Monday, June 22, 2015

Archbishop Atallah Hanna Responds to Leaked Saudi Document

The Arabic original can be found here.

Clarification issued by His Eminence Atallah Hanna, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebate in Jerusalem

We were shocked yesterday by a document issued by the Saudi Foreign Ministry that has been published across various social media sites. We do not know if it is real or a forgery. This document says that we received funds from the Saudi Embassy in Amman as support from the Saudi government. We would therefore like to clarify this as follows:

1. We have never requested assistance from Saudi Arabia and we have never received any assistance from Saudi Arabia. Therefore what was published in this document is erroneous and absolutely untrue.

2. Our positions are well-known to all and disseminated through all forms of media-- radio, television and print. Our positions are not up for barter. Our positions are not for sale and cannot be bought with money. We do not deny that we have been subject to temptations from certain parties to change our positions, especially with the start of the Syrian crisis. Our position has remained firm and clear. We refuse political money intended for specific political positions. Thus all attempts by those who want to influence us and our positions have failed.

3. We refuse funding that is conditional on political positions, whatever those positions may be. Our positions are patriotic and stem from our personal conviction based on our Arab identity with regard to the issue of Palestine, our primary concern and our concern for all issues of the Arab nation from the Ocean to the Gulf.

4. We have no way of knowing who is behind this document and we do not know if it is forged or real. The party who should be asked about this topic is the Saudi government and so I am demanding that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia conduct a serious investigation about this document, who requested assistance and who received it.

Here I do not rule out this being a case of corruption and serious fraud on the part of one of the officials or employees in the Saudi government. Personally, I have never delegated anyone to speak on my behalf to the Saudi government to request financial assistance and I have never received any financial assistance from the Saudi government.

5. Once more, I ask the Saudi government to conduct a serious investigation into this offensive document which contains information that is absolutely untrue and has absolutely no connection to me.

6. We affirm that what is found in this document has no relation to us. We have nothing to do with the money that is said to have been sent and requested from the Saudi Embassy in Amman, if it is determined who received this money and where it was sent.

7. I have the right to initiate legal proceedings if the Saudi government does not explain what happened, especially since it has become clear that it is an issue of bureaucratic corruption and fraudulently taking money in the name of other people who did not request this money and who of course will never receive it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wikileaks: Archbishop Atallah Hanna Sought and Received Saudi Funding

So the Wikileaks Saudi Cables, which have just started to be posted online, are going to prove to be very embarrassing for a lot of people. The only cable of interest so far (with 60,000 out of 500,000 documents released) with regard to the Orthodox Church is a cable from the Saudi embassy in Jordan, stating that in 2011, Archbishop Atallah Hanna contacted them with a request for money and they agreed to give him $200,000. The document, also reproduced below, can be found here.

UPDATE: Archbishop Atallah has responded to this document and has categorically stated that he has never requested or received Saudi funding and that this document may be due to financial fraud on the part of someone at the embassy. It should be noted in his favor that the archbishop's political position with regard to the Syria crisis has always been strongly in favor of the Syrian government and against the policies of the Saudis. Please read his response here.

With reference to your cable no. 3772/206 dated 23.10.1432 Hijri [= September 21, 2011] concerning the request for monthly or lump sum financial assistance from the Archbishop of Sebaste of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the bishop in Jerusalem Dr Atallah Hanna.

We inform of the issuance of Royal Decree no. 24965 dated 17.5.1433 [= April 8, 2012] to provide a lump sum personal assistance through the Ministry [of Foreign Affairs] of (200,000) two hundred thousand dollars by the embassy in Amman and to evaluate the results of this on his future positions.

The Ministry hopes that the necessary steps will be taken. Best regards.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Islam and Religious Minorities

Arabic original here. The immediate context of this article is Syrian rebels forcing Druze to convert to Islam and killing them in Idlib and the threat that they may do so again if they succeed in their current assault on Jabal Druze.

Islam and Religious Minorities

Contemporary Islam has proven its inability to provide effective solutions to reassure members of religious minorities living among Muslims. What was apparently successful, to a reasonable extent, was the dhimmi system of bygone eras, before the age of human rights, citizenship and equality... However, even if, in the past, the dhimmi system contributed keeping the "People of the Book" safe where they live, this does not mean it is appropriate for the present day.

Contemporary Islam has likewise proven its inability to make a real effort towards rapprochement between Islamic sects, indeed, its inability to halt the deterioration of relations between their members. It has become a trend to dig up ancient fatwas that declare some Islamic groups to be unbelievers and permit the spilling of their adherents' blood and to implement them in some places. Some people have gone to lengths that even people in the distant past did not dare approach, declaring Islamic sects to be unbelievers even though the soundness of their Islam has been commonly accepted.

It is not surprise, then, that the issue of religious minorities has come to the forefront in Syria-- and before that, in Iraq.  This country that had been a model of religious diversity has now had its doors open wide to every sort of takfirism, displacement and religious cleansing.

We cannot limit responsibility for what has been happening in Syria to extremist Islamist groups alone. These groups build their opinions and rulings on the statements and codes of jurists and muftis who are recognized within traditional, moderate Islam. Factors that seem to neutralize some of these rulings declaring certain sects to be unbelievers are only present if there is political will, in the absence of which these factors are also absent. In other words, neutralizing these rulings is not based on sound juridical rulings that abrogate or cancel what came before, but most of the time only on the will of the political ruler.

When armed groups in Syria regard those who belong to a given sect as non-Muslims-- and therefore as infidels-- and that they must abandon some of their beliefs and practices and practices and adopt Islamic rulings, they are coming up with these rulings from the content of ancient books. They are not coming up with something new or an innovation of their own making. And here we have, in the fact that members of this sec [i.e., the Druze] who insist that they are Muslim monotheists, are still forbidden from performing the hajj to Mecca a shining example of this impotence that hampers moderate Islam and permits extremists to impose their rulings in the name of Islam.

In reality, both moderate and non-moderate Islamic thought has failed to solve the dilemma of minorities. As we have said time and again and will continue to say, this is because it divides society into two parts: Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamic thought itself is responsible for exacerbating the phenomenon of minorities and for not finding ways that would allow members of minorities to be engaged in Islamic society and that would make them more committed to Muslims' issues and aspirations.

The fundamental problem for those who strive for an Islamic state-- both those who are moderate and those who are not-- lies in their lack of respect for political, social and religious diversity and in their lack of respect for the particularities of the groups that make up the national mosaic that includes all citizens.

This country will not find security and the people of this country will not find tranquility so long as Muslim thinkers will not work for a real renewal of Islamic thought based on bold re-interpretations of the foundation of the Islamic state and a recognition of the right to religious diversity in Islamic society.