|Wednesday, April 30,2008 05:53|
|By Sameh Fawzy|
Last Christmas eve, I received a surprise telephone call from Mr Mohamed Mahdy Akef, the Supreme Guide of Muslim Brotherhood. He passed his greetings on to me and my family on this occasion and wished me a prosperous life.
This call and other calls I received from Islamists undoubtedly had a positive impact on me. I also heard that other Coptic activists and intellectuals in public life received similar greeting calls. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Dr. Rafik Habib, a prominent Coptic intellectual close to the Muslim Brotherhood, in which I stressed that if Islamists seriously want to assure Copts about their religious freedom, they must practically contribute to the genuine co-existence between Muslims and Christians. Actions sometimes speak louder than words.
Before Easter, the newspapers reported on a "leaflet" widely circulated in some provinces, mainly in the governorate of Menufiya, including a fatwa (religious edict) calling on Muslims not to celebrate Sham El Nessim, or the spring feast, because they are not allowed to take part in infidels" celebrations.
It is clear that the infidels in this context are the Christians. This leaflet and its warning message, presumably brokered by extremist Islamists was ignored by the whole society. A number of Islamic scholars and Sheikhs refuted it, stressing that Sham Al Nessim has no Christian roots, and more importantly they called on Muslims to extend their greetings to their Coptic fellows on the occasion of Easter.
Egyptian television stations reported on how Muslim clerics visited churches to greet their Coptic neighbors. On Sham El Nessim Muslims spent the day in public gardens and parks, deciding not to allow anybody to steal a moment of happiness from them falsely in the name of Islam.
A journalist belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood told me a few days before Easter not to expect any greeting calls on Easter from Islamists, especially his Islamic group.
"The Muslim Brotherhood believes that Jesus Christ was born, but they don"t believe in His resurrection. Accordingly, its leaders find no problem in congratulating Copts on Christmas, but they will not contradict their own Islamic beliefs by extending their greetings to Copts on Easter," he said.
To me his words meant that political Islam recognizes religious diversity from an Islamic perspective rather than a citizenship-based perspective. Islamists treat Copts well not because they see them as full-fledged citizens sharing Muslims’ life and sovereignty in this country, but because Islam demands the good treatment of those who follow different faiths. Accordingly, they greet Copts only on occasions which do not contradict Islamic teachings.
I often hear from Islamists that they cannot extend their greetings to Christians during religious celebrations like Easter because this would constitute a de facto confession that it is true, while according to Islam, Jesus was neither crucified nor resurrected.
My happiness was two-fold; first because I realized that some Islamists were aware of the "distance" between inner faith and public life, and second because calls by extremist were completely ignored.
What happened, although some people might see it as artificial, was a step towards reaching a modern society that respects religion, but without making specific beliefs a dominant factor in interfaith-relationships, even if they belong to the majority of the population.
In a modern society based on citizenship, each religious community determines its celebrations and the whole political body witnesses, respects and celebrates such occasions on the basis of reciprocity. It is inconceivable in a multi-religious society to favor the religious perception of the majority as a pretext to strip the religious minority of the right to have their celebrations officially recognized and publicly witnessed.
I always criticize political Islamists, but I have never thought that their exclusion would lead to the well-being of Egyptian society. However, political Islam has done little to assuage the fears of a great proportion of Christians and Muslims as well. Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, have to make a clear distinction between the dawaa (spreading the message of Islam) and the political process.
Sameh Fawzyis an Egyptian journalist, PhD researcher, and specialist on governance and citizenship.