Archive for Coptic

Egypt’s Coptic Pope Celebrates Christmas with Call for Unity

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2012 by loonwatch
Coptic ChristmasEgypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church holds Christmas mass at the Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo. Photograph: Khaled Elfiqi/EPA

The Islamophobes would like nothing more than strife and disunity between Muslims and Copts in Egypt. Much to their dismay however Pope Shenouda calls for unity in the country.

Egypt’s Coptic pope celebrates Christmas with call for unity

David Shariatmadari and Damien Pearse (The Guardian)

As Coptic Christians celebrated their first Christmas after the Egyptian revolution, their pope called for national unity amid fears that their community will suffer under Islamic majority rule.

Copts, who use of a 13-month calendar dating back to pharaonic times, celebrated Christmas Day on Saturday.

At the start of the festive celebrations in Egypt, prominent figures from across the political spectrum, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the ruling military council, attended Friday night mass at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral.

The Coptic pope, Shenouda III, commended their presence and appealed for national unity for “the sake of Egypt”. He said:

For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt. They all agree … on the stability of this country, and in loving it and working for it, and to work with the Copts as one hand for the sake of Egypt.

The call for unity follows an escalation in violence against the Christian minority, an estimated 10% of Egypt’s 85 million people, over the past year.

Many Christians blamed a series of street clashes, assaults on churches and other attacks on radical Islamists who have become increasingly bold after Mubarak’s downfall.

The Coptic church traces its origins to 50 years after the death of Christ, when Mark the Evangelist took the gospel to the pagan city of Alexandria.

British Copts, expatriate members of the Egyptian denomination, have also expressed their concerns over the events of the Arab spring.

“Because of the problems in the last 12 months, overall attendance every Sunday has increased significantly,” said Nabil Raphael, a GP who has lived in London for the past 35 years. He is a regular at St Mark’s church in Kensington. “Whenever there are problems in the mother church, people naturally get more interested and attend more regularly.”

Christmas services took place across Britain, with centres of worship in London, Hertfordshire, Birmingham, Newcastle and Kirkcaldy, Scotland.

As families gathered for the late-night church services marking Christmas Eve, there was a sense of nervousness, as well as joy. “Last year started horrifically for us,” said Egyptian-born Bishop Angaelos, who is based at the Coptic Centre, a manor house on the outskirts of Stevenage, Hertfordshire. “Just as we were going into new year celebrations we heard about the bombing.”

The 1 January 2011 attack outside al-Qiddissine church in Alexandria, the worst sectarian violence in Egypt for more than a decade, left 23 dead.

Attacks on the community continued after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, prompting thousands of Copts to take to the streets in protest that no culprits had been brought to justice. The military violently quashed the most recent demonstration in October, leaving 27 dead and provoking further outrage.

“At the beginning [of the revolution] there was a great euphoria, a sense of hope for the future,” said Angaelos. “The problem is that because of the lack of law and order, you then had a lot of extremism. We saw in the past 10 months more attacks on Christians and churches than over the past two years before that.”

Amir Michaeel, 26, saw the revolution as a moment of hope for the country, which he left aged 12 when his father came to the UK to work. But he is concerned by the emergence of more organised Islamic parties.

Raphael is more categorical. “There is real concern about the likelihood of harsher treatment for the Copts if radical Islam is to rule Egypt.”

Bishop Angaelos said the community had no issue with a Muslim majority government as long as the rights of Copts were protected: “What we want is a government which represents everyone in the country, not just one sector over another.”

Frontpage Muslim-bashing Authority Can’t Do a Two Second Google Search

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2011 by loonwatch

Behold the erroneous misinformation factory at Front Page Mag, the online place where Islamophobes go to find spurious arguments that make them feel better about being intolerant of Muslims. Today’s gem comes from Raymond Ibrahim, a skilled harvester of Islamophobic cash cows, a particularly spite-filled individual with an obsession for essentializing Islam as a religion of war, slavery, and sexual misconduct.

Where before have I heard similar claims about a similar religion? Oh yeah. Every anti-Semitic website on the internet. The strong parallel between the claims, rhetoric, and methodologies of Anti-Semites and Islamophobes have been discussed many times before, so there is no need to repeat those arguments here.

Today, I will comment on Mr. Ibrahim’s unprincipled “research” which has as an a priori(beforehand) conclusion that Muslims are never victims, only perpetrators. What perturbed me is that Front Page praises Mr. Ibrahim as a “widely recognized authority on Islam” who can translate “important Arabic news that never reaches the West.”

You see, according to David Horowitz, anti-Muslim ideological commitment makes someone a “widely recognized authority” on Islam; not rigorous academic training, as those foolish liberals believe, with their pesky “facts,” their elitist “research methodologies,” and their vexatious love of “balance.”

To the matter at hand. You may have heard the recent story about two Egyptian Christian girls who were allegedly abducted by Muslims. Raymond pens an anti-Muslim hit piece entitled “Egypt: Christian Girls Kidnapped and ‘Sold’.” Ready for some bombshell evidence of Islam’s collective depravity? Won’t find it here. Raymond is upset that the Egyptian Newspaper, Al-Masry Al-Youm, didn’t report on this story with an acceptable level of anti-Muslim bias:

At the end of the Al-Masry Al-Youm report, we get a trailing sentence alluding to “claims” that two Christian girls “were abducted by Muslims and forced to convert to Islam” as the reason why Copts were demonstrating and clashing with the police in the first place.

This is the “claim” that Mr. Ibrahim wants to advance, the claim of the Christian protestors, i.e. the girls were kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and this sort of thing happens all the time because of the tenets of Islam. (Sigh). It should go without saying that mainstream Islam explicitly teaches against forced conversions. Several Quranic verses can be produced to support this:

Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. So can you [Prophet] compel people to believe? (10:99)

If your Lord had pleased, He would have made all people a single community, but they continue to have their differences… (11:118)

If you find rejection by the disbelievers so hard to bear, then seek a tunnel into the ground or a ladder into the sky, if you can, and bring them a sign: God could bring them all to guidance if it were His will, so do not join the ignorant. (6:35)

The messenger’s only duty is to give clear warning. (29:18)

We know best what the disbelievers say. You [Prophet] are not there to force them, so remind, with this Quran, those who fear My warning. (50:45)

There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error, so whoever rejects false gods and believes in God has grasped the firmest hand-hold, one that will never break. God is all hearing and all knowing. (2:256)

Say, ‘Obey God; obey the Messenger. If you turn away, [know that] he is responsible for the duty placed upon him, and you are responsible for the duty placed upon you. If you obey him, you will be rightly guided, but the Messenger’s duty is only to deliver the message clearly.’ (24:54)

Note that the last two verses were revealed in Medina, just in case anyone wants to bring up the tired, old canard that everything wise and peaceful in the Quran was abrogated. In fact, Al-Azhar University’s Commission for Embracing Islam may “spend several days making sure that the person wants to convert to Islam voluntarily and as a result of their own desire.”

Therefore, if it is true that the girls were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, this would be an obvious breach of normative, mainstream Islamic teachings, not to mention Egyptian civil law. This would make it a case of criminal behavior, not normal religion. Whoever forces someone to be a Muslim is not behaving like a Muslim. Period.

However, as we shall see, we have strong reason to doubt these girls were kidnapped in the first place.

What are Mr. Ibrahim’s sources for claiming the two girls were in fact kidnapped and forced into Islam? A dubious Arabic website entitled “Free Christian Nation.” No possibility of bias there (sarcasm intended). Mr. Ibrahim boasts about his expert Arabic translation skills:

One must again turn to Arabic sources for the telling details. I have put together the following narrative and quotes based on these two Arabic reports:

The two girls, Christine Azat (aged 16) and Nancy Magdi (aged 14) were on their way to church Sunday, June 12, when they were seized. Their abductors demanded $200,000 Egyptian pounds for their release. The people of the region quickly put their savings together and came up with the ransom money; but when they tried to give it to the kidnappers, they rejected it, saying they had already “sold” the girls off to another group which requires $12 million Egyptian pounds to return them.

Two unsourced reports in Arabic? From which news agency? There are no authors or publishers listed on the reports. If you can read Arabic, seriously, check it out. So your ability to translate from some random anonymous Arabic websites is why you are a “widely recognized authority on Islam”?

But what our “widely recognized authority on Islam” failed to mention is that other mainstream newspapers (even in English, accessible to non-scholars, no translation necessary) have published reports contrary to his central claim. Mr. Ibrahim tells us about his scholarly research methods:

I tried to find this story in English-language media and, as expected, found nothing…

Oh really? I did a two-second Google search and found some. For example, Al-Ahram reported that:

During recent weeks, the two girls, who are cousins, have uploaded videos on YouTube announcing their conversion to Islam and that they were not kidnapped by ‎anyone. This came in response to the father of one of the girls reporting their‎disappearance. ‎

According to this report, the girls willfully converted to Islam, so Mr. Ibrahim tries to explain this away:

Some have tried to pass the usual rumor that the girls “willingly” ran off and converted to Islam, but even Egyptian officials reject this, saying that Al Azhar, which is the institution that formally recognizes conversions to Islam, has not acknowledged the conversion of underage minors.

This “rumor” happens to be based upon the Youtube testimony of the girls themselves, which would make it more than a rumor. The fact that Al-Azhar University did not announce their conversions is not proof that the girls didn’t willfully convert because, as Al-Ahram reports, Al-Azhar “does not accredit ‎conversion to Islam from anyone younger than 18.”‎ Minor details!

The point here is not whether the girls converted or not. I won’t get into “he said, she said” arguments about a pending legal case. The point is that Raymond, as usual, obviously didn’t research and balance his reporting, which means the only reason he brought it up at all is because it is useful ideological propaganda. His readers don’t read Arabic. They won’t double check his work. These blatant mistakes will get swept under rug, again as usual, to be replaced by the next propaganda item, the next blog post, the next hit piece. The erroneous misinformation factory marches on.

Does Raymond really want to help the Christian community in Egypt? Coptic Christians, whom Raymond pretends to defend, have rejected these kind of tactics and propaganda that divide Egypt along religious lines. Bishop Markos of Shubra al-Kheima told Al-Masry Al-Youm that:

Copts fall under the protection of the Egyptian state, and Muslims and Christians in Egypt fall under the protection of God, who mentioned Egypt and its people in the Quran and the Bible.

So don’t be fooled into thinking Raymond cares about these girls or even Egyptian Christians. He’s just using them and their story to whip up anti-Muslim populism, to use as a religio-political wedge issue in the campaign against Obama and liberals.

Undoubtedly, the guys at Front Page would not campaign for the human rights of these two girls if they had really converted to Islam. If their conversion to Islam was genuine, would Mr. Ibrahim and Horowitz support their religious freedom?

I ask these questions because, contrary to the 24-hour hate-on-Islam-a-thon at Front Page, Egyptian Christians who convert to Islam have also faced persecution. This certainly wouldn’t be the first case. As Al-Ahram reported:

This is not the first story of Muslim converts that has been a source of public debate and ‎concern. Camilia Shehata, who disappeared from her house in July 2010, was‎alleged to have converted to Islam only to be held in church after conversion to prevent ‎her from practicing her new religion.

Of course, stories about Muslims being denied religious freedom by Christians don’t quite fit into the Islam-is-all-evil-all-the-time-RSS-feed at Front Page Mag.

I’m not expecting an honest answer from Raymond.

Spencer Distorts Egyptian Society; Spreads Interfaith Bigotry

Posted in Feature, Loon Blogs, Loon People with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2011 by loonwatch

(Published originally at Spencerwatch)

Egypt’s majority Muslim population spoke loudly against extremism and terrorism when they served as “human shields” in protection of their Christian neighbors on Christmas eve. “We either live together, or we die together,” was the slogan of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon. Indeed, it was a teachable moment: a ray of hope in a sectarian torn world. But fake scholar Robert Spencer is determined to squander any chance at peaceful interfaith coexistence.

Spencer notes that Al-Azhar University condemned the recent attacks on Egyptian Churches:

Al-Azhar is the foremost authority in Sunni Islam, and a case can be made from the Qur’an for what they say: “For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down.” — Qur’an 22:40

Of course, the citation of Quran 22:40 is black-and-white proof that Islam does not sanction attacks on houses of worship. However, Spencer as usual turns the Quran upside down:

Thus Muslims should not be among those who “pull down” churches, right? So why, then, would any jihadists target a church, given that they consistently proclaim themselves to be the true and pure Muslims, following scrupulously everything commanded in the Qur’an and Sunnah? Or have they really “hijacked” Islam, as is endlessly claimed?

Well, it is worth noting that ’Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), a manual of Islamic law that Al-Azhar certifies as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community,” contains a section (o9.10-o.9.15) entitled “Rules of Warfare” that says nothing about any prohibition on attacking a non-Muslim house of worship. And Islamic law generally takes a negative view of non-Muslim houses of worship, forbidding non-Muslims in Islamic states from building new houses of worship or repairing old ones.

Suggesting the Quran doesn’t mean what it says, Spencer cites as proof his favorite piece of evidence: Umdat al-Salik, a 14th century medieval Muslim law manual. Spencer assumes the certification of the translation into English by Al-Azhar means that Muslim legal thinking hasn’t moved beyond the 14th century. What he fails to disclose is that these manuals are studied in their historical contexts. Serious Egyptian religious intellectuals do not take the rules of warfare from Umdat al-Salik but from the Geneva Conventions and U.N. treaties, as stated clearly by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Dr. Ali Gomaa:

“Fight in the way of God against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for, verily, God does not love aggressors,” (Quran, 2:190)

This verse summarizes everything that has been agreed upon concerning guidelines of warfare, including the first and second Geneva Conventions.

Nonetheless, reading in translation (since we know he is not proficient in Arabic), Spencer doesn’t find any suggestion in Umdat Al-Salik that houses of worship should be protected; therefore, he concludes Islamic law in its totality must not have any precedent about protecting houses of worship. What he failed to mention, even in the very piece of evidence he cited, is this:

09:11 It is unlawful to kill a non-Muslim to whom a Muslim has given his guarantee of protection.

[Ibn, al-Naqīb A. L, and Noah H. M. Keller. Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law ʻumdat Al-Salik. Beltsville, MD, U.S.A: Amana Publications, 1999. P. 603]

Most Muslims reinterpret such clauses in the modern sense of citizenship. The Christians are Egyptian citizens and therefore deserve the protection of the government. Hence, the overwhelming demonstration by Muslims in support of the Christian community. Of course, even in a time of warfare, Islamic law laid down strict rules of combat. Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, told his armies:

“I advise you ten things: Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the booty, and do not be cowardly.”

[Muwatta, Book 21, Number 21.3.10:]

“Inhabited places” include houses of worship. But the Egyptian Christians aren’t combatants; they’re citizens. They’re even more deserving of scrupulous protection. In this regard, Muhammad himself sanctified the lives of those who made peace treaties with Muslims:

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr: The Prophet said, “Whoever killed a Mu’ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling).”

[Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 83, Number 49]

Apparently, Spencer feels no need to check any Islamic sources other than Umdat al-Salik before he makes sweeping claims about Islamic law. In any case, Spencer would like us to think that Al-Qaeda, who bombs houses of worship, is acting in accordance with Islamic law better than the majority of Egyptian Muslims. He gives us his “expert” interpretation:

Also, it is likely that al-Qaeda understands Qur’an 22:40 as referring to churches that teach the true Christianity of Jesus the Muslim prophet as he is depicted in the Qur’an. Those Christians who consider Jesus divine — that is, virtually all of them — are “unbelievers” according to the Qur’an (5:17, 5:72), and the Qur’an commands Muslims to make war against those who associate partners with Allah (9:5), which Christians are explicitly accused of doing by proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God (9:30). Thus they would likely believe that Qur’an 22:40 just doesn’t have anything to do with “pulling down” the assemblies of renegades such as those who were gathered in the church in Alexandria last night.

Notice that Spencer thinks it is “likely” al-Qaeda understand the verse exactly the way he does, although he can produce no such evidence. Maybe because he’s not too good at translating Arabic documents? He then cites his favorite handful of verses (out of context); for example, citing:

But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)… (Quran 9:5)

But without citing the following verses (interpreted in Tafsir Jalalayn as follows):

“How can polytheists [that were treacherous and violated their treaties] have a covenant with Allah and His Messenger? Except for those with whom you entered covenants [i.e., the polytheists who did not break them and hence were not treacherous] in the Sacred Mosque. So as long as they are true to you [with their covenants and do not breach them] then be true to them [by also fulfilling your covenants]; verily, Allah loves those who fear Him [i.e., He loves those who fulfill covenants, since whoever fears Allah will fulfill his covenants, and the Prophet kept his word and upheld his side of the treaty until his enemies broke theirs].”

[Tafsir Jalalayn, Quran 9:7]

Spencer takes verses that refer specifically to a handful of Arab tribes who broke their peace treaties with Muhammad and extrapolates them out to apply to all Jews, Christians, and people everywhere. Spencer ignores key verses of the Quran that make clear distinctions between those who war against Muslims and those who make peace:

Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just. Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong. (Quran 60:8-9)

Finally, Spencer ends by repeating his keynote fallacy:

If Al-Azhar backs up this statement with consistent calls on Egyptian authorities to protect Egypt’s Christians, and consistent teaching against the Islamic texts and teachings that provide justification for attacks against them, we will be making real progress.

Spencer thinks we’ll “make progress” when Al-Azhar teaches against Islamic texts and teachings, while we have shown here that Al-Azhar’s condemnation of Al-Qaeda is not against Islamic texts and teachings, but is perfectly in line with them. Spencer pretends that only his spurious self-serving interpretation of Islam is correct and therefore Islam is the problem, rather than extremism fostered by military occupations. Would Spencer find it sensible for me to likewise demand Christians speak out against the Christian texts and teachings that justify terrorism?

As our country starts debating the violent political rhetoric in our nation’s discourse, let people know that fraudsters like Robert Spencer add fuel to the fire by pushing communities apart, dividing nations along religious lines, and hindering any hope of interfaith understanding. His anti-Muslim bigotry and rejection of Muslim/Christian harmony is poisonous to the best of American traditions: E pluribus unum.

 

Egypt’s Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as “human shields”

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2011 by loonwatch

Don’t expect to see this news on Spencer’s blog.

Egypt’s Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as “human shields”

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

In the days following the brutal attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, which left 21 dead on New Year’ eve, solidarity between Muslims and Copts has seen an unprecedented peak. Millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent – the symbol of an “Egypt for All”. Around the city, banners went up calling for unity, and depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one.

The attack has rocked a nation that is no stranger to acts of terror, against all of Muslims, Jews and Copts. In January of last year, on the eve of Coptic Christmas, a drive-by shooting in the southern town of Nag Hammadi killed eight Copts as they were leaving Church following mass. In 2004 and 2005, bombings in the Red Sea resorts of Taba and Sharm El-Sheikh claimed over 100 lives, and in the late 90’s, Islamic militants executed a series of bombings and massacres that left dozens dead.

This attack though comes after a series of more recent incidents that have left Egyptians feeling left out in the cold by a government meant to protect them.

Last summer, 28-year-old businessman Khaled Said was beaten to death by police, also in Alexandria, causing a local and international uproar. Around his death, there have been numerous other reports of police brutality, random arrests and torture.

Last year was also witness to a brutal parliamentary election process in which the government’s security apparatus and thugs seemed to spiral out of control. The result, aside from injuries and deaths, was a sweeping win by the ruling party thanks to its own carefully-orchestrated campaign that included vote-rigging, corruption and rife brutality. The opposition was essentially annihilated. And just days before the elections, Copts – who make up 10 percent of the population – were once again the subject of persecution, when a government moratorium on construction of a Christian community centre resulted in clashes between police and protestors. Two people were left dead and over 100 were detained, facing sentences of up to life in jail.

The economic woes of a country that favours the rich have only exacerbated the frustration of a population of 80 million whose majority struggle each day to survive. Accounts of thefts, drugs, and violence have surged in recent years, and the chorus of voices of discontent has continued to grow.

The terror attack that struck the country on New Year’s eve is in many ways a final straw – a breaking point, not just for the Coptic community, but for Muslims as well, who too feel marginalized, persecuted, and overlooked, by a government that fails to address their needs. On this Coptic Christmas eve, the solidarity was not just one of religion, but of a desperate and collective plea for a better life and a government with accountability.

 

Ahmed Rehab: A Silver Lining in Egypt’s Dark Cloud

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2011 by loonwatch

An inspiring and heartening post by Ahmed Rehab on the bombing of the Coptic church. We were alerted to this late but this is certainly thus far one of the best posts on the subject. (hat tip: Ivan)

A Silver Lining to Egypt’s Dark Cloud

by Ahmed Rehab

The recent bombing outside a Coptic church in the Egyptian seaport of Alexandria that claimed 21 lives and 96 injuries sent shockwaves throughout Egypt and made headlines around the world.

Much of the global media has limited its interest in the story to the bombing itself and the subsequent angry street protests by Coptic youth; more savvy journalists included some discussion of government negligence and the context of sectarian strife that plagues Egypt today.

Still, an integral part of the story remains untold outside of Egypt: the strong response of everyday Egyptians – Muslims and Copts.

A popular storm of anger, defiance, and national unity is sweeping the country expressed by political leaders, members of the clergy, movie stars, students, and men and women on the street all reiterating one resounding theme: this is an attack against Egypt and all Egyptians.

While sectarian strife – even violence – is a serious problem in this mostly Muslim nation with a sizable Coptic population, Muslims and Copts generally live in peace side by side and have for many centuries.

Ali GomaaEgyptians of all stripes seem to concur that the Alexandria bombing – the most serious act of terrorism in a decade – is an attack on the Egyptian way of life with the intent to drive a wedge between faith communities and push the nation into turmoil.

“This is not just an attack on Copts, this is an attack on me and you and all Egyptians, on Egypt and its history and its symbols, by terrorists who know no God, no patriotism, and no humanity,” said Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt.

Khaled El Gendy“This cannot be classified as religious extremism, this can only be classified as religious apostasy,” said sheikh Khaled El Gendy a popular Muslim TV personality. “I do not offer my condolences to Christians, but to all Egyptians and to Egypt, All Copts are Egyptian and all Egyptians are Copts; their places of worship are national places of worship, a bomb that targets them bleeds us all.” A high ranking member of the Coptic clergy who sat beside him echoed his words.

“An act like this is wholly condemnable in Islam. Muslims are not only obligated not to harm Christians, but to protect and defend them and their places of worship,” said Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt’s seat of Orthodoxy.

Adel Imam“Let us hang black flags from our homes and black ribbons on our cars to mourn this cowardly attack against our brothers and sisters, let us send a symbolic message of defiance against those who are trying to divide us”, said a visibly enraged Adel Imam, Egypt’s most popular living actor, a Muslim, and a long time advocate for Coptic rights.

The message was not much different on Egypt’s most watched talk shows that were abuzz with Muslim and Coptic guests in the studios and on the streets, expressing their solidarity with each other and defiance against what they see as a common enemy trying to drive a wedge between Egyptians.

Muslim college students in Alexandria and Cairo have vowed to join Copts at their upcoming Christmas celebrations (January 7th for the Coptic Church). “We will be there with signs bearing the Crescent and the Cross, celebrating with them, standing with them, and falling with them if necessary,” said a young, veiled student leader surrounded by her colleagues.

As an Egyptian, I am as invigorated by the current mood in Egypt as I am distraught by the bombing. However, I pray that this welcome surge of unity and camaraderie is seized and eternalized. I hope that it becomes ingrained into our societal fabric and that it is leveraged to induce long needed reforms.

I agree that an attack such as this has the bearings of Al Qaeda and its imitation groups therefore taking us outside the realm of common sectarian strife and into one of national security; nonetheless, Egyptians should see the current atmosphere of empathy as an opportunity to address Coptic grievances and strive towards a more equal society.

We can no longer deny that since the rise of Muslim extremist ideology in the 1970′s, Egypt’s once exemplary Muslim-Coptic relations has deteriorated significantly.

My father tells me that growing up in the 50′s, he often did not know if one of his friends was a Muslim or Copt except by sheer coincidence, and then when he did it mattered little. This was not my experience growing up in Egypt where my religion teacher made sure to warn me against the “treachery” of my Coptic colleagues.

Naguib El RihanyIn the 40′s, no one seemed to care that Naguib El Rihany, Egypt’s then greatest comedian and a national treasure, was a Copt; he was simply Egyptian. Likewise, Copts did not bat an eyelid when Omar Sharif, a Christian, converted to Islam in the 50′s, at the height of his celebrity, a far cry from today’s intense reactions against conversions.

As far back as the 12th century, Egyptian Muslims and Copts fought side by side against the Crusaders, viewed then as a national security threat and not a religious war. Together, they stood tall against British colonialism – a lasting image of the period depicts Muslim sheikhs and Coptic priests marching together side by side and chanting “long live the crescent and the cross!”

One needs not look farther than the Alexandria Church itself to gain a glimpse of the sort of religious cohabitation that is uniquely Egyptian: the church is brightly lit up by flood lights perched up on a Mosque, only 30 feet across the street.

Egyptians are asking today privately and publicly, where has all this gone?

But we need to do more than ask and lament. We need to act.

The post-Alexandria solidarity between Muslims and Copts – the likes of which Egypt has not witnessed in decades – represents a silver lining in Egypt’s dark cloud of sectarian strife and mistrust.

We would be wrong not to acknowledge and applaud it, but equally wrong to settle for it; a silver lining never made for a brighter day.

We need to carry the momentum forward into the realm of real change:

When extremist religious discourse at Mosques (and in Coptic circles) is regularly and unequivocally condemned and countered with a proactive and effective discourse of respectful coexistence, it will be a brighter day.

When Egyptians no longer have to list their faith affiliation on their official government ID’s, it will be a brighter day.

When Copts no longer need a special government decree to build churches (or fix bathrooms in their churches), it will be a brighter day.

When I see talented young Coptic men playing on the Egyptian football national team at a rate proportional to the Coptic talent in my 6th grade class in Cairo, it will be a brighter day.

When the glass ceiling barring Copts from reaching the highest levels of government is shattered, it will be a brighter day.

When Egyptian law, prosecutors, officers, and judges treat Muslims and Copts as merely Egyptians – that is as equal citizens – with merit being the only qualifier, it will be a brighter day.

Given the candid conversations happening all over Egypt today, I believe that a brighter day is within reach. It is up to us “to change this tragedy into an opportunity,” to borrow the words of Sheikh Ali Gomaa.

Clearly, the immediate priority is security, but that must be followed – if not paralleled – with addressing Coptic civic grievances. For this to stand a realistic chance of success, the Coptic cause must become a national cause led and fought for by Muslims under a program of comprehensive civil rights reform.

Ahmed Rehab is a board member of the Egyptian American Society and a co-author and signatory of the Chicago Declaration, a practical document calling for equal treatment of Copts under the law, submitted to the Egyptian government in 2005.

 

Two missing Coptic women Abused by Priest Husbands, What if they were Muslim?

Posted in Loon Pastors, Loon Violence with tags , , , , , , , on December 28, 2010 by loonwatch

Robert Spencer was all on this issue before, painting it in a simplified form directly taking the side of ultra right-wing Coptic apologists who hate Islam with a passion. Don’t expect any retractions from Spencer on this one.

Two missing Coptic women had been abused by priest husbands

(StlToday)

CAIRO, Egypt • The wives of two Egyptian Coptic priests, forbidden by the church from divorcing their abusive husbands, desperately sought another way out by converting to Islam. When their intentions were discovered, police handed them over to the church, and their whereabouts since have been unknown.

The cases caused a furor at home that spilled over the borders and turned deadly when al-Qaida in Iraq cited the women as the reason behind the worst attack ever on Christians in Iraq — a siege of a church in October that left 68 people dead.

It was a stark example of the schism between Christians and Muslims that runs through the Middle East and periodically erupts into violence.

“Amid the current sectarian discord, the timing is perfect for al-Qaida to show it is defending Islam and to exploit the situation to rally extremists against the churches,” said Ammar Ali Hassan, an expert in Islamic movements.

Both Wafaa Constantine, 53, and Camilla Shehata, 25, lived in remote rural towns and enjoyed prestige as devoted and pious wives of conservative Coptic priests. But behind that veneer, a lawyer and a church official said, the women were trapped in abusive relationships.

Both tried to seek a divorce through church channels but hit a dead end because the Coptic Orthodox Church forbids divorce — a rule enforced even more strictly against the wives of priests. And they decided to rebel, not only against their husbands but against the whole religion.

They sought to convert to Islam, something viewed as a disgrace in their community. The Coptic Church considers those who convert to other religions dead, making the marriage contract invalid.

Though Egyptian religious authorities say the women never succeeded in converting, the controversy in both cases escalated with protests by Egyptian Christians, who accused Muslims of abducting the women and forcing them to convert.

That riled Muslim extremists in Egypt who protested and accused the church of holding them against their will and forcing them to convert back to Christianity.

Al-Qaida in Iraq turned it into a cause celebre when it cited the women as the reason behind the Baghdad church siege. The group followed with more threats against Iraq’s Christian minority, generating such fear that most Christmas celebrations in the country were canceled.