Sunday, June 03, 2012

Coptic Christians: Another Egyptian Story . . .

Coptic Christians

One of the free, unsolicited magazines that I receive access to via regular emails is Christianity Today, and it often provides me with a different perspective on the news, as in Egypt, for instance, where it seeks out a Christian perspective on recent changes dominated by Muslims and tending toward Islamism in a manner alarming to many Egyptian Christians, as reported in this article by Jeremy Weber, "The Fight for Egypt's Future: Coptic Christians test new strategies to thrive in an Islamist Egypt" (May 31, 2012):
Are Christians fleeing Egypt? Some, yes. Nearly every church can name a family that has emigrated. Many more families desire to follow suit but cannot.

But the closer one looks, an irony emerges. Coptic leaders report that a significant number of Christians, especially in rural or poor communities, do fear the future. But many of the most ardently Christian -- former Muslims who now follow Christ and have the most to lose under an Islamist government -- are the most eager to stay. They hold to their love of country -- and to their belief in God's promise in Isaiah 19: "Blessed be Egypt my people."

One case study is a Muslim-background believer turned human-rights activist who fancies himself the Christian version of Che Guevara. Bleary-eyed from demonstrating in Tahrir until 2 A.M. the night before, he is realistic about the increasing risks facing converts as Islamists gain political power.

"We [converts] could be the first people to be killed," said the activist, who asked for anonymity. "We are the rust in Islam that is corroding the walls. We are the threat."

But rather than seeking the first opportunity to leave Egypt, he and others like him choose to stay and exert influence behind the scenes. "Doctors stay in medicine; politicians stay in politics; advocates stay in advocacy," he said. "The salt put in warehouses will just go stale. The salt needs to be in the food."

Thus "Che" sees a silver lining in Egypt's lack of progress to equalize conversion laws. "Maybe God meant that our ID cards were not permitted to change because we can never be forced to leave -- our IDs say Muslim not Christian," he said. "I believe this is the grace of God. I would be feeling sorry if I had changed my ID; I would have lost many opportunities [for influence]."

The point about ID cards is that the government issues ID cards that designate each individual's religion. Muslims who convert to Christianity have found that changing their IDs to identify themselves as Christians is almost impossible. Such Muslim-background Christians are easy to identify as originally Muslim, and Islamists would consider such converts to be apostates from Islam deserving death according to Islamic law. The convert who calls himself "Che" treats the problem as an opportunity for witness, namely, a chance for converting Muslims to Christianity by explaining to them his own conversion from Islam. Other witness opportunities have been less a chance than a tragedy:
Copts have also earned newfound respect at street level. Mina Daniel, an Orthodox youth killed during last October's Maspero Massacre, has become an iconic figure among revolutionary youth. More than 25 Copts died in front of the state TV station as they protested church burnings. Many who died were killed after military vehicles ran over them. "Mina Daniel" is chanted during street protests, and red flags bear his likeness. "I never thought I could love a Christian guy," says a Salafi activist in a YouTube video. "[But] I learned that not only Muslims are ready to die for their country."

That puts a good face on an unhappy event, but it undoubtedly has significance, given that a Salafi expresses something good about a Christian, despite the irony that Salafis -- the most hardline of the Islamists -- are likely the very ones who instigated the burning of churches. But I see no reason to doubt the words of this particular Salafi activist, for Mina Daniel's death under the wheels of an army truck touched even Muslims who would previously have cursed Christians. Similarly, personal interactions of Christians and Muslims in the medical field have touched Muslims:
The church's field hospital is not only the revolution's largest; it also serves as a powerful symbol of unity, with evangelical and Orthodox doctors working alongside Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood colleagues. "This changes [Muslims'] minds as to what a church is," said [evangelist Fawzi] Khalil. "They see that Christian people are good. We smile. We are human."

A Muslim ophthalmologist volunteering at the field hospital explained how she had seen dozens of patients with ruptured eyes, instead of her usual one per week. "These patients need psychological care, but we doctors need psychological care too," she says. "We are traumatized. I feel we are here not only to take care of the patients, but to take care of each other." A nearby pastor offers to pray with her. She is shocked but assents, and starts to cry through her red-rimmed glasses.

Such responses as those of the Salafi Muslim man and this Muslim woman doctor are strong and very personal, and they are positive signs amidst the darkness of hatred also expressed toward Christians, but I wonder how significant these 'signs' are in the larger picture.

I guess we'll find out . . .

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