Thanks be to the Precious Beloved, this article was published on Middle East Online.
The events and images coming out of Egypt in the last two weeks have been nothing short of extraordinary. I have never been more inspired by seeing ordinary Egyptians – young and old, rich and poor, man and woman — finally stand up to the brutality of a dictator who has ruled for over three decades. Despite the vicious crackdown by police, the letting loose of criminals to wreak havoc, the attack of paid “Rent-A-Thugs” on innocent and peaceful protesters, and the attempt to silence the international media, the people of Egypt have not backed down. I have never been more proud to share their ancestry.
Yet, perhaps the most awe-inspiring images to come out of Egypt occurred on February 4, dubbed the “Day of Departure” by Egyptian protesters. In Alexandria, Christian Egyptians stood together — hand in hand — and formed a human chain to protect their fellow Muslim Egyptians as they prayed their weekly Friday prayers in the street. This in the very same city — about a month before — where a Christian church was viciously bombed by terrorists seeking to foment sectarian strife and violence in Egypt. It seemed that they returned the favor of the Muslims who came out on the Coptic Christmas and formed human chains to protect their Christian brethren as they celebrated.
On February 6, dubbed the “Day of the Martyrs,” Egyptian Muslims and Christians each performed prayers for those who have been killed during the uprising in Cairo. According to Al Jazeera, people were chanting, “Muslims and Copts [Christians] hand in hand for a new dawn to rise” in Tahrir [Liberation] Square, the center of the protests. A woman named Nadia tweeted, “Off to Tahrir to attend Christian mass. My father — a 73-yr-old ill, bearded conservative Muslim — is with me.”
These extraordinary images and events belie the contention of some who claim that Muslims and Christians cannot live and work together in peace in the Muslim world. Yes, there have been truly horrific attacks on Christians in the Middle East, such as the brutal attack in Iraq. Yes, there is no denying that there has been tension between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. But, as recent events have shown, their unity as Egyptians in the face of a brutal dictatorial regime far outweighs any differences in faith. When all is said and done, they are all Egyptians, Muslim and Christian alike.
Such events have also occurred here in the United States. In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, local Christians in the Chicago area formed a human chain around a mosque, so that the Muslims on their way to Friday prayers were safe from reprisal attacks. It was a powerful moment of heart-warming unity that has, sadly, faded as the years passed after September 11. Indeed, it is natural for people to come together in times of crisis, such as the attacks of 9/11, the uprising in Egypt, and the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.
Yet, we do not need to wait until after a crisis to come together. It is my hope and prayer that the images of interfaith unity that are coming out of Egypt inspire us to come together as a people, regardless of our faith traditions. All across this country, mosques have been attacked and even firebombed, just as churches were during the civil rights struggle. In countless communities where plans for mosques have been drawn up, there has been fierce resistance by some in the community, sometimes going so far as setting fire to construction equipment.
But, if Christian Egyptians can come together and form a human chain around their Muslim neighbors to protect them, we can do the same here. If Muslim Egyptians can show up on Christmas Eve and form human chains around churches to show their Christian neighbors that they are there for them, then we can do the same here. In fact, we should form our own “human chains” around all our communities, to protect them from the forces of hatred and bigotry that are working hard to divide this country and tear it apart. In Egypt, they are saying, “We are all Egyptians.” We must never forget that, each and every day, no matter what our background, we are all Americans.