Interfaith reflection on Egypt
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is now visiting Egypt at the invitation of the Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, Primate of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt and Horn of Africa. Just two weeks ago, I heard Bishop Mouneer give a fascinating talk on “Current Challenges to Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt
,” at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He appeared with Grand Mufti Dr. Mohamed Ali Goma’a, who recently retired as Egypt’s highest Islamic religious authority. They shared their remarkable stories of how they are working together to counter sectarian violence as Egypt transitions to democratic governance and re-defines the role of religion in society.
Two important themes emerged in their presentations. One was the importance of interfaith engagement at all levels, but especially at the grassroots. To help build a new Egypt, the two men are fostering an imam-priest exchange for 20 leaders from each of the two faiths in places where sectarian tension is high. They also are bringing Christian and Muslim young people together to clean up local streets, participate in arts workshops, build friendships, and appreciate each other as human beings, regardless of their religious beliefs. Bishop Mouneer serves as a trustee for a foundation founded by Sheikh Ali that employs and serves all persons regardless of creed. It carries out projects in health, education, arts and culture, community development, and microenterprise – all needed to address Egypt’s economic and social problems, which transcend any one religious community.
The second theme that emerged was the meaning of citizenship. Bishop Mouneer worries that the emergence of an Islamist state would deprive Christians in Egypt of citizenship, driving them from their homeland. At present, the majority of Muslims aren’t heeding hostile statements by the extremists and some even demonstrated their opposition by attending the Cathedral’s Christmas service. However, good citizenship requires a sound education, which Bishop Mouneer said is “important to the infrastructure of democracy.” He called for education in the new Egypt to affirm the rights of citizens, beginning in the primary grades. In a similar vein, Sheikh Ali indicated that Egypt needs to better articulate the meaning of citizenship, end the notion of first and second class citizens, and follow international norms – which are supported by Islam’s legal texts.
“Egypt needs national unity,” said Sheikh Ali. He and Bishop Mouneer are inspirational examples of how people of different faiths can come together to address real problems. They are working to counter extremism and violence, educate youth, improve health and livelihoods, build interreligious understanding, and advance the God-given dignity of the human person. Their efforts are worthy of our prayers and emulation.
Associate Director, CACS and Interreligious Affairs