Middle East Providence Published Articles

Copts Ring Church Bells for Egyptian Muslims, in Christian Sympathy

My new article for Providence Magazine.

Copts Church Bells Sinai
Photo Credit: Church and mosque in Egypt. By kmf164, via Flickr.

In what is being called the largest terrorist attack in modern Egyptian history, over 235 people were killed at a village mosque. Militants detonated explosives as worshipers exited the Rawda Mosque in Bir al-Abd, 25 miles west of the North Sinai capital of Arish. Several then fired upon the fleeing masses.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion falls upon the Islamic State. The Rawda mosque is affiliated with the Gaririya Sufi order, and ISIS has previously vowed to attack what it deems to be heterodox Muslims, warning them to stop their distinctive rituals. ISIS represents an extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, and is offended by Sufi practices that seek a mystical connection with God through chants and visits to the shrines of Muslim saints.

In 2013, a Sufi shrine was bombed with no casualties. But in 2016 two prominent Sufi sheikhs were kidnapped and decapitated.

Coptic Christians, who have seen over 100 people killed under an ISIS vow, responded with condemnation and sympathy. The next day, Saturday the 25th, the Coptic Orthodox Church spokesman announced all churches in Egypt would ring their bells in solidarity at noon.

“We pray to God that Egypt is preserved from such unprecedented brutal terrorism,” the church announced in its first statement, released shortly after the bombing. “We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the martyrs, praying for the healing of all who are injured,” stated the second announcement about the bells.

Such a public display of Christianity will only further infuriate ISIS…

Please click here to read the full article at Providence Magazine.


al-Monitor Middle East Published Articles

Is Sufism the Answer to Extremism in Egypt?

Egypt Sufism Extremism
(Peter Crawford)

This article was first published at al-Monitor.

If the Egyptian government wants to combat the spread of radical religious ideology, it would do well to return to its Muslim roots. At a conference held at the headquarters of the Azamiyah Order in Cairo on April 21, which Al-Monitor attended, presenters argued that Sufi Islam is the authentic expression of Egypt’s Muslims.

The conference emphasized the brotherly bond between Muslims and Christians, following the Palm Sunday bombings on April 9. But Sufis are singled out as infidels by the Islamic State (IS), too.

“I have told President [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi to take care of the Sufi leaders,” Sheikh Alaa Abu al-Azayem told Al-Monitor. “We are the ones who stand against terrorism, fighting not with weapons but ideas.”

Sufism is widely considered the default setting for Egypt’s Muslim community, and tombs of popular Sufi saints dot the landscape up and down the Nile…

Please click here to read the full article at al-Monitor:
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

A Sufi Sheikh and the Fine Line of anti-Semitism

Alaa al-Din Abul Azayim
Alaa al-Din Abul Azayim

From my article at Arab West Report, from before Egyptian presidential elections but pertinent now with the escalation in Gaza:

Arab West Report, Editor-in-Chief Cornelis Hulsman recently highlighted the mutual recourse to anti-Semitic accusations on the part of both opponents and supporters of the current government. He referenced research complied by MEMRI, in which General Sīsī and the Muslim Brotherhood are simultaneously declared to be Jewish in origin and committed to a Zionist agenda.

The prominent Sufi sheikh, ‘Alaa al-Dīn Abū al-‘Azā’im, recently offered an example of such rhetoric. In an interview designed to explore both the Sufi contribution to the June 30 revolution deposing President Mursī, and the motivation thereof, ‘Azā’im consistently inserted accusations of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis being allied to Israel. Despite efforts to focus on the local issues involving Sufi citizens, ‘Azā’im could not help himself from resorting to international conspiracies.

Examples include the following:

The article lists his charges, but here is an excerpt from his response at the end of the interview about whether or not the Western world is right in considering such comments anti-Semitic:

First, he said the Qur’an commands us to be merciful to everyone – Jews, Christians, the whole world, even unbelievers. Mohamed’s constitution in Medina was civil, giving everyone the right to choose his own religion and pray as he wishes, again, emphasizing this right was given even to unbelievers. Jews are welcome to live in Egypt, and before 1967 when they were plentiful, he had good relations with them. While a student in Asyut University, ‘Azā’im’s Jewish colleague tried to persuade him to marry his sister. He referenced Pope Shenouda, stating he said we all worship one God – Muslims, Christians, and Jews – so he should gather us together rather than us fighting each other.

But second, this fighting is what earns Israel his animosity. Jihad in the Muslim sense may only be waged if a country attacks you, or has attacked you. Look at what Israel does, he said, killing Muslims every day. They occupied our land, so it should be jihad, until they leave.

There is a necessary difference between Israel and the Jews. Arabs often conflate the two; do Westerners as well? Where is the line properly drawn?

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.


Brief Portraits of Egyptian Atheism

Arabic Atheism

From Egypt Independent, on a very taboo subject in which some have given their full name and testimony:

Those who have come out publicly as atheists have been not only isolated by their friends and families, but also society in general. However, others who turn down their familial religion have faced many worse trials than mere isolation.

Asmaa Omar, 24, who has just graduated the Faculty of Engineering, said that once she revealed her beliefs to her family, they began to physically and mentally torture her. Her father slapped her in the face and broke her jaw. She was not able to eat properly for seven months.

Both her immediate and extended families began to insult her. “You just want to have free relations with boys,” they would say, or “You used to be the best girl in the family,” and “Now you’re a prostitute.”

Some come from a Christian background:

Ayman Ramzy Nakhla, 42, comes from a Protestant background. He worked in preaching Christianity with the church, but then decided to abandon religion altogether. He is now not very much concerned with knowing if God really exists or not.

Nakhla’s father was a priest, and Nakha worked for ten years as librarian in the Theology College of the Evangelical Church, and as an assistant to a priest, which is an administrative position. Ramzy says that this background was the one that actually led him to lose interest in religion, getting so close to the truth of the Church made him decide to leave it.

Others from a Muslim background:

Other atheists say they believe atheism is in fact more moral than the old, rigid moral codes offered by traditional religions.

Omar says her journey began when prominent cardiologist Madgy Yaqoub managed to treat a two-year old relative of hers in open heart surgery. Rahman, the child, had a valve that did not work and another with malformation.

The successful operation led Omar to wonder how a man such as the doctor, who had lived his life saving many children like Rahma, could be thrown to hell for not being a Muslim. Omar found that religions just chose its followers to end up in heaven, and say that other people would go to hell, regardless for whatever good deeds they do in their life.

Omar says she believes in God, but is against all religions. She says she is still looking for Him and is not aware of His truth.

As a result, some mix between the two:

Some atheists, however, still feel without religion, they are missing something. Despite her rejection of religion, Kamel still misses the spiritual side, resorting to Sufism as she attends Sufis meetings and listen to sufi music, especially those of al-Naqshbandi and Nasr Eddin Tobar. She also enjoys listening to Christian hymns and is massively affected by them. She says, however, that this is just a need for spirituality, nothing more.

Kamel goes back to saying that she has not yet reached a final result for her inner conflict.

Indeed, Egypt is changing. Your vote: Is this for better or for worse?