Christians and Muslims united against intolerance
The anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims is insulting and intentionally provocative, so muslims across the world are justified in their anger. Nevertheless, any violence against innocent people is completely unjustified. Just as the source of anger is a misrepresentation of Islam and the message of the Prophet Muhammad, so too are some of the violent reactions which followed.
What we are witnessing is not, as some on both sides would like us to believe, a battle between Muslims and non-Muslims, between the Muslim World and America, or between repression and freedom of expression. It is about tolerance and intolerance, and all sides have their share of both.
The recent events have been particularly worrysome for me as an interfaith proponent and activist concerned with the promotion of positive relations between Muslims and Christians in my native Egypt. The developments threaten to further destabilize the post-revolution context. News of the film’s alleged association with some members of the Egyptian Coptic community in the USA has not been welcome at this sensitive time.
The Egyptian Coptic Church’s response to the film has been strong. It has denounced the film, calling it a provocation aimed at causing discord in Egypt. It has called for the film-makers to be put on trial and to be stripped of their Egyptian nationality. Church leaders have reiterated their respect for the Prophet Muhammad, with some Christians even joining Muslims in sit-ins against the film.
This response is welcome. But in an ideal world, the Church would not need to defend itself in this way. Muslims across the world, and particularly in the West, are tired of having to defend themselves for the politically motivated or ill-informed actions of a few, and should sympathize with the Church for having to apologize for the actions of “morons”.
But intolerance exists and has a loud and damaging voice. Our responses to provocation should be peaceful and collaborative, stemming from and proving our joint belief that faith is a force for good and inspiration.
Meanwhile, we should be actively working to create an environment of peaceful coexistence and cooperation, and we have been given a blueprint for this in the Quran. Allah tells us in the Quran (49:13) that He has made us into nations and tribes so that we may “know each another.” The Arabic word used is lita’arafu (لتعارفوا) and this can linguistically be broken down into three meanings.
Ta’aruf (تعارف) means a long-term acquaintance. If people of different faiths interact and create long-term bonds of trust and interdependence, intolerance based on distrust will be reduced.
Ma’rifah (معرفة) means knowledge. If people of different faiths really get to know each other and learn about each other’s beliefs, intolerance through misinformation and fear of the unknown will be reduced, and there will be a deeper appreciation of why the love of the Prophet Muhammad is so essential to a Muslim’s very being.
Ma’roof (معروف) means “good” in terms of the good that is done, such as service or kindness. If people of different faiths join forces to do good — to end poverty, to promote peace, to work for the development of a new Egypt — then common goals will unite them as they work and tie them to a common vision and future.
The world witnessed some truly memorable scenes of Egyptian Christians and Muslims protecting each other as they prayed in Tahrir Square last year, combining their forces in their joint struggle to rid the country of tyranny. This common goal united them as they filled the Square with chants of Eed Wahda — “One hand.” And now that Egypt has enjoyed its democratic experience, we hope that the fruits of democracy will be enjoyed by all. The Freedom and Justice Party must work to promote the ideals which its name bears for all Egyptians. Despite the current problems, the great opportunity at hand should not be wasted. If the vision for the development of a new Egypt can be constructed inclusively, it can act as a new common goal uniting Egyptians of all backgrounds in a stronger, more prosperous Egypt.