What are the consequences of loving your enemy?
The thought of loving your enemy with any practicality at all is nearly unfathomable for most people. Though Christians may be among the few to state the effort is even commendable, it is safe to gather that many hold the virtue as proof their faith is more sublime than others, rather than as a lived habit or lifestyle choice. But who can blame them? How does one even begin to consider what might be done otherwise? Perhaps one can curb retaliation, but to actively do good? Anticipated consequences immediately shut down all efforts. These are obvious enough – evil advancing as the victim enables – but there are unanticipated consequences as well, as shall be seen with one man who tried.
In Egypt there is no public, or even private, talk of enemies. Christians are in a minority position, and though they encounter various difficulties as a community, they also know that using a pejorative term like ‘enemy’ would only make matters worse. Yet there is an undertone of sentiment that throws its frustration in various directions – Muslims, Islam as a system, government – in a manner not far from common understandings of ‘enemy’. This is not true of all, of course, and may not even be justified. But it exists.
Many Christians strive to secure their rights by promoting a secular state and open civil society. As such, the political enemy, or at least boogeyman, is the Muslim Brotherhood. In Egyptian politics the Brotherhood is known as a somewhat moderate Islamist movement, forswearing violence in their effort to shape an Islamic society and state. There are other movements less so, though the government has stamped most of them out. Yet Christians and Muslim secularists consistently hold the Brotherhood as the foil against their democratic reform efforts. For Christians the reason is clear, even if the reality is not necessarily so: A Brotherhood triumph will make Christians second class citizens.
Christians are not without cause in fearing the Brotherhood, but like many political movements, it is difficult to sort out the rhetoric from the reality. Muslim Brothers today do not speak out against Christians, and claim they desire an open civil society as well. Is this a temporary ploy to curry favor and secure power, after which their true colors will be seen? This is the fear. Certainly there is valid enough fear to understand why Christians engage the group as if they are the enemy. Again, though, the term is never invoked.
One man, however, refuses this wholesale rejection. Rafik Habib is the son of a now-deceased prominent evangelical Christian leader. Samuel Habib directed CEOSS, the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services. This group enjoys a good reputation in Egypt, both for its work among the evangelical poor, but also for their cross-service to other Christians and the Muslim community.
Rafik, however, directed his efforts toward academia. Specifically, he wished to uncover the core culture of Egypt, made up of different strands from Pharaohnic, Mediterranean, and Arab influences. Additionally, he made purposeful effort to dialogue with the Islamist elements of Egypt, entertaining the question of the place of Christians in an Islamic state.
His findings will be summarized in the post to follow. I had the chance to interview Rafik Habib, and an intern from Arab West Report wrote the summary of our conversation. As a preview, however, suffice it to say that nearly no Christian in Egypt sympathizes with him, nor shares his perspective on interreligious matters of governance. It has been wondered if he is, in fact, a Muslim himself.
In his confession, he is not, he is a Christian. Yet his effort to engage ‘the enemy’ of many of his co-religionists has marginalized him among his own community. When I met him I had the feeling I was speaking with a man alone. Alone with his convictions, to be sure; a source of strength that was also apparent.
What was not apparent was if he was alone in his love. Rafik Habib did not explain himself in this terminology, preferring to stay in the technical language of academia. Therefore, while I might read this motivation into his conduct, it would be unfair to attribute it to him.
If it was not love, however, it was conduct not far removed, unless deeper and more cynical explanations become unearthed. Regardless, two consequences are revealed in his life.
One, he has suffered rejection from his own kind. There are certainly different types of love, one of which focuses on the self-preservation of the group. This love is real, and will protect the group, even sacrificially, when its interests are threatened. The love that reaches out to the other, however, can be seen to jeopardize the group, removing barriers of distinction. The bridge of love, extending to an enemy, can be burned from either direction.
Two, though this will be seen more clearly in the interview to follow, Rafik has been changed through his interactions. Love is often said to be blind; perhaps, but it also has eyes to see what others cannot. This consequence can help justify one’s group in their rejection, but can also weigh heavily on the individual seeking to love. Bearing the burden of a new version of reality can be a troubling task. It can be hard to serve two masters, especially when they are at odds with one other.
Christians, and lovers of God from different confessions, have only one master. Yet that master wishes them to have many objects of their service. The decision to love may result in rejection, but will almost certainly result in the transformation of self. The promise, however, is that it may also result in the transformation of the other. Be it the enemy or the group, the one who loves must be prepared to suffer. It may well be, as Jesus demonstrates for Christians, that the suffering is essential. Egyptian Christians and Islamists alike, as humanity everywhere, stand in need of transformation. May many more, like Rafik Habib, stand accordingly.
Note: This article is based on an interview conducted with Habib before the revolution. I would very much like to follow up with him upon our return to Egypt, to see how he interprets the current situation.