The Egyptian Family House is an institution created to preserve and promote religious unity between the nation’s Muslims and Christians. Its mandate includes both advising the government on proper policy and encouraging the grassroots by multiplying branches throughout the country.
I have written previously on its general structure. Recently with Arab West Report I had the opportunity to publish summaries of its committee work, which I will excerpt below. Please click on the link in each section to read the full article.
The Family Culture Committee (from AWR):
But it was the work of the family culture committee in the governorates that was most impressive. Ghālib was meeting with representatives of the family culture committees from the various cities which have created Family House branches.
In only three months, five regional branches had conducted four seminars each. The majority of these were not in the larger population areas, but in the villages, even in open squares. They were giving their reports, telling also of at least two incidents of sectarian conflict in Mallawi and Luxor where committee members were able to recruit Family House affiliated religious leaders to reconcile feuding families. There were also more mundane examples where peace was achieved within single families—parents with children, husband with wife.
The Emergency Committee (from the same article):
It consists of five Muslims, all associated with the Azhar, and five Christians, two from the Orthodox Church and one each from the Anglicans, Catholics, and Protestants. Two of these Christians are retired policemen, able to help facilitate relations with security when trouble arises. Azhar members, meanwhile, ensure religious institution cooperation.
The committee activates when trouble arises, and Jirjis and his team have intervened to quell sectarian conflicts in Aswan, Minya, Mallawi, Deir Mawas, Hurghada, and Jabl al-Tayr. Details of the work can be sensitive and are often to be off the record. But by engaging trusted people the committee is able to research the true report of what took place, from which they can issue recommendations. At times, though, a security solution takes priority.
Sometimes the dispute involves conversion from one religion to another. Other times it is over church building. In all cases the committee goes to the source. Have official conversion papers been issued by the Azhar? Has security given written license to the church? Media reporting can often give conflicting opinions, but engaged with officials at the highest levels, the committee is usually able to make a sound determination.
The Media Committee (from AWR):
These values are promoted by the Family House in a general way, and having priests and sheikhs work together is important. But what relation does this have with the media committee?
Our committee must shine the light on this work. If we do this, it will become a pattern for other media to follow. What we are waiting for is it to be stimulated.
What about the website? It is laid out well but seems underdeveloped.
It is still experimental. We want to use it to cover events, but actual accomplishments are not yet that many. The website is somewhat empty, and I have an appointment with Dr. Matanī to select two from our media center [of the church] to work on it. But centralized organizations can be slow.
In our media center we have press releases and our website is active because it has someone dedicated to it. The Family House media committee could stand also to be decentralized a bit. But first we must meet, then take a decision, and so on.
Dr. Matanī and I must press on the other committees to be active and give us the news of what they do.
What will you do when you begin to receive reports?
My idea is that in highlighting the positive values we want society to see, we do more than just put it on the website. We should make something professional and then give it directly to media outlets and satellite channels. But it is clear the financial resources are not yet allocated sufficiently for something like this.
The Education Committee (from AWR)
The idea of the Family House is that we are a family, all together. But how can we live together when each one is raised in an incorrect way? We have witnessed this, and in the education committee we are trying to do something about it.
The first problem is that there are no teachers of religious education, whether Muslim or Christian. The teacher of Islamic religion is often the Arabic teacher. And the teacher of Christian religion, almost anyone can become a school employee no matter their weak qualifications.
So the problem is that they teach religion, but not religious education?
As you said, the subject is religious education, and it should be education, but most of it is just religion. There is no prepared cadre of religious education teachers in the ministry. We are asking the Ministry of Education to create such teachers, both Muslim and Christian.
And the religious classes should remain separate?
Yes, even though there is a wide shared space. I was responsible for the national standards in education committee for the cabinet as concerns religious education, and we sat with the committee in the ministry responsible for Islamic education. We discussed concentrating on our shared items and put aside areas of difference like doctrine. But concerning things like relationships, civilization, and contemporary issues like cloning, for example, let us find the common ground in the two religions.
Values are also shared around the world, even in places that do not have religion. Security, cleanliness, order – these are represented in verses from both the Quran and the Bible.
So do you want to substitute doctrine and in its place put values within the religious education curriculum?
Religious education should teach the spirit of Islam to Muslims and the spirit of Christianity to Christians. The goal is to give the right practices in life. How do you interact with the other? How do you interact with someone who is different than you? This is the educational component we are looking for, from within religion.
We are a religious country, whether Muslims or Christians, and it was this way from the age of the Pharaohs. We live, we eat, we die, and we will be held accountable. This is a constitutional part of the Egyptian character, for us to fear God. Even the thief, before he steals, will say, ‘God protect me.’ From deep within us, religion is important.
So we cannot remove the essence of religion from the schools. Not everyone will go to mosque or the church. We have to take the opportunity in schools to teach it. But the new idea, and it has actually happened, is to have a new book simply entitled, ‘Values’. It takes the common values from Islam and Christianity and teaches them to everyone, in the same classroom.
So this is a new book for a new course? Where will it be taught?
It is a course titled ‘Values’ for all class levels. It will not be tested, but will be taught during activities, such as when the school takes a special excursion to camp, or have a seminar, for example. We have prepared it for the elementary, and will complete it for the other levels. It has been approved by the pope, the grand sheikh of the Azhar, and the minister of education, who have all written introductions. I believe it will be used starting next year.
This, then, will be offered alongside the regular religious education classes?
The regular religious education books will continue to be used, but we are taking these books – along with the Arabic and social studies books – and will try to remove those elements which injure or harm the religious other.
In the days when Fathī Sarūr was the minister of education, there was an elementary book issued and its first lesson was, ‘I am a Muslim’. So what of the Christian student? The minister became aware and had it removed, but things of this manner remain. Things that call Copts ‘infidels’, for example.
This exists in the curriculum?
It was. But this is present in verses of the Qur’an. So if it is included for memorization in the Arabic class, the Coptic student will be harmed. Our committee is taking all the curriculum books to study them, but the ministry has also begun to study this to make sure they are removed. Last year we witnessed this, but we are continuing our review.
As a committee we can only issue recommendations, but there is a response from the ministry. There is a very good relationship between us.
Please click on the links above for the full articles, at Arab West Report.