Look for the ‘true Egypt’

10-01-2015 02:52 PM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

surprise visit to St Mark’s Cathedral,Islamic phrases

Problems on hold

The saying goes that Egyptians love a happy celebration. The last few weeks marked a number of religious and non-religious events; Egyptians of all walks of life, no matter what religion they belonged to, celebrated every one of them with gusto. Christmas came on 25 December with New Year close on its heels, Mulid al-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet Muhammad) on 3 January, and Coptic Christmas on 7 January. Egyptians again confirmed their time-honoured tolerance and their respect of religious celebration no matter what that religion was; good wishes were in the air crowding cyberspace, telephone lines, and dominating chance meetings.

During the recent years, Islamic extremists have tried hard to persuade Muslims that it is non-Islamic to wish Christians well on the latter’s religious occasions. Love, however, has triumphed over hatred and social harmony over discrimination. A photograph among the most recently circulated over the social networks shows a veiled woman buying a statuette of Santa Claus while a few metres away a priest stands busy buying Halawet al-Mulid, the famous confectionary made especially for the Mulid al-Nabi. The photo brought on a deluge of heart-warming comments along the line that ‘this is the real Egypt’.

Last Tuesday evening, in a move unprecedented by any Egyptian head of State, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi paid a surprise visit to St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo to wish Copts a happy Christmas. It was Christmas Eve and Pope Tawadros II was presiding over Midnight Mass when the President, who had just returned home from a State visit to Kuwait, hastened into the Cathedral unannounced and went right up to greet the Pope. In very short, unembellished, obviously spontaneous words the beaming, joyful President wished Copts and all Egyptians Merry Christmas. He was truly Papa Noel spreading happiness around.

Such beautiful incidents wipe away the sorrow and distress we Christians have felt at the many fatwas—Islamic legal edicts—that ban Muslims from extending to us good wishes or sharing in our joy during Christmas, Easter, or any other religious occasion. Reasonable Muslims, and there are plenty of them, claim these fatwas stray away from moderate Islam, and run contrary to the tolerant nature of Egyptians. The fatwas attempt to break down the one fabric from which all Egyptians are cut, no matter their religion, by propagating alien notions which allege that Islam does not tolerate the other and that a true Muslim should not commit the sin of wishing Christians well or sharing in their joy on their religious events. As if to justify their fatwas, fanatics hasten to express their disdain and contempt of the Christian faith.

Ironically, when an attempt was made by some Islamic scholars to beautify the face of the notorious fatwa it merely accentuated its ugliness. The compromise they offered was a corrective fatwa that said: “You may extend good wishes to Christians on their religious events once you use Islamic phrases”. So a good Muslim needs to absolve himself or herself from the sin of extending good wishes to a Christian neighbour, colleague or friend when the latter is celebrating a religious day. The ‘Islamic phrases’ are the vaccine that would guard against the impurity, and ensure virtue and non-corruption. But apart from the irony, it is very sad that the fatwa implicitly rejects the tolerance that is part and parcel of the Egyptian character and culture, and the social legacy that has led to coexistence, love and harmony among all the people of Egypt. It effectively subjects all communication or social rapport to the test of whether or not it conforms to Islam.

Fact on the ground is that Egypt is fine, and that Egyptians have proved time and again they do not need—in fact they simply throw behind their backs—fanatic and extremist fatwas. The recent Muslim and Christian religious events came and went, and all Egyptians celebrated together and exchanged good wishes without the least sensitivity. Neither Muslims resorted to ‘Muslim’ phrases, nor Christians to ‘Christian’ phrases; they all used Egyptian phrases that overflowed with love, joy and good cheer. This is the true Egypt of all times, who survived her post-Arab Spring Islamic dominion, and prised herself out of the clutches of radicalism and fanaticism. Back to the photo of the veiled woman buying Santa Claus and the priest buying Halawet al-Mulid: no trace of any extraordinary moral there, what makes it so worthy of praise is the climate of fanaticism that lurks around. Rather, the photo depicts natural, spontaneous Egyptian behaviour; this indeed is the true Egypt.

Watani International
11 January 2015

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