Fr. Nabil Haddad is a passionate and energetic man. As a Melkite Catholic priest and dean of Old Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, he is especially passionate about fostering peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. This work keeps him very busy, as he travels often to bring his message of peace as far and wide as possible.
The day before we met, Fr. Nabil announced at a press conference a new initiative called Karama. Karama is the Arabic word for dignity. He stressed the importance of coexistence between the Abrahamic faiths and how this can be achieved through education focusing on human dignity and by talking about citizenship. Fr. Nabil said this approach is very successful in reaching the hearts and minds of the Muslim community.
“Do not make the religion of Islam the problem,” he said. “Instead use our vibrant witness – that is what is lacking in other societies.”
As he prepared for the next opportunity to practice reconciliation, he emphasized, “Christianity is a religion of peace, but we are not submissive. We must have initiative and take the lead. It is important to take the lead as a non-government organization and work with Muslims. It gives a strong message that we are able to work together.”
Fr. Nabil likes to tell his Muslim friends “I am indigenous.” He explained, “We are the oldest Christian community in the entire world. We have been here from the time of Pentecost.”
It’s hard to argue with those kinds of credentials. And it definitely carries weight in the Arab communities, where tradition is everything.
Fr. Nabil focused on the commonalities between Christians and Muslims, but he is not without his criticisms. He bluntly said America is responsible for creating so many victims of war, beginning in 2003. But he said now, Christians must be part of the solution. While protecting Christians must be a high priority — as many Iraqi Christians are fleeing into Jordan to escape ISIS — the situation should “not be viewed as Christians vs. Muslims, but as moderation vs. extremism.” He refers to those extremists, who use religion and hatred as weapons, as the “Ebolas of Ideology.”
When asked how he is able to continue this work in the face of strong adversity, Fr. Nabil said, “I show them my love as a Christian. Our responsibility as Christians is to transform this terrible image of Muslims, of Islam, but not to do the work in isolation. Then it becomes suicidal. We can show and present our Christian attitude.”
But he offered a warning: “Don’t isolate yourself. The problem of living in isolation is separation.”
Fr. Nabil’s passion and positivity are contagious. Listening to him, I felt hopeful in a way that I haven’t before, that one day it may be possible for goodness and decency to override the hatred and vitriol espoused by many under the guise of religion. Fr. Nabil reminded us:
“We are people of faith, of love, of mercy and respect.” He added with a broad smile, “It is so rewarding to conquer someone’s ignorance with the Christian message of love.”
Cynthia J. Martens is Senior Director of Circulation and Production for Sojourners.