Although close to three decades had passed but I still remember Miss Najla. She was the teacher accompanying the students on the school bus. I knew Miss Najla between the age 5 to 10 when I was a student at Fajer Al-Sabah School in Kuwait. The school is managed by the Rosary Sisters and known in some Arab countries as the Rosary Sisters School. Miss Najla used to like me and always asks me to sit on the front seats of the bus because that section is were polite students sit. She also used to think that I am an Egyptian (don’t know why) and since she was an Egyptian I never corrected her. Besides being super nice to me, I clearly remember two things about Miss Najla. She had waist long black hair and always wears a big cross necklace. Miss Najla was Coptic. But she wasn’t the only Christian teacher in my elementary school.
Being his first child and wanting the best education for me, my father decided to send me to the private expensive Rosary Sisters School. This might not impress anyone but not when you know my Muslim conservative background. My father has a Master’s degree in Islamic Studies from Egypt. His father, who studied in Syria, was a Mufti in the Arab Legion who then taught Quran and Islamic Religion in different schools in Irbid, Jordan. Before learning Islam, my father wanted me, at an early age, to learn and acquire something that is very valuable and will pave the road for me to better learn my religion. He wanted me to learn obedience and discipline. Two characters of a devoted Muslim that I learned in my Christian School. I don’t know how my father knew that this school would be the best for me but I am glad I was there in kindergarten and elementary education level. Unfortunately, this school is female only after the elementary stage so I moved to another private school but again not an Islamic School. My father knows the importance of Islamic teaching and so he made sure that I don’t learn it from anybody just because he is a teacher in school.
The Principle in Fajer Al-Sabah school was very much like Sister Aloysius Beauvier character in the movie Doubt, a role that was played extraordinarily by Meryl Streep. Not only students used to fear her but teachers as well. The kids in school believed that when the principle wants to punish a student she sends him or her to the mice room. We never knew any student who went to this torture room but we believed it existed. I never saw her beat any student but I for sure feared her. She taught us discipline not in a dictatorship way but in a motherly way. If we meet I will for sure give her a big hug.
During my 15 years in Kuwait I lived in Salmiya, an area known of its huge multi-culture demographic. The kids I used to play with are from Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. Names like Cecilia, Peter, and Paul weren’t foreign to our group. I even became more accustomed to such Christian names during my yearly summer visit to my Syrian aunt and uncle in Damascus. They both live in a Christian majority resident close to Bab Touma (Saint Thomas’ Gate). The gate is named after one of the twelve apostles and is one of the historical walls of the city. My Muslim aunt’s favorite neighbors were “tante” Janette and “tante” Antoinette. I will never forget this trio’s enjoyable company. While sipping Turkish coffee this trio can gossip more than a twitter account with 2000 followers. Besides, where can you find a social media network to read your coffee cup when you are done and for free.
Christians in the Arab world are my playmates, neighbors, teachers, and students. They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, patients and doctors. You can never generalize Christians in the Arab world because they are poor, middle class and rich. They speak Arabic and love their countries. When I once asked my Jordanian Christian friend how come he didn’t get a visa to the USA, thinking they have priority over Muslims, his answer was “because I am an Arab.”
Every Muslim knows the story of the second Caliph Omar Bin Al-Khattab when he wanted to pray a thanksgiving prayer after entering Jerusalem. He was invited to a church but he refused to pray there, on the ground that it would set a precedent for the Muslims of the following generations to forcibly convert churches into mosques. Something unfortunately happened during the Ottoman Empire. Omar Bin Al-Khattab one of the best companions of prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and one of the best Muslim scholars wanted to keep churches safe while some brainwashed Muslims of today want to eliminate the existence of Christians in the Arab world. There are tens of stories like Omar’s but unfortunately those brainwashed don’t want to learn about Islam.
Christians were and should always be an essential texture of the Arab culture.