Egypt’s top religious adviser recently urged the importance of “inter-religious harmony” as the country “continues to pass through a sensitive period of transition,” adding that he believes the Islamic religion does have a place in Egypt’s democracy.
“Muslims and Christians alike are encouraged to transform sentiments of solidarity into true unity for the sake of the welfare of Egypt, and not in the interests of individual advancement or sectarian gain,” Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, senior adviser for Islamic law, wrote in a recent guest column for Reuters.
“This is crucial so that we may leave to future generations a pluralistic, humane culture at the root of which is true faith, a commitment to justice and love between the peoples of this great land,” Gomaa added.
Gomaa went on to address recent statements made by preacher Hisham el-Ashry, who called for the implementation of “anti-vice police,” or police who would patrol the country to ensure no civilian was breaking a law of Islam.
“Egypt’s religious scholars have long guided the people to act in ways that conform to their religious commitments, but have never thought this required any type of invasive policing,” Gomaa stated.
Pope Shenouda III has passed away, having led the largest Christian denomination in the Arab world for four decades. He deservedly received widespread tributes from across Egypt, with the exception of the unexpected conduct of some MPs affiliated to the Salafist al-Nour party who chose not to attend a People’s Assembly session, in order to avoid participating in a minute’s silence for the deceased, whilst another group refused to stand for the minute’s silence, instead remaining in their seats, prompting widespread arguments among Egyptians and others. These acts, and the controversy that accompanied them, reflect a major problem that Egypt, and even the region, will face in the days to come. This is a problem concerning the status of Christians in the Arab world and the underlying concerns with the rise to power of political Islamist movements in a belt extending from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Sudan to Egypt. This area has the greatest population density in the Arab world, and could extend towards the Levant. There are those who believe that a change is inevitably coming in Syria and the Islamists will come to power there, with reference to the presence of Hamas in power in Gaza, the activity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, and the Islah bloc in Yemen.
Being allied too closely to the former regime lost Al-Azhar credibility in the eyes of Muslims both here and throughout the world. In the absence of an authoritative voice to speak in the name of Islam, other voices rose up to speak on behalf of Muslims and these have left the world with a legacy of fanaticism and extremism that will take many years to overcome.
These voices, ignorant of Islam, have imagined a mood of hostility between Muslims and others that has never been a part of Islam’s message.
We are now living with the results of this. In recent months, the Christian Churches have been meeting to evaluate the situation they find themselves in. There is no doubt that as a result of many of the changes sweeping across the Arab world, many Christians have become fearful for their future, imagining that an upsurge in Islam will mean a rise in extremism and a threat to their safety. It is a sad fact that in recent months many thousands of them have packed their bags and left the Middle East altogether.
And yet, it is impossible to imagine a Middle East without a Christian presence. Who could imagine an Egypt without Christian and Muslim families living together, side by side, as they have done for centuries? Twenty years ago, no child going to school asked his classmate what religion he belonged to. Voices from outside, though, have managed to fuel mistrust and misunderstanding to such a level that sectarianism has indeed become a problem, both in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
BEIRUT: Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amin Gemayel met the head of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the most prestigious center of Sunni scholarship, to discuss ways to strengthen ties between Christians and Muslims and energize dialogue between the two groups, said a statement released by the party.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb said he discussed with Gemayel many issues, including “openness” between Al-Azhar and eastern churches. Tayeb said Al-Azhar might call for the convening of a conference including Christian and Muslim intellectuals and representatives of eastern churches, the state-run National News Agency reported.Gemayel said Muslim-Christian cooperation was essential for the region’s salvation. He said he felt duty-bound to visit Tayeb in order to be guided by his ideas to tackle “some pressing issues.”
“The meeting was very fruitful. I listened to [Tayeb’s] views on a host of issues currently under discussion not only in Egypt, but in the Arab world as a whole in the wake of [popular] movements that are taking place,” Gemayel told reporters.