The Kfarsghab Laban's Homepage Youakim Moubarac - Christians Of The East The Kfarsghab Laban's Homepage
home Forum, Keeping the spirit Alive contact guestbook
geography etymology speech photos history saint awtel y. moubarac
An Article by Mouchir Basile Aoun in two parts published in two issues of COURRIER ŒCUMÉNIQUE Du Moyen Orient N 49 -2004 and N 50 -2005 on The Christians of The East in the thought of Youakim Moubarac - To subscribe to this magazine (in French) and encourage its mission of dialogue, you may contact Fr Gabriel Hachem, Editor of the Courrier at The articles were translated in English by Youssef.

For the Original French Version, please click here :      Premiere Partie   Version Française  Deuxieme Partie   Version Française


Mouchir Basile Aoun
Professor of philosophy and intercultural dialogue

Rare were the Christian thinkers from the Oriental land who dared abandon the delicate task of thinking of the sense of their existence and of their testimony within the Arab World. Even the most inclined among them to secularism devoted a particular thought to the question of Christian minorities. Owing to their history and to their critical situation, different Oriental Christian communities living within the geographical borders of the Arab World were continuously the object of a fecund theological and philosophical reflection. At every decisive turning point, the convolutions of the world and of regional history imposed a new approach and a new language. Nevertheless, the existential worry remained unchanged. In spite of divergences of viewpoints, these Arab thinkers, being Orthodox or Catholics, Lebanese, Egyptians, Syrians or Iraqis, had to confront, throughout the last century, a triple problem, islamity as a total system of organization of the Arab societies, Arabity as a container and a vector of cultural expression of the Arab man, and modernity as an overall perception governing human life, according to the Western model, in the era of the planetary globalization.

Youakim Moubarac was one of those who got down to this task. According to him, the Oriental Christianity is invested with a noble mission that demands express mobilization of all the available energy in the different Oriental Christian communities. But before sketching the salient traits of this mission, Moubarac engaged in depicting the Christian reality in the Arab World. On the background of this picture stands out, as between the lines, the emblematic figure of the vocation assigned to the Christians of the East. Also the present article intends to show how these two crucial moments of the theological thought of Moubarac articulate, namely the sense of the present ordeal and the perspective of the mission.

Part 1 - The present ordeal of the Christians of the East

1.1 Traits of a problematic identity

It goes without saying that these Christian communities develop different cultural sensitivities. Four factors determine the nature of their perception: the theological obedience (Orthodox Chalcedonian, Orthodox Prechalcedonian, Catholic Uniat and Roman Catholic, Protestant), the liturgical heritage (Syriac, Greek, Coptic, Chaldean, Arab, Armenian), the national belonging (Lebanese, Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian), and the cultural insertion (pre-modern and modern, Arab, pro-Arab and anti-Arab, French-speaking and English-speaking). It is, nevertheless, not rare to see a heterogeneous combination of those four modes of collective expression. Inasmuch as the account will keep present the nuances peculiar to these possible combinations, the analysis of Moubarac will be better grasped in all the extent of its pertinence.

The first part of this analysis is centered on a better understanding of reality. In effect, by Christians of the East, Moubarac intends indicating the Christians who live in the geographical borders of two types of constellations: the ancient constellation of the three patriarchies (Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria) and the new constellation of the Arab World (the different countries of the actual Arab World). Either Arabs by origin or culturally arabized, these Christians are molded by two configurations, one internal (monastic ideal and patriarchal structure), and another external (Muslim religion and Arab culture): " It is definitely the monastic ideal which gave shape and strength to the patriarchal structure of these Churches. But it is also the condition of their insertion in the Muslim Empire that accentuated this mode of being and of community life. Can we say that it contributed to make them focus on the sacral expressions of this life and to "secularize" in a way the patriarchal structure, giving to its chief very broad secular prerogatives? " (3)

The question represents an acute perception of the antinomic condition of the Oriental Christian communities. On the one hand, their religious history is extremely immersed in the ancient monasticism; on the other hand, their social insertion must have adapted, since the seventh century, to the demands of the Muslim sociopolitical legislation. The Christians of the East have thus operated a double movement of auto-structuring. To remain faithful to the mystical aspirations of the origins, they had to grant a preponderant place to the sacral dimension of their existence. From that time, their faith blossomed better in its liturgical expression. What eclipsed, in some way, the other dimensions peculiar to the historical visibility of their collective commitment. The religious practice, and not the sociopolitical arena, became thus the place par excellence of the demonstration of the community identity. Marked by the legislative paradigm of the Muslim Umma, they were able, on the other hand, to cope, not without difficulties, with the constraints of their sociopolitical rooting. Without being obliged, therefore, to turn to the cesaro-papism of the patriarchy of Rome, they melted into one single authority both the religious and the political powers of their communities. The Patriarchy became then the vector of their identity, the symbol of their unity, the Mecca of their aspirations.

This double movement did not stop molding deeply the figure of these communities. Instead of leading to a better interaction with the dynamics of time, the predominance of the sacral-liturgical expression and the eclipse of the autonomy of terrestrial realities led the Christians of the East into a form of a collective lethargy of which Christian communities of the Arab World continue to suffer until present times. To represent this lethargy, Moubarac uses a characteristic psychoanalysis term, that is the withdrawal into oneself: "In the East, the Christians are closer to the Muslims by the languages and the races, and even by a lot of terrestrial interests, but they live often withdrawn into themselves, in closed communities, opening more to the foreign countries than to their compatriots." (4) Being close to Muslims means in the perspective of Moubarac to feel a deep affinity with Islam and the Arab culture. However, the issue remains intact as to know whether the Christians of the East belong to the Arab race. It seems that this type of question hardly trouble the mind of our author. On one hand, he considers that a large part of the Arab population was Christianized well before the emergence of Islam and spread out of the Arab Peninsula in the different agglomerations still known of the present Arab World. On the other hand, he considers that all the Christian communities that lived for centuries in the geographical borders of the Arab World cannot ignore any more the fact of their historical, cultural and sociopolitical rooting. If, in effect, we had to reduce all the communities of the Arab World to their primitive origin by accentuating the dependencies of religious, ethnic or tribal type, the Arabity would cease to exist as a melting pot of the characteristics peculiar to the different sociopolitical entities forming the Arab World. However that may be, it is obvious that Moubarac does not sacrifice the religious identity to the only benefit of the cultural or political identity. That's why he often evokes the Syriani East (5) which, in his writings, resembles a crucible of contributions and sensitivities peculiar to the patriarchy of Antioch.

1.2. Misunderstandings and Sufferings

The problem of identity shows obviously that the withdrawal into oneself remains one of the harmful consequences engendered tragically in the conscience and the behavior of the Christians of the East by the lack of lucidity and of courage as to the acknowledgement of the irreversible reality of this rooting. Moubarac seems clear in his words insofar as he supports the proposition of a double affinity with the Arab World, the affinity of the language and the affinity of the race. In other places, he dares to pick out the salient conformities in the share of the same abrahamic faith. If that is the case, one can wonder why and how it happens that, all along the centuries, these Christians had to live in the withdrawal, imprisonment and fear. Two major elements can explain this situation of tragedy: the conditions of discrimination imposed on the non-Muslims within the limits of the Muslim City, and the disparities inherent in the socio-cultural incarnation of the Muslim faith and of the Christian faith. In the first element, the weight of the political history of the Muslim Empire and of the peripheral Muslim principalities is revealed, while in the second appear the traits of a differentiated relation with women and of a trade full of nuances with the sacred texts.

In spite of a condition of deep communion in the acknowledgement of the same "ethnic" and "cultural" belonging, and of a true theological connivance in the profession of the same monotheist faith, the situation of the Christian communities remained more than problematic in the Arab World. It is to alarm the Arab conscience and to mobilize it in favor of a better realization of its historical responsibility in the management of the fate of the Arab World that Moubarac raises the following observation with bitterness: "With no intention of painting things darker than they are from the beginning, I would say first that the Christian world with which we are dealing will have lived the largest part of its history in a "humiliated and offended" condition. These terms express at best the fate that was made to the Christians of the Syriani East, both by the Empires called Christians and by non-Christian regimes." (6). It is clear that the historiography of Moubarac wants to stay objective. As much as possible, it is used to disentangle the confusion of accepted influences and underground connivances. Power is thus exposed, regardless of its religious color. Christian Empires as well as Muslim Empires persecuted the Oriental minorities in the Arab World. Not only the Christian minorities were abused, but also the other Muslim minorities. This differentiated approach salves the Christian conscience from any collective paranoiac obsession.

Instead of condemning arbitrarily and massively Islam and Muslims, Moubarac makes every effort to detect the true reasons behind the progressive extinction of the Christian existence in the Arab World. It is a well-known fact that Islam, even at the dawn of its emergence, has never formed a monolithic entity, that the Oriental Christianity of Syriac or Arab, Coptic or Greek expression has never employed one politico-military power, and that often the sociopolitical infrastructure determined the sense of the Koranic hermeneutics in the different Muslim Empires of the Arab World. In spite of these facts, the Christians of the East remain profoundly marked by their status of marginalized and persecuted minorities. Such a feeling cannot produce within the Arab Christian communities but disappointment and anxiety. Their testimony is full as a result with a keen sense of martyrdom. That explains, for that matter, the fact that a number of these communities see themselves pulled between two extremes: either the mystical withdrawal into themselves, or the irreversible exodus. But, in the seventh century, the Syriani East hoped for an unexpected liberation of the Byzantine yoke. But events quickly showed that the Christians of the East were as intended for a perpetual disenchantment. Because no political power could help them liberate themselves definitely from their complex of minority. No outbreak in the Arab History could help them recover drastically from their age-old bitterness.

Moubarac perceives the Muslim troops invasion of the Syriani East as a liberating event. Nevertheless, he hastens to underline the briefness and the fragility of this euphoria. This liberation becomes thus the paradigm of all the false political liberations to which the Christians of the East fall victims: "It is what made, we know it, the Christian communities not affiliated to the Christian Empire, receive Islam as a liberator. But we also know, whatever it may have been of this first instant and of its continuation after the seventh century, that the Christians' temporal condition in Islam will witness the most unforeseen variations from the Crusades and after the weakening of the Arab Empire under the progressive predominance of the Turkish element. This brings us at the time when, in the century which is ours, the slow death punctuated by bloodbaths and exoduses might well drive us to a simple and pure extinction of Christianity on all the territories of its birth." The observation is damning and the logic irrefutable. All the bloody events that plunged into mourning the Oriental Churches in the Arab World and worried deeply the wisest Muslim partners, the most anxious about the fate of the Arab Islamic-Christian coexistence, all these events confirm throughout the last decades of the twentieth century the terrible soundness of these views.

1.3. The purifying desert

It is therefore not astonishing to learn that, shortly after their birth, the Churches of the Syriani East were faced with a deep crisis of survival. This crisis is linked to the sociopolitical vicissitudes that disrupted the relations of these Churches with the Christian and Muslim Empires of various periods. And the ultraconservatism into which get stuck very slowly the Christians of the East comes precisely from the miserable conscience of their Churches. Those who, still today, prefer the testimony of survival to the geographical exodus, operate in their own way a spiritual exodus. Surely, they do not leave their native land; but they willingly take refuge in the silence of the eschatological expectation: "For the Christians particularly, the retreat into the desert, such the one lived by its first protagonists, becomes again not so much a struggle with Satan, but a protestation against the compromising of the Church with the century and the renunciation of its ecclesiastics in front of it. It is the bastion which remains for us to ward off, with the desire of the time to come, the sadness and the terror of the present miserable time" (7). It is not at all necessary to depict the recent history of this sadness. The last conflicts which plunged Palestine and Lebanon into a bloodbath and which, to a lesser extent, shook Egypt and Iraq remain the irrefutable evidence of the mutual mistrust which signs away the future Islamic-Christian relations in the Arab World. Should we see therefore the symbolism of the desert as an escape and a renunciation? Certain Christians live it so. Others, and among them rises the figure of Youakim Moubarac, have the courage of thinking that the desert, far from implying fear and renunciation, implicates to the opposite a will of Purification (catharsis) and of active conversion (metanoia).

In the desert, the Christians of the East will be able, according to Moubarac, to detect the sense of their existence or, rather, their survival in the present Arab World. They will also be able, if they want to, to invent a new mode that is likely to answer the challenges of the present time. What, however, remains important and decisive in this process, is undoubtedly the sense of the new interpretation to which they intend to subordinate the register of the concrete facts that liven up their experience of common life with their Muslim compatriots. The same historical fact could be interpreted in various ways. According to the perspective of the person who is deciphering the events, the same historical situation can be interpreted either as a reason of a fall, or as a motive of reawakening. Without denying what Islam paralyzed partly in the life and the testimony of the Oriental Church, Moubarac liked to say that the Koranic religion cleaned it of its hegemonic tendencies and of its egocentric propensities. He goes even further in his interpretations and dares to put forward the proposition that consists in highlighting only the positive side of the fall of Constantinople. By occupying the sumptuous capital of Byzantium, Islam would have encouraged both Western and Oriental Churches to overcome their theological differences and their political rivalries to be focused only on the main points of the evangelical message (8). Although daring, this theological reading would not apply without distinction to all the situations. And Moubarac is perfectly aware of this. Because his Syriani East always made every effort to stay outside of the game of power led by both sister Churches. Also this interpretation could assimilate it unduly to the space of conversion in which were urgently invited Rome and Constantinople.

1.4. The re-visited history

In their original poverty, the Christians of the Syriani East suffered from the tragic confusion of the Arab World as so many ordeals that added to their sufferings of incomprehension and of exclusion. During the Ottoman Occupation, the fundamental problem of the Arab World came down in most cases to the political and cultural liberation of the Arab identity. Arab Christians and Muslims led together the same battle. Though under another color, the same problem persisted at the time of colonization. The same battle had to be led to let the Arab World achieve its political majority. At the dawn of the Arab national independence, the Israeli-Arab conflict cropped up, nevertheless, as an indirect fruit of the Ottoman occupation and a direct consequence of the Western Colonization. What is, however, important to underline in this short historical outline, are precisely the serious impacts that these different political situations have to cause in the field of the Islamic-Christian relations. At each of these three decisive turning points in the modern history of the Arab World, the important political mutations managed oddly to destabilize dangerously the balance of the Islamic-Christian Arab coexistence. It is sad to note every time the same observation of mutual incomprehension, of reciprocal mistrust, and unconsidered exchange of anathemas. And it is public knowledge that outside interferences (Ottoman, Colonialist, Western and Zionist) were to a large extent at the origin of most of the acts of violence perpetrated by the Muslims against the Christians of the Arab World. According to the great wise men sitting in the different Arab Muslim communities, the doctrinal divergences and the socio-cultural peculiarities that mark respectively the Christian identity and the Muslim identity do not justify by no means the frontal hostilities and the armed acts of violence. However, Christians and Muslims of the newly independent Arab countries never engaged seriously in a theological-political reflection on the concrete implications of their will to live together in the same human city.

In the absence of such theoretical basis, it is not surprising to see the relations degrading and the tensions exasperating between the Christian and Muslim communities of the Arab World. Instead of uniting them and sealing their common destiny, ordeals lived by the Arab World aggravate only the daily relations between Christians and Muslims. At the beginning of the third millennium, that is to say after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the end of the Colonization, the Arab World was subjected head on to the effects of two major problems, i.e. the vicissitudes of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the inevitable question of modernity and of post-modernity. In spite of the efforts of Arab reformists of all sides, the shock of modernity, which resounds still extensively in the phenomenon of the globalization, is still peripheral and has managed hardly to touch the core of the Arab culture. In this respect, Moubarac seems to focus his interest on the political problem par excellence of the Arab World, that is the Israeli-Arab conflict. Because he believes probably that the aftereffects of this conflict prevented and continue preventing the Arab World from opening up to the requirements of modernity. Surely, is missing from this approach a deep study of the potentialities of flexibility and adaptation peculiar to the Arab culture. In the absence of a serious research that shows, by confirming it, the fundamental compatibility between the Arab culture and the modern and post-modern Western culture, the choice of the political factor remains appropriate.

Before being a problem of international politics, the Israeli-Arab conflict is, according to Moubarac, a problem of human culture. It is about the encounter of three religious civilizations claiming universality, accomplishment and plenitude of sense. The core of the problem consists in the institution of an intercultural peaceful and fertile coexistence. That's why Moubarac invites the three monotheist religions to take care of the resolution of the problem. In 1969, he writes: "Today we hear that the conflict is between Christians and Muslim consciences on the one hand and other Christian and Jewish consciences on the other hand. This conflict is even more serious. We observe that a conscience that I would call Western and Judaeo-Christian is so engaged in an enterprise of colonial type, under the cover of humanitarianism and sacral destiny, that it draws behind it all the religious communities to which it belongs. I am particularly alarmed to point out that the worldwide Judaism, with notable exceptions, adopted the Zionist idea as medieval Christendom had been fully committed to the Crusade, leading to the catastrophe we know. Indicating therefore the problem of the Holy Land as the most important and the most urgent problem that an Islamic-Christian dialogue is called to confront, we discover that a third interlocutor is necessary for this and that one of the major solicitations of our Muslim and Christian consciences is to engage the dialogue with these Jewish consciences luckily preserved from the contamination and as aware as us of the peril." (9) Thirty-five years after expressing so clear and so daring a thought, the tragedy of the Holy Land continues afflicting the hearts and striking the consciences! In spite of the insignificant number of Palestinian Christians today, the Syriani East remains intimately implicated in this conflict. Because if the Christian existence comes to disappear definitely from the Holy Land, it is to be feared that this same existence will disappear in all the countries of the Arabic East shortly. Because they are "hostages in a cruel confrontation between Israel and Islam" (10), the Christians of the East endure a double martyrdom, the martyrdom of the unfair accusation and the martyrdom of the unintentional uprooting.

In every ordeal, the Arab Muslim conscience is as anaesthetized and subjected to the fate of amnesia. As soon as a foreign attack shakes the Arab World, the Christians of the East present in spite of themselves the first scapegoat on whom number of Arab Muslims try to unload their anger and their desire of revenge. The Christian peculiarity in the societies of a multi-denomination Arab World can work as a motive of provocation in the moments of crisis. The Muslim reaction betrays desires of suppression and of elimination of the otherness. Inherent in all the religions endowed with a vocation of announcement and proselytizing, these desires exasperate during identity crisis. The recent history of the Arab World proves obviously that any Western attack brings in the Arab conscience a dangerous confusion in the perception of the different registers of human reality. If Moubarac speaks about hostages, it is precisely because he fears the noxious effects of this confusion. That's why he invites the Muslim conscience to avoid the worst, that is to undertake everything to allow the Christians of the East not to be subjected to this double martyrdom anymore.

Only a sincere tripartite collaboration between Jews, Christians and Muslims is likely to institute peace in the Holy Land. Only a joint will of these three spiritual powers can break the fatality of violence that could sink the East in restless wandering and desperation. Far from coming down to a pious hope, this proposal belongs to a total vision of the Israeli-Arab conflict. According to Moubarac, the resolution of the conflict must be based on three foundations: abrahamism as an ultimate theological foundation of the community of faith of the three monotheisms, ecumenism as a spirituality of reconciliation and a mechanism of management of divergences and absorption of tensions, and citizenship as a legal-political concrete expression of the ideal of equality. To "promote an egalitarian Palestine in which Jews, Christians and Muslims demonstrate together its abrahamic and ecumenical vocation" (11), Moubarac militates in favor of a "reconciliation in the framework of a Judeo-Arab Palestine, where Jews, Christians and Muslims would be citizens in full, otherwise the exclusion of some by the others would lead to the worst of catastrophes" (12). It seems that the solution promoted by Moubarac is a unified, nondenominational and egalitarian Palestine. The ideal is too good to be realizable. If, from day to day, it is confirmed, in the East, that secularism is impossible without a radical revision of the sacred hermeneutics and without a deep modernization of the social structures, this solution remains utopian. In spite of its theoretical pertinence, it seems powerless because unsuitable for the human realities of the Arab World. The recent American exploitation of oil resources in the Arab World, the unbridled demographic explosion of the Arab countries, the exacerbation of religious Muslim and Jewish fundamentalisms in the societies of the Near East and in other Third World societies, the incorrect assimilation of secularism with the degeneration of Western imperialism and of the declining liberal ethics, the disguised dictatorship of the Arab monarchies and republics, the illiteracy of the Arab societies and the fossilized tribalism of the mentalities, so many factors that forbid strictly any unrealistic escapism. However, the proposal of peace of Moubarac is meant to be open and, as much as possible, faithful to the resources of the Semitic culture. If the abrahamism and the ecumenism seem to correspond to the mystical experience of the three monotheisms, the citizenship, on the other hand, remains foreign in the sociopolitical praxis of the Near East societies. Anyhow, this theological vision does not undertake in the first place to discuss a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Arab problem. It offers to open perspectives of spiritual order. If this account wants to include it in its field of investigation, it is mostly to highlight the status attributed to the Christian partners of the Arab World and to re-think of the destiny reserved for them. 

Part 2 - In search of a new contextualized vocation

2.1. The three conditions of the future

In fact, the future of the Christians of the East is suspended till the advent and the accomplishment of three major conditions in the societies of the Arab world, i.e. an equitable and lasting solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, a true and deep modernization of Arab societies, and a Christian testimony representing the human values the most full of the spirit of the Gospel. That's how Moubarac describes his hope by outlining his vision of the future. To be honest, it is necessary to have the courage to add that the contribution of these Christians in the building of a glorious Arab future becomes restricted inevitably to the efforts required for the accomplishment of the third condition. The reason is simple: given their numerical size and the particularities of their vision of the world, they will not be able to induce by themselves a process of modernization which does not emanate from the ordeal of Arab Islam and the Arab societies. If that is the case, it is inevitable to acknowledge that most of the perspectives that attribute to the Christian presence in the Arab World any prophetic mission seem to me to overflow from an unjustified optimism. That's why the appeal that throws out Moubarac with a view to re-drawing the contours of the Christian mission in the Arab societies intends to take into account today's impassable borders of the Christian testimony. At the very most the Christians of the East will be able, if they wish to, to bring in the Arab world, which is their world, the one and only contribution the authenticity of which they can still guarantee by themselves, that is to say the evangelical testimony.

2.2. The double testimony: internal poverty and battle for the man

Without having to dwell on the various nuances characteristic of the prospective cogitation opened by Moubarac, the presentation is intentionally meant to be concise and recapitulative in its final stage. Two essential traits sum up this whole theological cogitation: the evangelical poverty (Kenose) and the secularized battle in favour of the Arab man. To justify his preferential option in favour of evangelical poverty and of the human cause, Moubarac refers to two major authorities, which are the original identity of the oriental Christianity of Antiochian obedience and of Semitic language (Syriac and Arabic), and the human condition of the Christian communities living in the space of the Arab World nowadays. Convinced that the mission of a social group is to be extracted from the interaction that comes out between the truth of its particular being and the true condition of its historical insertion, Moubarac persists in thinking that the deep being of these Christians of the East was and always remains the destitution in fragility, and that their ordeal is born in most cases of the disfigurement of the Arab man. Only a synoptic and interactive approach of these two fields assures therefore the edification of the mission of lucidity and pertinence, consistency and solidity.

After the fall of ideologies and the denial inflicted on philosophical and theological speeches with totalitarian and universal pretension, the Christian testimony cannot have recourse to a pure theoretical performance any more to establish its credibility. Only the example of a united and unselfish poverty is likely to carry the Christian faith and to support the coherence of its vision of the world. For Moubarac, poverty shows itself as the only condition of survival of a Christian Church concerned about living and about blossoming in the Arab world. That's why, with a critical and firm tone, he questions the material comfort and financial status of the religious orders of oriental obedience: " Which are anyway, except for two or three of them, the congregations living in the land of Islam of whom we can say that they have a standard of living at the level of the average Muslim man? " (36) It is therefore sharing the same social status of the Arab man which guarantees to the Christian testimony, not anymore its dominance and its excellence, as some would be still disposed to believe, but on the contrary its modesty and its fidelity to the message of the Gospel. Beyond the fraternal chosen material poverty, Christian poverty aims at reforming the pretensions of exclusive rights and self-sufficiency of the Christian witness. Is poor, in this respect, the one who does not content himself any more with what he is, and who opens spontaneously to accepting otherness (37). It is the dialectic of ineradicable shortage and granting without enclosure. To safeguard the light of their testimony, the Christians of the East are invited by Moubarac to re-think of the sense of their evangelical poverty. This is what corresponds the best to their condition of leaven buried in the dough of the Arab world. As a minority, they are, in a way, predisposed to take this role. Their modern and ancient history always confirmed the pertinence of this option. But unfortunately this corroboration often arrived too late! At the time of ordeal, reactions were not always in perfect harmony with the evangelical ideal.

2.3. The thorny issue of the political commitment

If the first trait relating to the ideal of evangelical poverty seems obvious due to its close connivance with the nature of the Christian message, the second can seem problematic because of the political nature of its appeal. This problematic character requires a deeper analysis. The present account intends therefore to dwell more at great length over the many dimensions of the political commitment of Christians of the East; A delicate subject which was discredited for a long time by the official Christian authorities. To protect themselves against possible compromising with worldly realities, the Churches of the East preferred the tranquility of mystical silence to the effervescence of political struggles.

In effect, when it is question of testifying his faith under the sign of a battle in favour of the Arab man, many deviations reappear and many suspicions reawaken; because the service of the Arab man mobilizes the Christian faith and employs it in all the fields of the historical existence of the Arab world. The combat is transformed quickly into a political struggle since nothing is obtained, in this respect, outside the human polis. And, in spite of danger, Moubarac remains deeply convinced of the necessity of a common political commitment with all the Muslim partners of the Arab world. In Muslim political choices, he is opposed categorically to the neutrality of the Christians of the East: " Besides the fact that it does not correspond to reality, it means always considering the Christians as foreigners in Islamic countries and not to realize at all that, at least in the countries of the Middle East, they are actively involved and that they have their word to say, not in a Muslim policy of these countries, but in a policy of these countries where Muslims and Christians are similarly confronted. " (38) Even if the requirements of the most ancient theological formulation of the Christian faith intensely recommended to the Baptized to live under the condition of foreign pilgrims in the Land of Men (39), this status does not mean that the Christians have to abandon any political commitment. On the contrary, this original recommendation intends to put the emphasis on the disposition of opening and communion that characterizes the fundamental attitude of the Baptized.

In fact, the foreigner, from this Christian perspective, is the one who takes no further interest and rids himself of what is alien to the humanity of the man. Because his only cause is that of the man grasped in his dignity of supreme work of the love of God. To be Christian in the Arab world means, as a result, to support wholeheartedly the Arab people and to defend until the end the cause of the Arab man. All the human problems of the Arab world, to whatever register they belong, are by definition problems common to the Muslims and to the Christians who share the same vital space and the same condition of belonging. In this respect, Moubarac differentiates two types of Islamic-Christian dialogue: the theological and spiritual dialogue led by the Christian West with Islam, and the existential and political dialogue maintained by the Christians of the East with the Muslims of the Arab world. According to him, the " dialogue of Christians of the West gets involved more readily with the religious souls of Islam ", while the Christians of the East look more readily for " an existential dialogue with the politicians of contemporary Islam " (40). Recorded in the sixties, this differentiation cannot correspond any more to the reality of the Islamic-Christian relations which, at the dawn of the third millennium, are happening on the planetary level between the two large monotheistic religions in the different human societies which are imprinted by them. The disastrous aftereffects of western colonialism, the intolerable injustice in Palestine, and the regrettable stagnation of the Islamic theological thought during the Ottoman Occupation, led to the emergence of a fundamentalist and violent Islam advocating in the Koran, without nuance, uncompromising proselytism and armed militancy. The events of September 11, 2001 established hostility and rupture between the western world and the world of fundamentalist Islam. That's what awakened indirectly western interest for a global dialogue with Islam, which must hereafter embrace all the sociopolitical dimensions of the Koranic message.

In other words the Christians of the East, existentially involved in the living history of the Arab world, knew better than any one how to highlight the all-over nature of the Koranic vocation. Sometimes violent, sometimes peaceful, the Islamic-Christian dialogue, which took place in the different societies of the Arab world, was continuously concerned about including in its movement of exchange and confrontation the political requests of Muslim conscience. While the West delighted in exploring the spiritual resources of the Muslim mystic, the Christian East, for its part, was every day confronted with the pretensions of massive Islamization of the common social space. Without neglecting the spiritual potential of elevation and sublimation found particularly in the Muslim tradition, the Christians of the East had to be subjected to the impact of the political claims of Arab Islam. Legitimate in a monolithic world of exclusively Koranic obedience, these same claims will become dangerous in a multi-denominational and pluralist world. If they had to apply to the letter without regard to the ordeal of other partners, they would cause harm to the dignity of the human being and would lead to the hardening of doctrines, to the tension in attitudes and to conflicts between communities.

In other words, unity and coherence of the Koranic Weltanschauung necessitate an increased attention to the different constituting sociopolitical elements of the wholeness of the Muslim doctrine. Any fragmentary perception of the Koranic vision could likely distort the truth of Islam; Hence the necessity to embrace all the actual claims of the Muslim conscience. The fact of the planetary inter-culture is added to this consideration. By virtue of the globalization of means of communication, the intensification of mobility and the amplification of migratory flows, the world resembles a huge village where all the citizens must care for each other. The abolition of borders procreates a plural coexistence of the same existential space. Finally, the evolution of postmodern techniques leads to a state of planetary reciprocity which links up between them, in the ordeal of the same environmental destiny, the most distant regions of the globe. That's why it becomes more and more urgent to begin the dialogue with Islam as a system of legislation of the whole human existence: " We could think that at the end of centuries of declared struggle or sneaky opposition, the political field should be moved aside, at least for a time, from the perspectives of the Islamic-Christian dialogue. The effort of the contemporary Church for a greater concentration on its spiritual tasks, leaving to the temporal its own autonomy, could go in the same direction. In fact, the point of the Islamic-Christian relations constitutes, by the judgment of the Muslims themselves, a true political kairos, in the noblest sense of this word. (…) The time would have come proceed from a Christian debate against Islam to a Muslim policy of the Church. " (41) It appears obviously from this text that, contrary to the orientations of the post-conciliar Catholic Church, the political field must be rehabilitated in the Islamic-Christian relations. The Muslims themselves consider that to be the highest expression of the Islamic-Christian friendship and solidarity. Since the Muslims are unable to dissociate the religious and the political, the Christians have to dare to link up the political with the religious in the service of the humanity of man; because a disembodied Christian faith would serve badly the cause of the Islamic-Christian dialogue. However, it is important to check the quality of this connivance.

2.4. Christians and Muslims in the same secularized political struggle

If, in effect, the Christians of the East want to answer positively the questioning of their Muslim partners, it will be absolutely necessary for them to unfold all the political potential of the Christian kerygma. The concentration on spiritual tasks does not exempt at all the Christian communities of the Arab world from searching in the Gospel for the motives of the reason to build a common Islamic-Christian policy of promotion of the Arab man. Besides, these same communities have to have the evangelical courage to discuss, in a spirit of critical sympathy, the sociopolitical requirements which are conveyed by the contemporary Arab Islam. The autonomy of the temporal must be understood as an appeal to convert the Christian regard as well as the Muslim regard towards a better perception of human reality; Perception, which, of course, should lead to a common management of the human city. To relegate the temporal in the background of the evangelical priorities is to indulge subconsciously in what Moubarac calls the structural eschatologism of oriental Christianity: " It would precisely be necessary to correct what connivance its structural eschatologism could have with the temporal condition into which it was turned and which remains currently true. It would be necessary, all in all, to imagine a new era for it where there would be question nor to defend the Christians or to protect them, neither to advocate a Christian State. It would mean to play the game of the Islamic State as that of the Zionist State. It is, on the contrary, up to the Christians to contribute to secularize the struggle and to advocate the combat of the man for the man by appealing, if needed, to the humanist values of the monotheistic religions to defend them against their fundamentalist temptations. " (42) The clarity of the point clashes with the complexity of oriental reality! Moubarac wants at any price to wake the Churches of the East from their eschatological deep sleep. But the awakening is accomplished soundly only as much as we expose the underground affinities that exist between eschatological sleep and political lethargy.

In clearer terms, Moubarac intends to recommend a non-Christian battle to save the Christian substance of the vocation of oriental Christianity. By non-Christian battle, he refers to this form of commitment whose objective is to promote the humanity of the Arab man. The substance of what is Christian is not so much to save the Christian structure than to defend the cause of man, regardless of his belonging and of his convictions. To secularize the battle it would be necessary to have the courage to abandon the socially structured Christian entity having a direct or indirect political power. The intuition of Moubarac consists in seeing in the Christian battle in favour of the Arab man the guarantee of a true and genuine Arab political commitment. By the nature of their vocation, the Christians of the East are better predisposed to liberate this political commitment of any denominational exploitation and any collective narcissism. As much as they will know how to highlight the human being uncluttered by any claim of hegemony and of exclusion, they will confirm to their partners the salutary necessity of a complete theological conversion.

Only the commitment in favour of the Man saves the monotheisms of their own demons. Such is the deep conviction of Moubarac. It is firmly confirmed all the more that it believes finding in the three abrahamic ways indisputable similarities in the acknowledgement of the same human values and in the appreciation of the same spiritual resources. So the man becomes as the central truth on which converge all the spiritual aspirations of the three religions: " far from serving as a program of life in time, the spiritual way which was left to us by our masters should therefore encourage us to offer a temporal new commitment and so to stop, if possible, the age-old process of slow asphyxia of Christianity in the East, because it counted too much on arms to last, or too much turned to the eschaton during its temporal ordeals. Christianity will have more chance to last and to develop in the East when it will not fight there any more for the Christians against Islam, but for the man, every man and all the man, by finding its own rules for this battle, which can be only common to all the combatants, however different can be their sources of energy. " (43) In these words full of evangelical daring, Moubarac highlights the two lethal temptations to which had to yield the Christians of the East in the course of the centuries, that's to say the spiritual resignation stylized in the form of a passive anticipation of the end of time, and the armed conflict internalized as a sublime act of defense of the very person of the Christ.

By referring to these two temptations, Moubarac indeed thought of the Lebanese land. The expression of Lebanese land seldom appears in his writings. Nevertheless. Its usage results from a crucial intention which governs his whole theological thinking. In the broadness of its signification, it denotes an express emphasis on the feature of vocation with which Lebanon is meant be invested. Surely, the tragedy of the Lebanese War (1975-1990) nearly discredited all the theoretical efforts provided by the Lebanese intelligentsia to establish firmly what many Lebanese thinkers claim for their country in terms of peculiar identity, historical mission, and human contribution. Some think, however, that this hard ordeal is only accentuating the pertinence of such vocation. The risks of a possible planetary confrontation between what we are in the habit of calling nowadays civilizational entities, prove undoubtedly the necessity to safeguard and to universalize the Lebanese model of inter-religious and intercultural coexistence.

In fact, Youakim Moubarac belongs to this category of Christian Lebanese thinkers who believe firmly in the uniqueness of the Lebanese experience within the Arab world. If, nevertheless, many Muslim Lebanese thinkers neglect this human dimension, it is precisely owing to a fundamental divergence in the perception of the religious identity. The Muslim Lebanese tend to dilute the Lebanese identity in the huge world of the Arabity, or even the Islamity, while the Christian Lebanese persist in seeing in the configuration of their country the essential elements of a true irreducible cultural peculiarity. The symbiosis of the religious and of the political in the world of Koranic thought prevents the Lebanese Muslim conscience from conceiving itself outside the political integration in the Muslim Umma. Even if certain religious Muslim Lebanese know that such integration is unthinkable in the Modern Times, they continue to suspect any initiative of political modernization, within the Lebanese society.

That's why the Lebanese question remained one of the major concerns in the thought of Moubarac. The Lebanese question is therefore central for two reasons. First of all owing to the delicate situation occupied by Lebanon at one of the most tormented crossroads between fundamentalism and modernity; then due to the fact that the Christian Lebanese had to feel in Lebanon the impact of these two temptations of struggle and resignation. In the new collection Libanica of which Moubarac was the manager (44), the emphasis is apparently put on the urgency of a deep mutation of the Lebanese society. The major intuition, which the collection reclaims belonging to, defends the ideal of a nondenominational and egalitarian Lebanese conviviality where, in the light of the religious experience of the ones and the others, freedom takes it on fanaticisms.

To stave off the dangers of these two temptations, it is necessary to refocus the battle on the man; because, except this battle, no other sense should be assigned to the Christian faith. From this perspective, faith will take the form of political commitment in the service of the man. The anthropological will relieve the theological by providing its historical substance; because to be able to be embodied in human history, religious faith must adopt the cause of the total happiness of the human being. Beyond religious belongings, this faith will always entail the same battle in favour of the man: " It goes without saying that the Christian faith, as the Muslim faith or any other internal motivation, can and must inspire and feed, make urgent and stimulate this struggle for justice. But we cannot, at the risk of passing under the control of the ayatollahs and of the Goush Emounim, or to be again under the cesaro-papism, confuse the political struggle for justice and the spiritual battle, which we deliver in the hope of the Kingdom. These two battles make surely only one in the soul of the combatant, if it is his vocation to lead the one and the other. It is so besides that the nonviolence of the spiritual battle can dominate the political struggle for a higher rectitude and efficiency of the latter. But we cannot, both at the level of practice and principles, merge both endeavors by putting them on the same plan, at the risk of taking away from the temporal battle its autonomy and from the spiritual battle its specificity. " (45) In a concern of theological wisdom, Moubarac prefers preserving its spiritual feature to each religious world, while highlighting the universal and common character of the temporal battle. Since the Arab humanity, independently of denominational affiliations, is subjected to the same traumas and carries the same sufferings, the political struggle must be led in the same goal and for the same objective. Even if certain peculiar traits of the ordeal of the Christians of the East can appear to result exclusively from the nature of the Christian religious obedience, the recovery of Arab societies will show that the Christian ordeal in the land of Islam is more dependent on a sociopolitical dysfunction of the Arab world and on a bad interpretation of the anthropological objective of the Koranic message. If it is true that the human battle must be focused on the same concerns relating to the common experience of the Arab man, the fact remains that both Christian and Muslim religious goals can convey different spiritual sensibilities. And, the community of human destiny must eclipse under no circumstances the legitimacy of theses differences in the Arab world. The cultural expression of the religious faith can vary from a spiritual world to the other. However, the concrete implications relating to the common political struggle for justice and peace in the Arab world have to remain, according to Moubarac, concordant and harmonious.

By secularizing the battle, the Christians of the East will not struggle any more for themselves, but for their Muslim partners. It is in the middle of this battle that they will find the true sense of the Gospel. It is less a question of defending the Gospel than to live it. Nuance is of importance. It was a time when, under the influence of the extreme politicization of the evangelical message, Christian empires of the East and the West had to alter the Christian testimony in the sense of an armed conflict for the expansion of the Christian power of self-assertion and identity cult, individual as collective. Involved differently in this process of mundane compromise, the Christian Churches witnessed slowly the change in the content and the aim of the evangelical mission. Instead of centering on the free personal testimony and the peaceful spiritual fulfillment of the human culture, the Christian mission degenerated into expeditions of forced conversion and into intensive medication of the human society. And, it is important today to favour the display of all these theologies called of evangelical conversion where the emphasis is rather put on the human commitment in favour of a better social justice within the human societies that become currently inevitably pluralist in their motivations and aspirations. The testimony of the Christians of the East must therefore present itself as a free and fraternal invitation to fight together in favour of the acknowledgement of the benefits of the planetary inter-culture. To this effect, they are invited to like Islam in itself and to like the Arab world for itself. They can, as one might say, like in Islam what makes the beauty and the uniqueness of the Koranic vocation. If Moubarac thought of writing his book on Islam (46), it is precisely to show what Islam offers as potential of opening and evolution, and to reveal its inherent dimension of universalism. This vocation implies naturally to consider as healthy and rewarding for the humankind to coexist within new states with the members of other religions. As much as Islam feels liked and acknowledged in its dimensions of opening, it will know how to appreciate and to promote the Christian presence and testimony in the Arab world.

In other words, the new Christian mission assigned according to Moubarac to the Churches of the East consists in liking and in defending not Christianity for itself, but Arab Islam and the Arab world, so that Arab Islam and the Arab world indeed become again certainly able of liking the Arab Christianity. In this fraternal exchange, which is not without reminding us of the Badaliyya de Louis Massignon, the essence of the Christian vocation is fulfilled in the noblest sense. This mission will not make the Church of the East the Church of Islam, no more than the mission of Islam with the oriental Christianity will make the Koranic religion the Islam of Christianity. The Arab land is the same for everybody. Located in the East, this land receives generously the Christianity and Islam. This latter religion surely marked it strongly as much as it venerates the Koranic language up to sacralization. But Christianity marked it just as much by the many contributions of its cultural influence. In spite of divergences of size and sensitivities, Christianity and Islam remain both privileged guests of the Arab land. The fraternal welcome of the third guest, that's to know the Arab secularism of modern times, will allow the one and the other not to confine selfishly themselves any more to their prerogatives. Far from being assimilated with the ancient Arab paganism, violently fought by both Semitic monotheisms, this secularism offers today to be at the service of the most audacious creativity of the contemporary humanity. By the nature of their religious feelings, the Christians of the East assume the delicate task of reconciling Arab Islam with its own secularism.

Source: Article by  Mouchir Basile Aoun in COURRIER ŒCUMÉNIQUE Du Moyen Orient N 49 (2004) and N 50 (2005).

(3) Y. Moubarac, La Chambre Nuptiale du Coeur, Libanica, Paris, Cariscript, on 1993, p. 21.

(4) Y. Moubarac, Islam and Islamic-Christian dialogue, Islamic-Christian Pentalogy, Volume III, Beirut, editor Cenacle Libanais, Librairie Orientale, 1972-1973, p. 38.

(5) To indicate the heritage of the Syro-Antiochan East, Moubarac prefers inventing an unknown term : the Syrianity. He believes spotting all the specific elements peculiar to the Christian East of Arab expression. Even if the incorporation of the Coptic heritage remains problematic, it seems that Moubarac favours the cultural link representing for the Christians of the nowadays East the same belonging to the Arab World. What can, probably, denotes a certain anteriority, at least chronological, of the Syrianity in comparison with the Arabity. The presence of Arab witnesses at Pentecost assumes in no way the extent of the Christianizing of the Arab tribes in the course of the three first centuries, first phase of the Oriental Christianity where the Christian communities of Antiochan obedience and Syro-Greek expression were lively and flourishing. To base its theological status, Moubarac entrusts to this Syrianity a task eminently ecumenical: “the Syrianity of the East represents an active part in the promotion of the Christian unity. We would be even tempted to think that it is the best part.” (Y. Moubarac, La Chambre Nuptiale …, op. cit ., p. 8).

(6) Y. Moubarac, La Chambre Nuptiale …, op. cit ., p. 16.

(7) Y. Moubarac, La Chambre Nuptiale …, op. cit ., p. 99.

(8) See on this subject the pages which Moubarac dedicated to this new historical-theological hermeneutics in his aforementioned work L’Islam et le dialogue islamo-chrétien..., op.cit ., pp. 136-139.

(9) Y. Moubarac, L’Islam et le dialogue islamo-chrétien..., op. cit ., p. 225.

(10) Y. Moubarac, La Chambre Nuptiale …, op. cit ., p. 103.

(11) Y. Moubarac, L’Islam et le dialogue islamo-chrétien..., op. cit ., p. 208.

(12) Y. Moubarac, L’Islam et le dialogue islamo-chrétien..., op. cit., p. 222.

(36) Y. Moubarac, L'Islam et le dialogue islamo-chrétien …, op. cit., p. 204

(37) One of the many testimonies which confirm the sense of this opening is revealed in what Moubarac calls the cultural mediation of the Christians of the East: " I refer here to the translations which were especially provided by Nestorians in the course of the Middle Ages and those performed in the XVIIth century by Maronites and Melkites. Medieval work consisted in translating the Greek science and philosophy in Syriac, then to provide an Arabic version. In other words, it is a contribution of cultural mediation that made the language of the Koran and of the Arabic desert a language of civilization and, in its core, an instrument of cultural transmission and mediation to the benefit of the Latin Middle Ages. As for the works of Maronite and Melkite translation in Modern Times, they put the Arab Renaissance in the way of modernity. " (Y. Moubarac, La chambre Nuptiale… op. cit., p. 19).

(38) Y. Moubarac, L'Islam et le dialogue islamo-chrétien …, op. cit., p. 206

(39) See the Letter to Diognetus (anonymous letter written towards the end of the second century and published in the collection Christian Sources under the number 33). 

(40) Y. Moubarac, L'Islam, Paris Castermann, 1962, p. 79. 

(41) Y. Moubarac, L'Islam et le dialogue islamo-chrétien …, op. cit., p. 134

(42) Y. Moubarac, La chambre nuptiale…, op. cit., p. 98.

(43) Y. Moubarac, La chambre nuptiale…, op. cit., p. 98.

(44) Collection éditée chez Cariscript, Paris. 

(45) Y. Moubarac, La chambre nuptiale…, op. cit., p. 98.

(46) Y. Moubarac, L'Islam, Paris Castermann, 1962.

Copyright © 2004 [ MECC & Courrier oecumenique du Moyen Orient / ] - All reproductions or adaptations of any extract of this information by any process, reserved to the authors for all countries.

 [home] [forum, keeping the spirit alive] [guestbook] [contact

©Copyright 1997-2014 by