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 Maaberuna

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The Sacred Place, the Sacred Time

and the Sacred Human Being

 

Father Raed Abusahlia

 

The refuge of a large number of civilian citizens, among whom a few armed men, to the Church of the Nativity during the incursion of the city by the Israel Defence Forces stirred an international outcry that triggered a number of questions about the fact of seeking refuge in a place of worship for protection. I do not wish to trail, here, behind news reports, whose only aim is to highlight the thrilling and the unusual with a view to draw universal attention. The question is much more important and deeper than we anticipate. Therefore, I shall try to embark on the discussion of an idea that has long turned up over and over again in my mind. It is that of the sacred place, while leaving the concept of the sacred time aside, as I hope to lay a firm foundation for the idea of the sacred human being.

When we use the word sacred (Haram in Arabic, the language of the land), we mean to express due respect to a place or to a person because of the particular value of each, especially if that were related to a religious or divine importance or sanctity. The word also means protected, unassailable and inviolable, or that which should be given special regard and extreme care. Haram, the word in Arabic, has the same meanings as in Latin languages as well. Therefore, we say al-Haram al-Sharif, The Noble Sanctuary, the sacred church and the sacred altar, and the Haram of the University, meaning the inviolable campus, the Haram border areas, meaning no mans land, as they remain inviolable. We also name women Hareemplural of Haram as they are protected and unassailable. In the context of our discussion, sacred connotes no weapon bearing, no war declaration, no slaying of a human being, nor shedding of blood in the place and at the time. In diplomatic norms it is also known as immunity.

In the Holy Bible we also find this concept in some texts that spoke about places of refuge for killers who did not commit a premeditated murder or the innocent who are accused, as they all could get there for protection so that their lives are spared and they avoid harm. In Deuteronomy, God said to the people: Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live; Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly God approved this law so That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, and so blood be upon thee. These were the cities of refuge. (Review Chapter 19: 2-10)

In the Psalms we also find several verses that bring up this protection concept: He that dewlleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91) This verse talks about refuge to a sacred place, which is the House of the Lord, where God becomes the shield and protector of he who takes refuge in it. Similar is the indication in the following verse: Protect me God for in thee I have taken refuge. In this same spirit we understand all other verses and pleas such as: Lord you are my refuge, my strength and the rock of my salvation. We also find the same concept in the verse: God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. (Psalm 118) The horn of the altar is the section once gripped by a murderer, he would be considered to be under Gods protection. This verse recalls to our mind a renowned Bedouin custom whereby the one who seeks the protection of a particular tribe would run to the tribal chiefs tent and grab one of its ropes as a declaration that he is seeking his protection.

All these examples confirm the existence of this concept in Judaism and we, as Christians, have honoured it and adopted it because we believe in the spirit of the Old Testament. Moreover, the Gospel has developed this idea and took it higher up because it did not only speak about the sanctity of place but also about that of a human being. The commandment which commanded us Do not kill has further developed in the New Testament: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Math. 5: 22-23) The Lord Christ does not only prohibit killing but he does forbid anger as well because it is the source of belligerence. When a person falls prey to anger he commits blunders at a moment of rage. Therefore anger of an individual could develop into a brawl and peoples anger could erupt into war.

Now, I have reached to my aim: I have always advocated the viewpoint of the sacred human being, basing my view on the principle that man is created in the image of God and his likeness. So, any assault on any human being is an insult to God Almighty. I believe that this principle should be considered as the basis of all human rights. I wish it were that humans would remember this and look towards every human as a brother and whenever they look at him they see the image of God in him. Hence, no rash action would be committed because no one would lose his humanity to the point of attacking the Divine presenceGod forbid. Having considered this, then we can talk about sacred locations that are inviolable and a sacred human being whose killing is prohibited.

I know for a sure that similar conceptions exist in Islam, which I will briefly mention with the hope that the idea would be developed by qualified parties: In Islam there are locations that enjoy such sacredness. Both cities of Mecca and Medina are sacred places where fighting is to take place under no circumstance. There are also sacred months during which fighting is prohibited because throughout these months people take leave from everything else to consecrate themselves to prayer, devotion and pilgrimage. With regard to the sacredness of a human being, Islam prohibits the slaying of a soul without reason because Whoever kills a soul without a breath is similar to his killing all the people, the Koran teaches.

With this fast survey we have established that the sacred place, the sacred time and the sacred human being are all united in a most wonderful image on which we should concentrate to develop a peaceful non-violent Muslem understanding. I leave this mission to my brethren, the Muslems, and I call upon them to shoulder this responsibility soon. Such a stance is certain to bring about a change in the image of Islam that was unjustly accused of violence and terrorism.

I will now get back to the issue of refuge at the Church of Nativity to seek protection. Our stance is now clear and evident: as the Church is a home of worship and is the house of God, and because the Church of Nativity itself is one of the most sacred holy places of Christianity in the Holy Land, having been built over the Grotto where Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, was born, then anyone seeking refuge in there would enjoy security and peace, provided it is based on the following principle: it being a holy place, there should be absolutely no shooting coming from it and there should be absolutely no firing towards it. Thus, it enjoys the prohibition that we have discussed above because it is a sacred place. We consider, as well, each person who takes refuge in it as a sacred person and his life is preserved throughout the time he takes shelter in it, so long as he does not commit a crime liable for punishment. Even if he did commit a crime, he has the right for a honourable and equitable trial, if necessary. They would have had to face this danger, had they not taken refuge in there. Their lives would have been put to danger without distinction.

I call for the adoption of the sacred place principle and applying over all the land because it is, in its entirety, the land of God; and the adoption of the sacred time principle and applying it because God is the Lord of history and time; and the adoption of the sacred human being principle and applying it to all humans because they are created in the image of God and his likeness.

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