Revolutions and counterrevolutions resulted in internal strife and sectarian conflicts often pitting members of a country’s population against each other.
While this sectarian violence is very acute in traditional religious divides within the Islamic faith, in many areas the violence also spread to other religious groups.
In the past few years alone, Christian priests were kidnapped, churches were burnt and bombed, and communities have been targeted in Iraq, Syria and Egypt.
The conference on Christian Arabs in Amman brought to the forefront many of these challenges and attempted to tackle them both directly and indirectly through focusing attention to this growing problem that is threatening centuries old relationships.
In praising the role of Christian Arabs, King Abdullah said they are the closest to understanding Islam and its true values.
He called for serious efforts to “preserve the historical Arab Christian identity, and safeguard the right to worship freely, based on a rule in both the Christian and Islamic faiths that underlines love of God and love of neighbor, as embodied in the ‘A Common Word’ initiative.’”
While the recent conference held in Amman is a welcomed event, it was not without some criticism regarding its attendees and exclusive focus on religious leadership.
For example, the attendance was limited to leaders of traditional churches, most of whom have religious hierarchy in non-Arab countries, ignoring some newer Christian denominations with Jordanian leadership.
Local Arab Evangelical churches whose contribution to Jordan’s education, health and humanitarian needs dates back to the birth of the emirate were strangely not invited even though their religious hierarchy is totally Arab and Jordanian.
The presence and role of Christian Arabs is not limited to the religious leadership. The delicacy of the situation and the dangers of losing the Christian element in the Arab world were not lost on a number of Jordanian intellectuals.
Economist and former Minister Jawad Anani dedicated a column in the independent daily al-Ghad, talking about the economic contribution of Christian Arabs and the danger of what is happening to them. He related that Arab Christians were 25 per cent of the Middle East population at the turn of the 20th century and now they are down to around five per cent. Calling them the “salt of the earth,” Anani recalled the contributions of Christian Arabs in the field of development, nationalism, education, business, medicine, media, literature and the arts.
“If they continue to emigrate, our losses in developing ourselves technologically, security and culture will be negatively affected.”
The emphasis and focus by Jordan on Christian Arabs is of extreme importance in confronting worldwide ignorance of the presence and contributions of Christian Arabs, and the unhealthy growth of the forces of religious darkness and intolerance in this region.
To be effective, such focus must continue in an inclusive and comprehensive way that attracts all and benefits from the great wealth of experience that has made this region so important to humanity and civilizations.
This article was first published in the Jordan Times on September 26, 2013.