Muslims and Christians United Against Terror in Egypt
by Irfan Al-Alawi
In the aftermath of the horrific bomb attack against Egyptian Coptic Christians in Alexandria on December 31, 2010 – an atrocity denounced by the Center for Islamic Pluralism – sparse attention has been paid in global media to an important development: the initiative of moderate Muslims in Egypt and abroad to defend the Egyptian Christians.
As described with a striking photograph in the Los Angeles Times of January 8, "thousands" of Egyptian Muslims attended masses celebrating the Coptic Christmas on Thursday and Friday nights, January 6-7. Like the Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar, Copts observe Christmas on January 7, rather than December 25. The LA Times photo showed young Egyptians carrying the Koran, Gospels, Muslim prayer beads or tesbih, and Christian crosses together. Also on January 6, Muslims organized a candle-light vigil in Cairo's Tahrir Square to express their outrage at the murders committed by extremists.
The Egyptian Muslim solidarity action had parallels elsewhere. In the Netherlands, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel, Muslim community representatives offered to guard Coptic churches against assault.
The Egyptian authorities provided military protection for Coptic worshippers, while discontented young Christians joined in turbulent demonstrations calling for an end to social discrimination against them.
Egyptian Copts undeniably suffer a woeful and indefensible bigotry. An elite Coptic group has grown rich in Egypt – and an Egyptian Copt, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, presided over the United Nations during the 1990s, when that international body failed to prevent colossal war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. But in villages and cities alike, Egyptian Christians often complain of their relegation to second-class status.
Christians have been targeted elsewhere by adherents of radical Islamist ideology, most recently in Iraq and Nigeria no less than in Egypt. Copts, who account for 10% of Egypt's population, represent a precious cultural resource for Muslims, worthy of honor for their legacy as heirs of Egypt's pre-Islamic traditions as well as for their standing as a "People of the Book" whom Muslims are commanded to respect.
Murderous explosions at Christian churches follow the same paradigm as the destruction of the Buddhist monuments at Bamian in Afghanistan by the Taliban and Al-Qaida. But the unjustified taking of human life represents, for moderate Muslims, a sin yet more evil than that of the despoIiation of collective heritage. Across the globe, wherever the illness of Wahhabism and related ideologies proliferates, the devastation of monuments is accompanied by that of innocent individuals and families.
In the Koran, we read praise of the Byzantine Christians in Surah 30, "The Greeks." The Greeks mentioned in the Koran and the Copts are considered as within the Orthodox Christian tradition coming from the Byzantines. From the religious viewpoint the Copts and the Greeks mentioned in the Koran are the same. The Byzantines had been defeated in war by the Persians, who were ruled by the pre-Islamic Sassanids. According to the Koran, divine favor would restore the power of the Byzantines, who were monotheists.
Muslim radicals in Egypt have come to a standoff in their challenge to the national government; and, like the isolated and defeated Wahhabi interlopers in Iraq, have chosen the Copts as a weaker "target of opportunity." As the radicals cannot overthrow the government, which can crush them, they continue their aggression against a group they believe cannot effectively fight back.
The same Koranic surah that lauds the Byzantines warns that "evil is the reward of those who do evil." In the surah, "evil" means the denial of One God. The pre-Islamic Meccans rejected the warnings of the creator and mocked religion. The situation of the Saudi-financed Wahhabis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other extremist groups attempting to dominate Egyptian and other Muslims, and incite them against their fellow-citizens, is the same: they do evil and will be punished for it.
In this sense, the Egyptian and other Arab Muslims who have come forward to assist the Copts prove their superior adherence to Islam compared to the plotters and fabricators of terrorist carnage.