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Accepting the other: a way of life

Robeir al-Faris - Maged Samir

29 Dec 2012 11:24 am

This week marks the arbaein, the passage of 40 days, since Milad Hanna (1924 – 2012) passed away

The writer, politician and intellectual Milad Hanna, one of the most prominent columnists on Watani during the 1980s, passed away some 40 days ago. The former member of parliament was 88.
Dr Hanna’s death is a great loss to Egypt. He epitomised the principle of accepting the other, and he used to say that every person is born with a special blend of character and cultural heritage that makes him or her unique, and that warrants respect. 
Born in 1924 in Cairo, Milad Hanna earned a degree in Architecture form Cairo University in 1945 and from 1945 to 1947, he lectured at Alexandria University.  In 1950 he received a PhD from St Andrews University in Scotland, and afterwards worked as assistant manager with the Roads and Bridges Authority, supervising the construction of the Sohag-Akhmim Bridge in Upper Egypt. In 1953 Dr Hanna moved to Ain Shams University to teach road planning.
Prestegious institutions
In 1985 Dr Hanna was appointed to parliament by President Mubarak, where he headed the parliamentary Committee of Housing and Planning until 1987. He was a member of many prestigious intellectual institutions including the International Association of Bridge Engineers of Zurich; the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures in Madrid; the American Concrete Institute in New York; and the Egyptian Higher Council of Culture. 
Dr Hanna won several international awards. In 1998 he won three awards including the Pride of Egypt from the Association of Reporters and Foreign journalists, the Swiss Polar Star and the International Simón Bolívar Prize. In 1999 he was awarded the Egyptian State Prize for Social Science.
Dr Hanna’s studies and experience in architecture greatly influenced his outstanding array of publications. In 1978 Dr Hanna wrote his first book, Uridu Maskan…Mushkila Laha Hal (I Want A House…A Problem that Has an Answer), published by Rose al-Youssef, in which he offered solutions to housing problems and tackled the issues of urban expansion.
The housing issue preoccupied Dr Hanna for much of his career, and he wrote several books and papers on the subject. “Studies and Working Papers on Housing Issues in Egypt” was published by parliament in 1985, while his 1988 book Al-Iskaan wal-Masyada (Housing and The Trap) was published by Future House, and in 1991 Hagat al-Insan al-Arabi lil-Iskan wal-Kesaa (The Arab’s Need For Housing And Clothing) was published by the Arab Institute for Planning in Kuwait to coincide with a series of lectures about the main needs of the Arab world. The General Egyptian Book Organisation published Dr Hanna’s Al-Iskan wal- Siyaasa (Housing and Politics), which won the prize for best book in social studies at the Cairo Book Fair in 1995. 
Coptic patriot 
Dr Hanna wrote extensively about national unity and humanitarian integration between Muslims and Copts in Egypt. In 1980, the Madbouli bookshop brought out Naam Aqbat…Lakin Misryoun (Yes Copts… But Egyptians) in which he referred to different situations that proved the patriotic role played by Copts in Egypt. He rejected the idea of limiting Copts to the Church, and denied that the pope represented Copts politically.
One of Dr Hanna’s most notable books was Zikrayat Septemberiya (September Memories), in which he reviewed the experience of the agony and pain felt by 1,350 Egyptians in 1981 when they were detained by President Anwar al-Sadat. The detainees included the late Pope Shenouda III, eight bishops and 24 priests. Dr Hanna was one of the few people who rejected President Sadat’s claim hat he was ‘an Islamic president of an Islamic State’. Several parts of this book were published in Watani. 
In his book Al-Ameda al-Sabaa Lil-Shakhsiya al-Misriya (The Seven Pillars of the Egyptian Identity) he focused on Egypt and all categories of Egyptians, presenting an image of Egypt as a centre for different civilisations, something that influenced its people and made it unique. 
According to Dr Hanna, the Egyptian identity has been influenced by both time and space.Milad Hanna2.jpg Time means history, with an accumulation of four layers of civilisation: Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic. Egypt is the only country in the world that has this cumulative civilisation, rich in diversity and pluralism.
As to space, or geographical position, Egypt lies in the heart of the Arab world, overlooking the Mediterranean yet a vital part of Africa. This gives Egypt three geographical pillars. Dr Hanna documented and summarised those seven pillars (four historical and three geographical) in this book.
Recognising other religions
Among Dr Hanna’s books, Quboul al-Akhar (Accepting The Other) published in 1988. It won Best Book Award at that year’s Cairo International Book Fair, as well as the International Simón Bolívar Prize.
On his personal experiences, Dr Hanna says in his book:  “I was brought up in a pious, middle class family in Shubra, Cairo. When I was young I was an altar boy, and in my teenage I was greatly involved in the church where I learnt a lot about Christianity. Accordingly, I became a stronger believer in Christianity in general and specifically in the Orthodox Church. I realised that there are three heavenly religions, and that they are closely and historically related. It was also important to study by heart some verses from the Qur’an, since it is part of the Egyptian culture. In 1947, when I was studying at St Andrews University, I was introduced to a Chinese colleague, and it was the first time I had interacted with a culture and religion totally different from the three I knew. At that time I discovered that the religious categorisation I learnt in Shubra was not the ideal one, and that the world is full of people with different ethnicities and religions.”
The editors at Watani recall that, the day following the notorious 9/11 bombing Dr Hanna called and said he would like to contribute to the paper a column on acceptance of the other. Watani printed the contribution, both in Arabic and in English, the following Sunday. The words of the author were almost prophetic; he realised that the world was embarking on a phase where acceptance of the other would be of the utmost importance for global peace. “I cannot help wondering how the catastrophe of last Tuesday might affect every country,” Dr Hanna wrote, “inducing it to replace hatred with love. None of us has had the choice of being born into a certain race, language, or religion. That is why we need cultural and religious dialogue between different nations in order to resolve and dissolve our differences.”
WATANI International
30 December 2012


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