Our reading of the Cairo papers this week takes us to the cultural supplement of the al-Ittihad (The Union), a daily paper based in Abu-Dhabi. The paper printed a research paper contributed by Hassan Hanafy, professor of Islamic philosophy, to a conference on “Travel Literature” held in Ajman in the United Arab Emirates. The paper centred on “Travels of the Prophets”, defining ‘ travel’ as movement from place to place under hardship. Dr Hanafy cited as examples the journey of Moses into Midian; the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt; the Passion Trial of Jesus Christ; St Paul’s travels; and the Prophet Mohamed’s journey (known as hijra) from Mekka to Medina fleeing his persecutors. Of particular interest to Christians was his description of the Passion of Christ; he detailed the Crucifixion, the Crown of Thorns, the spear hit, and the vinegar. It was among the very few instances a Muslim academic goes into such detail where the life of Christ is concerned.
The Egyptian St Antony’s
Masr Ennahardah (Egypt Today) the talk show broadcast every evening on the Egyptian satellite channel, has taken remarkable steps towards stressing the concept of Egyptian ‘citizenship’. A special episode was filmed at the monastery of St Antonius (St Antony) in the Eastern Desert near the Red Sea. To the poignant Coptic melody of the Golgotha and the Bible verse “If you wish to be perfect, go sell all what you have … and come follow me” (Matt 19: 21), the host, Mahmoud Saad, began by saying that Christian monasticism began in Egypt, and that St Antony’s was the oldest monastery in Christian history. The tune was particularly relevant since the monks explained that monasticism meant that they ‘died’ where the world was concerned—one of the monks explained that their consecration prayers were in effect funeral rites—only to live in Christ. The viewer was introduced to the history of monasticism, the everyday life of the monks, and everything takes place behind the high walls of the monastery. A brief history of St Antony’s life was given. The camera moved to every nook and cranny in the monastery, visiting the churches—up to the underground church most recently excavated in the monastery—the water spring that supplies the monastery with water, the monk cells, the keep, the refectory, and the guesthouse. The show introduced countless viewers to an aspect of Egyptian identity and history they were unaware of.
Remarriage in the Church
Al-Aashira Massa’an (Ten PM), the satellite channel Dream’s daily talk show, discussed the recent court order obliging the Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III to approve the remarriage of divorced persons. The ruling aroused huge controversy, since the Pope said the Church cannot abide by rules that contradict explicit Bible teachings—its very raison d’être. This led to criticism of the Church as an institution which behaves as though it were above the law, a “State within a State”. Al-Aashira Massa’an hosted Bishop of Shubral-Kheima Anba Morqos, the lawyers Naguib Gabraïl and Magdy Abdel-Malek, and the writer Kamal Zakher. While Zakher attempted to cite a wider interpretation for the Bible verse which bans divorce except in case of adultery, the hostess Mona al-Shazly reminded that it was not the guests’ role to seek interpretations of existing religious texts but to discuss their implementation. Anba Morqos reiterated the Pope’s insistence on following the Bible teachings, and said that anyone who wished to marry aside from these teachings had the option of a civil marriage. This was in reply to the court’s legal opinion that marriage and the formation of a family was a basic human right guaranteed by the Constitution. For his part, the Pope stressed that no court order could make the Church go against the teachings of the Bible, and threatened that the Holy Synod would take action to defrock any cleric who went against these teachings.
The guests drew attention to the importance of passing the unified personal status law for non-Muslims, the draft of which has been with Parliament for the past 15 years but was never placed on the agenda.
Several viewers called by phone to compare the situation to whether a court order could ever be issued contradictory to Islamic sharia where Muslim marriage and family are concerned? “Could the court order a Muslim woman to marry a Christian man?” one viewer asked. “Or to return a woman back to a husband who divorced her three times?” Both cases are absolutely banned by sharia.
The daily Sate-owned Al-Ahram has aroused the issue of ‘the role of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the crisis of Nile water’. The article stressed on the spiritual ties between the Ethiopian and Egyptian Church that go back to the 4th century. In his column, the writer Sayed Ali wrote addressing the Church to intervene in the current crisis with Ethiopia concerning agreement on the equitable use of the Nile waters. But the deputy to the head of the Coptic Melli (Community) Council Tharwat Bassili told the daily al-Wafd, the mouthpiece of the liberal Wafd party, that the Coptic Church was not asked to play any role in the negotiations around the Nile water.