the Christian world in the whole world, fear for our beloved Islam, and our dear Muslim fellow-citizens, due to the subversive fundamentalist takfiri movements, which are the greatest threat to all of us, to Islam and Muslims, and to Christianity and Christians, in the Arab world and in the West, and everywhere.
 
Though some believe that these godless movements favour the spread of Islam and support Muslims, yet we consider them much rather an imminent danger, to Islam primarily and only secondarily to Christianity ... They are a danger to Christianity in the Arab Middle East, and a threat to Christianity in Europe, especially with a tidal wave of mass (especially Muslim) migration to Western Europe and even America.
 
Not to mention the fact that these takfiri groups are a sinister tool for achieving the objectives of hidden evil and destructive barbarism, aimed at all of humanity, as has already been pointed out by the American writer Huntington, who described the clash of civilizations and religions, or rather of followers of religions everywhere. And perhaps our East is destined to be the first victim to exemplify this theory, and Europe the second victim.
 
We Arab Eastern Christians and Muslims, have to take an impregnable united stand in the face of this imminent danger. Our Christian and Muslim position towards the takfiri groups will falsify the Huntington theory of the clash of East and West, indeed the whole world, as a result of these pestilential global dangers...
 
The success of our dialogue is the success of dialogue between all people, because of our history and experience.
 
One common responsibility
 
Here I am referring to the responsibility of all Muslims, particularly in the Arab East, to defend and protect Islam from these (extremist) movements. They also have to reassure Christians, particularly Eastern Christians, as these takfiri movements are publishing daily on many media including satellite television, teachings advocating murder and terrorism, accompanied by Qur’anic verses supportive of fundamentalist takfirism. But these do not represent the whole of Islam! And I tell them frankly that these teachings frighten Christians, many of whom seem to think that these teachings are not merely the doctrine of Daesh and other takfiri groups and preachers on social media, but are the true doctrine of Islam. This is a very serious danger and imminent threat to Islam and Christianity and to Muslim-Christian living together, and to the desired co-operation in combating these takfiri groups.
 
 
How we wish that our beloved Muslim brothers, who truly care about their religion, their faith and the Qur'an, would stress real Islamic values ​​with all their strength, and by all means, and at various Islamic and Arab levels, both locally and globally. This Islamic duty is entirely necessary in order to preserve the purity and dignity of Islam, and respect for Islam and Muslims in the world, in order to exclude the risk of so-called "Islamophobia" which could generate "Christianophobia" and give rise to interreligious and intercivilizational conflict ... and this is what we fear (God forbid) may happen in the Middle East and in the West, with a tsunami of displacement particularly to Europe! Are we responsible for all this?
 
Christians with and for Muslims
 
 
“As Christians, we firmly wish to stay here! We Christians wish to stay with and for Muslims. We want Muslims to understand this. It is up to them to distance themselves from the imputation, or accusation that Muslims wish to empty the East of Christians. On the other hand we tell them with love, courage and conviction: We want to stay with them! Stay with and for them! We have been together throughout history. We shall remain together today and tomorrow. The future is for us all together. Either we shall be together, or we shall not be! Christians and Muslims together constitute a single common fabric in every Arab country. God is with us! And we are with each other. Furthermore we say quite frankly: We Christians in Syria and Arab countries have been and will remain in the forefront of great defenders of Islam. Likewise, we are always defenders of Arabness and Arab unity.” (Extract from our 2013 article Christians’ role in the Syrian crisis and in Arab society in general)
 
 
History, present, shared future
 
We have spent long periods of our history together!
 We presently experience common contemporary tragedies!
 With the blessing of God, we shall have a bright future together!
 
Therefore, we must adopt this slogan, and say repeatedly,
 
·         We should stay together, to build a new world and better future for our rising generations.
·         We can stay together, to build a better society and future for our young people.
·         We want to stay together, to build a better world and future for our young generations.
 
Towards a Middle East without Christians?
 
Someone said, at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, “Keep your Christians to preserve your Arabness.”
The well-known writer and journalist Muhammad Hassanein Heikal describes the changing Arab social fabric, "I have something to say about Eastern Christians: Christian emigration is noticed. We cannot turn our attention away from this phenomenon and neglect its reasons or causes, even if these reasons are psychological, and more to do with the prevailing atmosphere, than with reality. I think that the whole Arab scene will be different, from the human and civilizational perspective; it will surely be poorer, less rich, if this Christian emigration were to be ignored or neglected and become the subject of fears, however unjustified. What a loss if Eastern Christians feel, reasonably or unreasonably, that there is no future for them and their children in this East! Islam will remain alone and solitary in this East, where nothing assuages its loneliness." (A Year of Crises 2000-2001, Arabic Cairo 2002, p. 52)
 
Words of Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz
 
And I add the words of Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz, ““When I speak of the Christian presence in the Arab world I mean by that that Christians should stay in the Arab world. They were in fact very important elements in the early formation of the Arab world and their presence may still help to keep away any fanaticism and extremism that leads to violence, terror and historic crisis. Their presence and the fact that they stay in the Arab world tends to consolidate the unity of the modern state with its pluralism and diversification and is a very strong barrier against state apartheid. The fact that Christians are still present in Arab countries strengthens the Arab case when dealing with problems in their relations with the Western Christian world from the social, cultural and economic points of view. Their emigration, on the other hand, means exactly the opposite, as it provides the opportunity for many to exploit conditions and restrict the opportunities for meeting and dialogue. On the contrary, the fact that they remain here, all things being considered, is very important in preventing a scientific and cultural haemorrhage of creative thought from the Arab world and is also a powerful boost to the economy, business, industry, finance, specialization and excellence. All in all, the emigration of Arab Christians, if it continues, becomes a mortal blow striking at the very heart of our future. So our urgent and important care and task is to do everything possible to avoid the continuation of emigration and to help this very important Arab Christian constituent in our world to stay here and ensure that there should rather be immigration, bringing back to their countries of origin those who have left.”
 
Muslim responses and documents
 
I am pleased to thank my friend Dr Mohammad al-Sammak for his praiseworthy initiative in having written an article entitled, “The Need for Meeting.” It is the text of a talk he gave at the Islamic Makassed Conference (Beirut) on the topic of concepts of religious freedom. This conference produced the Beirut Declaration on Religious Freedom on 22 June 2015. That article covers all the problems of mutual concern to Christians and Muslims. (For a summary of the document, see Asia News, English language weekly edition, 22 August 2015.[2])
 
Other important Islamic documents have appeared, treating the same problems in the same tone as the article mentioned above and responding to Christian fears however ill-defined.      
 
Here are the most significant documents (with their dates):
       1 – The Amman Message[3] (27th of Ramadan 1425 AH / 9th November 2004 CE);
       2 – The al-Azhar Document[4] on the topic of Muslim authority in the civil state (26 Rajab 1432 AH/ 23 June 2011 CE);
       3 – Document of the Syrian Ministry of Endowments entitled The evolution of religious language (14 Sha’baan 1436 AH/ 1 June 2015 CE);
       4 – The Syrian Ministry of Endowments has published a series of studies under the heading Crisis Fiqh (jurisprudence);
       5 – The Declaration of the Marrakesh Congress[5](25th – 27th January, 2016/ 15th – 17th Rabi al-Thani, 1437) to which I sent a paper and a delegate.
 
I should also like to mention a school-book published in Lebanon by the Adyan Institute[6].  It has been put together by representatives of various Churches of the Middle East, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon and the Shi’a and Druze Leadership Councils in 2014. It is called, “The role of Christianity and Islam in establishing citizenship and integration.” It contains educational material for teachers, muftis and preachers on the topic of accepting otherness, justice, respect for laws and contracts, etc.
 
Also noteworthy is the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Centre (KAICIID[7]) for dialogue between members of different religions and cultures founded in 2011.
 
Official documents and the takfiri press
 
We appreciate the content of these documents. However, it is only paper, powerless to influence preachers in mosques or social media or school textbooks. On the contrary: many social media continually propagate destructive takfiri ideas, with a technical plan corresponding to a precise design.
 
We Christians have stated in official documents at global ecclesiastical level, our decision to live together. Yet our Muslim companions have not given similar guarantees. That is why the documents cited are insufficient to reassure Christians. Indeed, these takfiri tendencies which have spread so rapidly, have shaken our living together, especially as they have been accompanied by terrorism, violence and barbaric acts, in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and America, acts that are all attributed specifically and solely to Islam and Muslims. These crimes have, in fact, disfigured the face of Islam and Muslims.
 
 So it is not enough then to say that Islam is innocent in all this, that it is the religion of mercy, because the bases of trust between Christians and Muslims have been undermined, at the level of the neighbourhood, school, workplace and street.  Furthermore, these takfiri tendencies and movements provoke as a consequence confessional riots between the various Muslim groups, even outside the context of the current war in the region.
 
All the above has negative consequences for Christians, who are not reassured by statements and documents of any provenance whatsoever. They do not even have confidence in the verses of the Qur’an or Hadith (sayings of the Prophet reported by his friends), because takfiri fatwas (or decrees) rely on the Qur’an and Hadith to justify robbery, terrorism, etc., and give a negative image of Islam, increasing the fears of Christians and driving them to emigrate.
 
Besides these fears caused by so-called Islamic State and other terrorist groups, we know Christians who have lived for a while under the authority of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and have experienced at close quarters this monstrous reality.
 
It is our duty, as Christian bishops, to heed the testimony of these innocents, who have lost everything, and were driven out of their homes and villages, and fled the takfiri hell so as not to be slaughtered like sheep. It is likewise the duty of our Muslim friends, the companions of our everyday life and people of good will, to learn about them so that we can work together, with a firm commitment, to banish these takfiri groups and thus give security to both Muslim and Christian citizens, for their future.
 
Unacceptable language
 
Fears increase due to terminology that is no longer acceptable in any civilised society, especially in the informed Muslim community. Here are a few examples: caliphate, Islamic State, Muslim conquests, land of peace and land of war, dhimmis, capitation, protection and imposition of Islamic (shari’a) law on non-Muslims.      
 
Such terms are repeated in social communication media and school textbooks (especially for history). Moreover, one has the impression that some Arab or Islamic countries are already the "Land of Islam.”      
 
We say quite frankly: the use of such terms in a civilized society, in the world of globalization, is condemned, not only by Christians, but also by many open-minded and civilized Muslims, our respectable companions on the way, who are jealously keen on preserving our conviviality. They reject these obsolete terms, which are no longer acceptable to any human person created by God to be free and dignified. These terms are also contrary to the venerable Qur’an. (“There shall be no compulsion in religion,” Surat Al-Baqarah 2: 256; "O mankind, indeed We have … made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous among you," Surat Al-Hujurat 49: 13) and the authentic Hadith ("There is no preference for Arabs over non-Arabs, nor for non-Arabs over Arabs... Preference is only through righteousness."[Musnad Ahmad (22391)])
 
In fact, so-called Islamic State is but the terrible summary of these racist terms, whose mere mention arouses disavowal, or rather disgust, in people, both in the East and in the West, because of the barbaric crimes committed by ISIL against innocent Christians and humanity’s heritage, such that many Muslims have said privately to their Christian friends that they are ashamed to be Muslim.  It is certain that ISIL’s crimes have much influence in fostering the global growth of repugnance for Islam and Muslims (Islamophobia). We have the general impression that the danger which threatens the entire world is constituted by Islam and Muslims.    
 
As an Arab Christian patriarch, I am proud to defend with all my power true Islam and Muslims, and our common living together.     
 
And I expect my Muslim brothers and sisters to join with me as companions on the long road we have travelled together down history. I do not wish to conceal from you, dear brothers and sisters, that I foresee on the distant horizon a plot hatched in secret and which aims first to mar Islam and then to destroy the Christian presence in the Middle East. That is what makes all us Christians and Muslims afraid, because it is a danger that threatens our existence and destiny together.        
 
A joint Muslim-Christian Arab pact
 
Faced with all this, I believe that the remedy for all these dangers, obsessions and threats, this epidemic of so-called Islamic State and its derivatives (under various names), is the path of a Muslim Arab Pact, in conjunction with a global pact.  The solution is to ensure that this pact be primarily at the level of the Arab world especially. Furthermore, the pact should not exclude any Arab or Islamic country. (This is because any European or American pact to fight so-called Islamic State would be seen nowadays as a sort of new, updated form of the war of the Crusades, although in Arabic the correct name for the Crusades  is “Frankish war.” That sort of pact would be considered as a new form of colonialism or imperialism.)
 
This proposal is based on my trust in the Arab and Muslim world and my love for that world, and conforms with the requirements of all Christian communities.   We cannot leave it up to Europe or the USA or any other country in the world to dispel the danger of ISIL and the takfiri elements that threaten primarily Islam and Muslims and worry Christians.
 
This universal Muslim (and I would also add Christian) Arab pact, is the only guarantor that would allow us to achieve spiritual and human victory over all derivatives of takfiri thoughts, regardless of their origin. It is the only guarantor that can dispel the apprehensions of Christians, especially in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
 
Secondly, I would like to say that everything I express in this language is based on my love of the Arab and Muslim world. In addition, these considerations are drawn from my discussions with our Christian faithful; I echo all the concerns which are the topic of our talks, discussions and dialogues with everyone. It is also the expression of our beliefs as human beings, and Arab Syrian Christian citizens.
 
No Christian presence without a Christian role
 
Our guiding leadership for our Christian brethren and children is necessarily very important. But we are awaiting an official response from our Muslim leaders and neighbours to accompany our Christian work and path.
 
We hope that louder responses, attitudes and decisions from Muslims will confirm the survival of Christians and the importance of their role in our Eastern country. This is a matter of trust between us Christians and Muslims. It is essential if Christians are to survive and not to emigrate.
 
I referred to this in my letter entitled, Christians’ Role in the Syrian Crisis, 2013.
 
“Arab Christians should work together without fear or hesitation for the Arab world to regain strong international unity, for this is our own world’s unity. The Arab world is in the throes of a very difficult birth-giving. Through cultural Arabism we ought to help a pluralist society be born and build a common future.
 
“I have unshakeable confidence in Islamic reason’s capacity to hold modern culture. It is sufficiently flexible to reconcile the texts of sharia (Islamic jurisprudence) with modern demands. We should collaborate in nurturing Arab humanity.
 
“Our Arab world, despite its problems, remains an acceptable, reasonable, possible model for living together in the region, where the three monotheistic religions monotheists were born and have been cohabiting in relative harmony, differentiated by country.
 
Threat to Arab Youth
 
“Yet our Arab world is young; and young people can be easily influenced and fall prey to fundamentalism, violence, terrorism, hatred and rejection of others, under the influence of extremist fatwas (juridical opinions) from extremist leaders, or exploitative sheikhs.
“The greatest danger threatening the Arab world is the so-called `new Arab world´ emanating from the so-called `Arab Spring.´ For the prospect facing the new Arab world is division and fragmentation along sectarian and religious lines. Israel managed to get the world to accept its unilateral declaration of being a `Jewish State´ without taking into account its Muslim and Christian Palestinian Arab citizens. Remarkably, no-one in the secular, democratic European world protested at that declaration.
 
Risk of Arab cantons
 
“One could be forgiven for thinking that European society wanted Arab countries to follow the example of the Jewish State, divided on the basis of faith, ethnicity and denomination. It means that Syria, Iraq and other countries being divided into statelets, cantons, faith or confessional ghettos: Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite, Druze, Yazidi Kurd, Jewish and perhaps Christian. So I have read in several accounts of these plans.
 
“If that were to happen, Christians would have no place in these plans. It would lead to the following equation:
1.                   A solely Muslim Arab world
2.                   A Jewish State (Israel)
3.                   A Christian (though secular) Europe.
 
Global threat to any dialogue!
 
“It would mean European “Christian” States protecting Israel and so being considered as enemies of Islam. That could quite easily lead to Muslim-Christian conflict: an inter-civilizational and interfaith clash.
 
“This means deficiency and even lack of Muslim-Christian-Jewish dialogue. So European Christian society will lose its credibility and any possibility of dialogue with Islam and Muslims. This also means the subsequent impossibility of bringing about peace between Israel and Arabs in Palestine. It means even more wars and crises, the consequence of which is more Christian emigration leading to their disappearance or becoming insignificantly small in number.
 
Destructive Arab Spring
 
“That is the prospect I see as a result of current events, of what is called the Arab Spring, Arab revolutions, creative chaos and destructive war.
 
“In my opinion that is the main reason why an agreement cannot be reached to resolve the Syrian crisis: there is a desire to divide Syria and the countries in the region through the Arab Spring.
 
“We Christians reject that, as do I, as Patriarch. That is why I am very sceptical about the Arab Spring and reject it; as I am sceptical about the stance of European countries regarding the Syrian crisis. We should reject it, as Muslims and Christians.” (Christians’ role in the Syrian Crisis, 2013)
 
Why my message?
 
All the above highlights the importance of protecting this common living together, and life in our East ... Hence the importance of my message to you, beloved Muslim brethren in the Arab Middle East, in the Muslim world and everywhere, kings, leaders, preachers, shaykhs and imams and my beloved Muslim brethren. But I want through these reflections to encourage compassionate fellow-Christian bishops and lay-persons to remain in contact with Islam and Muslims. Do not fall into the trap of the sinister, murky goals of the various destructive takfiri movements, which constitute the real universal danger to the whole world, and the peoples of the earth as a whole ... starting with us Christians and Muslims in the Arab East.
 
Spiritual dialogue brings us from exclusion to inclusion, rejection to acceptance, discrimination to understanding, distortion to respect, condemnation to compassion, hostility to friendship, competition to integration, discord to harmony, and rivalry to fraternity.
 
Civilization of love
 
The task entrusted to us in the Arab East, is to face the West in an Eastern-Christian-Islamic civilizational unity of faith.
 
 “The civilization of love is that I love you and you love me. However, to place a condition, I love you if you love me, will tend to harm all sense of relations in society. But, I love you unconditionally, gratis, freely and hope that you love me, also unconditionally, is the true spirituality of the Beatitudes and the spirituality of the Gospel.”
 
The Gospel calls to be new creatures with a new spirituality and a new mentality! But this is not what politicians mean by a "new world order" and "new Middle East."
 
“We have the real model of new living, but if faith is not the foundation of this new system it will be more perfidious, more unjust, more violent, more repressive and discriminatory than all the others.” This new system must be based on love, for God is love.
 
Finally, I thank everyone who receives this heartfelt message of spiritual faith. I tell you that I love you, O Muslim world! I love you, my Muslim brothers and sisters! And love will unite us all in the Middle East, cradle of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and in its contact with the God of love!
 
With love and appreciation and good wishes
 
+Gregorios III
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem