In a January 7, 2016 interview with the official Egyptian Al-Ahram daily, Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, expressed concern over the fate of Christian communities in the Arab world. The Patriarch is a strong supporter of Christian-Muslim dialogue - he was one of the dignitaries who walked out on a speech by Senator Ted Cruz when the latter insisted that Israel was the best ally of Middle Eastern Christians. In the interview, he states that Christians in the Middle East have always stood up for Muslims, but he also says that Christians today lack faith that Muslims are willing to accept them and cooperate with them in a positive manner.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Patriarch Gregory III Laham (image: alarabiya.net, September 12, 2014)
"I Requested From [President Sisi] That Egypt Lead The Arab World Today"
"When I met with President [Sisi of Egypt], it was a loving, beautiful, spiritual meeting with a great president. It was a spiritual meeting because we exchanged sacred verses, from the Koran and the Gospels. I belatedly expressed holiday wishes for the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, and I thanked [Sisi] for his holiday wishes to the Christians during these holidays [i.e. the Prophet's birthday and Christmas]... I requested from the president that Egypt lead the Arab world today, which is presently without a leader. It is Egypt that [today], as in the past, is suited for this role. It is the biggest Islamic country [in the Middle East] and the biggest Arab country, and also the country with the largest number of Christians...
"Why Has The Arab League So Far Not Fulfilled Its Role In The Syrian Crisis?"
"There is great division [in the Arab world], whether open or secret. If there were a [united] stand, then it would be possible to defeat ISIS, which is a global threat. In addition to the Arab stand there must be a global stand, and not like what we see now, with Russia in its orientation, America in its orientation, Saudi Arabia in its orientation - this strengthens ISIS... The solution is for the Arab League to present a map for peace in Syria, and not to wait for Europe or New York to be the one to present a solution. Why has the Arab League so far not fulfilled its role in the Syrian crisis?...
"These days I pray, I visit all the churches, and I say: May we have trust in those who agreed in New York to fight terrorism and to resolve the Syrian issue - this despite my fears... I pray that there might be someone to preserve some good and to work for good in the region. We have had enough blood, tragedy, and destruction. Won't someone put the people's suffering ahead of their [own] interests? I call on the world to stop the killing and the blood[shed]. There are three million children without schools, twenty thousand schools have been destroyed. The world must take cognizance of its responsibility and work for peace...
"There Is A Lack Of Trust That The Muslims Today Are Willing to Cooperate In A Positive Manner With The Christians And To Recognize The Existence Of The Other"
"There is a great wound [in Muslim-Christian relations], and we must build mutual trust. These days I am in the midst of writing a letter to the presidents, kings, and emirs of the Arab and Muslim [countries] in order to say to them, in a letter from an Arab [Church] patriarch to the Muslims, that we love you. Sixty-five years ago, the Catholic Church issued an official document on interfaith relations, and in particular relations with the Islamic faith. This document has come to be [studied] in Christian schools and institutions, in the monasteries, and everywhere. I hope that some of the [Muslim] documents [on tolerance] that have been issued, whether from Amman or Al-Azhar, or recently from Syria, will also become widespread. To date we have still not seen [these ideas] translated on the ground, in the street, in the schools, or in the curricula. The Christians are apprehensive: we hear nice words, but we do not see this [translated] on the ground. [Whereas] we, the Arab Christians, always defend Islam and our Muslim brothers - no one defends Islam like the Arab Christians do...
"The wound [of which I have spoken] is that there is a lack of trust that the Muslims today are willing to cooperate in a positive manner with the Christians and to recognize the existence of the other. Is it reasonable that some Muslims receive aid from the Red Cross and then scratch out [the cross] because it is a [religious] symbol? And there are some who receive aid from Christians, and when they are asked from whom they received it, say: We got it from some kuffar.
"Back to the 'wound': I spoke of the destruction of 150 churches, 33 Christian villages, and the killing of a great number of Christians in northeastern Syria. I said that our remaining alive is a miracle in and of itself.
"Do you think that when ISIS came it just targeted Christians? Do you think that it distinguishes between the blood of one Syrian and another? In truth ISIS... is not Islamic, and I deny that it has any attribute of faith. [Its] takfir extends to Muslims as well as Christians. When it kills Christians, its intention is to spread sectarian strife (fitna)... "