Egypt after Pope Francis’ visit

Egypt after Pope Francis’ visit

By Cristina Uguccioni/ Vatican Radio

Stories of coexistence between Christians and Muslims. The country’s present and future according to Father Giuseppe Scattolin and Professor Wael Farouq.

“The billboard picture prepared for Pope Francis’ trip to Cairo shows the pontiff with the pyramids in the background next to a flying dove, symbol of peace. After the visit, that image was replaced by another one with Francis embracing the Sultan and - in the lower part - the Pope embracing Ahmed Al Tayyeb, Sheykh from the al-Azhar University. The Joint Declaration signed by Francis and Pope Tawadros II, the celebration of the greatest mass in the history of modern Egypt, broadcasted live and followed by the whole Muslim world, are great achievements, yet little when compared to what happened after Pope Francis’ visit. The before-and-after pictures tell a lot about this change; the symbols of the first picture- the white dress, the dove, the pyramids – change in the second picture into two embracing people: an expression of affection. “The encounter between Francis and the Sultan is no longer a historical fact disconnected from everyday life: it is back to being alive and present, with a real dimension in the life of Egyptian citizens.” A description of today’s Egypt according to Professor Wael Farouq: an Egyptian of Islamic faith, author of many essays on contemporary Muslim and Arabic-speaking professor at the Catholic University of Milan. He also taught at the American University of Cairo and New York.

A beloved Pope
About Pope Francis’ visit to Cairo, Father Giuseppe Scattolin - Combonian, teacher of Islamic mysticism at the Pisai Papal institute of Rome and at the Dar Comboni Institute in Cairo - notes: “The Pope’s trip had a very positive echo on the national press; Francis is loved by the Egyptian people. The meeting between the highest representatives of Christianity and Sunni Islam was a huge event: it made people aware that religious leaders meet, welcome and appreciate each other, and this will favor attitudes of mutual benevolence between Christians and Muslims and encourage greater cooperation between them. Rejection of all violence committed in the name of God - expressed by the religious leaders present at the Peace Congress promoted by al-Azhar - is an extremely important act given the existence of fundamentalist movements that arrogate the right to interpret Islam and seek to influence the Muslim world with their propaganda.”

Short-term consequences
To describe the impact of Pope Francis’s visit on the Egyptian people, Professor Farouq cites two emblematic facts: first, the director of the Alexandria Library has requested that the speech given by Pope Francis al-Ahzar be taught in public schools. Moreover, “for the first time charges were pressed against an Imam who preached on television for having declared that Christians are unfaithful. This episode shows an ongoing change within people, including the Muslims that have taken the Imam to court”.

And those in the long-run
Reflecting on the long-term consequences, Professor Farouq emphasizes the importance of the encounter between the Church of Constantinople, that of Alexandria and that of Rome in a land where Christians suffer martyrdom. “In Egypt, Francis has not discussed Muslim theology but has borne witness. In my Country, many prejudices have fallen because the Pope has borne witness to unity: Pope Francis, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, and Orthodox Catholics Patriarch Tawadros II met as friends. Christian unity has shown itself to Muslim leaders: it was a great demonstration of the power of true friendship between people. This encounter between Christian Churches has had much to say to all Muslims; it supports and encourages the trust and hope that unity and friendship are possible. For this reason, I think the future will hold us many surprises concerning the change of heart of individual people.”

The importance of schools
Thinking of the future of Egypt, Father Scattolin hopes that the repudiation of the violence in the name of God, expressed at al-Azhar, can become shared thinking and mold the current mentality. This is the cornerstone of the issue, he says: “Condemning the use of violence is crucial, but it may not be enough to deal with fundamentalist propaganda. Therefore, in my opinion, it is necessary to act on several fronts simultaneously. Education needs to be supported: it is in schools that young people learn to live and cooperate in friendship and harmony with each other. For example, we Christians in Egypt have 170 schools, each with an average of 1,000 students: they are a laboratory of peace and an example good coexistence. A second front is to engage in interreligious dialogue, a dialogue that leads to the deepening of the four fundamental values common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: mercy, truth, justice and peace.

A cultural revolution
Above all, according to Father Scattolin, it is necessary to engage culturally: “Islam has a very long history, which is also made of violence, oppression and war. I always say that “nobody is innocent in history: we have all committed violence.” Peter’s successors have not been reluctant to recognize the shadows weighing on Christian history, humbly asking for forgiveness and inviting to purify memory. According to Father Scattolin, “Muslim intellectuals should have a more critical, and not just apologetic way of reading Islamic history (which also implies a new exegesis of the founding texts) by recognizing and distancing themselves from the violence that has been committed: this would encourage a change of mentality. Many Muslims do not know how to replicate to fundamentalists when they quote the Quran with sayings that seem to encourage violence. In my opinion, it is time for a cultural revolution. This - indispensable - work has already begun, as several intellectuals are dedicated to it, but it is not yet spread in the Egyptian cultural world.”

An appeal to the academic world
Hence, Father Scattolin’s double invitation: the first aimed at young Muslim researchers residing in Italy and the Coptic brothers in Egypt, the second aimed at the European intellectual class to honor the tradition of Western thought by avoiding to cry out Islamophobia at anyone who comes up in academic environments with a well-argued and well-founded critical view to Islamic history. “It’s always a mistake to idealize history. I am the only Christian member of the Egyptian Philosophical Society: here I have submitted my research where I partially contradicted the interpretations on Sufism and Islamic mysticism, and the Muslims did not resent me, I have always been treated with respect and sympathy”.

The role of intellectuals
According to Professor Farouq, Pope Francis by recalling the importance of Egypt for the three great religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), and how Egypt welcomed the fleeing Holy Family - “allowed Egyptians to rediscover some of the most beautiful pages of their history, favoring a different, deeper way, of conceiving Christians and Muslims relations. As for the Muslim intellectual class, I think it must find its way out of the crisis, a crisis that concerns the critical use of reason, which ultimately arises from the encounter between a tradition that has forgotten its origins and modernity. I am persuaded that Pope Francis’ witness of faith and gestures of friendship and peace can only be of help. They show the way.

Good coexistence
In Egyptian society, Father Scattolin continues, there are many signs of good coexistence between Christians and Muslims: the faithful of both religions work together and cooperate in various fields, from education to health to social fields. In this regard, Professor Farouq said: “Despite decades of propaganda against Christians – originated in the late 1970s, when millions of Egyptians emigrated to the Gulf Countries which are known to be uniform societies that do not know nonetheless accept religious pluralism, and President Anwar al-Sadat granted public spaces to Islamists - Egyptians have been able to rediscover their unity in Tahrir Square in 2011. The revolution has created a meeting space between the Muslims who had been tempted to forget about love and secular coexistence, and Christians, who had resigned to emigrate or to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, locking away behind church walls. Many Egyptians, despite the massacres of terrorists, are rediscovering the good of unity.”

The attacks on Coptic churches
In Egypt, Copts - who often pay with their lives their attachment to Christ, continue to go to church despite the risk of attacks and do not react to evil with the evil, bearing unequivocally witness that Christianity refuses violence. Father Scattolin observes: “This attitude affects Muslims, making them understand that the Copts are not an enemy, as the fundamentalists claim, whose goal - in my opinion - does not have an anti-Christian value primarily: their goal is the conquest of power”.
After the attacks on Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday, April 9 - Professor Farouq recalled - Christians celebrated on the social networks all the policemen, all Muslim men, killed while protecting Pope Tawadros, the attacker’s main goal, who was celebrating mass. “Many Muslims donated blood, opened the doors of the mosques to shelter the wounded and weep tears as they extracted the injured from the rubble. Their humanity prevailed over the propaganda of hatred. Muslims and Christians stayed together in the hospital, in the mosque, in the church.”

The richness of diversity
In Professor Farouq’s opinion, truly religious people who live and work together in concord can bear witness to the rest of the world that diversity is precious. “Francis showed that diversity is richness. Companies in which differences are valued have the greatest chance of flourishing; where this does not happen, the logic of violence prevails. The coexistence of different components in society is not a value only for Christians, but also for Muslims. The knowledge and respect of the other, of the different, brings benefits also the religious experience. Indeed, encounter, friendship and respect nourish the religious experience because they allow us to test our own traditions.”

Monotheism and violence
Unfortunately, in contemporary Western culture, Father Scattolin points out, monotheism - which has long been considered the most evolved form of religion, as the closest way of conceiving the divine next to the principles of reason - now appears despotic and violent, while the intrinsic relationship between violence and monotheistic religions is helplessly spreading. In the West, some intellectuals claim that wars have been caused to a great extent by monotheism. It’s false. The reality is that no one is innocent in history. Those who argue this negative view of monotheism show that they do not know history and, although they are proud of their Western critical thinking, prove to be totally uncritical towards religion.”

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 17:46
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