• November 24, 2004
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    "Narrow Gate Churches"
I recommend Narrow Gate Churches to the readers because of its distinctive author and unique content. Mansour is a Christian Arab-Israeli who is highly credible among both Israeli Jews and Muslims. Moreover, his Oxford training, trilingual ability, and four decades of active journalism have facilitated an access to high government officials and to a wide spectrum of valuable archives.

At the very outset of his book, Mansour wants to impress on Westerners that whatever they do is interpreted by Muslims as a Christian act. Therefore, he attempts to ?tell at length and in detail the story of all Christians in the home of Christianity during the last two centuries...? hoping to show not only the history of Christian-Muslim relations but also the influence of Westerners on these relations. Later, he admits that the Christian community in the home of Christianity is ethnically hard to define especially in view of the input of various cultures and nations who became an indispensable part of this community. As a result, he decides to explore all the major ecclesiastical communities probing their historical roots especially their interactions with Muslims and later with Jews. This methodology leads him to focus on two major areas. The first area provides a background highlighting the antiquity of the Christian presence, and the Muslim-Christian relations in view of the Crusaders and the influence of the West.

The second area focuses on describing the different Christian communities and their coexistence with Muslims in North Africa, in Egypt, in Lebanon and Syria, In Iraq, and in Jordan-Palestine. He also adds the story of the Christian presence in Israel highlighting Nazareth as a case study for the Muslim-Christian coexistence. Last, Mansour finishes with an analysis of the status of Christians in Israel-Palestine and with a description of a few insights and lessons derived from the historical narratives of Christians in the Holy Land. He asserts that Christians and Muslims can coexist in peace clarifying that a community divided by religious divisions can be united by national and cultural elements in addition to a good economy that will encourage young Christians to stay in their homelands. Furthermore, he says that native Christians should be independent but at the same time should be a part of an ecumenical council who promotes an ecumenical Christian experience via pilgrimage.

In my opinion, Mansour?s historical perspective contributes to the body of knowledge in at least two main ways. First, rarely one hears about the history of Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle East let alone a history written by a native Galilean Christian. He writes this history obviating extremism and escaping from the dangers of stereotyping Muslims. Instead, he presents many Muslims as close friends and the majority of Arab Muslims as tolerant ?saints? who deserve to be lauded. This unusual perspective is supported by stories like the ally of Gassanid and Lakhmid dynasties with the early Muslim invaders, or by statements of prominent Syrian Monophysites, or by leaders in the Syrian Church, etc. At the same time he does not shun away from presenting the maltreatments and massacres of Middle Eastern Christians by Islamic hands. For example, he refers to the maltreatments of Al Hakim Beamr Allah, or to many atrocities during the Turkish reign. He believes that whenever Muslims were in trouble, especially by Westerners, the Christian community in the Middle East suffered.

His second contribution relates to his evaluation of the Israeli Jewish-Christian relations during the Israeli reign. As an eyewitness of the 1948 war, Mansour narrates his story illustrating the fate of Arab Christians under the Israeli occupation. According to him, half of the 156,000 Christians living in the Holy land in 1947 lost their homeland by 1949. Only 34,000 Christians were able to become Israeli citizens. Mansour traces the demographic growth of these Israeli Christians in different places describing the injustices done against them by Israeli-Jews. Although he mentions few positive things about some Israeli Jews, he is mainly pessimistic and negative towards Israeli governments.

Having described the book and its contributions, a few comments about some of the points that might be helpful to the reader are appropriate. First, the reader should not look for consistent chronological or geographical organizing principles. Unfortunately, the author has overlooked providing clear structural markers at the macro level. Second, the reader will benefit from ignoring the subtitle of the book, The Christian Presence in the Holy Land under Muslim and Jewish Rule. Clearly, the book is not limited to the singular ?Holy Land? or its Christian natives. Third, although the language at the very beginning of the book is repelling, reading the book in its entirety is rewarding. Fourth, undoubtedly, adding maps, tables, and expanding the list of terms in the index could have improved the author?s presentation.

In the final analysis, I commend this book for it has clarified the history of Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle East. Concurrently, it has introduced, from the perspective of a Christian Israeli citizen, the disturbing interactions between Jews and Christians in Israel-Palestine. Last, I agree with Mansour that Westerners were actively involved in shaping the relationships of the three monotheistic religions in the Middle East, especially in the last few hundred years. Unfortunately, their influence is not always positive; however, the future is still full of hopeful possibilities.

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