Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land and spend some time in conversation with one of the auxiliary bishops of the Latin Patriarchate.
In the conversation, the bishop noted that there are no atheists in the region, and even joked that atheism was “a luxury of the West.” He explained that the people of the Middle East cannot afford to be unbelievers. While granted, there might be different degrees of belief, everyone believes in the religious truth of their respective cultures because – at any point – they might be called upon to die for it.
These points have been on my mind this past week as the world witnessed the signing of the Abraham Accords, the unprecedented peace agreements between the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. While certainly the practical intricacies of such accords will need to be worked out by politicians, diplomats, business leaders, and military authorities, the fact that such accords were even signed is a miracle.
In a region marked by conflict, disunity, and tension – where people could be killed for their religious beliefs – the Abraham Accords are a sign of hope. They point the Middle East, and the world, in the direction of a brighter future. Such a movement for peace merits our attention, support, and appreciation.
And yet, for all the news media and highlights that have been rightly given to the Abraham Accords, there has been no focus on the actual name of the accords, and on the ancient patriarch whose name and witness are appealed to in this effort for sustained peace.
The universal figure of Abraham comes to us early in human history, as contained in both the Bible and in the Quran. He was a righteous man, who in a world of polytheism, sought the one, true God. When God spoke to him, he obeyed. He left his relatively comfortable life and traveled to a promised land, just as the living God told him.
While Abraham and his wife could not bear a son, God told him that he would bless him with posterity. Eventually, Abraham bore a son through his wife’s maidservant Hagar. The son was named Ishmael, meaning “God that hears.” Sometime afterwards, Abraham’s wife is blessed with a son, named Isaac, which means “He laughs.”
While the Bible and Quran differ over which son was the firstborn and heir to the promises of Abraham, while the Bible saying Isaac and the Quran saying Ishmael, both narratives agree that Abraham was blessed by God and that Isaac and Ishmael was brothers.
It is from the Abrahamic lineage, therefore, that every Jewish person, Muslim, and Christian can rightly be seen as true brothers and sisters. It is a historical and familial bond flowing from Abraham.
God told Abraham: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”
This rich, biblical and Quranic promise is still fulfilled today in the predominant monotheistic traditions of the world, as a vast portion of the human family still regard the patriarch as “father Abraham.” He was addressed with such a paternal designation by the Lord Jesus in his public preaching, and is still recalled by the familial title in the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Catholic Mass, “…and Abraham, our father in faith…”.
In this way, Abraham is a shared person within the human family. He is a sign of unity and a true source of familiarity and understanding among peoples.
While many portions of the West have abandoned its Judeo-Christian heritage, and Abraham may not mean much to secularists or compromised believers, the person and witness of father Abraham is still shown deference in the Middle East. His name evokes a profound reverence and an acknowledgment of deep faith among all observant believers in the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions.
It was for these reasons, although unacknowledged in many news reports, that Abraham was chosen and his name used for the recent peace accords. As father Abraham’s faith in the One God is a model to us all, so may that faith in the living God lead us into a greater faith in one another, and into a lasting peace among all people.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby