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CHICAGO: Arab Christians in the West continue to face growing challenges of discrimination, marginalization and even misunderstanding by other Christians of their religious identity, experts speaking about Easter celebrations acknowledged in an interview on Wednesday. on The Ray Hanania radio show.
Katherine Kelaidis, resident scholar at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago and an expert on Orthodox Christian identity, said much of the confusion stems from the complex diversity of Christians in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
Rev. Khader El-Yateem, director of Evangelical Mission and the Florida-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said many other challenges stem from a lack of understanding and recognition of Arab Christians by other Christians. traditional, and exclusion from the mainstream. American fundamentals like the American census.
“This country still does not recognize our presence. Does not recognize who we are. This is a movement we must continue,” El-Yateem said, noting that her daughter was forced to identify as “white” rather than “Arab” when she applied and was accepted into the school. university last year.
“When the 2030 census comes out, we will have to be on this census form. We need to change this college application that doesn’t say Arabic or Middle Eastern. We don’t want to be lumped into this white community that is slowly disappearing in the United States.
El-Yateem told Arab News during the radio interview that the goal must be to make ‘the Arab community one’ bringing together Christians and Muslims, and also to be smart to engage in dialogue and the American political debate.
“I love the Jewish community. I hate Israeli government policy. We have to be careful to make this distinction between the Jewish community and the Israeli government and its professional policies that take away the freedoms of the Palestinian people,” El-Yateem said.
He said efforts are being made to strengthen the bond with Muslims, noting that last March the ELCA issued a statement apologizing to the Muslim community for the persecution by “the Christian Church”.
He said Arab Christians need to do a better job of educating Americans about who they are, adding that many mainstream Christians believe Arab Christians converted to Christianity from Islam and assume all Arabs are Muslims.
“People in America need to understand that not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs,” said El-Yateem who agreed that he identifies as Christian by religion and Muslim by culture.
One of the contributing factors to the misunderstandings that many Western Christians have about Arab and Mediterranean Christians stems from the divisions that separate Christian religious sects, particularly between the Christian West and the Orthodox Christian East.
“There is a general lack of understanding in America. American Christianity is an ethnic form of Christianity. They don’t call it that. If you go to a mega church, you are practicing a form of Christianity,” Kelaidis said.
“I think there’s a lack of understanding in America of the complexities beyond Protestants and Catholics. I even hear people say are you Catholic or are you Christian? Catholics are Christians. I think there is a real ignorance of Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity.
Kelaidis said ironically, the conflict in Ukraine is forcing Americans to take a closer look at Eastern Orthodox Christians and try to understand how the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church differ.
For example, while most Western Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 17, many Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter a week later, on April 24.
Kelaidis said the challenges are “complicated” by the extreme diversity of Arab and Mediterranean Christians. These differences are driven by differing views on the old Julian calendar which dates back to the Roman Empire and the new Gregorian calendar which was modified in the 19th century, she explained.
“One of the things happening in the Orthodox world is that the calendar has become a point of contention,” Kelaidis said.
“So you have groups that stand out on the schedule. There are groups called old “calendarist” groups. Their first point of contention is that they changed the schedule.
El-Yateem said Arab Christians must work harder to meet the challenges and must become more active in Western societies like America.
“The Arab Christian community in the United States has struggled. A lot of them came from backgrounds where they thought they would come to America and be kissed and they’re faced with the harsh reality (that) because you come from that background (being Arab) and you won’t be kissed », El-Yateem mentioned.
“You…are tagged. So we try to work very hard with our community on empowerment education, more importantly to engage. Be part of your child’s school. Be part of your local democratic process. Get involved in your community. This is how we can have (a) voice, how we can have power, how we can have representation.
But both agree that Easter is a time when Arab and Mediterranean Christians will strengthen their faith, come together in their belief if not in their calendar, and face together the challenges of Western society.
One way was explained by Palestinian American leader Tariq Nasir, whose father was Palestinian from near Jerusalem and mother is American from Michigan. He said Middle Eastern cuisine is a foundation of the Arab community and for Christians a celebration of Easter.
The most popular Easter food, Nasir said, is making Maamoul, an Arabic dessert filled with sweet nuts or dates. Arab Christian children called them “snapping cookies” because their mothers pressed the mixture into a carved wooden mold, then banged it on the table to take it out for baking.
Food is central to Arab cultural identity, he said, explaining, “I think it’s because it brings everyone together. When I was a child, the whole family went to my grandmother’s and everyone was there. All his children, then all his children’s children, and we all sat around the table. And everyone was passing food. And it’s just a time when everyone can come together. And Arabs, as you know, are very sociable and love others.
El-Yateem, Kelaidis and Nasir were guests on the Ray Hanania Radio Show which airs on four US radio stations in Detroit, Washington DC, Ontario and Chicago. It is hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
Listen to Ray Hanania’s podcast here.