Egypt’s Christians Fear Violence as Change Emboldens Islamists

CAIRO — The headline screamed from a venerable liberal newspaper: Coptic Christians had abducted a young Muslim and tattooed her with a cross. “Copts kidnap Raghada!”

“They tied me up with ropes, beat me with shoes, shaved my hair,” Raghada Salem Abdel Fattah, 19, declared, “and forced me to read Christian psalms!”

Like many similar stories proliferating here since the revolution, Ms. Abdel Fattah’s kidnapping could not be confirmed. But for members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, the sensational headline — from a respected publisher, no less — served to validate their fear that the Egyptian revolution had made their country less tolerant and more dangerous for religious minorities. The Arab Spring initially appeared to open a welcoming door to the dwindling number of Christian Arabs who, after years of feeling marginalized, eagerly joined the call for democracy and rule of law. But now many Christians here say they fear that the fall of the police state has allowed long-simmering tensions to explode, potentially threatening the character of Egypt, and the region.


Faith in the Arab Spring

New beginning A villager in Sol looks over a Coptic
church that Muslims helped rebuild after it was
destroyed in May by extremists
When President Obama stepped into the State Department on May 19 to deliver his long-awaited speech on the Middle East, he did so amid fears that the Arab Spring was devolving into a Summer of Discontent. Egypt was sagging under a weakening economy and escalating crime; NATO’s efforts in Libya were stuck in neutral; the Syrian government was boasting that its rebellion was over. Sectarian tensions were roiling Bahrain and Syria, and a wave of church burnings in Cairo had spawned a week of deadly violence between Muslims and Christians.

In his speech, Obama confronted these religious struggles head-on. “In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation,” he said. “For this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.”(See “Obama Struggles to Keep Pace with the Middle East Mess.”)

Beyond their political implications, the religious dimensions of the Middle East uprisings have always been central, particularly to the West. Ever since 9/11, the West and Islam have been locked in a chilly standoff. The relationship was captured by Harvard professor Samuel Huntington’s lightning-rod phrase “the Clash of Civilizations.” Huntington’s thesis, which was roundly trashed when it was published as an article in 1993 but became a best seller in book form following Sept. 11, was that Islam taught Muslims to be hostile to freedom, pluralism and individualism.


Darkness Descends on the Muslims of Murfreesboro, Tennessee

So, it turns out Islam is a religion. Imagine that.

Granted, this would be considered self-evident by most of us, but it has been a matter of great controversy in the Tennessee town of Murfreesboro, where 17 people went to court last year to prevent a group of Muslims from building a mosque. On their own land.

The need to defend this fundamental right was only one of the ordeals visited upon the Muslims of Murfreesboro, who have also faced threats, vandalism and arson. As recently, vividly illustrated in “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” a troubling CNN documentary, the antagonists here are a clownish band of bigots scared witless by the prospect that a new mosque will be built in their community by a congregation that has already worshipped in said community for 30 years.

Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.


Radical Tennessee Senator Targets Mild Mannered Muslim Professor

A young man sporting a coiffed block of dirty-blond hair steps to the microphone. He asks whether Professor Binhazim is still in the room, before fixing his eyes on the man seated in front of him. Of course Awadh Binhazim is still here. He’s a panelist at the Jan. 25, 2010, discussion on Vanderbilt’s campus — an event since watched by tens of thousands of viewers on YouTube.

The young man launches into a question, which he reads from a card:

“Given the recent controversy surrounding homosexuals in the military, under Islamic law, if a homosexual person began to actually engage in homosexual relations in an ongoing and permanent way with no intention of quitting, then the punishment under Islamic law would be death — unless, you know, he agreed to quit. As a practicing Muslim, do you accept or reject this particular teaching of Islam?”

You know where this is going. The camera trains on Binhazim — an olive-skinned man with a polite haircut and trimmed salt-and-pepper beard, wearing a dark suit jacket, dark shirt and tie — for the gotcha moment.

Instead, Binhazim winds into a three-minute, highly nuanced response. The questioner tries to interrupt. He just needs Binhazim, the adjunct Muslim chaplain at Vanderbilt, to say Islam requires him to believe in the killing of gays and lesbians; then he can get out of here.


Muslims Rush to Restore Torched Egyptian Church

(Reuters) – Mohammed Fathi worked his brush gently over an icon of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, removing soot from its surface inside a church gutted in an attack by Islamist militants this month.

“It takes a lot of careful work to do that,” Fathi said. “We have to do a lot of tests with chemicals to try to restore the icon to its original condition.”

The 26-year-old is one of a vast group of mostly Muslim craftsmen tasked with restoring St Mary’s Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba after militants set it on fire on May 7.

Egypt’s military rulers have ordered its restoration at a time when tensions between Christians, who account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and Muslims are on the rise.

Attacks have triggered protests and pose a challenge for Egypt’s new rulers, under pressure to impose security while seeking to avoid the tough tactics against Islamists used by deposed President Hosni Mubarak.


Christian VP Chosen for Muslim Brotherhood Party

A party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood to run in Egypt’s next parliamentary elections has chosen a Coptic intellectual as its vice president, in an effort to broaden its appeal.

  • Muslim Brotherhood
    Rafiq Habib has been selected for the position in the Freedom and Justice Party as the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to establish its position in Egypt after years of being hamstringed by the ruling party.

Submitting its legal papers to the party affairs committee for approval on Wednesday, the party’s secretary general, Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, said it now had nearly 9,000 members, including 978 women and 93 Coptic Christians.

“The party is open to all Egyptians, Muslims and Copts alike,” he said.

While confirming that the party would campaign for civic state “with religious reference” to Islam as the official state religion, he sought to assure that the rights and freedoms of Coptic Christians would be guaranteed. The elections are scheduled for the fall.


This Just In: Tennessee Court Says Islam is a Religion!

Editor’s Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of “God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World,” is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

A few months ago I spoke at an interfaith forum at the University of North Alabama. One of the speakers on my panel was Ossama Bahloul, imam of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

Bahloul began his talk by observing that God must have a sense of humor to have given him a name as problematic as Ossama. But the heart of his talk concerned the compatibility of Islam with American values.


Egypt: Thousands March in Tahrir Square, Christians Maintain Sit in

Thousands of protesters marched in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to stress the unity between Egypt’s Muslims and Christian Copts following sectarian clashes that ended with a dozen dead and more than 200 injured last week.

The march, which coincided with a rally in the square in solidarity with Palestinians, began with a Christian Mass followed by Friday prayers.

Cleric Mazhar Shahin, who delivered the Friday prayer speech, said Islam and Christianity do not teach hatred or incitement of violence.

Timeline: Revolution in Egypt

“Such strife is intended by a group of people who are neither Muslims nor Christians,” Shahin said as he warned Egyptians not to let extremists divide them.

Both Muslim and Coptic Christian protesters joined the demonstration, chanting, “Muslims and Copts are one hand” and carrying banners that said, “Egypt is for all Egyptians.”

“We need to have constitutional guarantees securing equal citizenship rights and respecting all religions without discrimination between Muslims and Copts,” Adel Mahmoud, who is Muslim, told Babylon and Beyond.


Thousands Call for Unity in Cairo’s Tahrir Square

CAIRO: Thousands of people rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Friday calling for national unity after attacks on Egyptian churches, and for solidarity with the Palestinians.

Some held up crosses and others waved Palestinian flags as the numbers swelled in Cairo’s iconic square, the epicenter of protests that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in February after an 18-day uprising.

“If you attack a Christian, you’re attacking all Egyptians,” said one man delivering a speech at a podium.

“The churches attacked in Imbaba are not less than the mosques attacked in Jerusalem,” he said, linking the two themes of Friday’s protest.

“National unity was there during the revolt but the remnants of the old regime want to destroy the country,” said Ahmad Muhanna, who wore a green headband bearing the words “the army of Mohammad.”

A Coptic priest took the podium, in front of a big banner that said “national unity” and “Palestinian reconciliation,” to plead for tolerance.


Republicans in Tennessee to Honor Notorious Islam Hater: CAIR Requests That They Don’t

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2011 — Notorious Islamophobe Geert Wilders to be honored at Republican luncheon

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today called on state and national GOP leaders to repudiate a Tennessee event at which party officials will honor one of the world’s leading Islam-haters, extremist Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

A luncheon in Wilders’ honor will reportedly be held today at Williamson County Republican Party headquarters in Franklin, Tenn. Wilders is in Tennessee at the invitation of a group headed by former congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik, who once claimed that the construction of a new mosque would pose a threat to that state’s “moral and political foundation.”