The spiritual dimension: Muslims find refuge, shared sense of humanity, in Christian church in Gaza

Among the terror and warfare that seem to increasingly claim the world’s attention, we often lose sight of the deep religious values and sense of humanity shared by the three religions of The Book–Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. These values are also shared by other religions.

It is this sense of shared humanity, the value expressed in the sentiment, “I am my brother’s keeper,” that joins all human beings in one shared experience, one shared existence, on this speck of matter, the Earth, which may appear as but a tiny point of light in one remote corner of an expanding Universe of over 170 billion galaxies, in the portion that is “visible” to humans and their telescopes. Our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 200-400 billion stars.

Men and women of all major religions believe that there are powerful spiritual forces (or a powerful spiritual force) and a spiritual dimension in the Universe. After the shattering experience of World War II, the representatives of the world’s nations came together to articulate the values and aspirations of mankind, which found expression in the United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

As war rages in the Gaza strip, in Iraq and Syria, in Afghanistan, in the eastern Ukraine, and elsewhere, we are reminded of the spiritual dimension of our lives, of our shared humanity, by a news story describing how a Christian church in Gaza has taken in Muslims fleeing the current violence there.

See AFP, “Muslims pray in Christian Church as bombs fall in Gaza, Dawn, July 26, 2014.

In Gaza City, one Muslim resident named Mahmud reported that it was a bizarre new experience to be saying his daily prayers in a church “beneath the gaze of an icon of Jesus Christ.”

But since the war in Gaza began, he has had no choice but to worship in a Christian house of God, where he took refuge after Israeli air strikes pummelled his neighbourhood in the north of the Palestinian territory.

“They let us pray. It’s changed my view of Christians — I didn’t really know any before, but they’ve become our brothers,” said (Mahmud), 27, who admitted he never expected to perform his evening prayers in a church.

“We (Muslims) prayed all together last night,” he said. “Here, the love between Muslims and Christians has grown.”

There is something special about this moment. The humanity of individual human beings shines through the bombs and destruction from which Muslims and Christians together seek refuge in a Christan Orthodox church, in Gaza.

Gaza’s Christians have dwindled in number to around 1,500 out of a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 1.7 million.

The Christian community, like elsewhere in the Middle East, has been shrinking due to both conflict and unemployment.

But the sheer terror of this shared experience appears to have fostered the feeling of brotherhood.

“Jesus said, love your neighbour, not just your family but your colleague, your classmate — Muslim, Shiite, Hindu, Jewish,” said Christian volunteer Tawfiq Khader.

“We open our doors to all people.“

One recalls the same sense of shared humanity expressed in Jean Renoir’s classic film, “La Grande Illusion”.

As we prepare to remember the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I in 1914, the setting for Renoir’s film (one of the 10 greatest films ever made), we need to connect the dots.

The deepest obligations of all governments are to protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens–and all human beings, to avoid recourse to war to secure national objectives, and to act forcefully to maintain, or re-establish, international peace and security.

That is our common human enterprise, informed by the spiritual forces represented by all religions, in this vast universe.

Nations must act, forcefully, to halt wars of aggression.

Nations must act, forcefully, to halt and prevent the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We, as individual human beings, can contribute to the achievement of these goals by drawing on the spiritual power that resides within each of us, and which links us to others through religions and the spiritual dimension of the Universe, and which calls on us to act in this world to defend humanity’s deepest values.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.