- Published on Tuesday, 26 June 2012 09:08
Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.
We must remember that to be truly human does not mean to be 'like us' but to be 'like Christ'. Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh
I have promised myself to write about the holy people I know and actually there are so many who have walked especially here in the Holy Land following the footsteps of Christ that I am not sure I will live long enough to mention all of them. I have been confronted with so many questions about Muslim-Christian relationships in the Middle East that I have a need to share something at a very personal level where possibly not sure about the status in the category of "holy" but wish to share my opinions about Muslim people from my daily life during the many years in Palestine especially as a Christian living in 99% Muslim population and next door to six million Israeli Jews. Keeping in mind that when I was growing up in a very strict Greek home in America, I had no idea that Muslim people even existed but be reassured I did know Jewish people since I had to read about the Holocaust as early as 7th grade.
I cannot dare to call her my friend because I hardly have any friends just family. I cannot call her my colleague because she is so totally opposite from me professionally, politically and religiously. So I have no idea how to introduce the most incredible, dynamic, surely conservative Muslim woman I often hear speak at my village gatherings and greet with a kiss when I meet her in public. What gatherings might these be? Well, for sure the most famous one, the annual village festival, the Taybeh Oktoberfest and special opening celebrations like the extension of the Taybeh Orthodox Secondary School where $750,000 from ANERA (American Near East Refuge Agency) made life for 450 students more comfortable and the most special day of all, St. George Feast Day on April 23rd promoted annually especially by our local beloved Melkite priest, Fr. Jack Abed. How can the busy governor of Ramallah, Dr. Laila Ghannam, a lovely Muslim female show up to all of these Christian sponsored events. It might be the support and solidarity that many government officials express towards the Christian community especially in modern history.
Could it be as simple as Muslims and Christians in Palestine have fair decent professional relationships? They usual sit in classrooms together and at the workforce. Could it be that no matter how hard external forces try to spark negative Muslim-Christian issues in the Middle East, Palestine can have a chance to be different, better, modern, liberal, democratic and possibly one day, free.
The real reason I am writing this reflection is to say, that myself, as a Greek-Orthodox Christian mother living in the Holy Land, I sense an extremely profound feeling and empowerment when I walk in the ceremony of the Miracle of the Holy Fire in Ramallah after it has been sent from Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, I am being a true witness to my belief in Christ, my Lord and Savior Who is giving the message of eternal life. But when Dr. Laila Ghannam marches next to me (or I shall rather say when I march next to her since the local protocol calls for the Governor of Ramallah to be present ) in the procession of this most magnificent celebrated Christian ceremony in Palestine, for sure, as a Muslim woman she is a witness to good Muslim-Christian relations and reflecting respect for the Christian community. I was especially personally touched when Dr. Laila held the lantern with the flame of the Holy Fire and marched in the streets of Ramallah concluding at the Old City by the Greek Orthodox Church.
My respect, love and admiration for Dr. Laila Ghanam as the Ramallah governor who acknowledges my important Christian values is so deep that I hope young girls in the Middle East will be so inspired by her role model to follow her footsteps in leadership and community involvement. She is a good voice for peaceful resistance and a just peace in Palestine.
Furthermore, when people send strange messages because they refuse to see Muslims as human and tell me that how dare I say that Muslim-Christian relations in Palestine are fair when a fanatic Islamic mob came to burn my own house down in 2005, I simply have never said in return that the previous governor at that time, another vibrant Muslim man said during continued threats that if the Khoury house will be put on fire, he will be sleeping overnight to help protect us and the mob will have to live with the fact that they also attacked the governor of Ramallah staying overnight with the Khourys.
Thus, the only thing that pops in my mind: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21. What is this strange world that I live in? It is fanatic Muslims who come to burn me down and it is average Muslims who come to save me especially the Palestinian police with their weapons who put a stop to the mob after six hours being delayed getting the permission from the Israeli army to come into our area so fourteen others houses were burned but no one hurt that crazy night. So precious is freedom of movement that I am sure you never imagined what it is like to lack the basic right to move freely whether we are talking about people, products or emergency services. We simply do not have this freedom in the Palestinian Occupied Territories or what you might know as the West Bank.
It is funny that the first person sometimes to call me to wish me a Merry Christmas is a thoughtful Muslim teacher from Jenin. It is odd that years ago when my teenage son locked himself out of his apartment at midnight (and was too scared to call me since I am an hour away and will scream and yell to the end of the earth about his ignorance) it is a kind Muslim mother who picked him up in Ramallah and kept him safe for the night. Often I remember this incident and think how Christian I would be if my son asks me to pick up his friend at midnight. Furthermore, this last Christmas celebration, I was totally surprised that it was not one of the patriarchs or my school mates the metropolitans who called upon the international community to express stronger support of the Christian presence in Palestine but a Muslim member of the Palestinian Authority. Now, don't you find that strange? Why are the bishops silent in supporting a just cause?
At the end, the bottom line is that all human beings want and need respect, love and acceptance from humanity no matter what our religious, ethnic and cultural background might be.
For sure, the word "Muslim" does not come first in mind when I think of the wonderful teachers I have worked with or the dedicated mothers who have come to my children's birthday parties or the amazing dancers who have come to perform at the Taybeh Oktoberfest. For some reason, when we love, we see the human aspect in the other but the world creates these boxes and categories that if human beings are left on their own without the strict cultural values, they will relate to one another as human to human, not necessarily as Muslim or Christian forced upon us by stereotypes. Religion is a very personal matter and it should be kept private but lived out in our daily actions towards one another. What we do and how we behave speaks louder than what we say. "Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16