Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on the Attacks on Copts in Egypt

Arabic original here.

Tertullian of Carthage (d. 240), one of the great apologists for Christianity, described that condition of oppressed Christians under the Roman Empire before it recognized their right to exist, "[The pagans] looked at the Christians as the cause of all catastrophes and all national disasters. If the Tiber floods in the City [i.e. Rome], if the Nile floods in the countryside, if the heavens stand still but the earth shakes, if a famine or plague is announced, a voice immediately goes up: let the Christians be thrown to the lions!"

Empires and conditions change, but the need remains for a sacrifice, a burnt offering, a scapegoat.  We cannot exclude any religious state, no matter what religion it belongs to, or any autocratic state from practicing this reckless policy. It has come to be acknowledged that any religious state cannot help but be autocratic. The Christian state, in the time of now-extinct empires, did not offer an exemplary model for dealing with those who disagreed with its religious affiliation.

Recent events in Egypt have shown that the Muslim Brotherhood found burning around thirty churches to be a means for scapegoating. The pretext claimed by those rioting "in God's name" is that the Copts, and at their head Pope Theodoros, supported the removal of president Muhammad Morsi and his Brotherhood regime. However, they ignore the fact that the Sheikh al-Azhar, the most important religious authority in Egypt and the Muslim world, also supported this removal. So why do they not burn al-Azhar or one of the mosques dependent on it? This question is not meant to provoke, which is against our principles and ethics-- it is a request for clarification.

It is no surprise that these events keep pace with certain deviant fatwas. In a fatwa issued by Sheikh Muhammad Abdallah al-Khatib, a member of the guidance council of the Muslim Brotherhood, he states, "If a church is destroyed or collapses, it cannot be rebuilt and it is not permitted to build churches on new sites." The leader of the Salafist al-Daawa in Alexandria, Sheikh Yasir Borhami, explicitly called for "imposing the jizya on the Copts."

The Copts refuse to be the scapegoat for rabble and deviants and they will not be trapped into reacting in a way that harms their interests and their dignity. Pope Theodoros said in response to the church burnings, "If they destroy the churches, then we will pray in the mosques. And if they destroy the mosques, then we will all pray for Egypt in the street." This wise and elegant response unambiguously confirms that the Copts want nothing else other than to be recognized as Egyptian citizens equal to them Muslims, "having what others have and having to do what others have to do" in terms of rights and responsibilities. It is no wonder that many Muslims hasten to defend the churches and their Coptic citizens from those who ignore reason and are led by their base impulses. They believe that the Copts are not just ten percent of Egypt's population, but fundamental partners in citizenship from the dawn of history until the end of time. If we want to translate the expression "the Coptic Church" we find that it means "the Egyptian Church". It is, then, the national Church that lives, exists, and moves on Egyptian soil.

When Christ returns at the end of time, he will find the bells still ringing in the Nile Valley. Amen.

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