· Preface
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by Riad Jarjour

The Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue, meeting in Cairo from 18 to 20 December, 2001, adopted a document entitled “Dialogue and Coexistence: An Arab Muslim-Christian Covenant.” This capped a valuable series of activities — conferences, seminars, specific studies and meetings — through which the group undertook to deal with various aspects of Muslim-Christian relations, and the foundations for co-existence between Arab Muslims and Christians who are brought together by faith in the same God and in one sense of national belonging.

A number of prominent Arab Muslims and Christians — intellectuals, clergy, and people in public life — were invited to a meeting held in Beirut in May 1995. This meeting was facilitated by the Middle East Council of Churches and, at its conclusion, witnessed the formation of the Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue. This group included prominent individuals from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, the Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

After more than six years of working on issues having to do with coexistence in the Arab world, and focusing the results of its practical experience, at its December 2001 meeting in Cairo the group decided officially to register itself in Lebanon as a non-profit civic organization.

The Arab Working Group has initiated a variety of dialogue activities addressing issues of coexistence within both the Arab and the religious context.

Among these activities have been annual summer camps for youth. These have created for young people environments appropriate to discovering the fruits of living together and how to nurture them. They brought together young Muslim and Christian men and women from across the Arab world and some European countries. They did volunteer development work together, and discussed, in light of a series of lectures given by specialists, what it means to belong to a national group and what constitutes dialogue.

Of regional and international seminars, meetings and conferences there were many significant ones. We note below the more important:

1. Muslims and Christians Together for Jerusalem’s Sake

In June, 1996, a broadly representative meeting was convened in Beirut under the theme, “Muslims and Christians Together for Jerusalem’s Sake.” The 120 participants — Arab Muslim and Christian religious dignitaries, intellectuals and representatives of international organizations — came from sixteen countries in the Arab world. At its conclusion they published a message to the whole world, to its political and spiritual leaders, the burden of which was that Arab Islam and Christianity speaks with one voice when it comes to the future of Jerusalem as an occupied Arab city and as the spiritual point of convergence for the monotheistic religions and their mission.

Below is the text participants in this meeting published. It was entitled, “The Call of Jerusalem.”

Driven by the sufferings of Jerusalem, its people and blessed land, and in solidarity with Lebanon, rising up from its trials stronger and more firmly united, we, spiritual leaders of the Arab world, both Muslim and Christian, met in Beirut on June 14-17, 1996. Grateful to the Middle East Council of Churches and to the Arab Working Group on Christian-Muslim Dialogue for their invitation, we came together to speak with one voice to the whole world near and far, and to all peoples and states. It is the voice of our people, Arab Muslim and Christian believers, that rises out of our shared history, and looks ahead to our common destiny.

In our view, the issue of Jerusalem is pivotal. As we stand before it, we are not divided into partisan groups; none of us wants Jerusalem exclusively for himself. In our love and sense of belonging, we are all children of Jerusalem. Our faith will know no contentment so long as Jerusalem languishes imprisoned. Speaking out on Jerusalem is not something to be postponed or delayed. Above all else, it is a priority matter, an issue of the pressing urgency between us and the Zionists who unlawfully have usurped the land of Palestine.

Jerusalem is its people. Its people are Palestinians. They have lived within it ever since Jerusalem came into existence and for countless generations. They have never been severed from it and know no other place as their capital. Separated from its history they do not know themselves.

These are the people who suffer today. Their livelihoods are being squeezed; they are expelled from their homes, humiliated, their land confiscated. Our solicitude for and with them presses us to declare a common stand as regards their cause. And their cause is our cause — the cause of Jerusalem.

The stand we take envisages a solution in terms of restoring Arab sovereignty in a manner that reestablishes the link between Palestine and Jerusalem, its heart and soul. The solution is not to be found in any political formula that cuts off Jerusalem from its body politic, its people, its heritage and its identity. The holy places continue have vitality only through the Jerusalemites who worship God in them in prayer and prostrations, in pilgrimage and offerings of praise. Without these, from being houses of prayer, the holy places become mere museums.

No power in the world has the right to Judaize Jerusalem, internationalize it, or strip it of its Arab and Christian-Muslim character. There is no authority whatsoever — be it international, or Arab (Muslim-Christian), far less any individual state acting alone — has the right to tamper with Jerusalem’s Christian-Muslim character. Any regional or international resolution that violates this identity is void and valueless. It cannot be cited to as a reference for legitimacy, nor may legitimacy be established upon it.

Since we are gathered around Jerusalem and for Jerusalem, we are deeply agitated by events we see happening. They show Israel unrestrained in using illegal pretexts to strip owners of their property, unabashedly making it impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits so they may develop what they own, without any qualm imposing a blockade on the city to choke it off and forbid its people free access, blithely preventing Palestinians from exercising their political right to assert their presence, and without hindrance transforming the city’s demographic face through settling people who do not belong and driving out its native-born citizens. These are all crimes that fly in the face of heaven’s law and earth’s covenants. They must cease forthwith.

The full force of fury is unleashed when Israel drives Jerusalemites — Muslims and Christians without distinction — to emigrate. This is turning Jerusalem into a confiscated city while, with its holy places, history and mission, it should be where all people can come together. Committed to our people, to our rights and to our land, as we see these things happening, we cannot do less than cry out to the world:

“A people, the Palestinian people, are under threat of extinction, their future obliterated. Do not abandon them in their hour of trial! Jerusalem is the physical space where its people gather together. Do not let it become an open square where memories echo, a museum of holy places bereft of soul, bereft of their people.”

Peace is the fruit of justice. Peace is not founded nor can it endure upon injustice and oppression. What we fear most is that international interests might coalesce to impose a situation that denies the Palestinian people establishing their own independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, and prevents full withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the western Biqâ’ and the Syrian Golan Heights.

We have taken our stand. We are committed to the cause of Jerusalem, and so we issue our call:

We call upon Muslims and Christians the world over to take their stand for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

We call upon all churches and upon all institutions and organizations in the Muslim world to adopt the liberation of Jerusalem as their highest priority. Let them expend every effort and give it all possible support until oppression is brought down and truth rises victorious.

We call upon the nations of the world, the organs of the United Nations, and all non-governmental organizations to help bear the load of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem so that the infrastructure will develop. Let there be sufficient support for these so that they may continue to provide basic services in the areas of health, education, social services and housing.

We call upon Arab states and the Palestine National Authority to adopt common positions on the issue of Jerusalem. It is a trust laid upon the shoulders of the Arabs and all people of faith everywhere in the world. Giving the blessed city the prominence it is due, we call them to a higher level of responsibility in defense of the Arab character of Jerusalem, and of its religious pluralism.

As the occupying power, Israel must cease and desist from any actions that close Jerusalem to its citizens, all the Palestinian people and all believers. It must abstain from all measures designed to change the human and physical face of Jerusalem. And it must acknowledge the rights of the Palestinian people. These are the minimal demands for peace and justice.

Were it not for the material support, political backing and the protective shelter given by various states and powers in the world, the crimes Israel has committed against Muslim and Christian holy places and against Arab human rights in the holy city could not have been committed. All of these entities must stop giving support to outrage and aggression. They must not give Israel the where-with-all to carry through with plans against the holy city that will see the planting of settlements, its Judaization, the exile of its people, and ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Muslims and Christians alike, we do not recognize the legitimacy of any foreign representation or any diplomatic mission to Israel that bases itself in Jerusalem. This would be the act of an enemy equally targeting both Arab Muslims and Arab Christians.

In so far as we are able, we will be the united voice of Jerusalem. We will extend a helping hand to its people in all ways that will help them stand fast in their homeland, assert their liberty, and protect the holy sites.

We will work together, Muslims and Christians, until Jerusalem becomes the city of reconciliation, justice and peace for all.

Jerusalem is whence we ascend to heaven.

In the Spirit, Jerusalem gave us birth. We are bonded to it by love, and there we will dwell until the day God reestablishes his legacy in the earth and upon all who dwell in it.

Peace be to Jerusalem. May peace rest upon Jerusalem. May Jerusalem’s peace embrace the entire world.

2. The Heritage of Abraham and Muslim-Christian Dialogue

This meeting was held in Beirut in July 1998 to address the issue of the Abrahamic heritage and its positive implications for Muslim-Christian dialogue. More than forty prominent religious personalities and scholars from Syria, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon participated. Also invited were intellectuals from France, Italy, Switzerland, Great Britain and the United States.

In the course of the discussions, consensus developed on several prominent ideas and directions:

• The Abrahamic faith is pure monotheism. It is the joint heritage of all monotheists, establishing between them and the prophet Abraham (upon whom peace!) a spiritual bond that is stronger than any putative racial bond claimed as its exclusive right by the international Zionist movement.

• The faith bond between the children of Abraham either by kinship tie or by spiritual tie does not allow for one group to be preferred above the other. It does not give one people or religious group the right to discriminate against the others or to appropriate from them that to which they have no legitimate right on the basis of divine law, international law or the recognized covenants of international jurisprudence.

• A full reading of the texts of Jewish and Christian heritage represented in the texts of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, does not give warrant for any special Abrahamic privilege or for Zionism’s presumptuous claims to exclusive control and monopoly.

• Participants in the meeting agreed that international Zionism has no right to seize Palestinian land, to drive off its people, to set up a Hebrew state in their place, and to Judaize Jerusalem. No matter what the Arab political stance on these issues may be, faith and popular culture are firmly committed to the right of the Arab/Palestinian people and to the restoration of Jerusalem, a city holy for all religions and the capital of the state of Palestine.

• The Christian and Muslim stand on these things does not permit any sort of discrimination between people on the basis of bloodline and, on principle, does not recognize any religious group arrogating to itself the right to seize land belonging to others and deny them their liberty and property on any racial pretext of preference.

3. On Citizenship, Democracy and Human Rights

The MECC’s program on Justice, Peace and Human Rights, in cooperation with the Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue, organized several meetings to deal with issues of citizenship, democracy and human rights. Two of these meetings stand out: A seminar on the theory and practice of coexistence in Arab countries, and another on citizenship, democracy and human rights.

These two seminars addressed these controversial issues openly and head-on. They were exceptional in that they came up with constructive religiously-based interpretations with the objective of transcending “obstructionist traditional” conceptions of belonging and of developing profound “modern” conceptions of the foundations and principles of an integrated national existence.

4. The American Law Concerning Religious Persecution

When the American law concerning religious persecution was first mooted, the Arab Working Group realized how threatening its negative impact could be on coexistence within Arab society. The General Secretariat of the MECC, cooperating with authorities in American churches, launched intensive activities within the United States and beyond it to explain the Arab Christian position on this law and its likely impact upon Muslim-Christian relations.

In April 1998 the Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue, reflecting the substance and goals of these initiatives, published a statement that said:

The group took note of the objectives the promulgation of this law is meant to achieve, the almost two-year long campaign that preceded it, and the negative repercussions it will have upon Muslim-Christian relations. It noted especially that this campaign was launched by and continues to be fostered by an alliance made up of the American extreme religious right wing and Zionist forces.

The group is of the opinion that by intervening this way in the world and especially in the Muslim world — on the pretext of defending religious freedom and punishing states, organizations and individuals seen to be implicated in or practicing various forms of religious persecution — the United States illegitimately arrogates to itself the right to accuse, judge, sentence and punish in a manner that serves the interests of Israel and that does damage both to Muslim-Christian relations and to American-Arab relations. …

The group expressed its intention to expand its contacts within enlightened ecclesiastical and civic circles that sympathize with the Arab Muslim-Christian stand on this issue, and to encourage them in their role of influencing public opinion in the United States.

The group affirms that the only way to guarantee religious freedom and to address the problems facing the citizens of the one homeland is through mutual understanding and dialogue on the principles of national integration, of guaranteed religious, civic and political rights, of full equality, and of respect for historic religious institutions for adherents of all religions.

The group concluded by mapping out a plan of action to follow up on this matter within the Arab world and internationally.

5. Coexistence and Religious Tensions

Following the outbreak of political tensions that took on a religious coloration in various parts of the Arab world and beyond, the Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue along with the MECC convened a brainstorming session in Beirut in March 2000. The theme for the meeting was “Coexistence and Religious Tensions in Some Arab Countries.”

This meeting examined aspects of coexistence in several Arab countries, especially the Sudan, Egypt and Lebanon. There was also a thorough discussion of other problems related to the general situation, one of which was ‘Religious Commitment and Fanaticism: Causes and Impact.’

The meeting, in its recommendations, confirmed that fanaticism is not a necessary or characteristic element of religious commitment. Fanaticism is stimulated by a variety of political, social, economic and broadly cultural circumstances. A wrong notion of religious commitment responds to these circumstances. Abandoning moderation, it adopts extremism and fanaticism. In light of this, distinguishing religious commitment from extremism requires identifying the factors fostering fanaticism, and its real root causes in educational, formational and cultural institutions. These, then, can be treated, and religious commitment be directed toward achieving the public good, and responding through practical, effective and constructive programs to social and developmental problems that society in all its various sub-groupings faces.

Another issue discussed was “Nationalistic and Sectarian Conflicts in the World and their Impact upon Coexistence.” Still another topic was “The Use of Religion as an Instrument in Political Conflicts.” Those participating affirmed that a right understanding of religion and what it means to be religious strengthens the values of harmony, coexistence, and social justice. On the other hand, exploiting religion to serve narrow political interests and to fuel political and social strife stands in diametrical contradiction to the mission, spirit and essence of religion. This does not mean that religion has no (or only a diminished) role in public life. Religion provides guidance in administering people’s affairs, in the gaining of benefits, in encouraging liberty, and in establishing justice.

6. Toward an Arab Muslim-Christian Covenant

At its regular meeting held in Cairo in December 2001, bringing to fruition two years of work, the group adopted document entitled: “Dialogue and Coexistence: Toward an Arab Muslim-Christian Covenant.”

This document, the text of which follows, is the product of much thought, dialogue, conclave and consultation, and the fruit of practical down-to-earth experience. It also took into its purview the existing international situation, especially that pertaining after September 11, 2001.

The Arab Working Group on Muslim-Christian Dialogue considers this covenant “… a guide or a foundation for programs or practical plans which will apply them in the real world of living together and in various communicational, formational, cultural and social contexts.” Furthermore, it hopes “… that its principles and guidance will be a call to people, a witness among them, and an Arab Muslim-Christian covenant for work. … And God it is who gives success.”

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