The Americanization of an Ancient Faith

lead_720_405The 2,000-year-old Coptic Church is trying something new: spreading its message across the United States—and the rest of the world.

One day in the fall of 2010, Father Anthony Messeh, then a priest at the St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax, Virginia, sat down with a list of names. There were 30 individuals—all American converts with no Egyptian heritage—who had been baptized at the church since his arrival in 2001. Of the group, only eight were still active members.

“That just broke my heart,” Messeh told me one afternoon last summer. “If one or two people had left, then maybe I could say it was something wrong with them. But if 22 out of 30 had left, that meant it’s something wrong with me

One American couple who’d left the congregation told him that while the church felt like a family, it didn’t feel like their family. St. Mark’s, like many of the over 250 Coptic churches in the United States, is overwhelmingly comprised of Copts raised in Egypt or born to Egyptian parents. Of the nearly 6,000 members of the church, most still converse comfortably in Arabic, and the services retain Egyptian cultural norms: Men and women tend to sit separately, people move around freely during prayers, and Egyptian food is often served.

Americans, even those baptized into the faith, could feel like outsiders—not only at St. Mark’s, but at churches across the country. Recent waves of immigration from Egypt had intensified the influence of Egyptian culture across American congregations.

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Egypt fights Islamic extremism by allowing women leaders at mosques

_7961_A2CAIRO (RNS) – Four years ago, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called on state-supported Muslim clerics “to improve the image of Islam in front of the world.”

In response, Islamic religious authorities are allowing Muslim women to be heard. Over the past three months, the clerics have announced that women can now serve as preachers in mosques and schools, serve on governing boards and sing in choirs dedicated to liturgical music.

“These measures show that Islam can grow in an open encounter with other faiths,” said Wafaa Abdelsalam, a 38-year-old female physician appointed by the government’s Ministry of Religious Endowments to give two sermons a week at a pair of influential mosques in the Cairo suburbs. “The audience for my Ramadan talks has been mostly upper-middle-class women who until recently have felt they have had nobody to talk to about how Islam fits into their lives.”

About 70 percent of mosques in Egypt have separate prayer areas for women, according to the Endowments Ministry. But the move to introduce women preachers – wa’ezzat in Arabic – marks the first time females have formally addressed worshippers in these spaces as officially sanctioned clergy.

“Religious education here is a chance for women to ask me questions about personal matters, including marriage problems, and to debate the merits and drawbacks of the choice to wear or not wear the (hijab) headscarf,” said Abdelsalam.

The wa’ezzat are following sermon guidelines set by the Endowments Ministry, she added.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGIOUS NEWS SERVICE

Soccer star Mo Salah’s massive popularity is changing perceptions of Muslims in the UK

moMohamed “Mo” Salah, who plays soccer for Liverpool, England, as well as for Egypt, has just come off a season in which he established himself as one of the most exciting players in the world. A Muslim of North African heritage, he plays, excels, and is adored in Britain, a country in which anti-Muslim sentiment is increasingly part of mainstream political and cultural discourse.

And he should be one of the stars of the upcoming 2018 World Cup later this month — if, that is, he makes it to the tournament at all. Due to a recent injury, that’s now in question.

Salah started playing organized soccer as a teenager on an Egyptian team called the Arab Contractors. He joined Egypt’s national team in 2011 at age 19 and moved to Europe the following year. His first years were promising but patchy, and to say this has been a breakout season for Salah is a massive understatement.

FULL ARTICLE FROM VOX

Evidence of protecting Christians’ rights, churches in Islam

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CAIRO – 27 January 201: Following allegations made by the U.S. Congress regarding violations committed against Coptic Christians in Egypt, Egypt Today provides evidence of Islam’s preservation of Christians’ rights.

Recently, Egypt’s Minister of Endowments Mokhtar Gomaa said that the protection of churches is as legitimate as defending mosques, stressing that those who died in the defense of a church are martyrs.

Religious freedom is a well-known Islamic principle. {There is no compulsion in religion; the right direction is clearly distinguished from the wrong} (Quran 22:56) . So it’s clear that each person should be allowed to find their own path in life. People of other religions are free to practice their own faith, as Islam does not force any one to embrace it.

Not only does Islam demand their freedom to practice religion, but also that they be treated justly and kindly as any other fellow human. {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 love those who are just} (Quran 60:8) .

Regarding the protection of churches, Allah says, {Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause)} (Quran 22:40) .

Islamic scholar Ibn Khuwaiz stated that this verse included the prohibition of demolishing the churches of non-Muslim citizens, their temples, and their houses of worship.

FULL ARTICLE FROM EGYPT TODAY 

Is reopening of Egypt’s ‘unlicensed’ churches a step toward sectarian stability?

EGYPT-RELIGION-COPTIC-EASTERThe 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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL ARABIYA

EGYPT: “NO SINGLE MINUTE IS INVESTED IN VAIN” – HOW A DOCTOR PROMOTES RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE VIA HEALTH WORK

Freddy_ElbaiadyFreddy 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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM SIGHT MAGAZINE

Segregation By The Nile, When Egypt’s Christians And Muslims Share A Village

People walk on a street in Egypt’s Southern governorate of MinyaIn villages in Minya, Christians and Muslims are confined to separate districts, a condition that feeds into sectarian dynamics.

EZBET AL-FORN — Of the few streets that lie perpendicular to each other in Ezbet al-Forn in Upper Egypt’s Minya Governorate, your surroundings vary depending on which one you choose to walk down.

At the corner of one, a few meters away from a house used as a church where one security guard is stationed, I encounter a number of Coptic women.

“Over here, people are Christian. In the area starting with that colorful building over there, people are Muslim,” one of them tells me, pointing to a house 100 meters away, right next to the church. “We face south; they face north,” she adds.

When tension befell the village in September after security forces prevented Coptic residents from holding religious ceremonies in a house they used as a church, arguing that it was not registered, Copts emphasized that their problem was with security forces and not the Muslims living in the area.

Anba Makarios, the bishop of Minya and Abu Qurqas, confirmed this sentiment, telling Mada Masr that the segregation of houses in the area does not allow for sectarian conflict to occur, in a governorate where there are two million Copts out of approximately 5.6 million people, as per his estimate.

But while it is believed that the spatial segregation contributes to the sense of security and freedom of worship that the Coptic minority enjoys in Upper Egypt, it also maintains a separation where false perceptions can fester, as well as the apprehension internalized by both groups toward each other.

In the village, a funeral tent in an alley connects a Christian-populated street with a Muslim-populated one. Visitors flock to it from both sides, an observation that residents point to as evidence of the peaceful relationship between Copts and Muslims in the area.

We face south; they face north.

“We are one family. We say good morning to them, and they say good morning to us. We do not wrong them, and they do not wrong us,” a Coptic woman tells me.

“This is just how we found things,” she says, pointing to how the spatial arrangement is more inherited than chosen.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WORLD CRUNCH