Jordanian Muslim prince and Jewish scholar team up to defend Christianity

by Gregory Tomlin, |
An image from the front cover of Dabiq, the Islamic State's jihadist monthly. In the image, an ISIS fighter tears down a cross to plant an ISIS flag on a church. | Web Capture

LONDON (Christian Examiner) – A Jordanian prince, who is Muslim, has joined a Jewish interfaith scholar in defending Christianity against Islamic State (ISIS) claims that the faith is an intrusive tool of the West in the Middle East.

In an opinion editorial in the Daily Telegraph, Prince Hassan bin Talal, uncle to King Abdullah II and founder of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, and Dr. Ed Kessler, founder and director of the Woolf Institute at Cambridge, both say Christianity has been part of "the essential fabric of the Middle East for two thousand years."

Rather than being imported from the West, it was exported to the West, they also wrote.

"This central role in our region and civilization is why it is abhorrent to us, as a Muslim and a Jew, to see Christianity and Christians under such savage assault across our region," Hassan and Kessler wrote.

It is time to call a halt to the hate and atrocities that are causing convulsions throughout our immediate region and beyond. Peace and humanity itself hang upon the success of this interfaith exercise. It is that important.

Early on, many nations recognized that ISIS was undertaking a systematic campaign to rid the Middle East of Christians. The United States, however, was slow to recognize ISIS atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities as genocide.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry finally did designate ISIS as a purveyor of genocide in March 2013.

Hassan and Kessler wrote they were "appalled" by the loss of human life in the region, and called the loss of Christianity a "hammer blow to our shared heritage."

"The reality is that we are all one community, united by shared beliefs and history. But this is increasingly denied, with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or Daesh as it is known in our region, taking the lead both in justifying and carrying out these attacks. The most recent issue of its publication Dabiq, headlined 'Break the Cross,' explicitly rejects the fundamental belief that we are all People of the Book," they wrote.

"People of the Book" is a phrase originating in the early days of Islam when Muhammad was preaching his new religion. He encouraged his followers to be tolerant of Christians and Jews. Later, however, Muhammad and his followers expanded their religion through conquest, forced conversion and oppression of religious minorities. 

ISIS, Hassan and Kessler wrote, wrote ISIS wants to return the Middle East to a "golden age" of Islam. However, that age never existed anywhere, they wrote. It is "solely the creation of the warped minds of today's jihadists."

"They are in the same mold as those whose misguided zeal turned Christian Europe in the Middle Ages into a byword for fanaticism and oppression. Daesh want to take us to a new Dark Age, an age made even darker by the dangers that the gifts of science and technology pose in their hands," they wrote.

Christianity is not the only faith at risk, they wrote. In fact, ISIS targets Muslims who don't agree with their fanatical ideology the same as they do "infidels."

"As we have seen all too often, fundamentalists display a particular loathing for co-religionists whose views do not conform to their own," they wrote.

That is why the two men want to target the ideas that stem from hardline interpretation of the Quran, as well as the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Bible. All have been used, they wrote, to justify violence in the past.

Since the texts are considered authoritative for each faith, and cannot be changed, they asked what can be done to end bigotry and violence.

"These words must be seen in context. It is vital, for example, to juxtapose texts from the same Scripture that offer a contrasting approach. Here, too, a better understanding of the sacred writings of other faiths may help us see the paradoxes and conflicts that we can fail to acknowledge in our own," they wrote.

"Above all, we must emphasize the importance of interpretation, which is central and common to all the Abrahamic faiths. This provides us with the ability to deal with texts that run contrary to what we regard as the fundamental values of our tradition."

Hassan and Kessler argue that both Judaism and Islam have interpretations that prize human dignity and the preservation of human life as cornerstones of their respective religions. That is where the focus should be, they wrote.

"It is time to call a halt to the hate and atrocities that are causing convulsions throughout our immediate region and beyond. Peace and humanity itself hang upon the success of this interfaith exercise. It is that important," they wrote.

It is doubtful ISIS will heed such a call, or that they will tolerate Muslims who make it. According to U.S. government statistics, between 82 and 97 percent of the victims of ISIS terror attacks or mass killings are Muslim (both Sunni and Shiite).