30 July 2004

Al-Maghtas Magazine for Christian Arabs

The name of a recently excavated site on the eastern bank of the Jordan River is given to this new magazine that covers the spiritual and social needs of Christian Arabs in Jordan, Palestine, Israel and other places, where the distribution network could reach.

In the following article Daoud Kuttab refers, among other things, to the infamous story of the duplicate key of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. It is displeasing that during every major christian event, especially in Easter, the conflict of sharing this Church among the three Christian denomiantions (Greeks, Armenians and Latins) is creating some kind of artificial tension and disparity among the believers of these Churches.

We believe that if this matter is left to the clergymen, it would be never solved. Therefore, all the followers of these three Churches or their civilian representatives should determine how to handle the legecy of this historical location, that carries huge symbolic meaning in the whole Chrisitian world.

Imagine what kind of message would the Chrisitians all over the world receive if they witness the idle competition and quarelling between the followers of the same faith over a particular key, for the sake of dominaton over few square meters. They would hardly identify these people as the real followers of Jesus Christ. AZAD-HYE.

Magazine for Christian Arabs fills market niche Al-Maghtas neither denominational nor theological, focuses on socioeconomic issues

By Daoud Kuttab
Special to The Daily Star

AMMAN: For the first time in decades Christian Arabs in Jordan and Palestine have their own magazine. With two issues under its belt - the second came out last week - Al-Maghtas (The Baptismal) seems to be filling a gap in the market.

The 40-page glossy color magazine, in Arabic, is produced in Amman and features interviews, articles, and in the first edition even some controversy.

One article about emigration by Reverend John Noor, the secretary of the bishops of Jordan, says there are between 10-15 million Christian Arabs living in the Middle East. Most of the region's Christian Arabs live 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 estimates that 4 million more live in the diaspora.

Unlike the majority of internationally available Christian magazines, Al-Maghtas is neither denominational nor theological. It deals with socio-economic conditions focusing on Christian Arabs on both banks of the Jordan. The new magazine will work on strengthening the desire of the Christian Arab community to stay in their homeland and be a bridge within the community and to the outside world.

Christian Arabs refuse to be called a minority, they consider themselves part of the Arab world and partners with their Muslim brethren in all the troubles that face the region today.

The first edition's editorial sets out the magazine's goals and vision: "We are proud of both our Arab nationality and our Christian belief ... 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 magazine's editor, says 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 made a decision not to allow any discussion of Christian beliefs and theology so as not to cause anger to the followers of any denomination," he says.

Among the feature stories in the magazine is an interview with leading Jordanian businessman and philanthropist, Elia Nuqol, CEO of the Fine tissue company. Widad Kawar, the internationally known collector of Palestinian and Jordanian dresses and folklore, is profiled in another piece.

An investigation into the internal struggles between three Christian churches over the right to the keys to the Nativity Church in Bethelem has raised the most questions amongst the Christian community. The story which presents all points of view deals with a situation which began during the Israeli siege of the church in April 2002 when one of the priests needed to take out an injured Palestinian. While the three churches - Orthodox, Armenian and Latin - are said to have copies of the key, it is understood that ownership of the key (for symbolic reasons) goes to the Orthodox. According to the story, the Latin priest who didn't have access to the key belonging to his denomination borrowed the key from another priest.

Fearing that this would have long-term consequences, the Greek Orthodox church quickly changed the lock. leaving the keys of the other two churches useless, and creating a major incident in which the mayor of Bethlehem Hanna Naser and even Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, were brought in to settle the dispute.

Christian Arabs, while small in numbers, feature prominently in Arab politics, art and culture. From Gibran Khalil Gibran to modern-day artists and politicians, the history of Arabs is full of Christians who have left their mark in history and culture.

Latin priest Hanna Kildani writes of 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, Christian Arabs have downplayed their Christianity as a way of becoming accepted and featuring highly in the predominantly Muslim culture of the region.

Countering this view, Al-Maghtas runs a review of another book issued by the Royal Jordanian Center for religious studies that includes an alphabetical glossary of the names of 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 community, prints photographs of Christian Arabs in Jordan and Palestine at various social events.

The recently excavated site of Al-Maghtas, from which the magazine takes its name, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, is featured in various stories and photos. The back page of the magazine includes a large picture of Jordan's King Abdullah and the Pope during the Pontiff's recent visit to the baptismal site on the bank of the Jordan River.

In its second edition, Al-Maghtas reflects a more courageous approach in dealing with some traditional taboos in Christianity. In its editorial, the magazine calls 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 Greek Orthodox Palestinian priest Atallah Hanna covers three pages and includes a criticism of the Church hierarchy's controversial sales and rentals of properties and lands to Israelis in Palestine and Israel.

Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader is given 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 Health Minister Ashraf Kurdi which deals with Christian Arab doctors before the advent of Islam.

Madanat says Al-Maghtas still faces some legal obstacles with the Jordanian government's 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.

Source: The Daily Star, Lebanon, July 29 2004

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