Christians: The Salt of the Arab-Islamic Civilization

Historians agree unanimously on the importance Christianity’s role in the Arab renaissance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the Christian contribution to the revival of Arab civilization did not actually start at that time. Rather, it was deeply rooted in the history of the region, wherein they carved, alongside Muslims, the features of our Arab-Islamic culture.

Christianity helped pave the way for Islam and had a powerful impact on the victory of the Muhammadiyah Message over infidelity and idolatry.

The religion has protected Islam and Muslims since the beginning of the Dawa, when the Messenger allowed a group of believers, including his cousin Abdullah bin Jaafar, to migrate to Abyssinia, which was ruled at that time by Najashi, who honored and welcomed them. The ruler rejected all the temptations of the Quraish and the bribes offered by its men to hand over the Muslims.

The establishment of the Islamic Empire and its conquests strengthened the position of Christians in the region, as they had already worked since the first century of the Hijri to consolidate the pillars of Islam, without abandoning their religion.

Thus, the Copts remained in Egypt, the Maronites in Lebanon, and The Banu Taghlib in the Peninsula. They continued building churches and monasteries performing their cultural, intellectual, and educational role in the entire region.

When Islam reached Damascus, the Christians living there, who were known for their knowledge, aided in the process of building the state.

They contributed to laying the intellectual pillars of the State in a way that surprised historians. The transformation of the caliphate’s capital to Baghdad, which was made up of a multicultural, multi-religious, and multi-lingual community, did not change the cognitive influence of the Syriac and Assyrian churches.

Muslims deliberately absorbed the knowledge of their predecessors, and the Christians helped them in that, especially through translation, as they translated historical documents from Greek, Syriac, and Persian to Arabic.

Some attribute the cooperation between Eastern Christians and Islam to the injustice they suffered from the Romans and Persians. This is half of the truth.

The cooperation also came from the fact that they belonged to the same land. Both parties shared a similar feeling in their hearts, and believed that their destiny is one, as well as their land.

A major paradox worth mentioning is the beginning of the decline of the Christian presence in the region. The transformation of Christians into a minority did not result from the Islamic conquests, but rather from the Crusades (1095-1291), as Christians were killed along with the Muslims at the hands of the invaders.

When the Arab-Islamic civilization fell into the “age of decadence”, due to the isolation imposed by the Ottomans on Arab countries for four whole centuries, the conditions of Christians, like Muslims, declined.

This again highlighted the unity between the people of the two religions, which undoubtedly relates to the unity of destiny, interests, and a common history.

The East, with its Muslims and Christians, fought a “civilization” war against a common Turkish enemy. Their alliance was based on national, not religious, affiliation and they achieved victory over Ottoman despotism.

Today, in the Arab region, we urgently need a similar harmony and unification between the three religions.

There is a strong need for serious engagement between religions, and for better understanding of the history of relations between the three monotheistic religions.

We need to look at the effects of Western political and military intervention, the Sykes-Picot colonial agreement, the establishment of the State of Israel, the sudden rise of political Islam and Takfiri Jihadist organizations, and the wars in Iraq and Syria.

Additionally, we cannot ignore the negative effects that the political and security turmoil has had on the Christian Arabs, and the Jews as well.

Arab Christians have proven that they belong to the Arab culture, and they are loyal to their land and brothers of this land.

It is rumored that Fares Al-Khouri, the Christian national leader who played a major role in the establishment of the Syrian Arab Republic, that France was coming to Syria to protect the Christians of the East. He went to the Umayyad Mosque on a Friday and announced from the pulpit: “France claims that it will occupy Syria to protect we Christians from Muslims. As a Christian, I seek protection from my Syrian people, and as a Christian, I, from this pulpit, bear witness that there is no god but Allah.”

The Muslims and Christians of the city, in an unforgettable scene, rose in front of him in solidarity and celebrated his defense of coexistence.

The Eastern Christians are the safety valve in the region. Thanks to their moderate relations with all parties, they are the link between Islam and other religions, and furthermore between East and West.

Today, we all have a responsibility to restore the splendor of the diversity that characterizes our region as a source of civilized richness, and to revitalize our societies and make them tolerant.

This is not a utopian goal, but rather a realistic one that can be achieved.

The “Iberian Peninsula”—beautiful Andalusia—is a prominent example from Arab history proved that the Arab civilization is not purely Islamic, but rather Islamic, Christian and to some extent Jewish.

Andalusia’s history reflects the harmonious interactions between the three Abrahamic religions, characterized by mutual respect and appreciation. The period of Iberia was an era of abundance, prosperity, and achievement.

Presently, concern is growing in the West towards the radical Muslims that refuse to join their communities. Instead they insist on marginalizing themselves and living in closed off and conservative societies, often in Slum areas where crime and unemployment are widespread.

The unfortunate terrorist incidents that happen from time to time are only the apparent indications of the danger of this phenomenon and its consequences for everyone; Muslims and Christians, Easterners and Westerners.

These incidents have far-reaching consequences, such as the spread of Islamophobia. All members of Islam have been subjected to the accusations based on the actions of a few individuals.

As a liberal Muslim who acknowledges the important role of Christianity in building the Arab-Islamic civilization, I worry about the exacerbation of this situation.

I also think it is necessary to be mindful and preserve the achievements of the Christian presence in the East in particular.

Today, we are suffering a double loss: first, the emigration of Eastern Christians to Europe and the subsequent emptying of this region of its most important and oldest components. Then, the trust between the West and Islam has been severed by the action and influence of fanatical individuals on both sides, giving birth to Islamophobia.

Nevertheless, a glimmer of light is taking shape at the end of this dark tunnel. It becomes brighter when we look at the region’s projects aimed at boosting coexistence, such as the 2022 establishment of the “Abrahamic Family House” in Abu  Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The house will serve as  a symbol of religious tolerance and a starting point for building peace.

The UAE’s mission today confirms that the time has come to reject the ideologies of Takfiri fanaticism and all the hostile attempts to destroy the fraternity and harmony of religions. 

These ideologies are causing death, displacement, and destruction. On top of that, they deprive the Arab world of its original cultural and spiritual elements, foremost among which is the Christian presence that has been and will remain influential in the composition of the East, as Christians are the salt of the Arab and Islamic land.

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