Heneghan on Christian-Muslim Relations in the Middle East

This article by Reuters’s Religion Editor Tom Heneghan in Al Arabiya is, quite simply, the best I have read in the popular press on the complicated relationship between Christians and Muslims in the contemporary Middle East. Reporting on a Istanbul conference attended by Christian and Muslim intellectuals, Heneghan explains that the two sides sometimes seemed as if they were “talking about two different places and using divergent meanings for the same words.” For example, Muslim participants spoke with pride about Islam’s history of “tolerance” for Christians. Christian participants were less impressed: for them, historical Muslim “tolerance”connoted a requirement that Christians accept subordination as the price of peaceful coexistence. Christian participants also discounted the importance of formal legal equality, since, even today, social customs in the Middle East often dictate inferiority for Christians. For their part, Christian participants spoke with pride about Christianity’s insistence on separating church and state. But Muslim participants viewed this concept with suspicion, arguing that Islam does not admit such a separation. “In the West, religious liberty emerged when Christianity was weakened,” one Turkish scholar explained. “This does not give Muslims much confidence.” On the eve of the papal visit to Lebanon, a very worthwhile read.

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