Note: This post accompanies the material for an online course in Christian-Muslim relations offered by staff at the University of Edinburgh. You can find more information about this course and its aims here.
Many course participants expressed dismay about the issue of Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt. Comments suggested worry about the difficulties that Coptic Christians in rural areas of Egypt have faced in building churches, as well as in other areas of everyday life. This is despite the fact that the president of Egypt promotes tolerance publicly, that high-level Christian-Muslim dialogue is sponsored by Al-Azhar University, and that sound laws have been passed at the national level to try and fix these problems.
As this was Week 4 of the course, these problems could be understood in context, rather than as a newsflash. That is, everyone in the course now had familiarity with the many similarities between Christianity and Islam at the doctrinal level. They had seen models of coexistence between Christians and Muslims in history, such as that between Syriac Christians and the early Islamic Empire. And there was an understanding of the relationship that both faiths have with scriptures and founders who encouraged a higher way of living. Why then, does this conflict continue? Course participants suggested several possible explanations.
- Christians, unlike Muslims or Jews, do not feel a strong sense of kinship with one another, which means that Christians in North America or Europe are less concerned about Christians in the Middle East.
- Perhaps the Egyptian government is putting on a show of tolerance to please the international community without prioritizing interfaith relations within Egypt.
- Egypt is under pressure from extreme elements from within, which makes better treatment for Christians difficult for the present.
Certainly, dialogue can occur on an everyday level, between people of different faiths and backgrounds, even if they are not leaders within their different religions. In many ways, this is some of the strongest and most important dialogue. It is hoped that participation in the course would leave participants better prepared to evaluate these factors more meaningfully.
- In the case study on Egypt, we noted that laws have been passed to try and assist the Coptic Christian community in worshipping without restriction, but that laws have been unevenly enforced in rural areas. Laws concerning hate speech – with similar aims – are currently receiving discussion in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Can laws like this help to improve cross-community relations, or other tools – such as dialogue or education – more effective?
- As we have talked about extensively in the discussion boards, the dynamic of Christian-Muslim relations varies across the globe. Many of you shared thoughts about Christian-Muslim relations in your own context during our final discussion. In what way might your experience in this course – whether information presented formally or in the discussion boards – prepare you to engage more productively in your own context?
Continuing the Discussion
Many of you noted that the very first papal visit to Iraq occurred during our course on Christian-Muslim relations, and the event attracted lively comments on the discussion board. (We worked hard to set that one up!) You can hear a follow-up on this historic event on Tuesday, 16 Tuesday, when Dr Joshua Ralston will give a live interview with @MosulEye Twitter account about the significance of this event within Christian-Muslim relations. If you are unavailable (or asleep) at 19:00 GMT, you can watch the recording at this link, and a discussion of the event will appear on this blog shortly afterward.
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