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Jewish and Muslim leaders defend Christianity in Middle East

By Ann Marie Foley - 25 August, 2016


A Muslim prince and a Jewish interfaith expert have joined together to denounce the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

Prince Hassan of Jordan, a Muslim, and Dr Ed Kessler, an expert in Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations have written a joint opinion piece in The Telegraph in which they counter claims by Daesh that Christianity is a Western import to the region.

“Christianity has been part of the essential fabric of the Middle East for two thousand years,” they state.

“Far from being a Western import as some, incredibly, now seem to suggest, it was born here and exported as a gift to the rest of the world. Christian communities have been intrinsic to the development of Arab culture and civilisation.”

“This central role in our region and civilisation is why it is abhorrent to us, as a Muslim and a Jew, to see Christianity and Christians under such savage assault across our region.”

They not only abhor the attacks on fellow human beings but feel that to lose Christianity from its birthplace would  destroy a shared heritage.

“The reality is that we are all one community, united by shared beliefs and history. But this is increasingly denied, with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or Daesh as it is known in our region, taking the lead both in justifying and carrying out these attacks,” they state in the opinion which was published on Monday 23 August.

They describe the Daesh vision as apocalyptic and something that looks back to “a mythic Golden Age” which they state “is solely the creation of the warped minds of today’s jihadists.”

Dr Ed Kessler

Dr Ed Kessler

The two men state that to end the hatred, self-destruction and fratricidal conflict is the main challenge for all involved in interfaith dialogue.

“This requires us to step up our efforts to increase understanding that what unites the three great faiths of our region is far greater than any differences. We must stress, too, that respect for the past and learning from it does not require us to live there,” they state.

They emphasise the importance of interpretation, and an honest recognition that all the Abrahamic scriptures – the Christian Bible, the Jewish Tanach and the Koran – contain texts which are divisive and include attacks on other groups.

Islam teaches haq el hurriya and haq el karama, the right to freedom and the right to human dignity. In Judaism, Pikuach Nefesh is the command that the preservation of human life takes precedence over all other commandments.

“It is time to call a halt to the hate and atrocities that are causing convulsions throughout our immediate region and beyond. Peace and humanity itself hang upon the success of this interfaith exercise. It is that important,” they conclude.

HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan, is the founder and president of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith (RIIFS).

It was established in 1994 in Amman, Jordan and provides a venue for the interdisciplinary study of intercultural and interreligious issues with the aim of defusing tensions and promoting peace, regionally and globally.

RIIFS has evolved from a centre for the study of Muslim-Christian relations in the Arab world to an interdisciplinary institution, covering all fields of the humanities and social sciences that deal with cultural and civilizational interaction.

Dr Ed Kessler is the founder director of the Woolf Institute, Fellow at St Edmund’s College, and an affiliated lecturer at the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge.

Dr Kessler was awarded an MBE in 2011 for services to interfaith relations.

Much of his work has been examining Scripture and exploring the significance for Jewish-Christian relations of sharing a sacred text.

He has identified a common exegetical tradition, especially in the formative centuries.

More recently his writings have focused on the encounter with Islam and contemporary relations between the three Abrahamic faiths.

Kessler proposes approaches for managing difference, which he argues is vital in forming a positive identity as well as sustaining communities.

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