Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: the Challenge of the Future

Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: the Challenge of the Future

Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: the Challenge of the Future

Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: the Challenge of the Future

Synopsis

Existing before the Muslim conquest of the Middle East, and integrated into the Islamic political order, which for centuries has given full rights only to Muslims, the various Eastern Christian communities have represented an important element of pluralism within Middle Eastern Arab societies. The end of the twentieth century, however, marks a crucial period for the the Christian communities, who have witnessed their base decline from 24% of the general population in 1914 to a mere 7%. The rising tide of Christian emigration is just one of the most obvious signs of the communities growing unrest. Beginning with an examination of the role played by Eastern Christians in the history of Arab society, this ground-breaking study presents a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the many challenges facing the Christian communities today. Focusing on juridical status, social, political and economic dynamics, and relationships with the the Muslim majority culture, this intriguing study highlights the various political and cultural strategies employed by Eastern Christians as they attempt to guarantee their role and status as equal citizens in their own Arab states.

Excerpt

Samir Khalil Samir

The title of this contribution expresses exactly what I wish to bring to light: the active role played by the Christians in the development of Arab Muslim society. At the same time, however, I shall also examine their role as 'subjects' in the Muslim Empire. the title specifies 'throughout history' because their situation has evolved during the course of history, due to sociological and political reasons.

I shall deal with the subject in three parts. in the first part I shall explain the situation of Christians in Muslim society as dhimmī ('protected people'). I shall therefore briefly mention the legal status of Christians as members of a community recognized by the Koran and by the Muslim State, in the context of a Muslim society.

The second and third part will look at the contribution of Arab Christians to the construction of an Arab Muslim society and civilization, in the medieval period (the Abbasid era) first of all, then in the modern era. I shall dwell a little longer on these last two parts, as generally speaking less is known about this subject both in the East and in the West. I shall therefore show the impact that Christians have had on Arab Muslim society.

In all three parts I shall refer only to the Arab Middle East, and I shall try to show the different situations that emerged over the course of history.

1. Muḥammad's Contacts with Christians and Jews

From the very beginning of Islam, Muḥammad was in contact with Christians in Mecca (between 610 and 622). There were sufficient numbers of . . .

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