Egyptian Religious Communities Seek to Address Misconceptions
09/11/2021 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently encouraged the cultivation of moderate religious teaching for the next generation of imams, seeking to combat the extremist ideologies that fuel terrorism and address common misconceptions. The push for moderate imams will ideally help balance the treatment of Christians within society. However, the cultivation of moderate thought does not intrinsically lead to religious freedom for all, it merely turns down the tone.
A recent viral video suggests that the Egyptian public is not interested in the public religious expression of Christians. A short clip of Agape Coptic Choir singing on the Cairo Metro sparked controversy over the public expression and tolerance of faith. One Egyptian woman told the Media Line, “the problem is that in Egypt we are accustomed to assaulting the personal spaces of individuals, especially on public transportation.” She continued on to say that whether the person in question was Muslim or Christian, public expression of faith imposes that faith on her.
The choir sang for about 15 minutes and stopped when the train car began to fill, though it was empty when they started to sing hymns. The leader of the choir expressed that they would have stopped had anyone requested. Their actions, though potentially not the intended purpose, brought attention to the Christian community and expression.
One Coptic lawyer commented about his own attempts to bring awareness to the Christian community in 2011 saying, “this deficit has led to spread of misconceptions and urban legends like that Christians perform magical rituals or that they kiss each other inside the churches. These misconceptions are used to incite against the Church and Copts within Egypt’s conservative rural community.”
A researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Ishak Ibrahim also commented saying, “the incident [on the metro] is being hailed as a triumph for freedom of opinion and expression, using the incident as evidence that there is no sectarian problem, and that there is a space for tolerance and acceptance of the other. This is a good thing, but if you want the other to respect your personal space, you must do the same. We have to reduce religious expression in the area of public facilities.”
The misconceptions of Christianity as seen in the video are mirrored by El-Sisi’s own attempts to address the misconceptions of Islam. The need for cross-religious conversations, understanding, and acceptance is needed to allow for true religious freedom and expression.
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