Out of the Chaos, a Sign of Hope for a New Spirit of Dialogue | March 20, 2011

North Africa and the Middle East have been wracked by unrest and civil disorder since January this year.

While the situations in Tunisia and Egypt have evolved into the stage where the respective countries are now working out new constitutions and the people in general have a stronger sense of what kind of governance they want from the new governments that will replace the ones they brought down, things are still up in the air in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. The coming days should show us what we might expect in these three countries.
One evident positive outcome has already surfaced in Egypt, and this is in the area of inter-religious relations. The following report is based on dispatches received from AsiaNews.it, an on-line publication of the PIME.

On March 5, 2011 the Coptic Church in Soul, about 30 km. from Cairo, was attacked and burned down. The Grand Imam from the Islamic University of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmad al-Tayyib, condemned the attack and called the action a “distortion of Islam”.

The Copts, joined by a number of Muslims, demonstrated against the burning of their church with the demand that the church be rebuilt. The demonstrations, in front of a TV station and in Tahrir Square itself, led to short tempers and a brawl between the demonstrators and radical elements among the Muslim population. The Army had to be called in to quell the clashes, but not before the death of over a dozen people and the wounding of some 50 others.

Copts are Christian Egyptians, members of a church established in Egypt in the 6th century, who have had their share of injustice and sectarian violence from the hands of the majority Muslims. The new mood in inter-religious relations may be gleaned from the information that a week after the burning of the church, hundreds of Coptic

Christians and Muslims gathered in Tahrir Square, holding their respective symbols of the cross and the crescent, to demonstrate the inter-religious unity of the Egyptian people.
In the meantime the burned church is being rebuilt by the Egyptian armed forces even in the face of opposition by radical Muslims. Also, a delegation from al-Azhar University visited Christians in Soul to express solidarity.

Out of the chaos that the world is now seeing in North Africa and the Middle East, the hope is that a new order of dialogue, peace, harmony and solidarity between and among groups will emerge. Silsilah has always advocated for life-in-dialogue among people of different faiths and culture, based on the spirituality of each one’s faith. While this advocacy is for all people of all faiths, Silsilah has focused, and continues to focus, on Muslim-Christian dialogue. Perhaps the experience in Egypt, of Muslims and Christians joining forces for what is good for one faith, may be the seed of tolerance and common vision planted in troubled times which will bring fruit of a strong culture of dialogue as time moves on.

As it has been experienced in Egypt in the burning and rebuilding of the Coptic church of Soul, may it be so in our own Mindanao.

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