While Egypt is a Muslim majority country, it has a significant Christian minority, about 10% of the population. Although relations between the groups have fluctuated over time, recent trends have unfortunately been towards increased tension. With the recent shootings on January 6th, the Coptic Christmas Eve, outside a church in southern Egypt, many are worried about an increase in violence. What is ironic and sad about the situation is that many Muslim and Christians have friends from both religions and share many common cultural traditions. Moreover, both faiths call on their believers to demonstrate tolerance and kindness towards others.
On January 6th, six Coptic Christians and a Muslim policeman were killed when three men fired on a crowd in a shopping area and then went to Mary Guirguis Church. According to the New York Times, two of the shooters were related to a Muslim girl who had been raped by a Christian man. This shooting was said to be retaliation for the rape. After the shooting, protests were held by both Christians and Muslims with Christians saying that the attack was an act of persecution and Muslims protesting the rape.
Whatever the motivations and reasons behind both acts of violence, the problem is that these two groups share so much in terms of culture and history. For example, my mother, an Egyptian, often related that growing up she never felt tension between the groups. She had friends who were Christian and they would offer their greetings on the Muslim holidays, as would she on the Christian holidays.
Besides the commonalities, acts of violence are not a part of either faith. It is very frustrating when people use religion to support an act of violence or when they let hate dominate their thinking so they lose sight of the core message of their faith. There is too much of that kind of thinking now.
There have been some attempts to address the tension between the two groups. For example, several years ago a song was released called “Akeed fi Masr” which means “For sure in Egypt.” The video of the song shows scenes of mosques and churches, Muslim celebrations and prayers, as well as churches and a Christian wedding. It ends with those same Muslims and Christians sitting together for a meal. The song emphasizes how both religious traditions and their shared cultural values are part of what makes Egypt.
Another example was a film released in 2008 called “Hassan and Morqos.” Adel Imam, a prominent Egyptian actor, as well as Omar Sharif starred in the film about relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. According to an article in Gulfnews.com, the film “explores reasons for religious intolerance on both sides.”
Hopefully, there will be more efforts like these to encourage constructive dialogues and to curb any future violence between Muslims and Christian Egyptians so that they can work together towards common goals.
What do you think of the attacks? How can people from different faith traditions work together to stop violence? Do you know of other examples of Egyptians of different faiths working together? Or of people in other countries addressing these same issues? Please share your comments below.