Misunderstanding the Victims of the Sinai Massacre

lead_960What are Sufis? This was a question many were asking after at least 305Egyptians were massacred on Friday in the Sinai. They were killed in an assault by Islamist militants (likely from the local Islamic State affiliate, although the group has not yet made a claim of responsibility) on Al Rawdah mosque, which is commonly described as a “Sufi mosque.” The implication is that its congregants observed a more “mystical” version of Islam, one that, for example, venerates saints. While such a description is not necessarily inaccurate—it is common to refer to mosques by their apparent ideological or spiritual orientation—like most things related to Islam, it’s a bit more complicated. Many Sufis do not self-define as Sufis, since for them, this is just how Muslims practice—and have always practiced—Islam.

For most of Islamic history, Sufism wasn’t considered as something apart. That it is today has much to do with the rise of Islamism, which is generally perceived as anti-Sufi. (Indeed, many contemporary Islamists, particularly ultra-conservative Salafis, are precisely that.) Yet, none other than Hassan al-Banna, perhaps the most preeminent Islamist of the twentieth century, was initiated into the Sufi Hasafiyya order in 1923, just five years before he founded the Muslim Brotherhood. (Banna, for a time, would regularly visit the tomb of Sheikh Hasanayn al-Hasafi, the order’s namesake.) Similarly, Abdessalam Yassine, the late founder and leader of Adl Wal Ihsane, Morocco’s largest Islamist movement, was a member of the Boutchichiyya order.

To describe Sufis as “tolerant” and “pluralistic” may also be true, but doing so presupposes that non-Sufi Muslims aren’t tolerant or pluralistic. On the other hand, describing Sufis as heterodox, permissive, or otherwise less interested in ritual or Islamic law is misleading. In 2005, I lived down the street from an area of Amman called Kharabsheh, where the followers of the American convert Sheikh Nuh Keller, of the Shadhili order, lived. Here, I met some of the most strict, orthodox Muslims I’ve ever met. If, for instance, female followers of Sheikh Nuh wanted to live in Kharabsheh and take part in the community, they were required to wear the niqab, or face veil, which I initially found quite odd. Perhaps the most well-known Sufi-influenced traditionalist imam in the United States is another convert, Hamza Yusuf, who is nothing if not orthodox.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

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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 

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 

Only in Egypt: Muslims defending churches, Christians protecting mosques!

Sawy Cultural WheelCairo, Egypt-After a long stressful day due to increasingly crazy events and ever changing news, I had to quickly return home before curfew,  which the government imposed to reduce the chances of Muslim Brotherhood violence in the streets.

As I entered my home,  I heard the bells of the nearby church ringing in a strange way.  Next came screams and the sound of many gunshots.  I t old my children to stay away from the balconies, and got ready to defend my family against any possible attack.

But my curiosity as a journalist kept on pushing me to get out and cover the story despite the risk because I know that journalists are most targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood gangs, even more so than police and army members, because they are present in an unmarked way with no badges or uniforms and work to uncover the facts of the Muslim Brotherhood to the public.  The Brotherhood have already killed a dozen journalists and wounded many others.

Heading fast to the nearby church,  I noticed many of my neighbors, both Muslims and Christians, carrying knives, sticks and like me, scurrying to the church where the sounds of gun shots had stopped.  I saw man with a serious wound to is arm as his brothers put him into a car to go to the closest hospital.

Getting to the church, I had expected to see a large number of dead and injured people, and worried that the church would be torched.  But thank God, I found only 3 wounded with minor injuries in the hand and the head, wounds that were the result of citizens fighting with Muslim Brotherhood members before people quickly converged on the church, forcing to Brotherhood to retreat and run away.

There were hundreds of Egyptians of all ages. All of them made it clear they were willing to kill Brotherhood members if they turned up again. About half of them were Muslims.  A few Salafists, too, came to be with us as they live in the same neighborhood and refuse to attack the church.  I heard a lot of dialogues between Christians and Muslims.  I felt the warmth of real cohesion and unity against the new danger, and knew that there is no difference between our needs and destiny because everyone was there to protect the House of God.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CANADA FREE PRESS

Attack on Christians in Egypt Comes After a Pledge

EGYPT-1-articleLargeCAIRO — Police officers firing tear gas joined with a rock-throwing crowd fighting a group of Christian mourners Sunday in a battle that escalated into an attack on Egypt’s main Coptic Christian Cathedral that lasted for hours.

It was the third day of an outburst of sectarian violence that is testing the pledges of Egypt’s Islamist president to protect the country’s Christian minority. By nightfall, at least one person had died from the day’s clashes, bringing the weekend’s death toll to six.

Later Sunday, President Mohamed Morsi called the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, to reassure him. “I consider any aggression against the cathedral an aggression against me personally,” Mr. Morsi said, according to state media.

The president ordered an investigation of the violence and instructed security forces “to protect the citizens inside the Cathedral,” state media reported, and he pledged to protect both Muslims and Christians.

The violence began Friday when a sectarian dispute in the town of Khusus outside Cairo escalated into a gunfight that killed four Christians and a Muslim — the first major episode of deadly sectarian violence since Mr. Morsi’s election last year. Hundreds of Christians and sympathetic Muslims gathered at the cathedral Sunday for the four Christians’ funeral, chanting for the removal from power of Mr. Morsi and his Islamist allies.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

On Coptic Christmas, Egyptian Christians voice guarded hope for the Future

copticThe reported failed attack on a church in Rafah on Monday, coinciding with Coptic Christmas, is not the kind of news that Father Mikhail wanted to wake up to. on Monday, coinciding with Coptic Christmas, is not the kind of news that Father Mikhail wanted to wake up to.

“It’s very sad that our church is still under attack and that Coptic families of Rafah are still being threatened by militant extremists,” said Father Mikhail of the Rafah Church. “But we have to be thankful for the good news: the army foiled the attempt.”

This Christmas morning, the Supreme Military Council’s Facebook page announced that army units stationed in Sinai had foiled an attempt to destroy the Rafah Church, which had faced repeated attacks by Islamist extremists within the past two years.

News of the foiled Rafah attack was disturbing for many Copts – even those far from Rafah. On his way to his parents’ house for Christmas lunch, local resident Ayman said he was “really disturbed” by the incident. “It’s a good thing the army is on alert and that it protected the church, but it’s sad that churches are still under threat.”

Attacks on churches have occurred intermitently during the past decade, especially in Alexandria and Upper Egypt. An attack on the Upper Egyptian Nagaa Hamadi Church on Coptic Christmas Eve four years ago left six Copts dead.

However, since ousted president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in early 2011, several churches have been attacked and burned. The most troubling of these were two consecutive attacks on churches in Imbaba, a low-income neighbourhood in Giza with a considerable Coptic presence.

These attacks were aggravated by the 9 October 2011 carnage in which military vehicles ran over and killed Coptic demonstrators protesting repeated attacks on churches and Copts.

“Sad as this attack on the Rafah Church is, and sad as the memories of 9 October and Nagaa Hamadi are, the fact remains that we’re here in our country celebrating Christmas among what I believe is unprecedented sympathy and warmth from Muslim friends and neighbours,” said Ayman.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AHRAM ONLINE