Vice President Pence visited my home country of Jordan during his much-anticipated (and delayed) tour of the Middle East, including stops in Israel and Egypt. The trip is designed to draw attention to the plight of Christians in the region, a key concern for many evangelical supporters of President Trump.
I was born and raised in a Christian family in the Middle East, and as an adult, I continue to live out my faith by providing trauma counseling to refugees, including Muslims, Christians and those of various other beliefs. Given my own upbringing and my work with refugees, I’m deeply concerned about Christian persecution abroad. I believe Pence and the current administration have the chance to actually help the church in the Middle East.
Here are four ways Pence could use his visit to make a difference.
1. Acknowledge Palestinians’ connection to Jerusalem.
While the United States does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the Trump administration should do more to acknowledge that Palestinians — including both Christians and Muslims — have a historic connection to Jerusalem.
Mr Donald Trump’s inauguration took place on a Friday, the weekly holy day for Muslims. I’d been dreading it: We would have a new president, one who had threatened to shut down mosques and bar Muslims from entering the country. I knew I had to say something to make people feel better about it.
I’m an imam at the Islamic Institute of Orange County. The members of my congregation here were worried: How would their lives change? Would Mr Trump follow through on his promises?
As I prepared myself to head to the mosque that morning, I recalled the sermon I gave three days after the election. In November, the community was panicking. People regularly asked: “Sheikh Mustafa, is it time we leave this country?” One friend from the mosque told me sadly: “I can’t live anywhere else.” I told him that a Muslim prepares for the worst but hopes and prays for the best.
Islam teaches us that life is a test of obedience to God and I counselled my community to view Mr Trump’s election as a test of our patience: God wanted to see if we would endure this challenge, or fall into complaining and despair. Islam and the Quran teach us that when we encounter a challenge, we should try to benefit from it. The election, I hoped, could lead us to strive to be better as individuals and to improve society.
Just a few hours after Mr Trump was inaugurated, I stood before a crowd of about 2,000 Muslims from all walks of life, young and old, native-born Americans and immigrants from some two dozen countries.
I reminded them that being a Muslim is about good character. We Muslims shouldn’t allow harsh words to get under our skin. We must not insult people who insult us because of our religion – and we must always be on our best behaviour.
A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY relies on the contributions of its citizens in everything from launching technology companies to managing the PTA. Discrimination against an identity group in a democratic society is not just a violation of its dignity, it is a barrier to its contribution.
The contributions of Muslims to American civilization are impressive and wide-ranging, captured well in the speech President Barack Obama gave in Cairo on June 4, 2009. “American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch.”
But the atmosphere of Islamophobia in the Trump era has created special hardships for Muslims, a dynamic that hurts both the Muslim community and the nation to which they seek to contribute.
Religious hate crime increased by 35% between 2016-17, during a time when a charity in Wales said teachers from 13 of the 22 local authorities reported incidents of racism in the last year.
Ms Holland said: “I’ve spoken to young Muslims from across Wales who’ve told me that they’re often scared in their communities, that they’ve directly experienced abuse at school, and that they’re tired of the way Islam is often portrayed by the media, and the effect this has on the views of their non-Muslim peers.”
Young Muslims’ views have helped shape the new resources for teachers to use in the classroom.
Jack, a sixth-grader from Chicago’s Bernard Zell Jewish Day School, threw himself like a rag doll onto the rubber gym floor of the Muslim Community Center Academy in Morton Grove Thursday, pantomiming a Christmas tree being felled by a gang of Irish-dancing squirrels.
The 11-year-old’s theatrics drew giggles from the dozen other pre-teens in his group — some wearing hijabs, others plaid skirts — who were brought together by the Olive Tree Arts Network and tasked with combining their imaginations into a single, wacky story.
Jack’s group was among 150 students brought together by the network’s Poetry Pals program, which every year has students from Catholic, Muslim and Jewish Day schools participate in a shared curriculum focused on creative expression and cultural learning.
Getting the students to act out fantastical stories based on their religious customs is a subtle way of building tighter bonds across faiths, according to Ilene Siemer, director of the arts network.
“This is a really important stage in kids’ lives, because they don’t really have pre-seeded notions of each other yet,” Siemer said. “So we’re able to effectively convey how much we all have in common without having to deal with any of the baggage that many adults may carry.”
Earlier this year, students from Bernard Zell and the Muslim academy visited St. John Fisher School in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood, where students led presentations on Catholic rituals and beliefs.
On Thursday, it was the Muslim students’ turn to educate their peers.
The Egyptian Ministry of Housing has issued a decree allowing Christians to perform their prayers in unlicensed churches until they obtain permits as official houses of worship.
The decision came in response to requests submitted by representatives of Egypt’s main Churches at the committee formed in January 2017 to look into the legalization of unlicensed churches in accordance with law number 80 for the year 2016 on the construction of churches.
The Coptic Orthodox Church submitted a list of 2,600 churches and service centers that need to be official organized — 450 Anglican Churches and 120 Catholic Churches. While this step puts an end to the impasse that followed the closure of a few churches in Upper Egypt for lack of permits, it does not necessarily eliminate concerns over the eruption of more sectarian clashes.
According to the Bishop Michael Antoun, representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church at the committee in charge of legalizing unlicensed churches, representatives submitted the names of unlicensed churches to request a license.
“Our church submitted a list of 2,600 churches that needed to be legalized under the 2016 law and when we did not get the license we asked the state for an explanation,” he said. “The response was that those churches will work normally provided that their names are on the list on churches seeking license.”
The extremist threat to churches
Karim Kamal, president of the Union of Copts for Nation, said the ministry’s decision constitutes a positive step towards implementing the 2016 law on the construction of churches, which facilitates building and renovating churches and church-affiliated centers.
“However, it is important to note that the state, the governors, and the ministries of housing or interior were never our main concern,” he said. “In fact, all Copts remember how the state helped us in 2013, when the Armed Forces rebuilt the churches burnt down by the Muslim Brotherhood following the June 30 protests.
Freddy Elbaiady has made history as a politician. But what counts most for the 46-year-old Egyptian doctor is his work at the Salam Medical Center (SMC) in El-Qanatir, north of Cairo. The bridges between Christians and Muslims that are built through this work are sustainable even in times of crisis.
Dr Elbaiady has many professions and ministries. He is a respected radiologist in Cairo, runs a medical centre in his hometown El-Qanatir, is a member of the local church council, and is involved in evangelical church politics in his capacity as one of the members of the Supreme Council of Protestant Churches in Egypt. To the wider public he became known in 2013, when he accepted an offer to join the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament as one of the few Christian members. TV news programs were and still are happy to invite him for discussions on interreligious coexistence, the role of the churches in Egypt and politics in general. No doubt, this man has influence and prestige. But if asked to talk about himself he remains reticent.
His office in the medical centre has surprisingly very simple decor. No thick desk, no leather furniture to receive guests. Dr Elbaiady receives visitors in a small room. In the rear part there is an examination table for consultation. He is content with the front as his office. Only the wooden nameplate on the small desk reveals his role as CEO. Dr Elbaiady works at a large private hospital in Cairo, where he chairs the radiology department. From there, he arrives at SMC by around 3pm, where he works until after midnight, often into the early hours of the morning. “I get along with little sleep”, he says matter-of-factly.