For almost two millennia Christian communities have lived in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. These groups have contributed economically, politically, and intellectually, and have helped shape their respective cultures. Unfortunately, in the 21st century Middle Eastern Christians are being severely persecuted. When they have the means, many are fleeing the region.
It has become obvious that Iraqi Christians along with other minorities have received a fatal blow at the heart of their lives and their existence when more than one hundred and twenty thousand Christians were forced to flee from their houses and villages, when their possessions of a lifetime, valuables and documents were looted and when their houses were occupied: all these, just for being Christian!
Displacement and emigration have had great impact on us, both Christian and Muslim. Iraq is losing an irreplaceable component of its society, the Christian one; hence a genuine and ancient tradition is endangered!
Due to their moral and historic responsibility towards Iraq, the international community cannot be indifferent. It is also sad to say that the response of the international Muslim community towards the barbaric acts committed (in the name of their religion) against the life, dignity and freedom of Christians is not up to our expectations, considering that Christians have contributed and fought for this country, living in partnership with their Muslim brothers alongside the Islamic civilization (sharing their sufferings and their joys).
Religious fundamentalism is still growing in power and force, provoking tragedies, and making us wonder when the Islamic religious scholars and the Muslim intellectuals will critically examine this dangerous phenomenon and eradicate it by educating a true religious consciousness and spreading an authentic culture of accepting people of other faiths as brothers and as citizens with equal and full rights. ISIS is moving forward with its ferocious war against culture and diversity, and thus threatening the intellectual and social fabric of the entire society.
Christians and Muslims should not give up on raising their voices against the extremists and should work together to create a new mentality of living together in peace and harmony. Therefore it is high time that an effective action be undertaken at the ideological level within the Islamic world to stop the claim of these extremists of their religious legitimacy for receiving resources and for recruiting new militants.
We urge all religious and political leaders to spread the culture of openness, diversity, plurality and equality in the face of a culture of extremism, elimination, marginalization and social backwardness supported by a weak individual and collective consciousness of its own deficiency. Only education can commence this transformation and build a society where equality amongst citizens succeeds. This can be achieved primarily by revising accordingly the curriculum of all centers of learning, especially centers of religious education. To guarantee a better coexistence it is imperative to create a civil society that respects every religion and does not politicize religions for its own benefits.
The title of this meeting 100 years post World War I, is Religions and Cultures in Dialogue for more peace in the future. This should be our way of life. So I suggest some practical points.
The notion of religion in Islam and its theological language differs from Christian perspective. Islam is a system where religion and politics are interlocked and which dictates all areas of human existence. I think the moment has come to separate religion which is based on truth, from politics, which is based essentially on interests (of the one who rules or of the one who wants to rule)!
- Dialogue is a process, a way of life. It is not an office business neither something that can be reduced to some meetings or discussions. Dialogue is a genuine intellectual effort to think and to analyze one’s own faith, life and culture, while creating space to understand the faith, life and culture of other peoples. In this process, the authentic seeker of dialogue finds more similarities than dissimilarities between religions, more reasons to be united than to be divided between faiths. Then religion becomes personal and not an inherited reality.
- The promotion of human rights is the best common ground between Muslims and Christians on which both can work and act in order to promote a peaceful coexistence. We both should care for the health and fight against hunger and analphabetism. An updating of the religious vocabulary and a reform of the programs of religious teaching is crucial. Transformation and renewal is part of nature. Culture is evolving, mentalities are being refined, and languages are developing. We should seek a new method to think and exist in a spirit of “mercy and in service of love” (cfr.Ut Unum Sint, 92-93, 95) instead of having recourse to excuses to justify the current situation. Religions should seek a new human and theological language which speaks and touches the heart of persons and gives their life a direction and a hope instead of being instruments of violence for the benefits of a few. I invite our Muslim friends in the Middle East to bring a common action to “a Common Word.”
- Reforms of Constitutions: Islam is the religion of the state in the Constitutions of Islamic Countries. To do justice to the situation and to the history, an amendment of these Constitutions is necessary. An amendment which guarantees the Christians and other minorities, who were inhabitants of this land from their beginnings, equal treatment like the Muslim citizens. Toleration “dhimi” is not what we expect, but equality. Religion should not become a criterion for discriminating citizens. Christians are a distinguished minority in the Middle East, rooted in their lands, with open minds and a capacity to dialogue, who contributed a lot to their countries in different fields of life, especially in the field of education.
Finally: Let us Christians, Muslims and Yezides stop the logic of conflicts and violence and replace it with the logic of dialogue and peace, then we all will have future. I do believe that the solution for our problems is a federal regime which can keep the unity of the country and can help.
There are only 6 months left before we face winter, so please we urge you:
- To liberate not only the plain of Nineveh, but also Mosul.
- To support the safe return of the displaced population to their homes.
- To help to immediately reestablish water and electricity and other services.