“A Cross Underneath One’s Clothing Is Okay”: An Interview with the Bishop of Arabia
In this interview, Bishop Paul Hinder talked about the difficulties faced by Christians in the Middle East . Despite the persecution, we believe that gospel should continue to be shared to non-Christians and Muslims should be encouraged to follow Jesus Christ.
By Pierre Heumann
01/20/2009 Islam (Pajamas Media)-
Bishop Hinder, in 2009 Switzerland will be deciding whether minarets should be permitted in the country. How would you advise Swiss voters to vote?
In the Arab countries for which you are responsible as bishop, church towers are taboo.
Are you permitted to be seen in the street in your vestments?
We voluntarily practice a certain degree of discretion, in order not to provoke anyone. But in most of the countries of the [Arabian] Peninsula , it is not a problem to wear the clothing of a church official.
Are Christians persecuted in your region?
In my territory, there are no indigenous Christians or surviving minorities from pre-Islamic times like in Iraq . As far as foreign Christians are concerned, there is not any active persecution. There are, however, practices that could certainly be construed as having the character of persecution.
What are you thinking of?
In my diocese, a Christian could hardly ever become a citizen. The only exception is Bahrain . If you practice any religion other than Islam, this frequently results in discrimination in one’s profession.
Despite all the difficulties, you militate for inter-religious dialogue.
You say that it is a long process.
The problems already turn up just with basic concepts. For example, when a Muslim speaks of religious freedom, what he means is the right of a Christian woman to marry a Muslim man and to remain a Christian thereafter. Now, part of dialogue is having the courage to pose hard questions.
For example, what happens as regards the children of a mixed couple?
According to Islamic law, they are automatically Muslims.
Yes. And we also have to ask how matters stand as regards a Christian man who marries a Muslim woman. He also automatically becomes a Muslim. He is not even asked if this is what he wants. It would be nonsensical to expect that in the end the two religions would fuse into one. But I believe that a certain change of orientation is possible on a practical level.
Are you allowed to proselytize?
For a Muslim, it goes without saying that he should make the message of his faith understandable to other people. I would like to be able to do the same for my religion. Unfortunately, that is not possible in the Arab countries.
What would be the consequence if you proselytized nonetheless?
I assume I would have to leave the country. But conversions from Islam to Christianity are in any case illusory. We strongly advise native residents against converting.
The convert would not be able to practice his faith. He could not go to church. His family and the people in his environment would not allow it. If he insists, nonetheless, on converting to Christianity, the only option that remains is to emigrate.
Are there forced conversions to Islam?
Prisoners who have memorized the Koran or even converted to Islam can expect to receive reductions in their prison time or even be released. That is, of course, a strong incentive. On the other hand, I do not know of any Western country in which the punishment of a Muslim is reduced if he gets baptized.
Saudi Arabia is particularly strict. Islam is the only religion permitted, but there are well over a million Christians who live there.
It is true that normal Church activities are not possible there. If a Christian has a bible in the house, he no longer is subject to punishment. But if someone brings in a whole shipment of bibles, then that creates problems. But the rosary or wearing a cross under one’s clothing is okay. Needless to say, I cannot travel around freely as a bishop. But that does not mean that no contacts or visits are possible.