Catholic Life

Problem of extremism examined

From left to right: John Pontifex, Fr Samir Khalil Samir, Neville Kyrke-Smith, Margaret Reagan, Fr Richard Duffield, Peter Sefton-Williams, Fr Gregory Winterton

The impact of extremism on Christians in the Middle East was laid bare recently in a speech by a leading Vatican expert on Islam who appealed for action to safeguard the Church’s presence in a region where its survival is under threat, writes John Newton.

Making the keynote address at the Birmingham Oratory at an event on June 27 organised by Aid to the Church in Need, Fr Samir Khalil Samir spelled out the problem of extremism, both in the Middle East and the West.

Focusing mostly on the Middle East, the Egyptian-born Jesuit, who is based in Lebanon, categorised countries in the region according to a sliding scale of anti-Christian oppression, with Saudi Arabia being the worst. Fr Samir, who is coordinating preparations for this autumn’s Middle East Synod of Bishops, in Rome, said: “Christians in Saudi Arabia cannot even gather in their houses to pray. This is the worst situation where human rights are practically unknown.”

Underlining how in many parts of the Middle East Christians have dwindled to a tiny minority, he went on: “For many, the only solution is emigration. Proselytism, announcing Christ to everybody is forbidden. There is no equality.”

Fr Samir described how, starting in the late 1960s, some Middle East countries, especially Saudi Arabia, took advantage of oil wealth to bankroll militant Wahhabi Islam, which, he said, has been spread far and wide including to the West. “They built mosques, mostly paid by Saudi Arabia but also Tehran, sending with the mosques preachers and imams and they gave them this very narrow vision of Islam.”

Underlining a dramatic move towards Christian oppression dating back to the 1970s Fr Samir stressed the need for dialogue with Islam, stressing that the Middle East faithful played a role.