Magazine for Christian Arabs fills market niche

The Daily Star, Lebanon
July 29 2004

Magazine for Christian Arabs fills market niche
Al-Maghtas neither denominational nor theological, focuses on
socioeconomic issues

By Daoud Kuttab
Special to The Daily Star

AMMAN: For the first time in decades Christian Arabs in Jordan and
Palestine have their own magazine. With two issues under its belt –
the second came out last week – Al-Maghtas (The Baptismal) seems to
be filling a gap in the market.

The 40-page glossy color magazine, in Arabic, is produced in Amman
and features interviews, articles, and in the first edition even some

One article about emigration by Reverend John Noor, the secretary of
the bishops of Jordan, says there are between 10-15 million Christian
Arabs living in the Middle East. Most of the region’s Christian Arabs
live in Egypt (7-12 million) and Sudan, 600,000 live in Iraq, 165,000
in Jordan, 900,000 in Syria, 1.3 million in Lebanon, 50,000 in
Palestine and 130,000 in Israel. Noor estimates that 4 million more
live in the diaspora.

Unlike the majority of internationally available Christian magazines,
Al-Maghtas is neither denominational nor theological. It deals with
socio-economic conditions focusing on Christian Arabs on both banks
of the Jordan. The new magazine will work on strengthening the desire
of the Christian Arab community to stay in their homeland and be a
bridge within the community and to the outside world.

Christian Arabs refuse to be called a minority, they consider
themselves part of the Arab world and partners with their Muslim
brethren in all the troubles that face the region today.

The first edition’s editorial sets out the magazine’s goals and
vision: “We are proud of both our Arab nationality and our Christian
belief … We plan to honor those in our community who deserve such
praise so that we can provide our younger generation with role

Philip Madanat, the magazine’s editor, says the strength of
Al-Maghtas is in its exclusivity for the Christian community and its
avoidance of theology.

“We are extra careful to include individuals from all Christian
denominations in our society and made a decision not to allow any
discussion of Christian beliefs and theology so as not to cause anger
to the followers of any denomination,” he says.

Among the feature stories in the magazine is an interview with
leading Jordanian businessman and philanthropist, Elia Nuqol, CEO of
the Fine tissue company. Widad Kawar, the internationally known
collector of Palestinian and Jordanian dresses and folklore, is
profiled in another piece.

An investigation into the internal struggles between three Christian
churches over the right to the keys to the Nativity Church in
Bethelem has raised the most questions amongst the Christian
community. The story which presents all points of view deals with a
situation which began during the Israeli siege of the church in April
2002 when one of the priests needed to take out an injured
Palestinian. While the three churches – Orthodox, Armenian and Latin
– are said to have copies of the key, it is understood that ownership
of the key (for symbolic reasons) goes to the Orthodox. According to
the story, the Latin priest who didn’t have access to the key
belonging to his denomination borrowed the key from another priest.
Fearing that this would have long-term consequences, the Greek
Orthodox church quickly changed the lock. leaving the keys of the
other two churches useless, and creating a major incident in which
the mayor of Bethlehem Hanna Naser and even Palestinian Authority
Chairman Yasser Arafat, were brought in to settle the dispute.

Christian Arabs, while small in numbers, feature prominently in Arab
politics, art and culture. From Gibran Khalil Gibran to modern-day
artists and politicians, the history of Arabs is full of Christians
who have left their mark in history and culture.

Latin priest Hanna Kildani writes of modern day Christian Arabs in
Palestine and Jordan in an interesting and detailed book which is
reviewed in the latest edition of Al-Maghtas. For the most part,
Christian Arabs have downplayed their Christianity as a way of
becoming accepted and featuring highly in the predominantly Muslim
culture of the region.

Countering this view, Al-Maghtas runs a review of another book issued
by the Royal Jordanian Center for religious studies that includes an
alphabetical glossary of the names of prominent Christian Arabs in
the various Islamic historical periods.

On the lighter side, the magazine, which hopes to be a source of
information and entertainment for the community, prints photographs
of Christian Arabs in Jordan and Palestine at various social events.

The recently excavated site of Al-Maghtas, from which the magazine
takes its name, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, is featured
in various stories and photos. The back page of the magazine includes
a large picture of Jordan’s King Abdullah and the Pope during the
Pontiff’s recent visit to the baptismal site on the bank of the
Jordan River.

In its second edition, Al-Maghtas reflects a more courageous approach
in dealing with some traditional taboos in Christianity. In its
editorial, the magazine calls on religious leaders to do away with
the baptismal pools and instead to use the Jordan River’s baptismal
location. In another article the issue of Christian education in
schools is dealt with extensively with a call for a serious effort to
follow through with the efforts to get this issue implemented. A long
interview with Greek Orthodox Palestinian priest Atallah Hanna covers
three pages and includes a criticism of the Church hierarchy’s
controversial sales and rentals of properties and lands to Israelis
in Palestine and Israel.

Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader is given the cover story
with a long interview that talks about her birth in the Palestinian
village of Zababdeh and follows her legal and human rights career
with her special work in defending Jordanian and Arab women. Two
pages are dedicated to excerpts from an award winning book by former
Jordanian Health Minister Ashraf Kurdi which deals with Christian
Arab doctors before the advent of Islam.

Madanat says Al-Maghtas still faces some legal obstacles with the
Jordanian government’s Department of Publications refusing to either
issue or reject the request for a license. Jordanian law stipulates
that if the government doesn’t respond in 30 days to a request for a
license then the request is considered de facto approved. The absence
of a de jur license has hampered distribution and advertising

The initial response of Jordanian and Palestinian Christians to the
new magazine has been positive. Many have expressed that the magazine
has given them a sense of identity and resolved the issue of who they
are and the fact that they can be both proud Arab nationals without
compromising their own Christian faith.