Syrian monastery continues tradition of interfaith dialogue and cooperation

This  article on a monastery in Syria, Deir Mar Musa, and Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio show fascinating interfaith efforts in action–“religious harmony along a fault line.”

The monastery holds Christian services, but area Muslims often come to pray .

Dall’Oglio came to the monastery in 1982, as the Islamic movement was growing, the Lebanese war was raging, and the Israeli-Palestinian tensions were worsening. After meditating in the ruins of the Byzantine structure, he began building a community centered on manual labor and common spirituality.

Meals are a cooperative affair. Accommodations are free–with a donation of food or other contributions. Services are conducted in Syriac, Arabic, English, and various other languages

Dall’Oglio and Muslim leaders often cooperate on educational and environmental projects.

This vision of interfaith dialogue and cooperation aligns with the ethic asserted by Muhammad in 628 A.D. in response to a request for protection by St. Catherine’s Monastery. A delegation of monks asked for protection; Muhammad issued a bill of rights for Christians living in areas with  high Muslim populations.

“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

In The Qu’ran, Jews and Christians are referred to as ‘People of the Book’–a respectful epithet recognizing that they have received revelations from God/Allah.

In the article for Al-Jazeera Magazine, Dr. Muqtedar Khan points out that no conditions are imposed on Christians; there is also nothing they need to do to ‘qualify’ for these rights.

Both this ancient promise and modern monastery show that Islam and Christianity’s shared past and traditions can lead to peaceful coexistence.


The reports of Muslim and Christian fighting in the streets of Jos, Nigeria are chilling, especially as the current situation has devolved into a “balance of terror.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial on recent Christian persecution by Muslims comes off as rather reactionary:

It might seem natural that at least some attention would be paid in the West to the plight of these Christians. Instead, attention seems endlessly focused on “Islamophobia,” not least at the U.N.’s misnamed Human Rights Council. In November, much of Europe went berserk over the Swiss referendum to ban the construction of minarets (though not of mosques). But the West’s tolerance for its large Muslim populations stands in sharp contrast to the Muslim world’s bigotry and persecution of its own religious minorities. That’s a fact that ought to be borne in mind the next time Westerners berate themselves about their own supposed “intolerance.”

The editorial’s callous tone towards Western efforts towards religious and cultural sensitivity and understanding sounds rather discouraging, as if Western efforts should be based on proportionate reciprocity.

Article on  Al-Jazeera English (From The Walrus, reprinted in Utne Reader) about why the AJE brand of high-quality international journalism has low availability on US broadcast channels.


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