Tag Archives: Arab Christians

“Churches and mosques in early mediaeval Syria” — Mattia Guidetti

29 Nov

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Before we get excited… Were Christians and Muslims both allowed to pray in a single building? That’s no great news. Still occurs. The Muslim world is full of churches and tombs of saints and “prophets” and Christian sacred springs, especially, where Muslims pray and come to ask for favors and blessings, though I’m sure the High Ulemate considers that stuff shirk or haram.  The mobs that descend on Prinkipo (Büyük Ada), one of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands on St. George’s Day are huge and mostly Muslim…of course…in a city of 15 million where there are fewer than 1,000 Greeks left…  And a few years ago the Times ran an article — which I, of course, can’t find now — about how women from the posh C-Town suburb of Kuruçeşme take their children to be blessed by the priest at the local church of St. Demetrius because deep in a cavern under its foundations there’s a spring whose water is considered to have blessing and healing properties.

Anybody can just drop into a church or mosque, grab a corner and pray.  At least no one in any mosque I’ve ever been in has ever said anything to me.  I even cross myself upon entering a mosque or museum that was once a church and never had a problem.  Fact, I find the empty space and tatami-level perspective and silence of a mosque to be extremely comforting and nerve-soothing.

But were Christian liturgies and offices — meaning the theater and rituals and images and music of Christianity, which is what WORSHIP means to me — ever conducted in a building that also served as a mosque?  And “side by side”, meaning the same time.  Now THAT would be cool.  I just doubt it.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com


“What Christian Artifacts of the Middle East Can Show Us About Tolerance” — and let’s rethink “Tolerance”

18 Nov

Not much.  Though this Times review of Parisian exhibit seems to think so.  The money quote is still…

On one news channel Jack Lang, the former culture minister who is the director-general of the Institut du Monde Arabe, called Christianity an “essential component of the Arab world,” and warned of an “emergency” for eastern Christians, who constituted 20 percent of the region a century ago, but make up no more than 4 percent now [my emphasis], according to the Pew Research Center. Their continuing migration, and persecution, threatens the diversity and the vibrancy of the Arab world itself.

And let’s start budging the idea of Muslim egalitarianism a bit by rethinking the word “tolerance.”  “To tolerate” is actually a fairly unpleasant word when used in other contexts; it means to put up with, to be able to stand.  Saying you tolerate an — I dunno — asshole brother-in-law or a friend’s semi-racist ideas, is not a description of a pleasant condition or emotion.  And though “tolerated” is a good, very general, description of the position of non-Muslims in Muslim history — they were “put up with” — let’s hold Islam up to the brighter lights of words like “accepted” or “included” and see how well the myth of tolerance holds up.

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 3.04.17 PM.pngRoger Anis’s “Blessed Marriage,” taken in Cairo, addresses contemporary Christians in the Middle East. Credit Roger Anis

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Lebanese food: September 14th and the Feast of the Holy Cross in Ein Zebde, Shouf

15 Sep

Ein-Zebde-Peach-FieldsEin Zebde peach orchards

This is one of those photos that shore up all literary descriptions you’ve ever read of Lebanon as the land of milk and honey.

Because only that sort of blessed (but unfortunately cursed too) land could produce Lebanese food.  More than the landscape, the mountains, my personal emotional response to a still functioning society of Arab Christians, the post-nightmare joy that even a partly-Resurrected Beirut must offer, and more, even, than the boys — it’s the food that makes Lebanon one of the top entries on my list of must-visits.  The boldness of the Lebanese culinary imagination reflects such care for both the sensuality and sanctity of food that I can’t helped being moved by just reading descriptions of it.  China, India and France (mmm…yeah, ok, Iran too) are the only places that can compete, I think, with this tiny little corner of the Mediterranean in sheer kitchen creativity.

Mansoufe (below), for example: made of pumpkin-and-bulgur balls, cooked with caramelized onions and flavored with sour grape juice.  Where else would people even think of this?  (Though I think “dumplings” or something might have been a better word; “balls” makes it sound like pumpkins have testicles.)


But just like there’s not really any French food without the produce of France itself, and like I’ve come to believe what most South Asian friends think: that there’s no good regional Indian food outside of India, just Punjabi versions of dumb-downed Doabi-Mughlai food cooked by Sylhetis (though I know two good Bengali places in New York, one in Sunnyside, where you have to convince them you want the real stuff, and one in the Bronx, and an even better secret, a great Sindhi vegetarian place in Jackson Heights…Indian vegetarian is the only vegetarian food I’ll eat, actually the only vegetarian food I’ll honor by calling “food”), so, it seems, that if you want something other than stale felafel or inedible tabbouleh made by a dude who had too many lemons he needed to get rid of and who needs to be told that parsley isn’t a vegetable, then you need to go to Lebanon.

In steps the Food Heritage Foundation to help you get your bearings food-wise once you’ve gotten yourself to Lebanon: a great resource for anything you might want to know about Lebanese cuisine.  Yesterday they posted photos of the Ein Zebde (the Shouf village with the peach orchards at top) celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross, and the annual potato-kibbe-making event the women there have held for the past twenty-four years.  Check out the page for captions on the pics below:

A Ein-zebde-preps2017

B 20170909_215010

C 20170909_210038

D 20170909_215653

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Yesterday I tweeted my kudos to the Food Heritage Foundation (above).  But actually it would have been impossible to hide the fact this is a Maronite community even had they wanted to.  Even if they felt they didn’t have to explain why the women were doing this, the women’s hair and bare arms would have been a giveaway.

Still, I’m just saying this because if certain people like Mlle I___m de M_____i had their way both the entire staff of the Food Heritage Foundation and I would’ve been thrown in jail for fomenting sectarianism, publicly shamed for being Islamophobic and made to wear a Green “I”, and the Ein Zebde post would have had to be mysteriously cleansed of its Christianess.

The feast of the Holy Cross — I doubt any Catholics remember or even know — commemorates the discovery by the Empress Mother Helen of the Holy Cross on which Christ was crucified, of which Mark Twain famously said there were so many splinters of everywhere that it was apparently a Holy Forest.  She was the mother of Constantine, the emperor who moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the city on the Bosporus called Byzantion, renamed Constantinople (that’s İstanbul for those that don’t know), and who, like a good mother-ridden Greek boy (though he was really from what’s now Niš in in what’s now southern Serbia), unfortunately made what-a-monotheist-drag Christianity the official religion of the Empire to make her happy; though also like a good Greek boy he passive-aggressively wasn’t himself baptized till he was on his death-bed.  The discovery of the Cross and the feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen, “the Equal-to-the-Apostles”, on May 21st, when Athens is paralyzed by traffic for three days because a quarter of the city is named Kosta or Helene and another half is going to visit them for their name-day, is usually commemorated in the Orthodox Church by the same image:


But for more fun, more lyrical descriptions of Lebanese food, mixed up with some serious butch conflict-zone reporting and a hilarious Middle Eastern mother-daughter-in-law relationship, see Annia Ciezadlo’s beautiful Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com


Palestinians still protesting Greek control of their Church

11 Sep

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Palestinians demand removal of church patriarch

Protesters are demanding the removal of Patriarch Theophilos III over his involvement in selling church land.

The controversial deal between the church and Ataret Cohanim was made in 2004 and came to light a year later [Al Jazeera]

Hundreds of Palestinians rallied on Saturday in occupied East Jerusalem against the selling of church property to Jewish settlers.

Protesters demanded the removal of Patriarch Theophilos III over his involvement in selling church land and called for an end to Greek dominance over their church.

They held up signs reading: “We demand the freedom of the Orthodox Church from Theophilos and from corruption” and “Church land belongs to the church and its congregants – not to Theophilos and his gang.”

Demonstrators also chanted: “Theophilos, you collaborator. Our land is not for sale” and “We want national unity, to free the Patriarchate.”

Signs read: ‘The Orthodox endowments are for the sect and not for Theophilos’ and ‘Our endowments are our past, future and present’ [Al Jazeera]

“The people are demanding unity, transparency, and not to Arabise the church, because the church is already Arab Palestinian,” Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List in Israel’s parliament, said in a statement at the protest.

“In the 21st century, we are here are to ensure that this a national cause. We are here to say there are those who aim to transform the conflict from a national one to a religious one. This is a conflict between illegal occupation and between the people of Jerusalem – Christians and Muslims,” Odeh added.

“There is no excuse for the selling [of] any piece of land. This land is for our people. They succeed by dividing us, or bribing us. I ask you all to sit together to form unity and to pinpoint our demands and to foster unity to succeed in this just cause.”

The rally comes amid fears in the Palestinian Christian community that Israel is attempting to “weaken the Christian presence” in the country.

READ MORE: How Israel is targeting Palestinian institutions

In a joint statement released this month, patriarchs and church leaders in Jerusalem expressed their concern over what they termed “breaches of the status quo that governs holy sites and ensures the rights and privileges of churches”.

The statement condemned a recent Israeli court ruling over the selling of two strategically located hotels near Jaffa Gate in the Old City and a large building in the Muslim Quarter to the Israeli Jewish settler group, Ateret Cohanim, which aims to expand the Jewish presence in the occupied city. The court approved the sale in early August, giving Ateret Cohanim rights over the property for a period of 99 years.

“The judgement in the ‘Jaffa Gate’ case … which we regard as unjust, as well as [a] proposed bill in the Knesset which is politically motivated that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our own property, are further assaults on the rights that the status quo has always guaranteed,” the statement noted.

The patriarchs and church leaders also vowed to support a high court appeal against the judgement and called on fellow church leaders around the world to stop further attempts to change the status quo.

The church has vowed to appeal the Israeli court’s decision [Al Jazeera]

The Greek Orthodox Church is the second-largest owner of land in the country. The controversial deal between the church and Ateret Cohanim was made in 2004 and came to light a year later.

Although the deal was initiated by Theophilos III’s predecessor, Irenaios, who was deposed from his position for his actions, activists and residents believe Theophilos III was responsible for concluding the deal with the settler organisation.

“The Patriarch will continue to use bribes. We will not allow these bribes to continue. This church is an Arab church and its administration should be Arab. The Patriarch must be an Arab – whether Palestinian or Jordanian. We will not accept anything else,” Alif al-Sabbagh, a member of the Arab Central Orthodox Council in Palestine and Jordan, told Al Jazeera at the protest.


Are Palestinian Christians really your problem, Israel?

3 Apr

Stuck between a f*ckin’ rock and a f*ckin’ hard place.  Not much more different than most eastern Christians…  For a good — what is it? — 1,435? 1,436? years now…

From Al Jazeera.

Palestinians warn Israel over Easter restrictions

After annual difficulty accessing religious sites, Palestinians vow to pursue ‘other means’ if restrictions continue.

The traditional Washing of the Feet at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem during Holy Week is a yearly Easter ritual [Reuters] – (click)

Jerusalem – Palestinian Christians said they would not tolerate a repetition of the Israeli restrictions to and violence which have in past years marred Holy Week festivities – culminating on Easter Sunday – and have vowed to pursue ‘other means’ if no marked changes are made.

Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, community leaders expressed concerns that Israeli restrictions will prevent them from celebrating Easter this week, beginning with the Good Friday procession in Jerusalem, where thousands flock to walk along Via Dolorosa – the path believed to have been walked by Jesus before his crucifixion.

“There is one major change this year, and this is April 1, which is the day Palestine officially becomes a member of the International Criminal Court,” said Bassem Khoury, an Orthodox Christian from Jerusalem, and former Palestinian minister of economy. “Denial of freedom of religion is…an issue we will pursue if we are denied [access to our holy sites].”

For almost a decade, the Easter celebrations have been marked with clashes between local Christians and Israeli troops, who regularly prevent worshippers from accessing the religious sites.

“Since 2005, Israel has closed the Old City of Jerusalem for us,” said Hind Khoury, former Palestinian minister of Jerusalem affairs. “We arrive to celebrate Palm Sunday and Holy Friday only to find the access doors closed and many Israeli military checkpoints along the way.”

This Friday, pilgrims and visitors will walk down the cobbled Via Dolorosa through the walled Old City, many bearing wooden crosses, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where tradition has it Jesus was buried before rising again three days later.


This year, Easter festivities are coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Passover. Israeli authorities impose severe restrictions on Palestinians’ movement during that time, affecting both Muslim and Christians’ access to Jerusalem holy sites.

“Israeli authorities give some permits to Christians during religious holidays,” said Fr. Jamal Khader, the rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary, who described himself as one of the ‘lucky ones’ to have received permission to enter Jerusalem this Easter time.

“But at the same time, the access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is restricted and during Pesach [Passover] there are even more restrictions,” he said. “Permits are a means of control and this is a violation of our freedom of worship.”

Khader said that families from his parish often complain that permits are not given to the entire household, which often means having to drop plans to attend the Jerusalem festivities. Even those with permits cannot always take part in the processions because the Old City is “practically closed”, he said.

“Every year when we get here for the procession, we notice that the whole area is empty except for hundreds of soldiers and policemen,” he said. “This is a real problem for regular people; it dissuades them from participating.”

Dwindling numbers

Difficulties in reaching holy sites come at a time when Christian leaders concede that the community’s numbers are in decline. In 1944, there were some 30,000 Christians living in Jerusalem’s Old City, according to official figures. Today that number does not exceed 11,000.

Many Palestinian Christians have complained in the past that they were beaten, shoved and prevented by Israeli forces from entering the Old City during religious holidays. Israeli authorities said they were merely using ‘crowd-control measures’ because of the large number of visitors. This year, the Israeli tourism ministry said it is expecting about 13,000 over the period of Holy Week and Passover.

“We are not happy with the measures by [the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem],” said Archbishop Fouad Twal, the Latin patriarch. “We are afraid of a repetition of last year[‘s events]. Sometimes I wonder whether the [Israeli] policemen know why they are there – to help or to make our lives more difficult.”

Last year, the UN’s peace envoy to the Middle East at the time and other high-ranking diplomats were prevented from going through a barricade to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the ‘Holy Fire’ procession – a traditional ceremony that takes place a day before Orthodox Easter.Robert Serry said Israeli police forbade him and Italian, Norwegian and Dutch diplomats from getting to the church as he was being crushed by a waiting crowd at a barricade. They also ignored his requests to speak to a superior, he said.

At the time, Serry called their behaviour “unacceptable” and demanded in a statement that all parties “respect the right of religious freedom”. Israeli authorities denied Serry’s charges, saying he had displayed “a serious problem of judgment”.

Last year, Palestinian Christian communities turned to Israel’s supreme court, which agreed that Palestinians’ rights were being violated, and that checkpoints and other restrictions were hindering access to places of worship.

‘Unhindered access’

This year, they received official Israeli assurances of unhindered access to the church. “I’m not 100 percent optimistic that things will go fine even though we have assurances from Israeli security, even the president himself,” Bassem Khoury said.

But some Christians fear that it’s not only access to their holy sites that’s being lost in these festivities: participating in celebrations that extend beyond the religious. Ra’ed Sa’adeh, who owns and manages the Jerusalem Hotel, said he grew up in the Old City and took part in Holy Week celebrations yearly.

“Many of the activities have both religious and cultural [significance],” Sa’adeh said. “And as Christians, we are being deprived from exercising our culture. Now it’s impossible to be part of the popular celebrations, which are the natural cultural expression that people have been a part of for hundreds of years.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

60 Minutes: Iraqi Christians

30 Mar

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 10.43.13 AMIraq’s Christians and ISIS

See also: “When Western evil is fused with Arab stupidity…”


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com


From the Times: Pope, in Turkey, Issues Call to Protect Middle Eastern Christians

30 Nov

Yes, starting with Turkey itself.

Full article


“When Western evil is fused with Arab stupidity…”

29 Nov

Iraqi TV Host Breaks Down in Tears at Plight of Christians

And a super-outspoken (now that he’s safe in Erbil) Bishop from Mosul: “..Western evil is fused with Arab stupidity…”

Might wanna retake a look at my Who are the MESA Thought Police?:

“…or if you were caught even suggesting, heaven forbid, that maybe — just maybe — Arabs had simply conquered what were already the most sophisticated and civilized parts of the Greco-Roman and Sassanian worlds…”

And yes, “kanun,” law, is a Greek word.

Oh, yeah.  And so is “kalam,” pen…

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Might they open the doors of the wine shops And loosen their hold on our knotted lives? If shut to satisfy the ego of the puritan Take heart, for they will reopen to satisfy God.” — Hafez

3 Nov

WineryimageFrom Pulse News: Beer, wine flow in West Bank Christian hamlet”  by TIA GOLDENBERG | November 3, 2014

TAYBEH, West Bank (AP) — A tiny Christian enclave in the overwhelmingly Muslim West Bank has for years crafted the only Palestinian beer and brought thousands of visitors flocking to its annual beer fest. Now, it is adding wine to its list of libations, hoping a boutique winery will be another tourist draw and contribute to keeping the small village afloat.

While Christians around the Middle East have seen their numbers dwindle due to conflict and the lure of better economic opportunities abroad, Taybeh has remained an exclusively Christian village, the last in the West Bank.

The family behind the wine and beer says they are carrying out “peaceful resistance” by investing in their homeland and staying put.

“This is how we believe the state of Palestine can be built: by people like us to invest in the country and encourage other Palestinians to come and invest in their country,” said Nadim Khoury, who founded the brewery and winery.

I’ve always been fascinated by the association, in so much Persian(ate) poetry, of alcohol with non-Muslims — and by extension, licentiousness, sexual desire, subversiveness, sin, etc.  There’s probably a dissertation out there somewhere that I should try looking for.  I thought about it a lot in my rant on the Gezi Park protests and the symbolic importance of Pera in the İstanbul imaginary that I wrote from Kabul last November.  In fact, it was pretty much the thesis of the piece:

“And here we run into our first paradox, or the origins of a chain of paradox: that this now central “heart” of Istanbul began as a space of marginality.  The Byzantines originally put some of their unwanted Catholics there: Galata’s mother city is actually Genoa.  In Ottoman times, Christians and Jews lived there and made wine and everybody else came there to drink it.  While not an exclusionary, extramural ghetto of any sort – to their credit the Ottomans didn’t often do that kind of thing – it was sort of the wrong side of the tracks: the Ottoman equivalent of the suburbs or the across-the-river Zoroastrian neighborhoods in Iran where Hafez and company went to drink the infidel’s wine and torment themselves with the beauty of the innkeeper’s son: the other side of town, the refuge of disbelief and transgression, of unorthodoxy and the unorthodox in every sense.  The alcohol…”


If 2013’s protests then – at least Istanbul’s –were at their core about protecting aspects of the essential urbanity of Istanbul, and Greeks played such a large role in shaping that urbanity, shouldn’t that be acknowledged?  If Turkish society is playing out – again, at least in Istanbul – its most intense culture wars on a ghost blueprint of vanished minorities, then wouldn’t making that a more explicit part of the contest be immensely productive – all around.

See it all:Nobody really cares about Gezi Park: Greek thoughts on the protests of 2013



Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Christians of Mosul Find Haven in Jordan — from the Times

27 Oct

See whole article: Christians of Mosul Find Haven in Jordan

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 9.03.13 AMRadwan Shamra, 35, hoped he could survive the sectarian war between his Muslim countrymen even as many of his neighbors fled the violence that engulfed Iraq. Warrick Page for The New York Times (click)

 After capturing the city in June, the Sunni militant group gave Christians a day to make up their minds: convert, pay a tax, or be killed.  [Otherwise, of course, “there is no compulsion in religion.”]

Mostly, they are haunted by the abrupt end to their lives in Iraq, and to a Christian tradition that had survived in Mosul for more than 1,700 years.

“We are very much part of the Arab culture, we are citizens of Iraq,” he said. “What do we go back to? There is no home, and if this continues, there will be no country.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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