The ties of love, affection, coexistence and sharing that have for long bonded Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, will remain the backbone that supports the nation and safeguards it against any stumbling blocks. The nation stands on the solid ground of a modern civic State based on the citizenship concepts which place all Egyptians on equal footing in rights and duties before the law. But this does not imply that no incidents would occur to shatter social peace; such events crop up from time to time, necessitating swift intervention to mend fences.
Every so often, the social arena may witness angry eruptions as fanatics flaunt their extremist thought or fatwas. These could have very well been ignored had we not been living the golden age of social media that picks on every trifle of news and fires it up to create heated controversy which might very well be detrimental to social peace. At this point, leaders and elders must quickly intervene to contain matters and bring them back to order.
The Grand Iman of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb who sits at the head of the world’s topmost authority on Sunni Islam, is among the figures strongly called upon to play a key role when intervention is needed, especially given that such intervention is closely linked to the aspired reform of [Islamic] religious address. Recently, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which began on 2 April this year, a number of fatwas and religious behaviour surfaced that claimed to adhere to Islamic teachings but were hostile towards non-Muslims; in which case they threatened and disrupted social peace. Sheikh Tayyeb graciously took the initiative to respond to them and to explain that these were not correct Islamic teachings. In this regard, the Grand Imam made a number of declarations.
Sheikh Tayyeb said that Islam perceives non-Muslims, be they Christians or Jews, from a perspective of affection, brotherly love and humanity. He said that citizenship rights do not change according to religion or sect; all are equal in rights and duties, he said, and this forms the basis of relations among Egyptians. This equality, Sheikh Tayyeb insisted, is the foundation of the modern State. Affection and brotherliness represent a broad field that brings together people of different religions, endowing their equality before the law with a profound human character.
According to the Grand Imam, the right of all citizens to observe their religious rites, and defend their singularity is self-evident, as long as they are equal regardless of their religion or belief. There is absolutely no room, Sheikh Tayyeb said, for any group to exercise custody over another, because both groups are citizens bound by the Constitution and answerable to the law.
Sheikh Tayyeb stressed that imposing restrictions on Christians when it comes to building churches is not an Islamic teaching, but has grounds in old traditions, but not in the Qur’an or the sunna of Prophet Mohamed.
Sheikh Tayyeb said that restricting Christians in their food and drink during the daytime in Ramadan, under the pretext that it is a time of fasting [Muslims fast from dawn to sunset], is an absurdity that does not relate to Islam.
Comment: Let me point out that although Muslims are not to restrict Christians in their food and drink during daytime in Ramadan, the affection and brotherly love which Christians bear for Muslims, induces Christians to be tactful and to refrain from eating or drinking in public, in respect of the Muslims’ fast. On the other hand, Christians must realise that if many coffee shops and restaurants close during daytime in Ramadan, and accordingly refrain from offering food and drink, it does not necessarily mean that they are boycotting Christians, but probably comes as a result of serving customers all through the night and until dawn, hence the need to give staff enough time to rest before they resume work the following evening.
The Grand Imam said that calls to forbid extending good wishes to Christians for their feasts, eating from their food, supporting them in distress or sharing their joy, reflect extremist thought that does not in any way relate to Islam.
According to Sheikh Tayyeb, building a mosque in front of a church upsets Christians, and represents an uncalled-for harm. He said he was against building a church in front of a mosque, explaining that this also upsets Muslims and represents a form of harm and restriction. To all those, Sheikh Tayyeb said: God’s land is vast, meaning that building mosques or churches did not have to be in spots that might upset anyone; they could be built elsewhere.
Comment and reproach: If Sheikh Tayyeb would allow me, let me ask him, when did building a mosque in front of a church upset Christians? And when did building a church in front of a mosque upset Muslims? Throughout Egypt’s history, in many places in various regions, cities, villages and towns, mosques and churches existed next to one another. The spirit of affection and brotherliness among Egyptians welcomed and celebrated the proximity of mosques and churches. Although we have lived through times where legislation complicated the building of churches next to mosques, this was never the original state of affairs. Now with the 2014 Constitution, and the new law for the building, restoration and legalising the status of churches, matters are back to their usual moderate conditions. I believe we would not be serving the affection among Egyptians if we sow seeds that promote the thought of Christians being upset by a mosque, or Muslims by a church. Let all mosques exist next to churches, and let us enjoy the distinctive spirit of Egypt and Egyptians.
28 April 2022