Interview with Latin Bishop of Jordan Maroun Laham
by Oliver Maksan, ACN-Correspondent Middle East
Q: Excellency, you came to Jordan only recently. Compared to other Arab countries: Is Jordan really an oasis of religious freedom for Christians as is often said?
A: Well, it is almost an oasis. As Christians we do not have problems here with our brother Muslims. Jordan has always been described as a big family. And it is indeed. If you put apart small groups of fundamentalists, the majority of Jordanian Muslims are moderate. But there are problems when it comes to the freedom of conscience. This is an elementary human right to choose your religion or even to not choose.
Q: And this right does not exist in Jordan yet?
A: No. We have freedom of cult, which is very important, but practising ones religion is only one part of freedom of religion. Freedom of conscience would also grant to convert to Christianity from Islam. But that is forbidden in Jordan. We are asking for that liberty with all respect and try to convince the authorities of its importance. Besides, there are also practical problems when it comes to marriage. A Christian boy cannot marry a Muslim girl – the children would have to be educated in Christian faith - but the opposite is possible. Here we are also asking for changes.
Q: To whom are you talking to about these issues?
A: Usually we are talking to the government. But there are also unofficial occasions when we have dialogues with the Muslim organisations. They are not decision makers, but they listen – though mentality is changing very slowly. But when it comes to the legal level we have to talk to the government.
Q: One prominent member of the Jordan Royal Family, Prince Hassan bin Talal, is famous for promoting a tolerant Islam. Is he in favour of your ideas?
A: The Prince personally is. He is a brilliant and very educated figure. But it is not enough to convince the Prince or even the King. The question is not here. The sharia does not allow conversion, it also does not allow a Muslim girl to marry a Christian boy. That shapes the mentality of the Arab street, which is fundamentally Muslim. It therefore will take a long, long time to change the attitude of the masses. But you are right: It has to begin with members of the Muslim elite and intelligentsia.
Q: At the moment Jordan is preparing a new law of election, which grants the Christian and other minorities more seats in parliament. So there is some change in Christian favour.
A: Well, we had nine from 110, now we will have ten. But there is no doubt, it is an improvement and certainly strengthens Christian position in politics. There is also another positive effect of the new law. As it is mainly directed against the Muslim brotherhood it limits their influence in parliament. Thus they won’t be able to dictate their will in Jordan as their lawmakers do in Egypt.
Q: But the necessity of that new law shows that there is a growing sympathy for the Muslim brotherhood amongst ordinary people here in Jordan.
A: As I said, the Arab street is fundamentally Muslim. And when this nerve of Islam is touched it reacts. Secondly, people admire Islamic movements because they were always persecuted in the Arab world. That is some source of appreciation. Third, existing from decades, they were the only political parties after the so called Arab spring that were well organised. That gave them a certain impact on public opinion which made them so powerful for example in Egypt.
Q: And here in Jordan? Do you expect them to get greater majorities?
A: Not with the new regulations. Whereas if the elections were absolutely free and open they would get a majority also amongst the Jordan people. But I do not fear them. Once they are ruling they have to become more moderate. We see that in Tunisia. Besides their weakness in economical affairs will emerge very quickly. Arab societies need economical development. But the fundamentalists are only good at social welfare not at economics. So there appeal to people will degrade after a short time in government.
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