• JORDAN \ Nov 24, 2004
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    Al Maghtas: New Magazine for Christian Arabs
Al Maghtas: New Magazine for Christian Arabs

According to Reverand John Noor, the secretary of the bishops of Jordan, there are between 10-15 million Christian Arabs living in the Middle East. Most of the region's Christian Arabs in Egypt (7-12 million) and Sudan, 600,000 live in Iraq, 165,000 in Jordan, 900,000 in Syria, 1.3 million in Lebanon, 50,000 in Palestine and 130,000 in Israel. Noor whose two page article deals with emigration estimates that four million more live in the diaspora.

Unlike most available Christian magazines, Al Maghtas is neither denominational nor theological. It deals with socio economic conditions concentrating on Christian Arabs on both banks of the Jordan.

Christian Arabs refuse to be called a minority, they consider themselves part of the Arab world and partners with their Muslim brethren in the good and bad that face the Arab nation. In the first edition of Al Maghtas, the publisher sets out its goals and vision. "We are proud of both our Arab nationality and our Christian belief." The magazine publisher goes on that the new magazine will work on strengthening the desire of the Christian Arab community in staying in their homeland and to be a bridge within our community and to the outside world. "We plan to honor those in our community who deserve such praise so that we can provide our younger generation with role models."

Philip Madanat the editor of the magazine says that the strength of Al Maghtas is in its exclusivity for the Christian community and its avoidance of theology. "We are extra careful to include individuals from all Christian denominations in our society and we made an early decision not to allow any discussion of Christian beliefs and theology so as not to cause anger to the followers of any denomination."

Among the feature stories in the magazine was an interview with one of the leading Jordanian businessmen, and philanthrop Elia Nuqol the CEO of the Fine tissue company. Nuqol who was recently honored with a medal by King Abdullah is one of the most successful Jordanian businessmen. In another article Widad Kawar the internationally known collector of Palestinian and Jordanian dresses and folklore is featured with a long profile.

Controversy is not absent in the newest magazine of Christian Arabs. An investigation into the internal struggles between three Christian Churches over the right to the keys to the Nativity Church is presented from all points of view. The controversy apparently began during the siege of the church in April 2002 when one of the priests needed to take out an injured Palestinian. While the three churches, Orthodox, Armenians and Latin are said to have copies of the key, it is understood that ownership to the key (for whatever symbolic reasons that this has) goes to the Orthodox. It seems that the Latin priest who didn't have access to the key belonging to his denomination borrowed the key from another priest. Fearing that this will have long term means the Greek Orthodox quickly changed the lock leaving the keys of the other two churches worthless and thus a major incident in which the mayor of Bethlehem Hanna Naser, the minister of tourism and even Yasir Arafat were brought in to settle the inter church dispute.

While small in numbers Christian Arab feature prominently in Arab politics, art and culture. From Jubran Khalil Jubran to modern day artists and political figures, the history of Arabs is full of Christians who have left a prominent place in history and culture. Latin priest Hanna Kildani spent time in researching modern day Christian Arabs in Palestine and Jordan in an interesting and detailed book which is reviewed in the latest edition of Al Maghtas.

For the most part most part Christian Arabs have downplayed their Christianity as a way of becoming accepted and featuring highly in the predominantly Muslim culture. To counter this, the magazine ran a review of another book issued by the Royal Jordanian Center for religious studies which included an alphabetical glossary of the names prominent Christian Arabs in the various Islamic historical periods.

On the lighter side, the magazine which hopes to be a source of information and entertainment for the small but well to do community, printed photos of Christian Arabs in Jordan and Palestine in various social events and activities.

The recently excavated site of Al Maghtas on the eastern bank of the Jordan River is featured in various stories and photos. The back page of the magazine includes a large photo of King Abdullah and the Pope during the pontiffs recent visit to the baptismal site in the Jordanian bank of the famous and holy Jordan River.

In its second edition, Al Maghtas reflected a more courageous approach in dealing with some of the traditional taboos. In its editorial, the magazine called on religious leaders to do away with the baptismal pools and instead to use the Jordan River's baptismal location. In another article the issue of Christian education in schools is dealt with extensively with a call for a serious effort to follow through with the efforts to get this issue implemented. A long interview with maverick Greek Orthodox Palestinian priest Atallah Hanna covers three pages and includes a criticism of the Church's hierarchy's controversial sales and rentals of properties and lands to Israelis.

The spokeswoman of the Jordanian government, Asma Khader, is giving the cover story with a long interview that talks about her birth in the Palestinian village of Zababdeh and follows her legal and human rights career with her special work in defending Jordanian and Arab women. Two pages are dedicated to excerpts from an award winning book by former Jordanian minister of health Ashraf Kurdi which deals with Christian Arab doctors before the advent of Islam.

Al Maghtas editor says that the magazine continues to face some legal obstacles with the department of publications refusing to either issue or reject the request for a license. Jordanian law stipulates that if the government doesn't respond in 30 days to a request for a license then the request is considered de facto approved. The absence of a de jur license has hampered distribution and advertising efforts.

The initial response of Jordanian and Palestinian Christians to the new magazine has been positive. Many have expressed that the magazine has given them a sense of identity and resolved the issue of who they are and the fact that they can be both proud Arab nationals without compromising their own Christian faith.

To read Al-Maghtas, check this web site at www.maghtas.com