Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why did I feel bad telling my friends 'Merry Christmas?

I am not the kind of person that thinks twice before greeting non-Muslims on their Holy day.  Most people I know would greet me on my Islamic religious events.  Verse 4:86 of the Quran commands me that if I am greeted, I should respond with a better greeting, or at last, a similar one.
But this year I hesitated before calling my Egyptian Christian friends to tell them 'Merry Christmas' on January 7, the Egyptian Orthodox Christian Christmas day.
The reason is that for Egyptian Christians, Christmas came in the heels of a bloody New Year's Eve in which a dozen Copts were slaughtered by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, Egypt.  The victims were coming out of one of the Orthodox churches of Alexandria.  Over seventy were injured; nearly all of them Christians.
The suicide bomber's body has not been identified yet, but I hope his soul rots in Hell for what he did.
I pain I felt in my heart was profound, no less than the pain when I hear about the almost 'regularly-scheduled-massacres' that the criminal fundamentalist 'Muslims-in-name only' terrorists have been committing on weekly basis as Muslim worshiper, of a different sect than their own, are coming out of mosques after Muslim Friday Prayers.  Many such explosions also involved churches in Iraq with dozens of deaths among Iraqi Christians.
The value of human life is the same, no matter what faith it belongs to (Quran 5:32).  The pain of the senseless loss exacted in the name of my faith is the same.  I would hesitate before telling a Muslim friend Happy Ramadan, or Happy New Hijri Year if they have just lost a loved one, or if their family has been targeted by hateful criminals, just because they had a different skin color, ethnicity or a different faith. 
For Egyptian Christians it cannot a happy New Year, or a Merry Christmas when they are in the shadow of blood shed and slaughter that any of them could have suffered it they were there – horror inflicted against them all for nothing other than being faithful to the religion of their parents and grandparents.
The pain for the loss of lives on New Years Eve hurts me even more since I was born and raised in Egypt.  I know how Egyptians felt and thought those days when I was much younger, and I see how Egypt is progressively drowning deep in hate and fanaticism that is destroying Egyptian society.
Egyptian Christians are a minority, and hence they are easy targets for those who think that discriminating against Christians is, in some twisted minds, form of piety, forgetting the timeless wisdom of Prophet Muhammad saying during the last few months of his life: "He who hurts one of the people of the covenant [a term used for Christians and Jews living among Muslims], I would be his adversary [on the Day of Judgment]".
"من آذى ذميا فأنا خصمه"
The Prophet peace be upon him also said: "Whomever kills one of the people of the covenant, shall not even get a whiff of Paradise".
Life for Christians in Egypt is far from ideal.  The government systematically discriminates against them most of the time (e.g., in high ranking posts in the military and major ministerial cabinet positions), and conveniently turns a blind eye towards discrimination against them committed by educational institutions (e.g., getting university tenured positions) and occasionally by private individuals,  
And with the same government ruling with iron fist, limiting freedom of expression and harassing opposition - both religious and secular - the tensions among Egyptians are rising higher and higher on daily basis, additionally fuelled by the extreme economic hardship.
And under these circumstances, unfortunately, Christians tend to become the easy target for many Muslims.  But there is more to it than just politics. 
Many Muslim clergy have found it easier to pick on Christians and on Christianity than to confront the government with its injustices.  Confronting authority with their wrong doings and their injustices is Islamically the highest form of Jihad and pious deeds, as Prophet Muhammad said.
"أن من اعظم الجهاد كلمة حق عند سلطان جائر"
But standing up to injustice, as the Prophet has commanded us, usually means bad outcome for those clergy.  It may mean less time in the media, and goes all the way to jail, detention or worse.  So, it is a lot easier to 'express their religious zeal' by picking on a weaker target: minority people of other faith. 
That is obviously a cowardly thing to do, but for the opportunists and demagogue clergy, it is a safer bet.
If anything good may come out of these horrible events, it may be the heightened awareness of the role of the Muslim clergy in the incitement against Christians.  Maybe, just maybe, it becomes a less tolerated practice in the future.
Over the last few days, voices have come out calling for the prosecution of several clergy (namely, Zaghloul Al-Naggar, Muhammad Saleem Al-Aw'wa and Muhammad Emara) for their persistent provocative and hate-filled statements against Christians.  I really hope some serious action will be taken against them.
As academics, they cannot be excused under the pretense of academic freedom. Their statements over the years were aimed at the public more than as a discourse before students of graduate theology classes.  They were expected to know that laity and predominantly illiterate public could not handle what those clergy think of as 'factual statements'.  They know that the public lacks the nuances to see their provocative anti-Christian statements with the appropriate qualifiers and constraints.
Pseudo-intellectual and even blatantly biased statements may be occasionally tolerated in a room full of informed academics and graduate students.  But for angry, oppressed and ill-informed public, such statements are like pouring gasoline on fire.  And, unfortunately, we have seen where that took us.
In the end, I called many of my Coptic friends, congratulated them – awkwardly - on their Christmas, and expressed my sorrow for their loss, which is also MY loss on many levels.
The guilt is not mine but the pain is, and part of the shame too.


  1. I think we -Egyptian Muslims- as a group have to show our compassion towards Egyptian Christian on the heel of this incident. I feel so bad, and embarrassed to do that. In the mean time it would be a very bad precedent if I -or we- don't even show how we feel about what happened. I think this blog, and others' is a good start but I feel we should do more for this occasion, and to try to change thing so that we eventually eliminate these non-sense acts of terror.

  2. As Christians, we greatly appreciate the concern of our Muslim friends, expressed in Khaled's article and Kamal's comment above. It's all too easy to sway the masses of uneducated people in any nation and it's sad to see that occuring in Egypt. -- Sue and Harry

  3. I always tell my friends that you are born into a religion. When my Christian friends asks me why am I Christian. My response to them is that; I am a Christian because my parents are Christians. If my parents are Muslims; I would be a Muslim.
    We are basically born into a religion. It is a shame that we still discriminate on the basis of religion.

  4. Sode: You are correct about that: we are born in out faith most of the time, and never bother too consider anything else. Moreover, we are born into an ethnic and national group, and yet many of us will pick on someone from a different ethnicity or nationality (racism, supremacy, nationalism, etc), even though we did not choose ours, nor that anyone can do anything about it either.
    'Pickin on the different other': it is in our DNA.

  5. i do not understand why our identity is related to our religious affinity anyway, i mean, why does it say on my national ID : muslim? how does that make any difference with anyone?? Being a Muslim, a Christian , or of any other religion only means that i chose to adopt certain manners and values to interpret things that surround me and hence react to it in the most plausible way in my idea of how things should be..
    I think this is the way it was thought of in Egypt for years, and then all of a sudden, all this was soaked in political tension, and then the media started feeding the fire.. i dont know what really is going on anymore from all the blur that the Egyptian media created about it...
    and now after what happened with Tunis, and the lens of the media is onto something else, it seemed like this "muslim, christian" tension that was supposedly there wasnt even there from the first place..??

  6. Salma: I agree with you that no official documents should have any religious identifiers. But I do not think it will solve the problems.
    'Truly' religious individuals certainly have religion as major element of the 'core' identity: rules of morality, manners, behavior, dealing with others, work ethics, improving the world around them are all related to religion for many people. And that constitutes their identity.
    Unfortunately, for most of the others, religion is more like a badge - a club membership card that is a status symbol that does not oblige you to anything (although it may grant you some benefits in the right circumstances).
    It is more or less like race and ethnicity in the mind of a racist. And for those ones, they will show their 'badge' whether it is also on the actual ID card or not (car stickers, pendants, style of facial hair and garment, tattoos, etc.).
    It is a mind set, and is unfortunately in the way people are brought up. I am not hopeful there is a fix anytime soon.