Skip to comments.The exodus of Christians from the Middle East is a painful blow to the Arab world
Posted on 02/24/2014 8:42:30 AM PST by DeaconBenjamin
BEIRUT: Tarif Khalidi is a big, bearded bear of a man, the kind you would always choose to play Father Christmas, or perhaps a Cossack leader sweeping across the Russian steppe, reins in one hand, sword in the other. But Tarif or Uncle Tarif as I invariably call him is an Islamic scholar, the most recent translator of the Quran and author of a wonderful book of Muslim stories about Jesus.
I am thus surprised but after a few seconds not at all surprised to hear how well this Palestinian from Jerusalem got on with the Imam Musa Sadr, the Shia leader in southern Lebanon who did more to lift his people from squalor than any I can think of until Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had him murdered in Libya in 1978.
"He took on the Christians of Lebanon in an extraordinary manner," Tarif says. "He revived Islamic interest in Jesus and Mary. He was an extraordinary performer. He almost embraced Christian theology. He would lecture in churches with the cross right behind him!" But as we weave our way between religions, I realize what is grieving this most burly of professors he teaches at the American University of Beirut as he speaks slowly and eloquently of the almost biblical exodus of Christians from the Middle East.
"It is a tragedy and a blow to the basic pride of Arab Islamic civilization. It is one of the most horrific developments of recent years. If Islamic civilization has anything to show for itself, it is its record of pluralism and coexistence. I said the other day that if the Nobel Peace Prize had existed hundreds of years ago, it would be awarded to Islamic civilization. But now the barbarians are at the gates, Christians are killed, nuns are kidnapped" Tarif is referring to the nuns taken from the Christian Syrian town of Maaloula "and bishops disappear. This strikes at the very heart of what we stood for."
I ask him an obvious question. What did it feel like to translate the Quran? The answer comes straight from the shoulder. "I feel a big difference in rhetoric and eloquence. Some parts of it are very moving, very poetical. Other parts are humdrum, prosaic, repetitive. It's an uneven text."
He pauses, and then says that "there has not yet been a higher criticism of the Quran. It may happen, but it hasn't. Christians indulged in this higher criticism of the Bible at the end of the 19th century. We need, for example, very seriously to re-examine things between men and women. The implication of these things have not been fully explored. Veiling, for instance. You need to re-think basic human rights issues. And what does 'revelation' really mean?"
Tarif is not criticizing the Quran and he doesn't use the word "re-interpretation" although I do, and he agrees this is what he is talking about. Islamic scholars have endured much harassment in the past for suggesting that it is time for Muslims to re-interpret their holy book. I suggest with some hesitation that I find Shia Muslims readier to discuss the meaning of the Quran than Sunni Muslims, and Tarif Khalidi agrees at once.
"Shia clerics get a far more rigorous education than Sunni clerics. They have a solid education in the theological sciences. They learn Aristotelian logic before the Quran. I think theology is much more alive in the Shia community. Shiites are more theological, Sunnis are legalistic. And the Shiites have their 'passion story' about Hussein and Ali. It is an invitation to reflect on the need for justice."
It is almost a relief to turn to the Middle East today, although Tarif's response is unexpected. "I think the Middle East is part of a more general epidemic it's happening in the Ukraine, in north Africa. It could be a kind of contamination that runs through unstable societies. It's extremely difficult to differentiate what in each case is going to happen. It's very sad, the cost is very high in human life. And do you notice how these leaders haven't said a single word about the casualties among their own people? They talk about reform, elections, a new constitution, but not a word about their own people's suffering.
"Syria began as a legitimate war but now it's a kind of melee, one side infecting the other with its fanaticism."
Of Egypt, Tarif is a little unkind, especially towards Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first elected president who could be "described as a clown". Morsi "was like a man who felt himself parachuted into a job he had only dreamed about. He had been in opposition so long, he didn't know what to do when he got to power." Every Egyptian, Tarif suspects, wishes to be a Nasser. Tarif doesn't name names but I can certainly think of one army officer who would like to try on Nasser's clothes.
Tarif, I should add, doesn't buy my line about Christianity dying out in the West. He talks about Americans in the Midwest and churches filling up because of Pope Francis. Asked by another journalist whether he has taken heat from extremists, Tarif replied that "nobody has challenged me, because most of these fundamentalists are illiterate so that's a mercy".
Not so illiterate, however, that they would have missed Beirut's most famous faux pas of recent years. The avuncular Tarif was lecturing at the American University about the Quran and the hoarding advertising his talk read: "The Quran, by Tarif al-Khalidi." Mobiles rang at once and the offending advertisement was swiftly taken down before anyone had time to point out that the author of the Quran was God.
Any guesses on whether Tarif survives the fallout from this interview?
What a blow!!
These Middle-Age throwbacks won’t have anyone to persecute, stone, and behead for kicks and giggles.
Nonsense. They still have plenty of their own teen-aged daughters, sisters, nieces and cousins.
Look on the bright side. They can return to going after one another.
Huh? Seige of Vienna anyone?
That's blasphemy. The Quran is a compilation of notes allegedly dictated by Mohammed, from a multitude of sources of questionable authenticity, assembled 7 hundred years after his death, and completely unprovable as given by anyone in particular. Since it contradicts every authentic prophet in history from Jesus all the way back, the last claim anyone should accept is attributing it to God. Where is “love thy neighbor?” Not there. What about the Ten Commandments? Not there. It demands violence, hatred, racism, and oppression. Its effect is to impose slavery on its believers and those affected by it, in place of the Truth that sets us free.
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