Problems on hold
I do not usually boil with anger when Christianity comes under attack; I believe that Christianity is sufficiently solid and well founded to fend for itself. Anyone who has questions or criticism regarding Christianity need only resort to the Holy Bible and history books for answers. Alternatively, one may freely debate the topic with the scholars, without undue sensitivity. The question has nothing to do with conversion, which the community may frown upon, but with familiarising oneself with the Christian faith and dogma. Knowing about the faith embraced by others while respecting their devotion and rites is a worthy practice that leads to peaceful coexistence and intermingling; our different faiths should not stand in the way of social peace.
In Egypt, Muslims who mean well try to learn from us about our Christian faith, rituals, feasts and prayers; and we willingly inform them. Ill-intentioned individuals or extremists, however, do not come to us with any questions nor do they seek to understand; instead, they shoot toxic arrows at our sanctities, oblivious of the pain they cause by intentionally disdaining the faith of their fellow citizens.
I care to again stress that I do not tackle the long-placed-on-hold issue of the disdain of Christianity out of zeal for Christianity; the God of the Christian faith is perfectly capable of defending it. The scope of the disdain does not alarm me; it is its implication that does. Common allegations that attack Christianity by claiming that the Bible has been misquoted or that Christians are polytheists because they worship a Trinity do not trouble me; the fanaticism behind them does. I am not outraged at the sight of the smashing of a cross or the burning of a Bible because I can recognise that these deeds are done by confused, misled souls.
What I tackle today is how the community and the law deal with deeds that disdain religions and creeds and ruin social peace. Sensing the potential threat, Egyptian legislators made ‘disdain of religions’ a crime punishable by law. According to the Constitution, law, and principle of equality, anyone who derides Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or any other faith should be charged with disdain of religion.
On the ground, however, no such equality exists. If a Muslim attacks Christianity, no matter how viciously, his action goes unchecked and no one lifts a finger against him. If, however, a Copt dares so much as to have an image on his mobile phone that is deemed disdainful of Islam, the entire Coptic community is subjected to harsh collective punishment by mobs that attack and torch their homes, businesses, and churches, egged on by inflammatory hate speech broadcast through mosque microphones.
It is a fact on the ground that disdain of Christianity is widespread in Egypt, propagated through mosque microphones, Islamic studies, Islamic books, and a number of media outlets. But the matter reached new heights with the publication of a recent booklet authored by Muhammad Emara, advisor to the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, in which he describes Christianity as a “failed religion”. The booklet was distributed as a complimentary gift by the monthly Al-Azhar magazine, the mouthpiece of the venerable Islamic institution of al-Azhar, in its most recent issue. Not a Muslim voice was raised in protest, not a mention of ‘disdain of religion’.
It is obvious that flagrant inequality governs the issue. Alleged disdain of Islam is met with exaggerated, harsh penalties; whereas disdain of Christianity is met with a blind eye. The violent response to an image on the mobile phone of a young man in no way compares to the dubious silence vis-à-vis a flagrant offence by a public figure who moreover acts as advisor to the Grand Imam of al-Azhar and whose offence was published by no less a media outlet than al-Azhar’s magazine.
As a community that venerates religions, we in Egypt rejected western calls for limitless freedom of expression and creativity; we imposed constraints on these freedoms lest they be used to defame religion and belief. We instated ‘disdain of religion’ as a crime in order to defend and maintain social peace. So why do we use double standards when it comes to practice?
21 June 2015