This Film Screening Wants to Repair Muslim-Christian Relationships in Egypt

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In a first-of-its-kind event last Thursday, Al-Ahram Weekly screened Alexander Kronemer’s award-winning The Sultan and the Saint at Al-Ahram’s Naguib Mahfouz Hall. One of several docudramas intended to promote interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims, the film tells the story of the encounter between Saint Francis of Assisi and the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Kamel Mohamed, which took place near Damietta in 1219 during the Fifth Crusade. Narrated by Jeremy Irons and featuring Alexander McPherson and Zack Beyer as the saint and the sultan, respectively, it is produced and promoted by the California-based non-profit Unity Productions Foundation.

The Al-Ahram screening, its Egypt premiere, was made possible thanks to the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Sister City initiative headed by Egyptian-American businessman Tharwat Abu Raya, who coordinated with the Weekly’s Editor-in-Chief Ezzat Ibrahim. The event drew in a large crowd of cultural and media figures. Spotted in the nearly full house were, among many others, the Provincial Minister of the Franciscan Brothers in Egypt Father Kamal Labib, the Armenian Catholic Bishop Krikor Okostinos Coussan, the wife of the Weekly’s late founding editor Hosny Guindy Moushira Abdel-Malik, the celebrated actress and Weekly columnist Lubna Abdel-Aziz, the veteran writer Yacoub Al-Sharouni, the filmmaker Sandra Nashaat, the well-known security expert Brigadier-General Khaled Okasha and the Sawt Al-Azhar magazine Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Al-Sawi.

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Tensions ease between Coptic Christians and Muslims after clashes in Upper Egypt village

coptsTensions between Coptic Christians and Muslims in an Upper Egyptian village eased this week following weekend clashes after the Christians were prevented from holding a Mass at a private home because they had no permit.

According to World Watch Monitor (WWM), local Muslims in the village of Ezbat Al-Forn, part of the Minya governorate, complained to the authorities over plans by the Copts to meet in the home on Sunday, leading to the clashes.

But on Monday, the Copts processed peacefully through the streets of the village to celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary and calm prevailed, the Egypt Independent reported.

According to the newspaper, the local bishop, Anba Macarius, ‘said that Muslims in the village have never objected to the prayers of the Coptic Christians in any place in Ezbat al-Forn…He added that the relations between the people are kind and neighbourly, contrary to media reports that say Muslims object to Christian prayers … [And] that prayers were held in the streets in peace and security, with no protest.’

Now, the local authorities are reportedly ‘considering’ the Christians’ request for a licence to hold religious services at the residential property, while also searching for suspects involved in Sunday’s clashes.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN TODAY 

Egyptian Christians, Muslims share Ramadan meals despite Islamist violence

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CAIRO (Reuters) – In a display of communal solidarity defying the sectarian violence of Islamist militants, Egyptian Christians in Cairo organize daily meals for Muslim neighbors who must fast from dawn to dusk during their holy month of Ramadan.

Such intercommunal meals are held every year in Egypt, whose Copts are the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they took on more resonance this year after a spate of Islamic State attacks on Copts meant to stoke sectarian divisions.

Dawoud Riyad, a middle-aged Christian man, set up tables in a street near his Cairo home last week, serving free home-cooked meals to hungry passersby when it was time for them to break their fast for the Iftar evening meal.

“They invited me and my kids, and I was surprised. They laid the table out on the street with no difference between sheikhs, Christians or Muslims – they pulled everyone to the table to break their fast,” said Tarek Ali, a Muslim resident.

Several Christian families in Riyad’s area pitch in daily to provide the food and drink in what he calls an effort to unite people of different faiths during a holy time of year. Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million people.

FULL ARTICLE FROM BUSINESS INSIDER 

Balancing act for pope in Egypt with Muslims and Christians

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Pope Francis departed from his prepared remarks at a special prayer service honoring Christian martyrs in Rome last weekend to tell the story of a Muslim man who watched Islamist terrorists cut the throat of his Christian wife because she refused to discard her Crucifix.

“He, Muslim, had this cross of pain that he bore without rancor,” the pope said, his voice filled with emotion. “He sought refuge in the love of his wife, graced by martyrdom.”

That anecdote — balancing the murder of a Christian by Islamist militants with a Muslim’s love for his wife — serves as a preview of the pope’s message when he visits Egypt on Friday.

Francis is expected to highlight the plight of Christians amid recent violence in Egypt, while continuing his mission to reach out to Muslims. Even for a politically savvy pope, that is a delicate balancing act, on top of obvious security concerns in a country recently attacked by the Islamic State group (ISIS).

Egypt is still recovering from coordinated Palm Sunday bombings of two Christian churches that killed more than 40 people, nearly killed the head of the Coptic Church and prompted President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to declare a three-month state of emergency.

Francis will lend his support to the roughly 250,000 Roman Catholics in Egypt and insist on the protection of minority rights, including those of its nearly 10 million Coptic Christians, in a meeting Friday with el-Sissi, according to Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian-born Jesuit priest who has seen the pope’s prepared remarks.

He will also meet with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar mosque — Sunni Islam’s most influential training center of imams — and speak at a peace conference organized by the mosque. The pope is scheduled to finish the day by meeting his Coptic Christian counterpart, Pope Tawadros II, who barely escaped the bombings on Palm Sunday.

 “It’s an encounter of consolation, promotion and communion with the small Catholic community,” said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect for the Congregation for Eastern Churches, who is expected to join Francis on the trip. “But it’s of great importance from an ecumenical point of view. And, of course, it is very important for dialogue with Islam, for the meeting with the sheikh of Al-Ahzar.”

Pope Francis denounces barbarity during Egypt visit, preaches tolerance

popeBy Philip Pullella and Mahmoud Mourad

CAIRO (Reuters) – Pope Francis, starting a two-day visit to Egypt, urged Muslim leaders on Friday to unite in renouncing religious extremism at a time when Islamist militants are targeting ancient Christian communities across the Middle East.

Francis’s trip, aimed at improving Christian-Muslim ties, comes just three weeks after Islamic State suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in two Egyptian churches.

“Let us say once more a firm and clear ‘No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” the pope told a peace conference at Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, Al-Azhar.

Francis is meeting an array of religious and political leaders in his brief stay, telling reporters travelling on his plane that he was carrying a message of peace and unity.

Eschewing the armoured motorcades normally reserved for visiting heads of state, the 80-year-old pontiff instead clambered into a simple Fiat car on his arrival, and, with his window wound down, drove off into the heavily guarded capital.

“Pope of Peace in Egypt of Peace,” read posters plastered along the largely deserted road leading from the airport.

He is the second pope to visit Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, following John Paul II, who came in 2000, a year before the September 11 attacks on the United States that convulsed Western relations with the Muslim world.

While Egypt has escaped the sort of violence that has engulfed Syria and Iraq, its Christian community has felt the full force of Islamist militants over the past six months, with bomb attacks in several churches.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WHTC

Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable

76535Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’

“‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.

“How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

So also did millions of Copts, recently rediscovering their ancient heritage, according to Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt which subtitled and recirculated the satellite TV clip.

“In the history and culture of the Copts, there is much taught about martyrdom,” he told CT. “But until Libya, it was only in the textbooks—though deeply ingrained.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Egypt’s Christian minority in sombre mood for Easter holiday

Ragaay prays and lights a candle in front of a wooden figure of Jesus in her home at the Cairo suburb of MaadiMembers of Egypt’s Christian minority flocked to church on Friday but two church bomb attacks on Palm Sunday that killed 45 people have left many in a sombre mood over Easter.

Worshippers from the nearly 2,000-year-old Coptic Christian community attended church services, but the holiday to mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ was being observed in subdued fashion, according to church officials.

In the city of Alexandria, Christians congregated at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, historic seat of the Coptic Pope, to attend Good Friday prayers. Worshippers passed through a metal detector at the building entrance, where one of the bombs went off.

Rafiq Bishry, head of the church’s organizational committee, said he was surprised that so many people had come.

“We expected that people would be too scared to attend prayers but there was no need for our expectations because there are a lot of people here,” he told Reuters Television.

“This is a clear message to the whole world that we are not afraid,” he said.

Last Sunday’s attacks in Alexandria and the city of Tanta were claimed by Islamic State, which has been waging an insurgency against soldiers and police in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

The group has now stepped up assaults on Christians and warned of more attacks to come. It has claimed to have killed 80 people in three church bombings since December.

Maha Ragaay, a Coptic Christian teacher who lives in Cairo, said she had avoided watching television on Palm Sunday, afraid of seeing the bloody images broadcast after the bombings.

FULL ARTICLE FROM REUTERS