Persecution of Christians is the Betrayal of Islam

2014-10-13 02:41:00

Nazila Isgandarova

Fundamentalism in extremist Islamist thought, especially of the bloodthirsty jihadist ISIS, threatens common historical and cultural heritage between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East. Instead of reflecting on how this happened, I will reflect on why the persecution of Christians in the region “in the name of Islam” is the betrayal of Islam itself. Nevertheless, I also suggest that we need a clear explanation of how this happened, as it is important to prevent it in future, and recreate the Middle East as one of the peaceable regions of the world.

First, ISIS persecution of Christians in the region, which constituted 5% of the population (approximately 12 million Christians), down from 20% in the early 20th century, deeply insults the Qur’anic respect for them, who are known as “Nasara” and who once helped the first refugee Muslims from Madinah to Ethiopia. Just because of the Qur’anic verses devoted to them and the lessons learned from the sirah, the Prophet’s life narrative, every honest Muslim not only carry a spirit of inherent respect to Christians, but also feel that they owe to “Nasara” for saving the lives of the early Muslims.

Second, historically, Muslims and Christians in the Middle East share almost the same cultural and historical legacy. Most Christians in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt speak Arabic or Aramaic (both belong to the Semitic languages).

 Third, whenIslam became the main religion of the region, the Muslim leaders did not killor persecuted Christians; rather, they granted legal protection to churches, monasteries and Christian shrines.  These places were also under the moral protection of ordinary Muslims, who not only protected their neighbors who had been around longer, but also respected these places and owned them as places of pilgrimage centres. An example for these various shared sites are Fatima in Portugal, St. George’s shrine in Beirut, Prophet Ezekiel’s shrine in Iraq or Meryemana (Mother Mary) in Turkey. 

It must be noted that Christian churches and monasteries not only served their followers, but Muslims also extensively benefited from them. For example, Christian monasteries have been used as places of libraries and Christian scholars have become mediums between the Graeco-Roman thought and Islamic thought.  It was due to their translations of massive books of the Greek and Roman philosophers in the palaces of the Muslim rulers that theGolden Age of Islamic thought cherished.

Fourth, both Christians and Muslims in the region suffered from the foreign invasions, such as the Crusades in the 12thcentury, the Moghul invasion in the 13thcentury, and colonialism in the 18th-20thcenturies, etc. In the 19thcentury, both Christian and Muslim Arabs had to commit themselves to nationalism in order to get rid of colonialism. In Palestine, both Muslim and Christian Palestinians continue to suffer from wrong domestic policy and relentless foreign persecution.

Finally, the Middle East is a home for Christians for two millennia. Muslims and Christians lived in the region side by side, and shared more similarities, such as cultural attitudes, cuisine and clothing than differences. If the Qur’an or the Prophet never demanded them to convert to Islam or die, no Muslim has the right to demand them to do so. Otherwise, their attitude and behavior, such as a "convert, leave or die" ultimatum, is not Islamic and must strictly be condemned. A fundamentalist attitude to eliminate Christians in the region is also a betrayal of millions of Muslims worldwide, who devote their lives to dialogue and mutual respect and celebrate diversity. 

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