Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fr Georges Massouh: Joseph of Damascus, Imam of the Christians

Arabic original here. This essay is taken from his book Here and Now.

Joseph of Damascus, Imam of the Christians

The Holy Martyr Joseph of Damascus, whose name was Father Yusuf Muhanna al-Haddad, was a victim of the sectarian massacres that took place in Damascus on July 10, 1860. His vita, which was edited by Archimandrite Touma (Bitar) in his book Forgotten Saints in the Antiochian Heritage, states that one of his killers shouted when he saw him, "This is the imam of the Christians! If we kill him, we kill all the Christians with him!"

The killers did not know that they could not eliminate the Christians if they killed their imam. The Jews who killed Christ thought that by crucifying him they would save their nation. Their leader said, "It is better that one man should die for the people," and he was disappointed. Killing Christ did not stop Christianity from spreading to every corner of the inhabited world. If plants need water in order to grow and bear fruit, then the Church needs the blood of her martyrs in order to live, sprout, and bear fruit in the saints.

No one can accuse everyone who belongs to the killers' religion of being a partner or accomplice in the massacres Historical studies and documents prove with no room for doubt that many of the Muslims from Damascus and elsewhere, such as the Emir Abdelkader al-Jazairi, helped to save Christians fleeing from the rampaging mob and its leaders. We likewise cannot ignore the fact that some Muslims in many eras down to our present day have been victims of sectarian violence and massacres committed by Christian mobs.

For over a hundred and fifty years at the least, our countries in the Arab Middle East have been witnessed sectarian incidents, in which the extremists make history while the impact of those who call for openness, diversity and respect for the other is completely absent. In every internal crisis, the discourse of sectarian mobilization has the greatest role, which leads to the absence of the voice of reason and the domination of primitive instincts. It is well-known that reason is one of man's attributes, while man shares the instincts with other creatures that crawl upon the earth, swim in the water, and fly through the air.

The state of our country today is no different from how it has been for a long time. Those who have a say today are the extremists who do not hesitate to commit the most heinous crimes under the pretext of defending the dignity of their religion, sect or community. Nor are those who call themselves "secular" innocent of exploiting their religious affiliation in order to themselves commit sectarian massacres against those who disagree with them. All of them, without exception, resort to religious extremism, takfir, and demonization in order to tighten their grip on the country's livelihood and the necks of its people.

Joseph of Damascus is not an isolated case in the history of this region, either before or after his time. Perhaps our fate is that our innocents will pay the price of the extremists' hatred, no matter what group they belong to. Just as the killers of Joseph of Damascus were not able to eliminate his Christians, criminals will not be able to eliminate any of the country's religious groups or its diversity. But the price for remaining seems very high, as we anticipate offering other Josephs on the altar of martyrdom. Nothing will change this inevitable fate unless it is a return to the humanity within us and an end to the inhuman instincts that are empowered within some of us.

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