Deel Op

Guirguis Ibrahim Saleh

Coptic Orthodox Church, Egypt

Muslim-Christian have started coexisting in the Arab world since the start of the Islamic Dawah in the seventh century. In the island, the birthplace of Islam, the emerging Islam made acquaintance of the Christian Arab tribes, both on the outskirts of the island or there-within. Covenants and treaties were concluded with the Christians of Najran and communications were held with Bahraini Christians. In Byzantine Syria, indigenous population heartily welcomed the Muslim conquerors, out of joy of being liberating of the Byzantine ruling, which persecuted Persia as well. tribes of Banu Taghlib, Aqeel, Tanokh and Rabia resident in northern and western Iraq welcome incoming  Arabs with whom they have blood relations and common language, heritage and civilization. The reaction that took place in Syria and Jerusalem was reflected in Egypt as the same went on when the Copts welcomed the Arab conquerors.

this co-existence was evident throughout numerous incidents and events of the Arab history . In the era of the Righteous Caliphs, the famous incident of Emir of the Believers, Umar bin al-Khattab, refused to pray inside the Church, while visiting Jerusalem, when the time to pray came and prayed outside alone. When asked why,  he replied: "If I have prayed inside the church, Muslims would have taken the same as a lead and said: Omar prayed here. In addition, Al-Farooq (Umar) wrote the letters of safety and protection of churches, monasteries and Christians overall.

During the reign of the Umayyad caliphs, Christians represented the majority in various government offices, as authors and translators, including great poets, such as Akhtal, the poet of Banu Taghlib tribe,  one of the members of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

In the era of the Abbasid caliphs, the scientists, doctors, astronomers, such as Yuhanna ibn Masawaih (Mesue the Elder) whom Caliph Harun al-Rashid assigned the task of old books translation, and continued to hold prestigious positions until the days of  Al-Mutawakkil reign.

Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this coexistence was the letter of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East:

"The Christian presence in most of the Arab countries goes back to the Christian origins. The History has become a witness of the existence of Arab Christian communities throughout the Middle East regions. Once Islam emerged in the seventh century, began a common history between Christians and Muslims in the Arab East, emerged a common civilization encompassing inherited previous civilizations that lived in this area. These accumulated experiences from the past led to a fusion between Muslims and Christians giving in the end what we see now as the Civilization of Arab, however, while each side retaining its religious originality and its traditions special aspects. This common cultural heritage constitutes a guarantee of a continuous interaction that may be facing today certain challenging developments to be addressed and contained, certain potentials to be reached.  All this opens wide the doors to the future of these experiences with all their vitality and originality. "

This Islamic - Christian convergence appeared in the past at both cultural and popular levels. Cultural wise, men of science, Muslims and Christians, cooperated, working together to establish the pillars of a common civilization that later became a beacon for humanity for many successive centuries. This collaboration continued for generations, and appeared particularly in modern times. It has become the legacy we are proud of, being an indication of our original inheritance and a proof of a vivid coexistence. 

The truth is once the Arabic language found its way throughout Christian communities in our region, regardless of their different Church affiliations, it became so quickly the theological, ecclesiastical and ceremonial and daily tool of communication. This contributed to building bridges of communication between them and this new emerging world, and helped, at the same time, in reconnecting between various churches, after years of estrangement and alienation.

We can therefore say that the Arab Christian heritage is a bright side to this cultural richness in different Christian churches in light of the Arab civilization. It is noteworthy that a large part of this thought continued its development while connecting with Islam, which gave it a special and distinctive character within the general Christian heritage. The prevailing religious tolerance in the Arab and Islamic civilization has allowed serious religious dialogue between Muslims and Christians in the common areas or better said the common traits.

People wise, Christians and Muslims have merged into one community where they share bread and butter and stand by one another in good times as well as hard ones, under an umbrella of common values and good coexistence patterns gathering and uniting them.

We aim through Christian-Muslim dialogue to:

  • Discard the inherited prejudices, and misconceptions formed by one party of the other, due to ignorance.
  • Identify the common intellectual aspects and moral values to work together to take responsibility for maintaining a healthy society where human values are exposed to significant challenges.
  • Work in a pluralistic society that respects equality of all citizens, where freedom prevails based on democracy, thus realizing unity while guaranteeing versatility in an open civil community where all citizens are interested in common fate issues, basic human needs, human rights, justice and peace. 

The Egyptian Family House Initiative as an example of coexistence:

The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb, was the one who conceived and proposed the idea behind The Egyptian Family House Initiative, following painful events in early 2011 of the Two Saints Church of Alexandria bombing. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III agreed upon the proposed idea. After His Holiness Pope Shenouda III death,   His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria took his place and continued on the same path to emphasize the importance of the Egyptian Family House Organization, which aims to:  

  1. Preserve the Egyptian identity and maintain its originality.
  2. Promote citizenship and traditions values.
  3. Restore higher Islamic and Christian values .
  4. Promote mutual respect while maintaining the right to differ.
  5. Focus on and promote common traits.

The Egyptian Family House Action Plan aspects: 

  1. Controlling and adjusting the Islamic and Christian religious discourse in Egypt by focusing on moderation diffusion and acceptance of different opinions and positive constructive difference, as confirmed by the Creator.
  2. Promoting religions and civilizations common higher values and ideals, such as human rights, justice, science, construction, progress and prosperity and all other values that help to achieve human dignity and harmony between cultures in its broad general sense and religious culture.
  3. Adjusting teaching of the humanities curricula in the stages of pre-university education and excluding every reason to division, hatred, distrust or all other ideas incompatible with the religious and human values in general.
  4. Helping families, and youth, diffusing results of all abovementioned efforts through various media to homes and youth communities and helping in achieving proper education.
  5. Monitoring the cultural and scientific community values in general, putting the so-called sectarian tension for objective scientific discussion and research, unmasking religious problems that have nothing to do with religion (mostly political, cultural, societal and economic problems covered under a religions mask,  because of the religion importance in the lives of the Egyptians) focusing on religious ideological issues, monitoring actual deviation aspects, analyzing their real causes and searching for effective solutions 

The Egyptian Family House, which brings together Al-Azhar under the leadership of Grand Imam Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb and Coptic Orthodox Church under the leadership of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of Saint Mark and leaders of the Catholic, evangelical and , Anglican churches, performs its tasks through several committees:

  1. Committee of Youth and Community Development.
  2. Education Committee.
  3. Committee of Religious Discourse.
  4. Committee of family culture.
  5. Information Committee.
  6. Monitoring and Proposals Committee.
  7. Emergency Executive Committee.
  8. Follow-up Committee.

These committees operate successfully in order to preserve the Egyptian Identity, maintain its originality and establish the principle of citizenship.

I hereby conclude by quoting Prof. Dr. Mohiuddin Afifi, Secretary General of the Islamic Research Complex, in Al-Azhar Magazine, Issue of August 2016, Vol. 11, year 89, p. 2439.

"Islam emphasizes the importance of regarding non-Muslims feeling, as Muslims are not to argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, are to treat them with fairness in all situations, so as to avoid the causes of rivalry and conflict. Bloody conflicts begin with harsh words, and belittling others’ beliefs, giving the chance to the country stalkers to open way to sedition, instability and enmity in society."

These words of a great scholar emphasize the importance of coexistence in peace and harmony.