A candle in the darkness of fanaticism

09-01-2012 01:03 PM

Nash’at Abul-Kheir


Acting on a personal initiative that reflects an intrinsic Egyptian tolerance, Mamdouh Rashad, the headmaster of Andalus and Higaz Primary School in Asafra, Alexandria, decided to take a number of students, along with several veiled teachers, to visit the local Two Saints Church.

WATANI International

8 January 2012

 

  

Acting on a personal
initiative that reflects an intrinsic Egyptian tolerance, Mamdouh Rashad, the
headmaster of Andalus and Higaz Primary School in Asafra, Alexandria, decided to take a number of
students, along with several veiled teachers, to visit the local Two Saints
Church.

Mr Rashad first obtained the
permission of the students’ parents, who responded positively to the idea. Then
he wrote to the priest at Two Saints, Fr Badaba Bekhit Shenouda, to ask if they
could visit. Fr Badaba replied with approval.

And so, on the scheduled
day, the procession of 20 girls and boys, teachers and their headmaster headed
from the school to the church. The children carried a bouquet of flowers.  The younger ones were slightly wary, but once
they stepped inside the church Fr Badaba’s welcoming smile helped dispel any
fears.  He took them on a tour of the
church and explained something about the Coptic language, icons and history.
The children listened attentively. Some of them asked the pastor to light
candles before the icon of the Holy Virgin. Then they all sat in a friendly
circle round Fr Badaba to exchange comments. Before the children left, Fr
Badaba presented them with chocolate, candies and souvenirs pens.

 

Exchanging
gifts

Watani talked to Mr
Rashad about his unusual experiment, and found him deeply preoccupied with the
current anguish in his homeland. Growing up as he did in a house overlooking
the Church of the Holy Virgin in Muharram Bey, Alexandria, he spent his early years in a
climate that did not differentiate between Muslim and Christian. “I used to
play with some very dear Coptic friends in the church backyard,” he said.

When he
became a teacher he vowed to implant the seeds of love, tolerance, and
accepting the other in his small pupils, Muslims and Christians. He looked on
them all equally, without discrimination.

 

It was the
tragic Maspero incident on 9 October that led to the church visit. On the day
after the massacre, Mr Rashad was dismayed when all his Christian students
stayed away from school. “I thought, suppose the Muslims in this country were
the minority, would they put up with living like this? And why are Muslim
students afraid of priests and churches, and why, especially, are they
frequently told that priests practise ‘magic and sorcery’ in church and that
priests wear black because they are grieving for Egypt?”

Mr Rashad
knew young Muslims were fed false and misleading ideas about Christianity, and
felt someone had to correct this. “I am afraid for Egypt’s future, so I decided to
write to the priest asking to let us visit the church to change these false
impressions. “  

Even though
the children had some apprehensions before the visit, they thoroughly enjoyed
it and afterwards they told their colleagues and parents. Some parents asked
for copies of the DVD made of the visit.

 

Love and tolerance

Mr Rashad
plans more visits to other churches with further groups of students. And he
adds that half the fathers who approved their children’s visits were bearded,
but that when there is love and tolerance, there is no fanaticism. The visit,
Mr Rashad said, had a festive air with the exchange of gifts and sense of
cordiality. “We gave roses, and we were given chocolate and biscuits.   

“What I
did, I did out of love for Egypt. I wish Egypt would
rise above it all, and love and tolerance would spread,” he added.

He believes
that sectarian sedition has blown up because “ignorance is the scourge of the
people. Exchanging visits can only engender good relations.”

Fr Badaba
told Watani that when he received Mr
Rashad’s letter, “I saw a candle lit in the darkness of fanaticism.”

He added:
“I always dreamt of a joint work that would gather Muslims with Christians,
such as seminars and meetings in schools, cultural palaces and sports clubs.
But unfortunately there have been problems about security with holding such
meetings.”

Yet all it
took was one move by one enlightened headmaster.

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