A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 3, 2013

Morsi Will Not Attend Easter Mass, While Salafis Are Opposing Even Sham al-Nassim

President Morsi, who did not attend either Coptic Pope Tawadros II's installation ceremony last year, or Christmas services in January, also will not be attending Orthodox Easter services on Sunday. By now, I suppose that should occasion little surprise: while Morsi denounced the recent attacks on the Coptic cathedral and gives lip service to minority rights, he's much more concerned with his core constituency in the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi movements to its right.

And they are not exactly wrapping up chocolate rabbits for their Coptic neighbors. As the link above notes,
The Salafist Front asked President Morsi to consult with Muslim scholars before attending the Easter mass, and banned its own officials from acknowledging the Coptic Easter holiday. Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Office member Mufti Abdel Raham al-Barr, who is also a professor in the Al-Azhar University, said that congratulating the Copts on the Orthodox Easter is “religious haram [taboo],” adding in a statement that “it is illegitimate to offer greetings for something that blatantly contradicts our creed….Our creed, as Muslims, is unequivocal: Christ – peace be upon him – was neither killed nor crucified, as Allah protected him from the Jews and elevated him to His presence. [Prophet] Isa – peace be upon him – was not crucified to be resurrected. Accordingly, there is no need to congratulate someone on something we know to be a falsehood, even though we do not deny our partners in the nation the right to believe or act as they please.”
So they have a right to believe it but Muslims can't offer holiday greetings? Since I offer holiday greetings for every holiday I know about, I don't get it. Then he explains why Christmas greetings, however, are OK:
Al-Barr, who is an influential Muslim Brotherhood member, went on to distinguish between offering acknowledgment of other Christian holidays (like Christmas) and doing so for Easter: “Congratulating our Christian partners in the nation on their various occasions and holidays is an expression of charity ordered by Allah and of righteousness from which He has not banned us as long as it is not at the expense of our religion, and does not pronounce… any religious slogans or expressions that contravene the principles of Islam, and does not constitute any admission or acceptation of their religion or participation in their prayers. Rather, these would merely be words of courtesy common among people and would not entail any religious contraventions. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, in greeting [Copts] on Christmas, as we believe that Isa – peace be upon him – is one of the primary prophets, that he is human and that his birth was one of Allah’s miracles.”
Issandr at The Arabist says he doesn't get the logic;
The lack of logic in the differentiation between the two suggests that al-Barr is either doctrinally a Salafi or that he does no want to offend Salafis. Like President Morsi's decision not to attend the mass, it is a striking lack of understanding of the symbolic value of having even an Islamist president pay respects to the church and the Christian community, which can only be explained by intolerance.
I agree. I can't, however, resist the temptation to call the hairsplitting reasoning almost Talmudic.  I'd compare it to Christian theologians debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but I'm betting "Talmudic" will annoy al-Barr even more.

The article notes that not everyone agrees:
In contrast, Egyptian mufti Dr. Shawqi Allam says “There are no objections to greeting Copts on [all] their holidays as they are partners in the nation, and there are no objections to sharing their joys and comforting them in their times of grief.” This statement by Egypt’s new mufti shows that he abides by a centrist line and is steering the Dar al-Fatwa away from what some believe is intransigence and immoderation on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
And, though Al-Barr is a Professor at al-Azhar the Sheikh al-Azhar himself will call on the Pope today, Orthodox Good Friday:
Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb will meet Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II on Friday at the papal premises in St Mark's Catherdral to give him best wishes for Easter, reported Ahram's Arabic website.
So the two real leaders of Egyptian Islam, the Mufti and the Sheikh al-Azhar, do not agree with al-Barr's alleged "fatwa."  I say alleged because that's actually the Mufti and the Dar al-Ifta's job.

Oh, but however bad the Brotherhood seems, you can generally count on the Salafis to make it worse. If this report (admittedly from a Christian source) is true they even want to ban Sham al-Nassim:
Fliers were distributed in the governorate of Beni Suef, outside of Cairo, which read "Sham el-Nessim is Not Our Holiday," and included a fatwa prohibiting citizens from celebrating the holiday.
"Sham el-Nessim is a national and Pharaonic feast related to agriculture, but it has become linked to Lent and Easter so Muslims should not imitate the [Christian] other and celebrate it," the flier said.
Sham al-Nassim, as I've noted in earlier years (most detailed posts here and here) is a spring festival that coincides with the Monday after Coptic Easter, but is celebrated by all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians alike (and the Jewish community before its disappearance). Families picnic along the Nile, color eggs, eat certain traditional spring vegetables and dried fish. The name Sham al-Nassim, "smelling the breeze" in Arabic, may also distantly echo the ancient Egyptian feast of Shemu, also a spring festival. In any event it is generally considered one of only two traditional holidays (the other being Wafa' al-Nil in August, celebrating the Nile Flood before the Aswan High Dam was built, but still celebrated today) with roots in Pharaonic times.


xoussef said...

Nauseating. In Tunisia too, Marzouki went to La Ghriba Synagogue, but I think none of Ennahda went.
Some time ago, there was some annoying hype over Morocco's Islamist (allegedly Ikhwan) Chief of Government presiding over the re-opening of a Synagogue. At the time I thought it was normal, and the fuss over the top. Now I realise it might have been exceptional indeed.

David Mack said...

Morsi seems to be a prisoner of the most rigid views of his party leaders, betraying the more tolerant strains of his religion.