The title is a little bit much (to be explained below), but it is a nice scene. The video is taken from a Christmas celebration in Kasr el-Dobara Church in downtown Cairo, right behind Tahrir Square. The imam of Tahrir’s mosque pays a visit to wish his Christmas greetings to a congregation that shared with him the trials and courage of the revolution. The video is 15 minutes long, and subtitled, but you don’t have to watch the whole thing to get the gist.
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The gesture is very important in contemporary Egypt, as the Salafi current of Islam has forbidden Muslims to wish Christians a merry Christmas. On one hand this is fine – why should they honor a supposed incarnation they reject?
On the other hand it is horrible – it strikes at the fabric of national unity which has been nurtured in Egypt over generations, amid instances of sectarian tension. Every Egyptian knows their religions are not the same, but they greet each other warmly nonetheless.
But if there is one comment against the video, its production (not its content) strikes too much as propaganda in the other direction. ‘My Jihad’ is an English language campaign designed to redefine the American understanding of jihad.
Again, this is well and good. Jihad does encompass the meaning of warfare for the cause of Islam. But it also, and for most Muslims around the world who are at war with no one, signifies the struggle to improve one’s soul and the world around them. It would serve many Americans well to be more aware of this.
But using Egypt as an example to restore faith in humanity? Directly after a campaign for their constitution laden with religious rhetoric, much of which labeled their opponents – and sometimes Christians – as unbelievers and the enemy? As the war cry ‘Allahu Akbar’ rang out from podiums urging the triumph of God’s religion?
Do not make these worrisome developments out to be more than they are, but do not make this appearance of a sheikh in a church out to be more than it is, either. Yes, it is a necessary and valuable gesture, received to great applause by the Christian audience.
But if one wishes to be cynical, after Islamists used religion to divide Egypt and get their constitution, may they now want to use religion (and religious unity) to govern from the center amid expected economic difficulties? Even if not, forgive the nation’s Christians and non-Islamist Muslims for feeling rather jaded.
These events are far removed from the American consciousness, which is generally ready to move on from Egypt after being consumed with its transition for the past two years. It is hoped the My Jihad campaign, as necessary as it must be, is not painting a purposefully imprecise picture to take advantage.