Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Beyond Tea and Cookies with Islam

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Beyond Tea and Cookies with Islam

Article excerpt

ROME * In the Middle East, Christians are compelled to pursue dialogue with the vast Muslim majority. In fact, it would be virtually impossible to avoid.

Several participants at the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, however, were eager to push that dialogue beyond a "tea-and-cookies" stage, into blunt talk about religious freedom, democracy, and what one speaker vividly described as "Satanic plans by fundamental extremist groups" to extinguish Christianity in the region.

While it's not clear what Impact either the local churches of the Middle East or Catholicism generally can have in terms of stimulating a reform within Islam, the consensus seemed to be that it's time to lay things on the line.

One such call came from Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, a Greek Melkite prelate in the United States.

"The assertion of tolerance is clear in the Quran," Bustros said. "Yet, in fact, the laws of all the Arab countries, except for Lebanon, threaten death to all Muslims who convert to another religion."

Mincing no words, Bustros added, "We ask here: Where can tolerance be found?"

Chaldean Archbishop Thomas Meram of Iran was equally blunt.

"The Christian hears every day from loudspeakers, television, newspapers and magazines that he is an infidel, and he is treated as a second-class citizen," Meram said.

Those words had special resonance in light of a presentation to the synod by Iranian Ayatollah Seyed Ahmadabadi, who claimed that "in most Islamic countries, notably Iran, as it has been stipulated also by law, Christians live side by side and in peace with their Muslim brothers. …

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