of the Maronites, Lebanon's largest Christian community, faces an entirely different
problem: His flock is abandoning him.
Sfeir shuns the bustling streets of Beirut, choosing instead to reside in a magnificent
sandstone palace in the Cedar Mountains, where he lived in the summer during the war
with Israel. He is still wrestling with the consequences today. Sfeir is both a religious
leader and a politician. Black limousines are regularly parked in front of his estate, mainly
those of wealthy Christians seeking the patriarch's religious and political advice.
His visitors enter a long hall lined on both sides with ornamental wooden benches. The
Maronite patriarch sits beneath a portrait of Pope John Paul II. He looks tired, as an
advisor whispers into his ear. Then the old man speaks, quietly but clearly and with sharp
language. He criticises Iran and Syria for abusing Lebanon as a proxy battlefield, and
Hezbollah for having established, with Iran's help, a state within a state. These things are
unacceptable, says Sfeir. "We are the smallest and weakest state in the Arab world!"
The patriarch's voice is melancholy as he discusses the consequences of political
upheaval, especially the growing numbers of Christians now leaving Lebanon. According
to Maronite church leaders, more than 730,000 emigrated during the Lebanese civil war
from 1975 to 1990, with another 100,000 abandoning the country this past summer.
According to Sfeir, other Christian denominations, including the Greek Orthodox, Greek
Catholic and Armenian Christian communities are also dwindling, leading to a decline in
Christian political influence in Lebanon. "It is unlikely," says Sfeir, "but if Hezbollah were
to assume power one day, the Christians in this country would emigrate in even greater
If that happened Lebanon, traditionally a safe haven for minorities, would lose one of it
oldest religious communities. In the ninth century the Maronites, whose name is derived
from St. Maron, a Syrian monk, fled into the mountains of Lebanon to escape Muslim
persecution, and in the 12th century they joined the Roman Catholic Church.
"We even survived the Crusades," says the patriarch. "Now the war is driving people
away. They are losing hope. But we have also seen the opposite taking place. We have
had Christian heads of state in Lebanon since the 1940s -- the first time this has
happened in four centuries -- and our Muslim fellow citizens have had no objections."
Sfeir is referring to Lebanon's fragile proportional system of government, under which the
president must be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament
a Shiite. But the system, put in place in 1943, has long since been rendered obsolete by
demographics. Sfeir senses that the political balance of power has also changed -- and
does not favor Christians.
Hope in Syria and Iraq's Turkish Autonomous Zone
Many Christians currently see a ray of hope in neighbouring Syria. Since the fall of
Baghdad, the regime in Damascus, isolated by the United States, has taken in many
thousands of Iraqi refugees. In doing so, it has demonstrated to the West the long-
forgotten merits of the Arab nationalist Baath Party's non-denominational doctrine.
"Nobody here cares whether we are Sunnis, Shiites or Christians," says Farid Awwad, a
souvenir vendor who fled Iraq.
Awwad's 12-year-old daughter was killed in an attack on a Chaldean church in Baghdad
two years ago. "No one can take away our pain," he says. "But at least we can live here,
where we are treated like brothers."
The number of Christians within the Syrian Baath Party organisation is disproportionately
high, although most are non-practicing. Their presence in government service, including
the military and intelligence agencies, is unprecedented in the Arab world. President
Bashar Assad recently opened a conference of Arab law associations under the motto:
"The fatherland is for everything, but religion is a matter for God" -- words that would be
alienating if not impossible in countries with a stronger Islamic influence. In Saudi Arabia,
for example, which has no Christian minority of its own but employs tens of thousands of
Christian guest workers from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, Christian church
services are banned and punishable with severe penalties. Bibles and crucifixes are
routinely confiscated. The Wahhabite religious police, the Muttawah, have even been
known to raid private religious services.
Other Gulf states are more liberal, although religious freedom in the Western sense is
virtually nonexistent in Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The Islamist
opposition in Damascus, especially the banned Muslim Brotherhood, disparages the
country's unpopular Christians as "worshippers of a godless regime."
There is only one other region of the Middle East where Christians enjoy freedoms
comparable to those in Syria: the Kurdish Autonomous Zone in northern Iraq.
Several Christian parties recently introduced an unusual bill in the regional parliament in
Arbil, the Kurdish capital. They proposed the establishment of a Christian autonomous
zone in the eastern portion of the Iraqi province of Nineveh, the traditional homeland of
Assyrian Christians and now partly controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. Under the
bill, the Chaldean, Syrian and Assyrian Christian minorities would be granted official
status under the constitution -- first by the Kurdish regional parliament and then by the
National Assembly in Baghdad.
The plan, which is everything but Christian folklore, has a good chance of succeeding.
Units of the 750-member Hamdaniyah Brigade -- a Christian militia that defends its
churches with the same tactics Sunni and Shiite militias use in central Iraq to defend
their mosques -- are already patrolling the streets of Bartalla, a fast-growing Christian
settlement 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Mosul, the violence-ridden provincial capital.
Bearded men wielding Kalashnikovs stand guard at a barrier in front of the town's Syrian
Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary. Photography is strictly forbidden.
"What else can we do?" asks Ghanem Gorges, the 43-year-old mayor of Karamlis, a
Chaldean village a few kilometres south of Bartalla. Armed men, presumably mujahedeen
from nearby Mosul, forced their way into the village four times this fall. Two weeks ago
they kidnapped and murdered Shakib Paulus, a 25-year-old crane operator, whose body
was found on the street in Arbil a few days later.
Anyone wishing to attend services at St. Peter's Cathedral in Arbil must first pass a guard
carrying an automatic pistol. A huge new building, to be used as a dormitory for the
Babel College students who fled Baghdad, was dedicated at Christmas on the cathedral
grounds, which are surrounded by a tall fence.
At this year's Christmas service, Pastor Sisar did not deliver his sermon in Aramaic, the
old church language of northern Iraq's Christians, as is customary in Arbil. This time the
mass was held in Arabic, because, like the pastor, the 400 men and women attending the
service are all from Baghdad.
Sisar ended his sermon with the words "Barakat Allah aleikum" -- "May the blessing of
the Lord be with you."
2.34 Converts in the Muslim world
Converts from Islam to Christianity are often hunted in the Muslim world, where virtually
all religious authorities agree that such individuals deserve death. Muhammad himself
commanded such a punishment: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.”
This is still the position of all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, although there is some
disagreement over whether the law applies only to men, or to women also.
At Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious and influential institution in the
Islamic world, an Islamic manual certified as a reliable guide to Sunni Muslim orthodoxy
states: “When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatises
from Islam, he deserves to be killed.” Although the right to kill an apostate is reserved in
Muslim law to the leader of the community and other Muslims can theoretically be
punished for taking this duty upon themselves, in practice a Muslim who kills an apostate
needs to pay no indemnity and perform no expiatory acts (as he must in other kinds of
murder cases under classic Islamic law). This accommodation is made because killing an
apostate “is killing someone who deserves to die.”
IslamOnline, a website manned by a team of Islam scholars headed by the internationally
influential Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, explains, “If a sane person who has reached
puberty voluntarily apostatises from Islam, he deserves to be punished. In such a case, it
is obligatory for the caliph (or his representative) to ask him to repent and return to
Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.”
And what if someone doesn’t wait for a caliph to appear and takes matters into his own
hands? Although the killer is to be “disciplined” for “arrogating the caliph’s prerogative
and encroaching upon his rights,” there is “no blood money for killing an apostate (or any
expiation)” – in other words, no significant punishment for the killer.
An Afghan named Abdul Rahman knows all this well. In February 2006, he was arrested
for the crime of leaving Islam for Christianity. The Afghan Constitution stipulates that “no
law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Even
after his arrest, Western analysts seem to have had trouble grasping the import of this
provision. A “human rights expert” quoted by the Times of London summed up confusion
widespread in Western countries: “The constitution says Islam is the religion of
Afghanistan, yet it also mentions the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article
18 specifically forbids this kind of recourse. It really highlights the problem the judiciary
But in fact there was contraction. The Constitution may declare its “respect” for the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it also says that no law can contradict Islamic
law. The Constitution’s definition of religious freedom is explicit: “The religion of the state
of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam. Followers of other
religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the
limits of the provisions of law” [My emphasis].
The Islamic death penalty for apostasy is deeply ingrained in Islamic culture -- which is
one reason why it was Abdul Rahman’s own family that went to police to file a complaint
about his conversion. Whatever triggered their action in 2006, they could be confident
that the police would receive such a complaint with the utmost seriousness.
After an international outcry, Abdul Rahman was eventually spirited out of Afghanistan to
relative safety in Italy. Despite the publicity, his case was hardly unique.
2.35 Text book Jihad in Egypt
By Andrew G. Bostom
A "mock beheading" video located at radical Sheikh Abu Hamza's website
(www.shareeah.org ), which featured three young Muslim boys who pretended to behead
a fourth, has elicited the appropriate public revulsion. But little fanfare, let alone
outrage, has accompanied the release of a detailed study of Egyptian children's
textbooks, whose inculcation of anti-infidel hatred is potentially far more damaging.
For example, explicit sanctioning for jihad-related beheadings is provided in a seemingly
"Studies in Theology: Tradition and Morals, Grade 11, (2001) pp. 291-92
...This noble [Qur'anic] Surah [Surat Muhammad]... deals with questions of which the most
important are as follows: 'Encouraging the faithful to perform jihad in God's cause, to
behead the infidels, take them prisoner, break their power, and make their souls humble -
all that in a style which contains the highest examples of urging to fight. You see that in His
words: "When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and, when
you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly. Then grant them their freedom or take a
ransom from them, until war shall lay down its burdens.'"
"Commentary on the Surahs of Muhammad, Al-Fath, Al-Hujurat and Qaf, Grade 11,
(2002) p. 9
When you meet them in order to fight [them], do not be seized by compassion [towards
them] but strike the[ir] necks powerfully.... Striking the neck means fighting, because
killing a person is often done by striking off his head. Thus, it has become an expression for
killing even if the fighter strikes him elsewhere. This expression contains a harshness and
emphasis that are not found in the word "kill", because it describes killing in the ugliest
manner, i.e., cutting the neck and making the organ - the head of the body - fly off [the
Although chilling to our modern sensibilities, particularly when being taught to children,
these are merely classical interpretations of the rules for jihad war, based on over a
millennium of Muslim theology and jurisprudence. And the context of these teachings
is unambiguous, as the translator makes clear:
"[the] concept of jihad is interpreted in the Egyptian school curriculum almost exclusively
as a military endeavor? it is war against God's enemies, i.e., the infidels? it is war against
the homeland's enemies and a means to strengthening the Muslim states in the world. In
both cases, jihad is encouraged, and those who refrain from participating in it are
Teaching Egyptian school children anti-infidel jihad hatred is clearly a long, ongoing , and
ignoble tradition even within the modern era. As the scholar E. W. Lane reported after
several years of residence in both Cairo and Luxor (initially in 1825-1828, then in 1833-
"I am credibly informed that children in Egypt are often taught at school, a regular set of
curses to denounce upon the persons and property of Christians, Jews, and all other
unbelievers in the religion of Mohammad”.
Lane translated the prayer below from a contemporary 19th century text Arabic text,
containing a typical curse on non-Muslims, recited daily by Muslim schoolchildren:
"I seek refuge with God from Satan the accursed. In the name of God, the Compassionate,
the Merciful. O God, aid El-Islam, and exalt the word of truth, and the faith, by the
preservation of thy servant and the son of thy servant, the Sultan of the two continents
(Europe and Asia), and the Khakan (Emperor or monarch) of the two seas [the
Mediterranean and Black Seas], the Sultan, son of the Sultan (Mahmood) Khan (the
reigning Sultan when this prayer was composed). O God, assist him, and assist his armies,
and all the forces of the Muslims: O Lord of the beings of the whole world. O God, destroy
the infidels and polytheists, thine enemies, the enemies of the religion. O God, make their
children orphans, and defile their abodes, and cause their feet to slip, and give them and
their families, and their households and their women and their children and their relations
by marriage and their brothers and their friends and their possessions and their race and
their wealth and their lands as booty to the Muslims: O Lord of the beings of the whole
The seminal modern scholar of Islamic civilisation, S.D. Goitein, warned more than a
century later, in 1949, speaking of the Arab world generally, in particular Egypt:
"Islamic fanaticism” is now openly encouraged. Writers whose altogether Western style
(was mentioned earlier) have been vying with each other for some time in compiling books
on the heroes and virtues of Islam. What has now become possible in educated circles may
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested