Thursday, January 27, 2011
Day and Night in the Middle East
For nearly 50 years, Wadi el Kharrar served as a highly militarized border zone — littered with land mines — between the Israeli–occupied Palestinian West Bank and Jordan. Only after Israel and the kingdom entered into a peace treaty in 1994 did the Jordanian authorities de–militarize, de–mine and open up the area to experts. Then in 1997, Dr. Waheeb’s team of archaeologists conducted a survey of the site. Recognizing the religious importance of the valley, the Hashemite royal family soon launched an ambitious plan to develop it as a major destination for pilgrims. Unlike other religious sites, however, they decided to preserve the Wadi el Kharrar as a naturalist park rimmed with modern churches and pilgrimage facilities. The plans to restore the baptismal site belong to the royals’ larger goals of preserving Jordan’s rich religious patrimony and making it a destination of choice for pilgrims to the Holy Land.
The Baptism Site Commission, a nonprofit organization headed by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, currently manages the area. That a member of the Hashemite family is responsible for the Christian holy site should come as no surprise. Since the kingdom’s establishment in the 20th century, the Hashemites have enforced a strict policy of religious tolerance. Jordan’s constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, providing for the rights of Christians in particular to build churches and participate in civic life, including the governance of the nation.
SAUDI ARABIA, here:
We Saudis are not particularly eager to look for pre-Islamic artifacts. There's a prevailing opinion among the conservatives that items not Islamic belong in the ground because displaying them risks a tacit endorsement of the culture or religion the artifacts represent.
We have a habit sealing off ancient sites….We have been known to neglect or destroy them. Saudis don't want to run the risk of turning a site into a place of idolatry.
It's right that churches are not permitted in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques. But what's less certain is whether crucifixes, if found, should be destroyed or hidden. More precisely is the issue of whether Christian or Jewish artifacts can be displayed in the proper context in a Saudi museum as an acknowledgment of a people who called pre-Islamic Arabia their home.
My guess is that most Saudis will say no. Many Saudis believe there is no place in the Kingdom for such relics.
The Associated Press the other day reported that Sheikh Mohammed Al Nujaimi said non-Muslim artifacts "should be left in the ground." He said that Muslims would not tolerate the display of non-Muslim religious symbols. "How can crosses be displayed when Islam doesn't recognize that Christ was crucified?" he said. "If we display them, it's as if we recognize the crucifixion."