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Easter and Islamists

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Ziad Akl

Ziad Akl

Sometimes I have to go through excruciating pain to try and write in English about the basic rationale of Egyptian folk wisdom. While I always manage to convey the basic points behind such statements, there is a specific sense conveyed by these statements in Arabic. I say this because the amount of debate that took place the past week regarding whether Muslims should or should not congratulate Copts at Easter is absurd. This whole debate reminds me of a famous story in Egyptian folk wisdom. This little boy goes to his father and asks him “Father, teach me how to be stupid” and the father looks at the boy and tells him: “Always make a case out of the most silly of things.” There are no more accurate words to describe this whole situation; it’s silly and stupid from all possible angles.

I started noticing the magnitude of the problem last week when I heard a recording of some Sheikh preaching how much of a sin it is to wish Copts a happy Easter. What was said by the Sheikh, although incredibly disturbing and full of intolerance, was not as surprising as all the head-nodding the taxi driver did in agreement with the nonsense that came out of his car speakers; and of course, neither was as surprising as all his violent sentiments that started to surface as soon as he sensed a tone of sarcasm (which I just failed to hide) in my voice.

The reason that I pay close attention to revolves around the position of Christ in Islam- how Islam does not acknowledge the crucifying of Jesus Christ and therefore celebrating Easter with Copts would entail acknowledging something which Islam denies. I was in for another surprise with a much more detailed statement by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mufti Abdel Rahman Al-Barr saying that it is “illegitimate” to celebrate with Copts something that clearly defies the Islamic faith.

Yes, this is what religious scholars are concerned with at the moment: the extreme trivialities of religion. But it is not about religious scholars. Throughout the history of the Islamic state, whether under the Umayyads or the Abbasids, religious scholars or Ulama were always a category that was easily corrupt and often politicised. One day we need to revise all their contributions that were politically motivated. What is more surprising is the people themselves, average individuals, the taxi driver I met last week and all the audience who sit in awe listening to men of religion as they state what they think is right and wrong. We have reached a stage where practicing your most basic duty as a citizen in society requires you to seek a fatwa. And this absurdity is nothing but a very early taste of what two years of confusing civil matters with religious matters can do.

The real problem is in the disappearance of the line that clearly divided between both realms. Honesty would require us to admit that this is one of the battles we lost, we being those who were for clear separation between the two realms. The battle of the civil and the religious is one of the very early manipulative efforts by Islamists. Separating religion and state was taken by the Islamists to mean less religion, less morality and more Western influence! It was a battle where we did not have sufficient resources to counter the Islamists’ argument. But now the real problem resurfaces; the intrusion of religion in issues that were never a question of religion. There is an old Bob Dylan song that says, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. In the very same sense, you don’t need a fatwa from some Sheikh to decide to be a human being.

But if you at any point in time think that what you read in Islamic newspapers and what you watch on Islamic media is as bad as it gets, then you are absolutely in for a huge surprise. There is an underground Islamic media that is much more aggressive, much more intolerant and much more radical. Easter is an example of a series of questions that we will soon face in Egyptian society trying to synchronise our habits and traditions with religion. And not “Islam” as we rationally conceive of it, very soon we will have different brands of faith in Egypt.

Ironically, the biggest threat Islamists are facing today comes from within their own ranks. Very soon there will be new groups that will radicalise to a level that the Brotherhood will not be able to match, making the Brotherhood look un-revolutionary and irreligious. What the Brotherhood doesn’t seem to understand is how, unfortunately, all of us will pay the price of its mistakes, one after the other.

At the risk of upsetting Dr. Al-Barr, Happy Easter to all my Coptic friends.

About the author

Ziad A. Akl

Ziad A. Akl

Ziad A. Akl is a political analyst and sociologist. He is a senior researcher at the Egyptian Studies Unit in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

  • Tatyana

    Good articel, that is a pitty, not enough so open minded people like the
    author. And for the poor not educated muslims in the villiges the words of their imam are the most important ufortunatelly……..because islam with fatwa is ideology, that is sitting deep in their brain and far from being human……..

  • Pingback: Easter and Islamists - TalkAfrika.com | TalkAfrika.com

  • Objectivity

    Would you act so judgmental if it was a question of whether your British friends were to not congratulate you on July 23? Or if you were British and your American friends didn’t send you greetings on the queen’s birthday? Or if you were American and your Iraqi friends didn’t send you greetings on Memorial Day? Holidays, whether civil or religious, are an opportunity for a specific group of people to celebrate something of significance to the group. It’s not an intefaith feel good exercise. If next eid most of your Coptic friends failed to greet you on your holiday, would you be objective enough to write a piece like this criticizing them for it? The important thing is that Christians be allowed to practice their faith as they believe, to celebrate Easter as they choose. As a Muslim, to shame other Muslims into choosing to neglect and give up the tenets of their own faith is religious oppression itself at its most insidious and twisted.

    • http://www.facebook.com/blob.blob.169 Blob Blob

      So wishing someone a happy Easter now not only means believing in the religion yourself but also is apparently comparable to celebrating the Queen’s birthday (I’m an Egyptian living in the UK, you do realise we don’t actually do this right…..?)

      To compare a vital religious holiday of our Christian brothers to a Nationalistic holiday like memorial day or a non existent celebration like the queen’s birthday is preposterous.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziad.akl.3 Ziad Akl

      I assure you that i will write a piece about any community that becomes radical enough to the extent that people seek religious advice before practicing the most basic trait of Humans, their ability to socialize, may that community be Christian, Jewish or any other imaginable religious affiliation

  • crescent5

    Even in America this would not happen. Muslims are under no obligation to celebrate Easter, and no, we shouldn’t celebrate it. This is because the Christians celebrating something that is INCORRECT. We can leave them alone to practice without encouraging shirk.

    • http://www.facebook.com/blob.blob.169 Blob Blob

      What on earth are you talking about? Who said anything about celebrating Easter? It is nothing more than saying happy Eid to your Christian Neighbours.

      And your point is absolute codswallop because in America, this does happen. America, just like in the rest of the west, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus whatever, mostly have no problems congratulating people of other other faiths on their religious festivals, whether its Eid, Easter, Diwali or Hannukah.

      When did everyone in the religion become so utterly intolerant of others?

      • crescent5

        I’m not saying you shouldn’t wish them well- just that you shouldn’t attend their services or celebrate with them.

        • http://www.facebook.com/blob.blob.169 Blob Blob

          Right, except firstly this is what the article is about and exactly what the glorious sheikhs are doing (though strangely, some of the very same seem to think its ok to wish a happy christmas, despite the fact that Christians are celebrating the birth of am individual they consider to be the son of god).

          And secondly, why not? It doesn’t mean you have to believe in it. You’re turning up to show solidarity with our brothers in the nation. When my parents grew up in Egypt, they both had Christian friends who would fast with them during Ramadan. This wasn’t because they wanted to be Muslim but because they respected their friends and their countrymen. Why is it so difficult for the Muslim side of the country to do the same?

          • crescent5

            That’s what national holidays are for.

          • http://www.facebook.com/blob.blob.169 Blob Blob

            Anyway, back to the original discussion. Crescent and what, then just ignore the other people in the country for the rest of the year? Have a nice celebration with them on the 6th October or 25th January and then avoid them as much as possible for the rest because they believe Christ was reborn? Dear god.

          • crescent5

            No, you see, that’s the point. I don’t have to celebrate Easter with my Christian friends, because I hang out with them NATURALLY, during the rest- going to the mall, or shopping, or going to school, like I would with anyone else. They don’t have to celebrate my holidays ,and I don’t have to celebrate theirs.

          • Creative

            Do you know how arrogant it is to say your Christian neighbors were respecting you by fasting when they were under no obligation to do so? That you considered this respect shows how disrespectful of Christians YOU are! Some Christians feel compelled to do this because some Muslims will criticize them if they don’t or make nasty remarks. This why Christians fast, it’s fear and perhaps in the case of dealing with people like your parents, a wish to be seen as “respectful” because people like your parents have a twisted idea of what respect is. This is sad. As a Muslim, I expect no one else around me to fast, even other Muslims (who may be sick, menstruating, whatever, it’s not my business) as fasting is about my respecting the rules that God laid down for me. Muslim women have to make up a number of fasting days each year outside of Ramadan and many Muslims fast on other days of the year. Do they expect the whole world around them to stop eating out of “respect”? No, so why should we expect or even encourage or praise our Christian neighbors for doing so?

          • http://www.facebook.com/blob.blob.169 Blob Blob

            What on earth are you talking about? Some Christians do for sure. These Christians however, friends that my parents maintain to this day, do not.

            My parents never expected their friends to fast with them. They never asked them to fast with them. They became friends when they were in their early years, before any of them had much idea about religion. They fasted with them because they wanted to, because those were the ties between them.

            Creative, you need to get your head out of your ass and actually read my post. At no point did I once mention what my parents’ views or expectations were. I simply mentioned a story, of which they were the protagonists. Not that you’ve asked, they think no such thing actually. Neither do I, I can’t pretend to be particularly religious and couldn’t care less what people choose to do as long as it doesn’t impact negatively on someone else.

            My only point in mentioning that story was to outline the ridiculousness of the situation where a lot of Christians are willing to fast or at least not eat in front of fasting Muslims (again, just for you, I couldn’t care less whether they do or not), while there is a quite genuine stream of throught among Muslims that you can’t even wish them a happy Easter.

            You perhaps however need to buy a pair of glasses, read posts properly and direct your pent up rage elsewhere.


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