(Vatican Radio) “To lose Christianity from the birthplace of Christianity” in the Middle East “would be to lose the richness of the tapestry of this pluralist region:” that’s according to Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal who granted an exclusive interview to Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure at the Royal Palace in Amman on the sidelines of her visit to Caritas Jordan. She wanted to see first hand how the Catholic aid and development agency is trying to respond to the burgeoning crisis of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Listen to Part I of this two part interview with HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal:
Speaking of Islamic State militants (Daesh in Arabic) as the “cold-hearted, dead hearted human beings in name only” who are killing and terrorizing both Muslims and Christians in Iraq and Syria, His Royal Highness said “the fact that the Christians are suffering is abhorrent to all of us, but the reality is that we are one community: Christians of Arab culture, Muslims of Arab culture. We have built the wombs of civilization over thousands of years together. Inasmuch as losing Jews of Arab culture would also do the same.”
“It is absolutely essential to recognize that we have to develop a new template of hope,” he added.
In this, Part I of a two-part interview, Prince El Hassan called for the establishment of a “Vatican-type consultation” comprising the juridical schools of Sunni and Shia Islam and the Ibadi (Oman and Algeria) to be held in the holy city of Mecca, “the capital of all Muslims.” Asked if the creation of such a central Islamic authority in Mecca is a key factor to the efficacy of interreligious dialogue, his Royal Highness replied that it will create “a point of reference for discussion with the Vatican and with religious and holy cities.”
“The symbolism of Mecca is wasted if we do not create such a dialogue which is in the word ‘shura,’ (consultation) a part of Muslim belief.” He also urged the creation of a “universal zakat” or charitable foundation that “could put the smile on the face of millions of people. After all, let us not forget that 70% of the world’s refugees are Muslims! What are we wealthy Muslims doing about it?” And, “If there is money being spent, it’s being spent on the very weapons that we’re bombing each other with.”
Prince El Hassan, who has been at the forefront of interfaith dialogue for many years, visited Pope Francis in the Vatican in September. He expressed his hope that Pope Francis’ possible visit next year to the United Nations would offer the opportunity for the world to call for a “new international, binding, humanitarian order that proscribes conflict, that prescribes the creation of humanitarian interventions.”
Jordan, a country which historically has welcomed millions of Palestinian and other refugees, has been struggling over the last three years to offer hospitality to more than 1.5 million refugees who have fled the conflict in neighboring Syria. Since Daesh’s savage campaign last summer to rid Iraq of its ancient Christian community, the Kingdom has also received some 5 thousand Iraqi Christian refugees who escaped from Mosul and the Ninevah Plains. The rising number of refugees has put considerable strain on the population of Jordan which now approaches 11 million.
Prince El Hassan reflected on the humanitarian crisis facing the region: “I don’t think there is going to be any more room for refugee camps anywhere in the region. I don’t believe in refugee camps. I believe in humanitarian zones to be set up on the borders of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey respectively. I think that the sooner that these are set up also on Syrian soil the better.”
Christian aid and development agencies like Caritas Jordan are doing what they can to help the Muslim and Christian victims of conflict. Prince El Hassan described them as Christians with a capitol “C:” “armies of volunteers, professional doctors and nurses,” and other experts trying to “wage peace” in a world at war. He praised them as “wonderful, noble people who are doing their utmost for the persecuted of this world.”
He warned that global warming will affect the homes and livelihoods of millions of people, setting tens of millions “on the move.” Statelessness which has affected at least ten million people, is another “issue that has to be tackled,” he added.
“We are living the consequences of war,” the Prince affirmed, and the “bitterness being created” has not been adequately taken into consideration by politicians who have failed to make human dignity and justice their top priorities. “If people continue to live in misery, there is no doubt that whatever Daesh will be (within the next few years) or whatever succeeds it in terms of the hatred industry, will have new recruits. And this is what I find so terrible.”
Part II of Tracey McClure’s interview with HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal will be published later this week.
Below please find a transcript of Part I of Tracey McClure’s interview with His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal:
Q Your Royal Highness, Jordan is now dealing with a huge refugee crisis with more than a million and a half Syrian refugees, now we are seeing also an influx of Iraqi Christians – the figures are around five thousand – who have come into the country. How is Jordan coping under this big strain?
A. “The strain is further accentuated by the fact that not only the figures that you mentioned have made the population of Jordan approach 11 million people, were it not for the 1967 war, we would have been 2 and a half million people in 1992. So we have almost quadrupled the expectations and thirty-two thousand, according to the civil status bureau, Syrian children have been born in Jordan during this crisis from 2011 to 2014. So if you consider seven years down the road, if people continue to live in misery, there is no doubt that whatever Daesh (Islamic State) will be by that time or whatever succeeds it in terms of the hatred industry, will have new recruits. And this is what I find so terrible. I personally have been involved with refugee situations: in 1967, the refugee situation in 1990 – just to name two instances where hundreds of thousands of Jordanians have either been repatriated forcibly, out of the Gulf region as in the case of 1990, or were forcibly evicted from Gaza in the post 1967 period. We had a caring capacity from 1948 to 1967: we gave citizenship. But today, I don’t think there is going to be any more room for refugee camps anywhere in the region. I don’t believe in refugee camps. I believe in humanitarian zones to be set up on the borders of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey respectively. I think that the sooner that these are set up on Syrian soil the better.”
Q I’ve just come from seeing several of the operations run by Caritas, the Catholic humanitarian aid and development agency. They are working very hard to do what little they can – they are not a big organization. How is the Jordanian government cooperating with small organizations, Christian organizations like Caritas that are trying to help meet the needs of the refugees?
A. “I think that there is a very deep appreciation of the fact that these Christian - and I mean it with a capital “C” - organizations are working in a sense as Henry Dunant put it however, the founder of the Red Cross: “to make war more humane.” Now, I know that they feel that this is all they can do. I know that they are not an army waging war; they are armies of volunteers, professional doctors and nurses, infrastructure experts who have travelled the world to try and “wage peace.” But unfortunately, the politics of this mad world in which we live presents us with a reality that the world is at war. So, I think that the sooner we start to look at the issue of human dignity as a region, the sooner we have a real census of who is a mobility stakeholder, who is a national stakeholder, and how many tens of millions of people are going to become that way as a result of man-made disasters for example, the (ed. rising sea level) of the Mediterranean means that 45 million Egyptians are going to be on the move by 2030. Drought in Iran means another 45 million people will be on the move by 2030, so that’s 90 million people before you can say, “peace be upon you!”
“Over and above that, is the legacy of over twenty million refugees and stateless persons. Statelessness today has been recognized by the United Nations as an issue that has to be tackled and that there are ten million stateless people. I think that the figures are understated. I don’t think that anybody really cares at the political level, (about) the consequences of war. And we are living the consequences of war and I think that the bitterness that is being created is a direct result not of the work of these wonderful, noble people who are doing their utmost for the persecuted of this world but I think politicians unfortunately have not given human dignity and the call for justice which we just made to the United Nations, as one of the millennium development goals. I find it extraordinary that the call for justice does not even exist in the Millennium Development Goals. Something has to be done and this is where I feel that Pope Francis has stated it very clearly: that inflexible hostility is simply no way to run human affairs.”
Q I’ve spoken to some Jordanians today and when they heard that I was coming to see you, they said: “We love Prince El Hassan! He has been so respectful of the Christians and of pluralism in the Middle East!” Yet, they also expressed much concern and dismay that the Muslim world did not speak out more strongly against the violence perpetrated by extremist organizations like Daesh against Christians in Iraq. What more can the Muslim community do to condemn these practices?
A. “I think the attitude towards the Mujahedin who were supported by the United States when the United States supported the invasion of Afghanistan by Pakistan and by Gulf supported organizations, followed by the Taliban, followed by the creation by the Qaeda, followed by the creation of the Ansar (al-Islam) followed by the creation of Daesh… it seems to me that one, what should be done, is to establish a Vatican-type consultation in Mecca. Mecca represents one and a half billion Muslims. The Daeshes of this world are cold-hearted, dead-hearted human beings in name (only) who are killing Muslims, who are putting to flight and to refuge Muslims even (moreso than) Christians. The fact that the Christians are suffering is abhorrent to all of us, but the reality is that we are one community: Christians of Arab culture, Muslims of Arab culture. We have built the wombs of civilization over thousands of years together. And to lose Christianity from the birthplace of Christianity would be to lose the richness of the tapestry of this pluralist region. Inasmuch as losing Jews of Arab culture would also do the same. So I think that it is absolutely essential to recognize that we have to develop a new template of hope. And in that context, I hope that when Pope Francis visits the United Nations next year, that the world ecumenical community – and I am coming to Rome quite soon for further conversations between the Pontifical Council (for Interreligious Dialogue) and Muslims from all over the world – that the world calls for a new international, binding humanitarian order that proscribes conflict. That prescribes the creation of humanitarian interventions if we want to be a civilized region in the world. We are only a region in name. There are three strong countries: Israel, Turkey and Iran. Arabs, whether Muslim or Christian, have become firewood.
Q You speak of a need to perhaps create some sort of central authority for Islam if I understand you correctly, in Mecca. Such an authority we have for example in the Catholic Church in the figure of Pope Francis and in the Vatican. Do you see that as key in Islam: to be able to be an effective partner in interreligious dialogue?
A. “One cannot expect anyone to understand the rise of Daesh and its allies without understanding the rise of Wahhabism which was a feature of the 18th century and which of course, continues to the present day. The wisdom of the King of Saudi Arabia, the founder of the State of Saudi Arabia, the “unifier of the Arabian peninsula” as he is described, in 1934 was that he regarded Riyadh as the political capital of Saudi Arabia and Mecca as the capitol of all Muslims. Consultation is essential. At the end of Haj (pilgrimage) there should be Ashura Council representing the four schools of jurisprudence of the Sunna, the two of the Shia and the Ibadi in Oman and Algeria – they will create a point of reference for discussion with the Vatican and with religious and holy cities. We have to remember that what is important is not the politics. What is important is the morality, the ethics, the rising above the conflict. To give people hope. And this is why I think that the symbolism of Mecca is wasted if we do not create such a dialogue which is in the word “shura” (consultation) a part of Muslim belief. It is wasted if we do not create a universal zakat (charitable) foundation that could put a smile on the face of millions of people. After all, let us not forget that 70% of the world’s refugees are Muslims! What are we wealthy Muslims doing about it?
Q To what extent have you seen some feedback from your other Islamic partners?
A. “Well, there is a silent majority and there is a “silenced” majority. Some feel that the enemy of my enemy is my friend: that somehow, the Qaeda’s and the Talibans and the what have you, the Daeshes and so forth, are the enemies of the United States and it’s the United States that has entered this region and been involved with so many wars. Obviously this country is very close to the United States and very close to the alliance that is envisaging standing up to the Daeshes of this world. But on the other hand, I think that if we are to be respected as Arabs, Muslim and Christian, we have to do something for ourselves. So there is a lot of talk: a call for a regional development bank for example. A call for a zakat organization which I have been involved with for over 35 years, but there is very little “do.” If there is money being spent, it’s being spent on the very weapons that we’re bombing each other with.”
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