Muslims and Christians Together in a New Egypt

The recent protests in Egypt that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, and their political ramifications, have been covered extensively in the media. But stories of Christian-Muslim solidarity have not been broadcast as widely, and they deserve to be.

During the protests, Christians stood in a circle around Muslims during their Friday prayers to protect them from police. And last Monday, Muslims stood around Christians in Tahrir Square as they conducted mass, and joined them in prayer for those who were injured or died in the protests.

Prior to the demonstrations, there was a growing fear in Egypt that tensions between Muslims and Christians would escalate and culminate in violence. In a preventative effort, Egyptians began to mobilise through a new online initiative called “An Internet Free of Sectarian Strife”, launched by Amr Khaled, who is described by The New York Times as “the world’s most famous and influential Muslim television preacher.” He began the initiative in January after he saw how the Internet was being used to disseminate rumors and agitate tensions between Muslims and Christians in the country.

Word of the initiative spread quickly, and it has proven very popular among Egyptian youth primarily because of Khaled’s huge following in the country. The roots of this initiative began with his lectures in 1998, after years of terrorist incidents claimed the lives of innocent people and religious bigotry began spreading among groups that were adopting extremist interpretations of Islam.

Many have found messages of balance and harmony in the young, dynamic preacher’s rhetoric, which are all too rare in other speakers’ lectures. Between 2000 and 2002, his lectures – mainly about tolerance in Islam – were being attended by audiences of 35,000. Today, his Facebook page has around two million friends and his lectures are watched by millions across the Muslim world. It is clear that youth are playing a key role in the initiative’s implementation and development.

The initiative’s main partners are influential media outlets in Egypt and the Arab world. They have identified ten basic items that they hope will become “rules for internet users and a code of honour for Internet media outlets to abide by.” The rules are to not use the following: blanket generalisations, foul language; rumours without credible sources, sarcasm, videos that could enflame tensions and violent or hateful fatwas (non-binding legal opinions). The rules also encourage words of peace and compassion, respect for others’ faith and disagreement with ideas, but respect for individuals. Finally, partners have agreed that users should never post their opinions while angry.

Khaled’s positive initiative is an important first step to address the core causes of extremism that lead to sectarian tension. The solidarity amongst Muslims and Christians during the recent protests shows that both groups can overcome divisions, and offers new hope that coexistence and religious equality can be the foundation of a new Egypt.

Source: http://www.commongroundnews.org (Yasser Khalil)

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