Is Secularism the answer to Egypt’s Sectarianism?

Date posted: November 27, 2008


Egypt has always been known as an Islamic country where Muslims, Christians, and Jews peacefully co-existed. Today this is no longer the case. Is secularism the solution? Voice of Egypt reported the recent Muslim-Christian sectarian strife about turning an old clothes factory into a church in the area of Matareya:

وكان مئات من المسلمين تجمعوا أمام مصنع ملابس داخلية تحول إلى مكان يقام به شعائر العبادة المسيحية الكنسية … ثم أعقب ذلك حضور قوات من الأمن قامت بتفريقهم بالقنابل المسيلة للدموع، مما دفع المتظاهرين إلى إضرام النار فى سيارة "دوجان" لأحد الأقباط. وألقى الأمن القبض على عدد من المتظاهرين من الطرفين كما أصيب عدد كبير في المشاحنات نقل إلى المستشفى على أثرها ثلاثة مسيحيين واثنان من المسلمين وعدد من أفراد الأمن
 
Hundreds of Muslims gathered in front of an old under garments factory that became a place of worship for the Copts in the area. Security forces used tear gas bombs to disperse the crowds which led the demonstrators to setting a parked car, that belonged to one of the Copts on fire. Demonstrators from both parties were taken into custody and those who were wounded were taken to the hospital.

Voice of Egypt added:

دلوقتي أنا بجد زهقت من الحوار ده بقي ايه حكاية كل شوية مظاهرة لأن المسيحيين بيعملوا كنيسة من غير ترخيص؟ و سؤال للمرة المليون امتي هيتطبق قانون دور العبادة الموحد اللي بقاله ٢٠ سنة في أدراج مجلس الشعب؟ علي الأقل ساعتها لو حد بني كنيسة من غير ترخيص يبقي يستاهل اللي يجراله لأن ما عندوش حجة انه يمشي قانوني و ساعتها اللي هيتظاهر علشان كنيسة بتتبني يبقي ما عندوش حجة غير انه مش بيحب يشوف كنايس.. فيبقي قدامنا حاجة من اتنين يا نفهموا ان الكنيسة مش بتتبني لتدمير الأسلام و ان الناس بتخش تصلي جواها مش تلعب قمار و لو ما قدرش يستوعب ممكن يسافر السعودية.. هناك مفيش كنايس
 
I am sick and tired of the whole issue of demonstrations because some Christians are allegedly building a church without a license. I am asking for the millionth time: when will there be a law that equally regulates building places of worship (churches or mosques)? At least then when someone protests, we would all know that he hates the sight of churches. Then we would be left with one of two options: explain to him that churches are not built to destroy Islam and that people frequent them for prayer, or, if he could not understand that, he could go to Saudi Arabia because they have no churches there.

The dilemma gets worse as The Religion Virus sheds light on another debatable issue:

Here is a story is so absurd it requires almost no comment. It seems Egypt may ban organ transplants between people unless both are the same religion (Christian or Muslim). The ban is supposedly to cut down on wealthy Christians buying organs from destitute Muslims, but it doesn't take a genius to see through the ruse. It's nothing more than religious discrimination at its worst.

On a brighter side, Mona Eltahawy was faced with the following questions:

What does a Muslim look like? What does a Muslim home look like? And just who exactly makes up the Muslim mainstream? These questions came to mind after I took part in a panel discussion in New York City recently called “American Muslims”. It was meant to highlight the diversity of Muslim voices and experiences in the United States. Two women from the audience were later overheard saying “They’re trying to convince us they’re the mainstream? They’re not the mainstream.” That, coupled with a question during the Q&A on “what does a Muslim home look like” (read: it can’t possibly look like a home I would recognize got me wondering against whom my co-panelists and I were being compared. I’m quite sure it’s Angry Bearded Muslim Man. And Covered in Black Muslim Woman. Angry Bearded Muslim Man is easily recognizable. He is usually yelling “Allahu Akbar” and burning something – an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush, an American flag or an Israeli flag, preferably all three. Angry Bearded Muslim’s female counterpart is Covered in Black Muslim Woman. She either walks silently behind Angry Bearded Muslim or she is the subject of countless books, magazine articles and documentaries about the miserable plight of Muslim women. While I do not doubt for a second that terrible abuses of women’s rights are sadly too often justified in the name of Islam, it is incredibly frustrating to feel one is always on the losing end of the authenticity battle. It feels at times as if I’m not Muslim enough simply by virtue of not needing to be rescued from an evil, abusive father, brother or husband. The next time I’m asked how representative I am, I will ask back “What kind of Muslim do you want?” and quietly celebrate that I am obviously not what they had in mind.

And Ahmed El Masry wrote an apology to his Christian friend

وأثناء نقاشنا جاءت سيرة المسيحيون وحاولت ان ابتعد عن الموضوع خاصة واننا في وقت تلوح فيه الفتنه في الافق إلا انني فوجئت به يقول ” و الله النصارى فعلا متبهدلين هنا و هذا ليس من الدين في شيء “ قلت له كيف؟ قال لي اولا في الاسلام النصارى اموالهم علينا حرام ودمهم علينا حرام و عرضهم علينا حرام بل لا يصح ان نسكب خمرهم او نقتل خنزيرهم ان كان ملكهم و من حقة علينا في الاسلام ان نساعدة ان كان فقيرا من اموال المسلمين و نتصدق عليه و نحميه وله مثل ما لنا والا نهدم لهم كنيسة و لو تزايد عددهم في مكان تبنى لهم كنيسة لتستوعب هذا العدد و ان سافر للخارج و ظلم في شيء في دولة اخرى يقوم من اجله جيش الدولة الاسلامية بنفسه ان لم يرد له حقه “مفهوم المواطنة ” لانه واحد منا و لا يجوز التعدي عليه بالقول او على دينه و لعل قول رسول الله عليه الصلاة والسلام ” من اذى ذميا فأنا خصيمه يوم القيامة ” صديقي المسيحي اعتذر لك عن نفسي فديني يمنعني الا افعل
 
The issue of Christians came up in the course of our discussion. Seeing the burning flames of sectarian strife, I tried to avoid the subject. He caught me by surprise when he said "Christians really suffer in our society and this has nothing to do with the teachings of our religion." I asked him how come and he replied saying that in Islam it is forbidden (haram) to take money from Christians we are equally not allowed to shed their blood or to taint their honor. We are not allowed to forbid their wine or kill their pigs. It is our duty though, as Muslims, to help our fellow Christian with money if he was poor. We ought to protect them and treat them equally. We should not destroy their churches; on the contrary, if they grow in number in an area, we should build them a church. This is the true meaning of citizenship in Islam and our prophet says: "He who harms a Christian or a Jew will find me his opponent on judgment day". My dear Christian friend I apologize to you for my religion forbids me not to.

Without borders shared a post about secularism in Spain saying:

أمر القاضى اليخاندرو فالنتين المدرسة بإزالة «جميع الرموز الدينية من غرف الصف والأماكن العامة وقال القاضى فى معرض حكمه إن وجود مثل هذه الرموز فى الأماكن التى يتلقى فيها الصغار تعليمهم تشيع فكرة بأن الدولة أقرب إلى الكاثوليكية منها إلى الأديان الأخرى
Judge Alejandro Valentin ordered a school to remove religious symbols from classrooms and public places. "The presence of these symbols in areas … where minors are being educated can promote the idea that the state is closer" to Roman Catholicism than other faiths, the judge said in his ruling.

In his call for a secular Egypt, the blogger says:

الدولة لا دين لها.  الدولة كيان إعتباري لا يحمل شخصية ذات صفات إنسانية محددة مثل التدين أو الإنحياز أو التعصب لفئة على حساب الأخرى.  لا تنصر دين على دين ولا تقوم أجهزتها برعاية دين ونبذ الآخر. هذه هي العلمانية التي تحافظ على ترابط شعب الدولة الواحد مهما إختلفت وتعددت دياناته ومعتقداته ومذاهبه. لا للرموز الدينية بكافة أشكالها وأنواعها. لا للحجاب والنقاب والإسدال. لا للسلاسل التي تحمل الصليب.  لا للصليب على الرسغ الأيمن.  لا للملصقات في الشوارع ووسائل المواصلات.  لا لحصص الدين التي تفرق بين الطلاب.  لا لأصوات الآذان التي ترتفع مهما كان الوقت ومهما تسببت من إزعاج. لا للخطب الدينية التي تثير متبعي الأديان ضد بعضهما البعض. لا للبرامج الدينية في غير القنوات المتخصصة على أن تكون القنوات الدينية تحت رقابة علمانية صارمه حتى لا تتحول لمنابر تثير الفتن الطائفية وتنمي الأحقاد وتزرع الحقد والكراهية. هذه هي العلمانية التي نرغبها ونموت لأجلها
 
A country has no religion; it is an entity that has no human characteristics like religiousness or bigotry. It does not favor one religion over the other. This is the kind of secularism that keeps a society intact regardless of the multitude of its religions, beliefs, or sects. We say "No" to all religious symbols. No to the veil, the headscarf, or Niqab (covering the face). No to a cross dangling from a necklace or tattooed on a wrist. No to all posters in the street or in means of transportation. No to religion classes in schools that call for segregation. No to the calls of prayer that are more of a nuisance than a call from God. No to hate speeches that add fuel to the fire. No to unsupervised religious programs on unspecialized channels. This is the secularism the we dream of and would die for.
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