9 May 2010
Our reading of the Cairo papers this week takes us to the Islamic monthly al-Mukhtar al-Islami (Islamic Selections), the mouthpiece of al-Mukhtar al-Islami Society, a NGO registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity. This month’s issue included an article under the title “Treat captives as you do Christians”, written by Mohamed Abbas. In a recent issue of “Copts in the Egyptian Press”, Watani wrote about a previous article by Abbas in al-Mukhtar al-Islami in which he described churches as ‘fortresses and arms stores’, and about his notorious history of inciting hatred against Copts and against liberal thought.
Provoking Muslim anger
In last month’s article, Abbas claims Copts are ‘pampered’ by the State, and wishes members of the Muslim Brotherhood detained in prisons should be treated the same as Copts—hence the title of the article. The article, which is jammed with inconsistencies, focuses on Coptic monasteries, claiming they possess vast lands. These lands, surrounded by high fencing walls, are but military barracks, according to Abbas, and the monks are the Church’s armed militias. He ‘confirms’ his idea, by stressing that monasteries include keeps. This is of course true in case of all old or ancient monasteries when monks where threatened by outlaws who used to regularly attack the monasteries in hope of finding treasures. Abbas volunteers the hypothesis that the fate of Muslims in Egypt—at the hand of Copts—will resemble that of Palestinians at the hand of Jews. The article provokes Muslim anger against Copts and their monasteries, even though monasteries and convents have invariably gone down in Egyptian collective conscience as sites of peace and charity. Anyone in their right senses will see the article as some form of dark comedy, but there is no denying that many poorly-informed Muslims will be infuriated by what they read in it and, worse, will question all the peaceful, charitable thoughts they always had of monasteries. Now monasteries and monks are left at large, possessing vast property and power, while Muslim Brotherhood members are behind bars. What more effective way to spread vintage hatred of Copts?
A major news item was recently published by the weekly independent al-Khabar al-Arabiya. Its title read “Alieddin Hilal calls on banning the forced memorisation of Qur’an by Christian students”. Hilal is a leading figure in the ruling National Democratic Party and a prominent rights activist. Al-Khabar al-Arabiya was reporting on a seminar on “Education and citizenship” organised by the Modern Education Union, during which Hilal expressed his rejection of the practice of obliging Christian students to study off by heart verses from Qur’an as part of the Arabic curriculum in all key stages. Hilal commented that, since nothing in Islam imposes on non-Muslims to learn the Qur’an, forcing Christian students to memorise it amounted to pure injustice. No system in the West, Hilal said, imposed the Bible on Muslim students.
Not the pyramids
Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament Ahmed Fathy Sorour said, during a recent visit to the newly-appointed Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyib, that Egypt is known worldwide not for its pyramids but for al-Azhar. The statement was printed in the daily independent al-Shorouq. Ramy Atta later wrote in the weekly al-Qahira, published by the Culture Ministry, denouncing Sorour’s description of Egypt. He stressed that Egypt cannot be known for al-Azhar alone, it is famous for its Pharaonic civilisation, the Coptic Church, and Cairo University. Believing in diversity, wrote Atta, implies accepting the other. Our comment is that Sorour’s words walk the line of Islamising everything in Egyptians’ lives and, coming from the speaker of the Parliament, is utterly unacceptable.
On to the visual media, where the talk-show Harb al-Nogoum (War of the Stars) broadcast by al-Pharaeen satellite TV channel recently hosted Abu- Islam Ahmed Abdallah, commonly known as Abu-Islam. Abu-Islam is the head of the Islamic enlightenment centre and the Islamic academy for comparative religion studies. He vociferously attacked Christianity on air, describing it as a pagan religion, and calling upon Muslims not to congratulate Christians on their feast days since that would be tantamount to embracing polytheism. Since al-Pharaeen is a moderate channel, and since I personally know Ahmed Rifaat, the open-minded editor of the talk show, I phoned him to enquire about the incident. He told me: “We hosted Abu-Islam during a show on non-religious feasts, such as Mother’s day, Valentine’s, and Shamm al-Nessim (the Egyptian feast of Spring). While on air, Abu-Islam deliberately attacked and insulted Christianity out of any context. We could do nothing because we were on air. But we later hosted a number of Islamic scholars who strongly denounced Abu-Islam’s words, insisting he knew nothing about real Islam and that what he said achieved no more than deepening the rift between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians.