Christians in Jordan slam foreign missionaries

Jordanian Christians are up in arms over the activities of foreign missionaries in the Muslim kingdom.

Christians in Jordan slam foreign missionaries

The row erupted after the government announced last month that it had deported an unspecified number of expatriates for carrying out Christian missionary activities under the guise of charity work.

The move was welcomed by several Christian figures, with many voicing concern that foreign missionaries were seeking to upset the traditionally stable ties between Muslims and Christians in Jordan.

"Missionary groups have hidden agendas and are close to Christian Zionists," asserted former MP Odeh Kawwas, a Greek Orthodox.

Christian Fahd Kheitan, an outspoken columnist at Al-Arab Al-Yawm newspaper, said the majority of Christians are "very suspicious and worried".

"The (missionaries) target the strong beliefs of traditional churches in Jordan and try to create religious links with the Zionist movement, which is extremely dangerous," said Kheitan.

Some Christian supporters of Israel, notably a segment in the United States, claim the return of Jews to the Holy Land and the 1948 creation of the Jewish state are in line with biblical prophecy.

In February, acting Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told parliament that "some foreign groups have come to Jordan under the cover of doing charity, but they broke the law and did missionary activities". He did not give figures.

"For years we have been urging the government to close such Christian shops that have nothing to do with Christianity and tolerance," said Kawwas, referring to missionaries who convert Muslims in violation of the law.

"It is an old problem. They create sensitivities and provoke discord among Jordanian Christians, not to mention their threat to Muslim-Christian coexistence," the former lawmaker said.

"These groups don't belong to any church, but they try to hunt followers of other churches and trick some of our Muslim brothers to convert them," he added.

Christians represent around four percent of Jordan's population of nearly six million, including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian and Latin rites.

They are well integrated in the kingdom, where one Christian holds a ministerial post while eight percent control seats in the 110-member lower house of parliament.

Columnist Kheitan asserts that Washington has put pressure on its allies in Amman to allow missionaries into the country, where he says these groups have used their relations with some officials to "build a base".

"But the kingdom has realised now that the situation threatens the internal front," Kheitan said.

The authorities have not provided figures about the number of missionaries operating in Jordan, but according to a 2006 report by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour there are 42 groups.

The government's decision to deport foreign missionaries came as Jordan's Council of Churches warned last month about what it called 40 sects in the kingdom that "threaten national security and create religious discord at the heart of the Christian community and between Muslims and Christians."

In January, the first spark of controversy was lit by a Christian news agency, Compass Direct News, in a report accusing Jordan of cracking down on expatriate Christians by deporting them or denying them residency permit.

Parliament said the report was aimed at damaging Muslim-Christian relations in Jordan. It also stressed that Jordan's Christians "are an integral part of society, living in peace and harmony with their Muslim brothers".

The church also voiced its concern.

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem and Jordan said recently that some foreign missionaries "have undeclared political positions and we do not want the image of Christianity to be distorted."

In 2005 the Washington Post quoted Nabeeh Abbassi, president of the Jordan Baptist Convention, as saying:, "We're seeing more and more Muslim conversions, not less than 500 a year" in Jordan over the past decade.

He told the newspaper that about 10,000 Evangelicals worship at 50 churches in Jordan.


Agencies

Last Mod: 11 Mart 2008, 14:23
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