On an unprecedented occasion last week, Minya Governor General Ahmed Diaa Eddin, and parliamentary and executive leaders gathered to attend the simultaneous consecration of a church and a mosque in the village of Beni Ghani, where Muslims represent 60 per cent of the population and Copts 40 per cent. Celebrating in a warm family atmosphere, Muslims and Copts together inaugurated both the Evangelical church and the Wastaani mosque. The villagers were determined to banish hatred and prejudice and deflect the acts of violence that often occur owing to sectarian tension, so they held the opening ceremony for both places of worship at the same time. In so doing they managed to convey a message to the whole country on how to fight fanaticism and support convivial relations.
The original church was built in 1907 but cracked during the 1992 earthquake. “Since then the congregation has not prayed in there, but has been waiting for approval from the governorate to demolish and rebuild the church,” Father Bahaa’ Rashad of the Evangelical church said. The Church acquired the necessary licences at the end of 2005, and construction began the following year—just as work started on restoring the Wastaani mosque 300 metres away. And since the residents of Beni Ghani are on friendly terms with one another, they decided to inaugurate the church and the mosque at the same time.
“The mosque was being restored at the same time the church was being rebuilt,” said Ali Hassan Soliman who heads Nahdet Beni Ghani NGO and supervised the construction work in the mosque. “When we ran short of any material, such as wood for instance, the church would help us out, and we naturally reciprocated.” The mosque was supposed to be inaugurated at the Eid al-Adha (the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice) last December, but when the bus belonging to the Evangelical church was involved in a crash they had to delay the consecration of the church. They told us to go ahead with our plans for the mosque, but we refused and waited to inaugurate both together and celebrate together,” Soliman said.
Sheikh Mohamed Khalaf, who helped officiate at the opening of the mosque, stressed the importance of strengthening relations between the people of the same village and the same country regardless of their belief. He said that if we are to teach future generations the value of tolerance we need to be good role models ourselves.
Hand in hand
Nasrallah Labib, a member of the Better Life Association said civil societies played an important role and, together with the clerics, exerted much effort to make the village of Beni Ghani an ideal for neighbouring towns and villages to aspire to. Its organisations include various civil societies and associations such as Nahdet Beni Ghani and the Better Life, as well as the village council which assembles together Muslims and Copts who cooperate to support their small community by establishing schools, clinics, hospitals and trading centres.
The ceremony began at the church with the song, “Blessed be my people Egypt”, after which they all went to inaugurate the mosque. For the people of Beni Ghani it was a village holiday.
Labib said that not one Muslim had opposed the rebuilding of the church or the celebration of its inauguration.
Blessed by all religions
General Amr Ahmed Hussein, who heads Samalout town council, told Watani he was indeed cheered by the positive attitude of the people of Beni Ghani. He was impressed by the sight of Muslims taking part in the consecration of a church and then all of them moving on to inaugurate the mosque, all the time exchanging jokes, laughs and smiles.
The people of Beni Ghani spent a day in a family atmosphere far removed from pretence and a show of compliments. Since the organisers had not planned to invite journalists or TV cameras to the inauguration, the ceremonies are to be repeated on the annual Minya Day to bring the event of Beni Ghani, which so successfully countered hatred and fanaticism, to the attention of the entire nation.