Muslims all over the world are observing these days the holy month of Ramadan. It is a spiritual occasion that brings them closer to God, and closer to themselves as well. Worshipping in its intensive form, where mosques are fully occupied by prayers, charity work at its utmost, sympathy with the poor, solidarity in the society in its clearest form, are all symptoms of Arab, and Muslim societies, shared throughout the month, by Muslim- Christian brethren.
By self monitoring “ban” of eating, and drinking, from the dawn till the sun set, Muslims are not only worshipping God, they are undergoing a human experience of sharing feelings with others; who can barely, have a minimum share of their daily meal. It is indeed, a self exercise, a healthy diet that has been proven by modern medical studies.
Ramadan is not only a month of fasting; it is a month of celebrating old traditions of a harmonic co-existence in the Arab countries among Muslims and Christians. They both celebrate the month; they exchange visits, invitations on”Iftar”; the daily dinner marking the end of fasting. They celebrate together, social night events throughout the month.
These traditions are a reflection of the common culture we share in our region that goes back to hundreds of years. There, in our region, was the beginning; the cradle of the three monotheistic religions, where all the prophets were born, preached, and buried. Lots of cities’ and places’ names in the Arab countries are mentioned in the “Old, and the New Testament”, and in the Qur’an. Hundreds of shrines of prophets and saints spread all over their territories. The city of Bethlehem in Palestine is the cradle of the Jesus Christ, where the “Church of the Nativity” was built. In Jerusalem, the “Church of the Holy Sepulcher”, was built where Jesus is believed to be crucified. It is in Jordan, on the eastern bank of river Jordan, where Jesus was baptized. Many other traces of religious value are there in almost every spot of the Arab countries, as well.
It is in fact, hard to enumerate the names of Christian scholars, writers, artists, scientists, and politicians who enriched the culture of their countries with their generous contributions to their homelands.
Christianity in the Middle East represents a large part of the mosaic of Arab identity with its diverse culture. “Jobran Khalil Jubran”, “Michael Na’imeh”, “Fares Khouri”, and “Tal’at Harb”, are just some few examples of Christian pioneer figures of writers, economists, politicians, statesmen, and national heroes in the Arab World.
An early, prominent trait of co-existence is what has been known as “the Covenant of Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab” which established a distinctive principle, and framed a bright historic relationship between the followers of the Islamic and Christian religions, in which he wrote to the people of Elijah (Jerusalem) a letter in 638 AD, securing their churches and their properties.
Coexistence is the discovery and the acceptance of others. It is the recognition of their existence, their identity and privacy. It is the respect of differences and the affirmation of a common ground as well. Thus, a process of cultural incarnation in the Arab world has flourished, taking various forms in different fields. A common culture was the outcome. We both Christians and Muslims feel proud of Arab poets, writers, artists, national heroes, of both religions. We even share the names; “Isa”, which stands for Jesus, is a common name for a Christian, and for a Muslim, too. The same goes with the name: “Musa”; Moses. “Ahmed”, “Mahmoud”, “Mustafa”; are all derivatives of Prophet Muhammad’s name, are named by Christians too. That is true to the name of “Mary, Maria, and Mariam” that we share.
Coexistence is manifested in different forms; congratulations are exchanged in religious occasions and holidays. Christmas and Easter are official holidays in many Arab countries, whose leaders are always keen to attend the ceremonies, or to assign a representative to attend on their behalves. Religious freedom and the right to practice the religious rituals are guaranteed right in the constitution. All citizens enjoy equal rights, are requested to rise up to their duties on an equal foot.
Emphasizing the importance of coexistence, many Arab countries have taken initiatives to contribute to fostering a culture of “religious harmony”, fighting extremism in all its forms, through holding conferences and seminars of inter-religious dialogue, and establishing centers for dialogue among civilizations and cultures, along with taking initiatives at the Arab States leaders’ level, to promote these values. These initiatives are so many to be mentioned all in an article, while the significance of taking such initiatives matters, and brings us all closer together, to our common, ethical, humanitarian values, as we should always be.
Ambassador Qais Shqair.
Chief of the League of Arab States in Brazil.