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.