Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Biden Said ‘Inshallah.’ Many Arab Christians Do Too.

Image: Illustration by Mallory Rentsch / Source Images: Win McNamee / Scott Olson / Getty Images

Unnoticed by many during the contentious first presidential debate, Joe Biden introduced a new Arabic word into the American lexicon.

Inshallah.

Technically, it is three words, in both Arabic and English: “in sha’ Allah,” or “if God wills.”

“If you take it literally, you won’t get the intent,” said Ramez Atallah, general director of the Bible Society of Egypt.

“It can also mean, ‘It will never happen,’ and this is probably what Biden meant.”

Asked by the moderator about his tax returns, President Donald Trump answered, “You’ll get to see it.”

To which the former vice president interjected, “When? Inshallah?”

Trump continued, and the moment was lost to almost all but Arabic-speaking viewers. Muslim Twitter users lit up in astonishment, wondering if they heard correctly.

Enchilada” was about as close as other ears heard.

But while one Muslim writer has humorously called inshallah the Arabic equivalent of “fuggedaboudit,” what should Christians make of the phrase?

“Everything is uncertain,” Atallah said. “We live in an unpredictable world, and no one is ever sure that what they plan will be accomplished.” He highlighted the biblical equivalent in…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 7, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

God’s Word Is Like Manna in the Middle East

Image: Illustration by Sarah Gordon / Photo Courtesy of Anne Zaki

Anne Zaki is assistant professor of preaching and practical theology at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. Raised in a Presbyterian home in Cairo, at age 16 she left the Middle East to travel alone to a progressive boarding school on Vancouver Island, Canada.

In 2000, she married a Syrian-Canadian pastor, and as a mother of four, she completed her master of divinity degree from Calvin Theological Seminary in 2009. Zaki was always confident she would return to Cairo, and the family relocated there nine months into the chaos of Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

CT spoke with Zaki about the transformative power of Scripture in her own life and in the Egyptian church.

How did Scripture shape your early faith?

I grew up in an environment that was saturated with Scripture. My father was a pastor. My grandfather was a pastor. After retirement, my grandfather came to live with us. I would wake up every morning to hymns and Scripture being read out loud. His prayers were incredible, almost as if he was echoing God’s words back to him.

Eight months before going to Canada, I had an experience of personal encounter with Jesus. I knew I was different. Even my family noticed the change.

But in my new school, for the first time I was being exposed to religions other than Christianity and Islam. And it wasn’t just exposure. It was a school that was set up to appreciate and promote diversity. I had my first big spiritual crisis. I had to ask myself: Why do I believe what I believe? Is it just because I grew up in it?

I sort of made a deal with God. I told him, If you really are who I have known you to be, who they told me that you are, then prove it to me through your Word without the influence of anyone else. So for me that meant no church, no youth group—not even Christian music. And during that period of six months, God’s Word was sufficient to reveal himself, to prove himself, to be his witness.

How did you sense God revealing himself to you through his Word? Can you explain further?

Every day, I would read a certain portion of Scripture, meditate on it, and pray it back to God. The things that didn’t make sense I would throw back at him, and we’d have a debate about them. Usually…

This article was originally published in the special September print edition on women’s voices in scripture engagement. Please click here to read the full text, where you can download the entire issue for free.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

How Lebanon’s First Female Militant Made Her Fight More Faithful

Image: Courtesy of Shiraz Awad

On July 31, Jocelyne Khoueiry passed away mercifully five days before seeing Beirut destroyed, again. A key player in the civil war that once tore the city apart, she spent the rest of her life trying to stitch it back together, and all of Lebanon with it.

The Beirut explosion on August 4 reminded many of the worst days of the 1975-1990 conflict. The Lebanese capital divided into a Christian east and a Muslim west, alternately shelled by militias and foreign armies vying for control.

But though far smaller in scale than the blast at the port, the deaths caused by Jocelyne’s 1976 hand grenade also shook the nation.

Born as one of two daughters in a Maronite Christian family of ten, Jocelyne grew up across the street from the Beirut headquarters of the Phalange.

Originally a Christian youth movement dedicated to an independent Lebanon, the Phalange took great offense at the state-within-a-state formed by the 300,000 Palestinians who were fleeing war with Israel. The 1969 Cairo agreement gave the refugees sovereignty to organize their own communities and continue the armed struggle, with the blessing—though not involvement—of their host nation.

The Khoueiry family provided some of the earliest fighters to the Phalange Christian militia formed in response, and a not yet 20-year-old Jocelyne enlisted with her brothers. In 1975, the civil war broke out in earnest, and several Lebanese Muslim militias sided with the Palestinians.

Jocelyne was not a practicing Christian; she preferred the Beirut nightlife. But on May 7, 1976, on a routine patrol on the roof of the Regent Hotel, she had a vision. She said the Virgin Mary appeared to her, and she saw herself kneeling in veneration. But she was also overcome with a sense of dread, and prayed that God would protect the six other female fighters stationed there with her.

On the way down from the roof, she saw advancing Palestinian militants.

The Regent sat on a dividing line between mixed and wholly Christian neighborhoods of Beirut, and Jocelyne’s squad was completely alone. While the Phalange militia’s men had anticipated defending a different hotel encampment, a 300-strong regiment of Palestinians attacked the female outpost instead.

The battle lasted six hours. Eventually, Jocelyne risked exposure by climbing back to the roof, and threw down a hand grenade that miraculously killed the Palestinian commander. The militia scattered, and the line was held.

Jocelyne became a legend. But in the years that followed, she contemplated…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on September 14, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Satellite Ministries Cross Boundaries. That’s Their Promise and Peril.

Image: Illustration by Nicole Xu

GOD TV celebrated too soon.

The 25-year-old Christian broadcasting corporation was granted a license for a new Hebrew-language channel in Israel, and the CEO wanted to praise the Lord.

“God has supernaturally opened the door for us to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of his Jewish people,” said CEO Ward Simpson, former director of the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, in a video posted online. “They’ll watch secretly. They’ll watch quietly. . . . God is restoring his people. God is removing the blindness from their eyes.”

It was a public relations disaster. An outcry from Orthodox Jews and anti-missionary groups led Israel’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council to reconsider GOD TV’s seven-year license. Council chairman Asher Biton claimed the company had misrepresented the channel as something that offered content for Christians when it was really programming designed to convert Jews.

GOD TV scrambled to take down Simpson’s video and clarify its purpose. GOD TV would not try to convert Jews to Christianity. But it would preach Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, consistent with the beliefs of Israel’s approximately 20,000 Messianic Jews. It wasn’t enough. Eight weeks after GOD TV was awarded the license…

Additional reporting by Jeremy Weber.

This article was originally published in the September 2020 print edition of Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Old Scars and New Wounds: Christians Comfort Lebanon’s Trauma

To a traumatized child, a teddy bear can make a big difference.

But as the handful of Lebanese evangelicals trained in counseling are emphasizing in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion, so can an ordinary individual.

“I don’t think the sit-with-a-psychologist model works with a communal culture,” said Kate Mayhew, country representative for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Lebanon.

“A lay person might be fearful of doing harm. But there is a lot they can do.”

There is a lot that needs to be done.

An impact assessment conducted by Strategy& in the worst affected neighborhoods of Beirut found that 3 in 4 respondents were suffering anxiety two weeks after the blast.

Nearly 7 in 10 were experiencing disturbing dreams, and 6 in 10 reported difficulty doing household chores.

And according to UNICEF, 50 percent of its respondents said their children were showing signs of trauma and extreme stress. In the poverty-stricken Karantina district directly in front of the port, one child clutched a bag of distributed bread to his chest, rocking back and forth. Though by then…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 9, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Sudan Agrees with Rebels to Remove Islam as State Religion

In signing successive peace deals with entrenched rebel movements last week, Sudan drew upon the legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

“The constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’” read the text of an agreement between the North African nation’s joint military-civilian transitional council and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (SPLM–N).

“The state shall not establish an official religion.”

The declaration of principles further cements Sudan’s efforts to undo the 30-year system of strict sharia law under President Omar al-Bashir, during which Islam was the religion of the state.

The agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, four days after a more inclusive peace deal was signed with a coalition of rebel groups in the Sudan Revolutionary Front in Juba, South Sudan.

The Juba agreement established a national commission for religious freedom, which guarantees the rights of Christian communities in Sudan’s southern regions.

Sudan’s population of 45 million is roughly 91 percent Muslim and 6 percent Christian. Open Doors’s World Watch List ranks Sudan No. 7 among nations where it is hardest to be a Christian. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) interpreted the agreement even more widely: to protect…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 5, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Controversial Religion Law Tips Montenegro Election

For the first time in his life, 82-year-old Bishop Amfilohije voted in an election.

His example led record numbers of citizens in Montenegro to do the same this past Sunday.

Spurred by what he perceived as government attacks on his beloved Serbian Orthodox Church, he launched an “anybody but them” campaign against the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which held power in the Eastern European country for the last 30 years.

“[Vote] for the saints, and against the lawless,” said Amfilohije one week before the August 30 election, according to Balkan Insight. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic is accused of running a corrupt government.

Preliminary results indicate a razor-thin victory for the bishop.

The opposition coalition won 41 out of 81 seats in parliament.

The DPS claimed the largest solo share with 30, but will find itself out of power for the first time in Montenegro’s 14-year history if all coalitions hold.

“This is the freedom that so many have long been longing for,” pastor Sinisa Nadazdin told CT. His Gospel of Jesus Christ Church is located in the capital city of Podgorica, and is one of the nation’s five registered evangelical churches.

“The myth of Djukanovic’s invincibility is finally broken.”

Montenegro is the 6th-least evangelical country in Europe, according to the Joshua Project. Believers were not united behind any particular party, but many welcomed the democratic message. “This is an opportunity to get some new blood into the system…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 3, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million

Missiologists have long spoken of the explosive growth of the church in Iran.

Now they have data to back up their claims—from secular research.

According to a new survey of 50,000 Iranians—90 percent residing in Iran—by GAMAAN, a Netherlands-based research group, 1.5 percent identified as Christian.

Extrapolating over Iran’s population of approximately 50 million literate adults (the sample surveyed) yields at least 750,000 believers. According to GAMAAN, the number of Christians in Iran is “without doubt in the order of magnitude of several hundreds of thousands and growing beyond a million.”

The traditional Armenian and Assyrian Christians in Iran number 117,700, according to the latest government statistics.

Christian experts surveyed by CT expressed little surprise. But it may make a significant difference for the Iranian church.

“With the lack of proper data, most international advocacy groups expressed a degree of doubt on how widespread the conversion phenomenon is in Iran,” said Mansour Borji, research and advocacy director for Article 18, a UK-based organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom in Iran.

“It is pleasing to see—for the first time—a secular organization adding its weight to these claims.” The research, which asked 22 questions about…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 3, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Turkey Turns Another Historic Church into a Mosque

The Turkish government formally converted a former Byzantine church into a mosque Friday, a move that came a month after it drew praise from the faithful and international opposition for similarly turning Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia into a Muslim house of prayer.

A decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published in the country’s Official Gazette, said Istanbul’s Church of St. Saviour in Chora, known as Kariye in Turkish, was handed to Turkey’s religious authority, which would open up the structure for Muslim prayers.

Like the Hagia Sophia, which was a church for centuries and then a mosque for centuries more, the historic Chora church had operated as a museum for decades before Erdogan ordered it restored as a mosque.

The church, situated near the ancient city walls, is famed for its elaborate mosaics and frescoes. It dates to the fourth century, although the edifice took on its current form in the 11th–12th centuries.

The structure served as a mosque during the Ottoman rule before being transformed into a museum in 1945. A court decision last year canceled the building’s status as a museum, paving the way for Friday’s decision.

And as with the Hagia Sophia, the decision to transform the Chora church museum back into a mosque is seen as geared to consolidate the conservative and religious support base of Erdogan’s ruling party at a time when his popularity is sagging amid an economic downturn.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the move, saying that Turkish authorities “are once again brutally insulting the character” of another UN-listed world heritage site.

“This is a provocation against all believers,” the Greek ministry said in a statement. “We urge Turkey to return to the 21st century, and the mutual respect, dialogue and understanding between civilizations.”

Protestant believers agree. “The Hagia Sophia is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on August 21, 2020, in cooperation with the AP. I contributed additional reporting. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

A Beacon of Hope in a Broken Beirut

Image: P. Clarkson

Sitting at his desk in the second-floor office adjacent to the historic National Evangelical Church of Beirut, Habib Badr calmly filled out the wedding registry. It was a ritual the almost 70-year-old had performed countless times over the course of his 35-year ministry.

The next day, there would be a funeral. A stalwart member of his congregation, the former head of reconstructive surgery at the American University of Beirut hospital during the years of civil war, had passed away of natural causes.

It seemed there were more funerals than weddings these days, Badr thought. But the nostalgic church would always draw young people ready to exchange their vows, even from the scattered Lebanese diaspora, in imitation of their parents a generation before.

There was something special about the lighting. On a clear day, parishioners could see the distant snow-covered peak of Mt. Sannine, towering over the capital below. Three years ago, the church replaced its eight ordinary windows. Bracketing the sanctuary pews with translucent glass depicting the three crosses of Calvary above colored stones, they aimed to remind worshipers of the ever-present Rock of Ages, upon whom the church is built.

Lebanese evangelicals don’t prefer stained glass windows with human imagery, Badr said. This serves to distinguish them from original Catholic and Orthodox heritages.

“To the missionaries, we say, ‘Go home,’” a Lebanese Greek Orthodox bishop had publicly proclaimed a generation earlier. “And to the Protestants we say, ‘Come back home.’”

But for Badr and his congregants, they were already home. The National Evangelical Church, the oldest Arabic-speaking Protestant congregation in the Middle East, was formed in 1848. Badr’s grandfather Yusuf was the first native pastor, installed in 1890.

And as if to emphasize, the circular window high above the pulpit—installed in 1998—pictured a cross above Mt. Sannine, with an image of the church in the foothills below. Originally constructed in 1869, the architecture was a blend of Scottish and Lebanese styles.

Every Sunday, the symbolism would resonate: A Reformed church, nestled like any other Lebanese home into the rugged mountainous terrain.

Badr’s wedding thoughts were abruptly shaken by a small tremor. Small earthquakes periodically rattle the small Mediterranean nation two-thirds the size of Connecticut, so the pastor stood and prepared to momentarily take refuge underneath his office doorframe. It was not a moment too soon…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 20, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Can ‘Abraham’ Bring Peace to the Middle East?

In forging the first Arab-Israeli peace deal since 1994, President Donald Trump paid homage to a patriarch.

He named the historic normalization the “Abraham Accord.”

The familiar Bible character “is referred to as ‘Abraham’ in the Christian faith, ‘Ibrahim’ in the Muslim faith, and ‘Avraham’ in the Jewish faith,” explained David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel.

“And no person better symbolizes the potential for unity, among all these three great faiths.”

In signing the accord, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab nations to make peace with Israel. Telephone lines are already being connected between the Gulf nation and the Jewish state, with preparations underway to exchange embassies.

It may open a new era. Fellow Gulf nations Bahrain and Oman signaled their support, while Saudi Arabia did not oppose it.

“This is a once-in-a-generation diplomatic achievement, but I predict it will be the first, not the last,” said Johnnie Moore, an evangelical leader engaged in behind-the-scenes advocacy. He and bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg led an evangelical delegation to the UAE in October 2018 (as well as two delegations to Saudi Arabia), and Moore has personally visited three more times.

“The Abraham Accord,” he said, “will prove to be the moment when the grievances of the past no longer overpowered the promises of the future in the Middle East.” A hero of faith to both Christians and Jews, ‘Ibrahim’ is already a central figure in the UAE. The nation…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 17, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Why Many Christians Want to Leave Palestine. And Why Most Won’t.

In Bethlehem—the little town of Jesus’ birth—only 1 in 5 residents today are Christians (22%). A decade earlier, more than 4 in 5 were believers (84%).

The steep decline is reflected in other traditional Christian cities in the Holy Land. In Beit Jala, the Christian majority has fallen from 99 percent to 61 percent. In Beit Sahour, it has fallen from 81 percent to 65 percent.

When the Ottoman era ended in 1922, Christians were 11 percent of the population of Palestine—about 70,000 people. According to the 2017 census by the Palestinian Authority (PA), they now number 47,000—barely 1 percent.

There are competing explanations of what—or who—is to blame. Some identify the Israeli occupation. Others describe Muslim chauvinism.

The overwhelming answer, according to a new survey of local Christians by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), is economics.

Nearly 6 in 10 respondents identified this as the main reason they consider emigration (59%).

The poll, commissioned by the Philos Project, a US-based initiative promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, surveyed 995 Christians in 98 Palestinian locations throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in January and February.

Compared to the economy, other cited reasons paled in significance.

Security conditions were named by 7 percent. Another 7 percent cited better education. And another 7 percent blamed the political situation.

Only 4 percent blamed corruption, while 3 percent gave a religious explanation.

But this particular question measured the primary driver of desire to leave the Holy Land. What secondary factors might be involved? Philos “affirms the right of all Christians to…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 4, 2020. Please click here to read the full text, and here for the Arabic translation.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

How I Explained Beirut’s Explosion to My Kids

Credit: Julie Casper

Our family was sitting down to dinner when the walls rumbled.

Assuming it was just an unusual surge of electricity preceding one of Lebanon’s frequent power outages, we readied to say our prayers.

And then came the boom, and the whole house shook.

“An earthquake?” I wondered, as we rushed our four children, ages 7 to 13, outside to presumed safety. But there we found neighbors, anxiously skimming through Twitter on their balconies, shouting out the news.

Beirut had just suffered one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in human history.

My nerves for my family’s security settled when I learned it was not an earthquake. But then the political nerves took over.

Was it an assassination? An Israeli strike?

Reporting for Christianity Today from Cairo during the Arab Spring, our family had become somewhat accustomed to instability. But that was my realm: attending demonstrations, visiting attacked churches. Yet there was always a sense that life carried on, like the ever-calm waters flowing in the nearby Nile River, where we would often board a felucca boat and float in peace.

Our year in Lebanon has been much different. Within two weeks of our arrival…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 7, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Lebanon Was Already in Turmoil. Then Came the Blast.

Joseph Kassab

The massive explosion that rocked Beirut on Monday evening has left dozens dead, hundreds injured, and more than 300,000 displaced from their homes.

Millions around the world watched in horror as the detonation of 2,750 tons of confiscated ammonium nitrate laid waste to the Mediterranean port and surrounding neighborhoods. The equivalent of a 3.3-magnitude earthquake was felt deep into the coastal mountains of Lebanon and as far away as Cyprus.

The images of destruction reminded many of the small Middle Eastern nation’s 15-year civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990.

Christianity Today spoke with Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon. Based in Beirut but born in Aleppo, Syria, Kassab reflected on the damage suffered in Christian neighborhoods, early efforts to assist the suffering, and hope for what this tragedy might produce in the Lebanese church.

These are very difficult days in Lebanon. What happened, and how bad is it?

It is very bad. I’ve been in Lebanon since 1984, experiencing the civil war. This is the first time that one single explosion caused such damage. People were terrified.

Until now, there is no agreement on the explanation, with many speaking according to their political point of view. Some say it was an electrical problem. Some say it was arson. Others assure that they heard jet fighters. We have to wait, hoping that the coming days will provide an answer.

This explosion destroyed so much of Beirut, across sectarian lines. What is the impact on the Christian community? The areas nearest the port in East Beirut are primarily Christian neighborhoods, and generally…

This article was originally published by Christianity Today, on August 5, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christian Century Middle East Published Articles

16 Beirut Ministries Respond to Lebanon Explosion

(Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)

One hour later at work, and Sarah Chetti might have been one of thousands in a Beirut hospital.

Director of the INSAAF migrant worker ministry in Lebanon, Chetti’s colleagues described shards of broken glass flying through the air, and the metal frames of doors ripped from their hinges.

It was a similar experience for the one staff member inside the Youth for Christ youth center not far from the blast. To avoid the “colossal damage,” he ducked to the floor. Re-welding was necessary just to lock up the next day.

Peter Ford was fortunate. Working quietly in his faculty office at the Near East School of Theology near downtown Beirut, the first small reverberations stirred his curiosity to investigate the problem.

Moments later, the huge blast blew in his window and spewed the glass across his desk.

Miraculously, the dozen evangelical churches and ministries in Lebanon contacted by CT reported no deaths and few serious injuries caused by the massive explosion. The official national tally is now over 100 dead, with over 5,000 injured.

If they had, there would be nowhere for the bodies to go.

Habib Badr of the historic National Evangelical Church was forced to conduct the burial of two elderly members (whose deaths were unrelated to the explosion) as Beirut’s hospitals and morgues were all full.

Two Filipinos, however, were killed in the blast. And amid the ongoing economic suffering of Lebanon, several migrant domestic workers have been abandoned by families no longer able to pay for their services.

“They are distraught, worried, and scared,” said Chetti. “Problems are piling up one after the other. I’m reaching out to each one individually and praying for them, assuring them things will be okay.”

But migrants are not the only foreigners who are suffering.

“Many of our youth are Syrian refugees, so this is churning up all that stuff for them,” said Scot Keranen, director of operations for Youth for Christ. “We’re just checking in on them, and that is really tough right now.” Lebanese trauma goes further back in history. But this explosion was…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 5, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christian Century Middle East Published Articles

Hagia Sophia’s Muslim Prayers Evoke Ottoman Treatment of Armenians

Via Turkish Presidency

Declared a mosque in principle, Hagia Sophia is now a mosque in practice.

Following his decree earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan’s joined a coronavirus-limited 500 worshipers to perform Friday prayers in the sixth-century Byzantine basilica, underneath the covered frescoes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Hundreds more gathered outside.

International condemnation resounded after the Turkish Council of State ruled to revert the UNESCO World Heritage Site back to its Islamic status. Conquered in 1453 by Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, the massive church was turned into a museum by the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Kamal Ataturk, in 1934.

Underreported in much of the criticism was a wider complaint.

“The action of the Turkish government evokes heavy memories on the desecration and destruction of holy sites of the Armenian people and other Christian nations by the Ottoman government for centuries,” said Garegin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

There are an estimated 11 million Armenians worldwide, including 3 million in their modern nation-state.

Representing the diaspora from the Holy See of Cilicia, in Lebanon, Catholicos Aram I went into more detail.

“Soon after the Armenian Genocide, Turkey confiscated thousands of Armenian churches and transformed them into bars, coffee shops, and public parks,” he said, “ignoring the reactions and appeals of the international community.”

As Erdoğan is doing again now—and not just to the Hagia Sophia.

Turkey has assured the frescoes will be uncovered for all visitors (3.7 million last year) outside of prayer times—and now without a museum entry fee. More than 400 other churches continue to serve the 1 percent of Turks that are Christians.

But Erdoğan’s remarks in Turkish revealed a wider agenda. “The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the sound of Muslims’ footsteps…”

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 24, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Churches Gain, Islamists Lose in Latest Draft of Egypt’s Constitution

Morsi and Bakhomious

From my recent article in Christianity Today, published December 10, 2013:

Egyptian Christians will soon have a law to regulate church building. But this is only one achievement celebrated by Copts in the revised national charter scrubbed of most of its Islamist tinge.

“Christians have freedom of belief and practice,” said Safwat al-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and a member of the constitutional committee. “And for the first time in the history of Egypt’s constitutions, building churches becomes a right.”

Article 235 of the new draft constitution addressed this longstanding complaint, where permission to build or repair required presidential and security authorization.

Egypt’s constitution of 2012, written by an Islamist majority under the now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi, also provided for many personal and religious freedoms. But that text included clauses of limitation “according to shari’ah law.”

Please click here to read how limitations on freedom were removed – or not – from the constitution, at Christianity Today.

Categories
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Christian Convert Arrested in Egypt: Details and Background

Mohamed Hegazy, now known as Bishoy Armia, though not legally
Mohamed Hegazy, now known as Bishoy Armia, though not legally

From my recent article on Arab West Report:

Muhammad Hijāzī, born in Port Said in 1982, converted to Christianity in 1998 at the age of 16. Now 31, he was arrested on December 4, 2013 in the governorate of Minya on charges of espionage, inciting sectarian tension through evangelism, and unlicensed photography and journalism.

In 2007 Hijāzī became the first Egyptian convert to Christianity to petition the state to change the religion field on his ID card, and has changed his name to Bishoy Armia Boulos. According to his former lawyer, Mamdūh Nakhlah, had anyone else but Hijāzī been working in Minya, no charges would have been filed.

Nakhlah agreed to represent Hijāzī in his 2007 lawsuit, but later withdrew due to pressure from the church. His information now comes from overall familiarity with the current case, as well as contact with those in the area where he was arrested. Nakhlah believes the main charge of espionage is fabricated, but that there are enough convenient details surrounding the case to give the prosecutor a pretext to arrest Hijāzī.

Please click here to read the full article, speaking of these pretexts – including a media relationship with one of the figures involved in the production of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film that sparked protests throughout the region. The article also goes through the history of his efforts to register his religious change, which are still pending on appeal.

(photo from MCN via Google Images)

Categories
Middle East Middle East Institute Published Articles

Salafyo Costa: Egyptian Inclusivity

Mohamed Tolba, Salafi Muslim (L) and Bassem Victor, Coptic Christian (R)
Mohamed Tolba, Salafi Muslim (L) and Bassem Victor, Coptic Christian (R)

From my recent article at the Middle East Institute:

Salafyo Costa were once the darlings of the media. Featured both in Egyptian outlets and foreign publications such as CNN, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post, the groundbreaking youth movement founded in April 2011 brought together ultraconservative Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood supporters, political liberals and leftists, and Coptic Christians. Together they forged a common identity promoting both the goals of the January 25 revolution and the necessity of unity in an increasingly polarized society.

They implemented this vision through fun. Salafyo Costa organized a soccer match pitting Salafis against Copts, they produced films satirizing political and religious divisions, and they went on field trips to Upper Egypt for charity campaigns. And they lived the life of street demonstrations against military rule. Throughout it all, the 120 members raised suspicions in their original communities, accustomed as these communities generally were to non-interaction with the religious or political “other.”

Salafyo Costa continued on relatively seamlessly until the Tamarod campaign against Mohamed Morsi. During the campaign, the group made the controversial decision to support the call for early elections. The liberal media heralded their courage, while Islamists hurled criticism, finding confirmation of earlier suspicions about the group. Following Morsi’s July 3 ouster, the media forgot them. And then they began to break rank.

The article continues by explaining how they came back together. From the conclusion:

“We revolted on January 25 to create our own manual, to write the rules of the game,” says Tolba. “But since February 11, every regime has imposed its own manual.”

Yet Salafyo Costa has stayed true to their ideals. Despite difficulties, growing pains, and losses, they continue the struggle to break down the barriers separating diverse groups. Maintaining a common commitment is obviously easier among dozens of members than millions of citizens, but in Salafyo Costa, Egypt is not without an example of inclusivity.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at the Middle East Institute.

Categories
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Liberal Views on the Egyptian Constitution

The word in Arabic, dostour, means constitution
The word in Arabic, dostour, means constitution

From a recent article on Arab West Report, to which I contributed a section reporting from a conference held by Egyptian liberals on the ideal constitution. Somewhat surprisingly, there was a good deal of sentiment against the military council:

Essam al-Din Hassan next spoke about the principle of freedom and the encroachments against it in negotiations over the new constitution. One feature of these negotiations is the efforts of the Ministry of Defense and al-Azhar to entrench their independence from the rest of the state. In terms of the military, standing apart from the rest of the executive authority – essentially two heads of state – would be terrible for the civil state and allow Egypt to again become a military, police state.

It is not unreasonable to think, he stated, that the military might trade this status with religious forces that are also looking for gains in the constitution, especially the Salafīs. They are arguing to keep Article 219 somewhere in the text, providing a conservative, Sunni-specific interpretation to the clause in Article 2 saying sharia is the primary source of legislation. But even Article 2, he argued, designating a religion for the state, has no place in a civil state. Article 3, similarly, guaranteeing special religious rights for the Copts, only reinforces the idea of a religious state. To curb such sectarian advances, firm consensus must be gathered in the committee of fifty which is rewriting the Constitution, so that civil state principles are protected, even from the tools of democracy which might undo them.

Ahmad Raghib spoke less about the necessary constitutional provisions for human dignity than the danger of their constant undermining. He noted that previous Egyptian constitutions, such as the 1971 version which governed up until the January 25 Revolution, provided guarantees for human dignity. This did not, however, stop the state from ignoring them, or even trampling upon them as was visible in the police torture cases against Khalid Saeed and Ahmad Bilal.

Raghib expanded Hassan’s warning about the military saying most institutions of state are seeking to enshrine their independence in the Constitution. This is expressly against the will of the people, however, who should have their elected officials administratively responsible for all these institutions. Unfortunately, in the previous Constitution, the Muslim Brotherhood collaborated with these institutions to preserve Mubarak’s state and keep it and the military council immune from their crimes. He closed with the expectation that a third wave of the Revolution might be necessary to put things right and secure a true modern civil constitution.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report, which contains further reporting from the conference as well as observations from an interview with Rev. Safwat al-Baiady, president of the Protestant churches of Egypt and a member in the constitutional committee.