23. 09. 2014 | News, Archive 2014

Christian Presence in the Middle East in Danger

Christians and Muslims Discuss the Current Situation in the Middle East at a Conference in Cairo

Do Christians in the Middle East still have a future? This question was at the centre of discussion at a conference in Cairo to which the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC) invited Christian and Muslin religious leaders last week. Muslims and Christians see education as the most important way to prevent terrible and undesirable developments in Islam.

The question regarding the future of Christians in the Middle East is not a new one. Christians have been leaving the region for many years. The concern of Christians grew to become an existential fear with the outbreak of civil war in Syria and at the latest a few months ago when the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) perpetrated acts of cruelty in Syria and Iraq. Only recently did the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon send out an urgent appeal to all Evangelical churches in the world to prevent the complete demise of the Christian presence in the Middle East.

Delegates at the Conference last week also expressed strong words about the situation. "Must we live in a world in which our children are being killed? Is this Islam?" asked Adeeb Awad from the Presbyterian Church in Syria and Lebanon before the attending Muslim representatives from Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt.

The Muslim delegates replied unanimously that Islam had nothing to do with the IS but is based on tolerance and mercy. For them the Qur'an supports legal equality between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslim delegates were also concerned that the IS and other jihad terror groups were blackening the image of Islam. "We suffer a great deal from the violence which is carried out in the name of Islam," said Sheikh Mohammed Eddin Afifi from the Council for Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar, the highest educational institution in Sunni Islam. Al-Azhar is all too aware of the drama of the situation. It continuously appeals for peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians and as a result it has also become a target for extremists. "There are forces which are trying to destroy the reputation of Al-Azhar in the Islamic world," said Afifi. For him the strong expansion of extremism in the Islamic world is based on a lack of education. "We must make it clear to the people in our countries that the Jihadists portray a false image of Islam and that Islam is in reality moderate. And here we need help."

The Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan from Jerusalem emphasised that Christians in the Middle East had only one chance if joint investments were made to educate the broad masses and eliminate radical patterns of thinking. "We must change the curricula in the Arab world so that people learn to accept others in their difference and to live with each other in peace," said Younan.

Reverend Dr Habib Badr from the National Evangelical Church of Beirut, member of the Mission Council of the Evangelical Mission in Solidarity (EMS), expressed his disappointment in the diminishing commitment of the West in the field of education. In the past, the West regarded education as one of its main tasks in the region. "This interest seems to have disappeared in many places," he said. "It is therefore so important for the EMS because it supports education for Christians and Muslims. Moderate ideas are mainly represented by those in the region who have a good education."

One shining example of this are the Schneller schools in Jordan and Lebanon and the new pre-school project in the "Valley of Christians" in Syria. The EMS gives special support to these institutions together with the Evangelical Association for the Schneller Schools (EVS), a member of its organisation.

Press Contact:
Regina Karasch-Böttcher, karasch@ems-online.org, Tel. +49 711 636 78 85

Katja Dorothea Buck, katjabuck@yahoo.de, Tel. +49 7071 36 93 64