Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cairo's Christians And Muslims Unite

Cairo's Muslims and Christians gathered at the
Evangelical Church of Nasr City Friday for a brunch
Photo by Lama Tawakkol

By Lama Tawakkol
Junior Reporter
Youth Journalism International

Photo by Lama Tawakkol
CAIRO, Egypt – As Muslims and Christians came together to enjoy a simple church brunch in Cairo recently, they strengthened the new bonds that they formed during the revolution.
The uprising and revolution, which began January 25 and ended with the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, brought Egyptians political, social and cultural advantages.
Some are immediate, while others may take longer to realize.
The uprising didn’t merely topple a dictator or change the cabinet – it changed an entire people and added a whole new dimension to society.
It revealed a civilized Egyptian people who had been oppressed and pushed down for so long that they saw nothing good in life and couldn’t react with optimism, hope, or constructiveness.
But as Mubarak’s regime began to crumble, the people started getting closer, regardless of religion, social class or wealth, united under common goals and demands.
They put aside their differences and as they took on the new responsibilities that came with change, they embraced a new spirit of fraternity, cooperation and productivity.
This spirit was especially conspicuous in Tahrir Square as Egyptian Christians and Muslims held hands during the protests and declared they were “one.” They invalidated all the government’s prior claims of sectarian tension in Egypt between people of both faiths.

Photo by Lama Tawakkol
As matters in Egypt cooled down, the people’s new attitude did not waver but persistently stood its ground.
This was apparent at many events, but the most touching to me was at a neighborhood brunch last Friday at the nearby Evangelical Church of Nasr City.
We found a paper taped to every door on the street, inviting the residents to a gathering and brunch after Friday prayers. It was a token of appreciation to the block’s youth who had stayed up for nights at a time protecting us and enabling us to sleep soundly, and also as a means of preserving the newly found friendships and relationships between the people.
The last line of the invite was a note saying the gathering’s guest would be a sheikh from Al Azhar, the heart for Sunni Islam across the globe.
If the invitation was touching, the event itself was amazing. It moved everyone in attendance and drove many to tears.
Young ladies stood at the gate to the church playground, giving out Egyptian flags and welcoming everyone. In the playground, where many tables were set for the meal, other church members came forward to welcome the newly arrived guests.
They took each person to a seat and quickly handed him or her a plate of food.
The crowd of women, veiled Muslims alongside their Christian friends, ate a meal in sweet harmony, their newly formed bond becoming stronger by the minute.
Two sheikhs attended, not just one, and they both stood at the podium and spoke of the importance of living alongside one another and recognizing that our religious differences are not something that should cause a chasm between us.
The priest at the church also spoke along the same lines, reminding everyone that we were one and should stand together.
After the speeches, there were several other acts lined up. A young girl named Judy took the stage and sang a lovely song about the revolution that she had written herself.

Photo by Lama Tawakkol
Then, one of the church’s members, a flight attendant for EgyptAir, recounted a story about one of the flights that had been sent to Tripoli for the Egyptians there.
He said the Egyptians on the plane erupted into applause as the doors closed after them and they were legally on Egyptian property.
He also told the story of how the moment the plane touched ground at Cairo International Airport, all the passengers simultaneously started clapping, crying and yelling, “Long live Egypt.”
He related this story as an introduction to a poem he’d written about the different attitudes of pre- and post- January 25th.
The poem was deeply moving as it accurately described the people’s negative approaches until only a day before the start of the protests, and the sudden shift into a state of patriotism as they realized on the 25th that they were capable of inflicting change.
As his recital progressed, people all around me, including my mother, turned puffy-eyed.
The image was one of a love for a country so deep that no words can explain it.
He finished the poem with the Egyptian national anthem and just as the music started to play, the entire assembly rose to its feet, sang along and waved their flags.
It was a sight to be seen.
After the entertainment that had been planned by the church, the priest announced that we would be having an open discussion where anyone should feel free to come up to the stage and share any ideas that he or she might have on how best to proceed and move forward in the upcoming period.
Many people went up and the suggestions were highly inspired and creative. They would be highly productive if implemented.
The proposed activities included a common Facebook group for the street residents to maintain contact between all, a fundraiser for the wounded and finding jobs for the poor people to provide them with a steady income and not just charity.
There were also several other ideas concerning keeping the street clean and offering tutoring services to the less fortunate, including the doormen’s children and others who could only afford public education, which is inadequate at the moment.
Even though all the volunteers on stage were sincere, one woman especially caught my attention because her words rang so true that I wanted to scream, “Amen.”
She was the one who proposed the tutoring and declared they had been doing it at the church for years now but that now, we could ALL share.
Stressing the “all” part, she said that before the revolution there had been many forces trying to come between Muslims and Christians but that we now knew better and there was no one who would try to break up this new union.
Her words were met with large applause as people cheered for their newly realized strength and power, not physically, but in their numbers and their alliances.
The event was special, and I hope it is just the first of its kind and not the only one.
The life I saw during that brunch and the selfless cooperation and respect the people showed one another elevated my optimism that Egypt is heading for a much better place.
When I looked at the table where the sheikhs were sitting with the priest, I wanted to scream out at all those who had been lying to us about Christian-Muslim tension in the past.
Several journalists and representatives from two prominent talk shows also attended and reported on the brunch, showing its significance.
Unity is not new, as my mother pointed out. This is the temperament we’ve all been brought up to have, but we’ve just realized that we should be smarter than those trying to get in between us.

 Brunch organizers, from left: Sarah Adel, Diana Reda,
Dina Mourad, and Nayer Nagy
Photo by Lama Tawakkol

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