Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

A Survey of Priests

One of the most interesting projects and papers which have been produced over the past few months was a survey of diocesan priests we conducted under the authority of the bishop of Beni Suef. This was done following the incident at Izbet Bushra, described in the last post, in an effort to determine how this was experienced by other priests in the area. More importantly, it asked a number of questions concerning their community interactions with Muslims. From this we made an elementary statistical analysis which produced insightful finding for good practices which lead toward peace. I have printed the abstract below, under which is a link to the full report, which is quite a bit shorter than previous ones to which I have linked. I hope you enjoy.

The clashes between Muslims and Christians in Izbet Bushra on June 21, 2009 resulted from a dispute in the village over using a private residence for community prayer services. Though details from the event are hard to confirm, it appears that Christians anticipated many difficulties in gaining permission to build a traditional church structure, and therefore used deception to build a residence for the priest with a prayer hall under the guise of being a factory. Though much critique has been leveled at the government of Egypt concerning the right of Christians to build churches, from the example of Izbet Bushra and elsewhere, this paper seeks to look at the issue from another perspective. What are the community patterns necessary to avoid the occurrence of religious tension? Though the practical question is not addressed it is a worthy introduction: Had there been good relations between the Muslims and Christians of Izbet Bushra to begin with, might the Christian desire to build a church have engendered any controversy at all?

In the aftermath of the conflict we obtained permission from Bishop Stephanos of Beba and el-Fashn to conduct a survey of the priests in his diocese. In it we asked a number of questions designed to discover the patterns of relationship between the Christian and Muslim communities within each priest’s jurisdiction. We also asked a number of questions concerning their knowledge and opinion of the incident which took place in Izbet Bushra.

From the survey results we were able to make basic observations establishing several patterns to the key question asked each priest: How are would you describe relations between Muslims and Christians in your area of service? The three options given were: Improving, About the Same or Stable, and Deteriorating. There are definite correlations which emerge when studying the data. Among the questions asked are:

  • Does your area employ private residences for worship?
  • What is your relationship like with the area imam?
  • Are there joint projects between Muslims and Christians in your area?
  • Do Christians in your area serve in the police or security forces?
  • Do Muslims and Christians frequent the same area shops?
  • What is your method for dealing with clashes?
  • Who is the first person you would inform in the case of a clash?
  • What is the demographic data from your area, population of Muslims and Christians, number of mosques and churches, registration status of each, etc.

These questions and others produce observations which make strong suggestions about ideal community practices which lead toward improving religious relations or away from a condition of deterioration. As such, they are offered as suggestions to the Christian community in general, in hope of producing interreligious harmony which may prevent the incident of violent conflict over the normal and natural disputes which occur whenever people exist together in community. One may easily surmise that community involvement and personal interaction lead toward improving relations between residents of an area; this paper presents statistical information which demonstrates the correlation.

Click here for the full report.

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