29 March 2016

Our Muslim neighbours

His Holiness Patriarch John X of Antioch, speaking with Syrian Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun

Christians, including my fellow Orthodox, need to be more discerning on this issue.

St John of Damascus argued strenuously against Islam as a doctrine. In fact, practically all of our intellectual resources against the Islamic heresy find their source in St John's writings. And yet he lived in a society that was conquered by Muslims, in his secular office he served (and was almost martyred by) a Muslim ruler, and he didn't advocate armed conflict between his fellow Christians and his Muslim neighbours.

We need to follow his example. Muslims, qua Muslims, aren't the enemy. Daesh is doing horrific things in the name of Islam. And yet, the great majority of Muslims in the Fertile Crescent are our allies on the most practical and basic of levels. Shi'ites and Alawites - and, yes, Sunni moderates - are fighting alongside Christians every day to retake Syria. Hezbollah, supposedly a terrorist organisation, is actively defending Christian homes and villages in southern and western Syria. Palmyra was recently retaken by the Syrian Arab Army - most of whom are Muslims.

The Christian presence in the Middle East has been made practically untenable by a perception - completely unwarranted - that Christians are the existential enemies of Muslims. This perception was bolstered by the war in Iraq. It continues to be fanned and spread by the likes of Daesh and al-Qaeda.

If we Christians in the West want to be of any service or help to the Christians in the Middle East, we need to have our priorities straight and our message needs to be clear. We need to disavow and repudiate all claims that Muslims are our enemies. We do have a deep and perhaps irreconcilable doctrinal dispute with Islam that is not going away anytime soon, but we also have to deal with the practical implications of the fact that Muslims are our neighbours, and that in many cases we share in their struggles.

The fact that this is the official position of my Church, the Roman Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, articulated countless times in many different venues, spoken and written (for example, this one), should be proof that this is not feel-good moral posturing. This is not liberal handwringing. This is not armchair SJW-ism. This is not about political correctness. This is about survival. Christians, Muslims and Jews live alongside each other in the Levant and have been doing so for centuries. Now the Muslim community has been torn at the seams by a vicious and inhuman hothouse-radicalism, lab-grown in Saudi- and Qatari-funded Wahhabi madrassahs and backed up with the weapons of American imperialism smuggled through Turkey, that is threatening women, religious minorities and people of conscience across the board throughout the Fertile Crescent.

And again, as a merely practical and realist question, as a question of survival, the very last thing Middle Eastern Christians need is their Muslim neighbours thinking that we're the enemy. Enough of them know we aren't, to keep fighting against those who insist that we are.


  1. Matthew, that is a fantastic and articulate post, couldn't argue with any of it!

  2. I'm not sure the attack on 'American imperialism' added much value to the post, but otherwise an excellent piece.

  3. Thank you indeed, Matthew!

    (The odd thing is, I had a fellow Orthodox making the opposite complaint on an earlier version of this posted to Facebook...)

    1. That I didn't take into account the ultimate sources of Daesh's funding: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the US.