I would like to start by offering some observations about the long history of the relationship between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East:
1- Muslims were welcomed to many major cities in what is today Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Christians in these lands were under military occupation of the Byzantines. Religiously, they were persecuted by their co-religionists for refusing to accept the Christological definitions of the council of Chalcedon. Therefore, the Muslim invaders were received as liberators.
2- local Christians were employed by the new Muslim rulers during the Omayyad and Abbasside states to run state affairs, such as the state Dawaween, departments. They helped establish the infrastructure of the new state.
3- Christians became the transmitters of knowledge and different fields of science. In particular, the Syriac translators played a major role in transmitting the knowledge of the Syriac and Greek scholars. They translated major works of philosophy, medicine, algebra and other sciences into the Arabic language.
4- In recent history, Christians played a leading role in the education of the Arab masses. Through their liaison with European schools, Christian scholars were pioneers in introducing printing machines, publishing magazines and periodicals, as well as, establishing colleges and institutions of higher education.
5- Politically, Christian scholars and intellectuals contributed to the establishment of many political parties, such as the Ba’ath party and the national socialist Syrian party.
6- the above observations should not be taken to mean that Christians had always enjoyed peaceful life and great freedom under Muslim rule. Many of them were forced to convert as a result of the imposition of heavy Djeziah poll tax on them. They also endured many periods of persecution, especially during the Mogul and Ottoman rules. The genocide of Armenian and Syriac speaking Christians during World War One resulted in the extermination of one and a half Armenians and more than five hundred thousand Syriacs. In fact next year we will commemorate the hundredth anniversary of these tragic events.
I believe that Muslims need Christians to challenge themselves to live in a pluralistic and multi-religious society where they can affirm their religious identity without being afraid of the other. They ought to be able to embrace the values of tolerance and acceptance of the other as a sign of self confidence. To prove that Islam as religion can coexist with other religions without the need to absorb others or the fear that it may be absorbed by others.
Ignorance will lead to the fear of the other whom they do not know. Fear, in turn, will lead to rejection which is mostly expressed in violence, bias, discrimination and expulsion, not to mention killing and total elimination of the other elements of the same society.
Today ISIS and other extreme organizations are hijacking Islam. It’s up to the Islamic world to come out and declare their position vis a vis these groups. It’s high time for Muslim scholars and religious leaders to prove to the world, that these groups do not represent true Muslim teachings.
Here, Muslim scholars and religious leaders have to strive to present appropriate interpretations of certain religious texts that may be interpreted in a way which may serve the agenda of certain groups who consider non Muslim as أهل الذمة dhimmites.
Living together should be conceived by Muslims and Christians alike as A divine vision and plan. We Christians believe that God has placed us in that region with the mission of spreading love, tolerance and enlightenment. Muslims, on the other hand have clear religious texts which declare that had God wanted He would have created all peoples of the same convictions, but He made them different so that they may get to know each other.