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Posts Tagged ‘muslims’

This just in on the 5:30 PM EST news:

The awful, terrible, disrespectful, ignorant-based, senseless, idiotic “International Burn a Koran” Day, sponsored by and fathered by Pastor Terry Jones, has been called off.

الحمد لله!

In a press release, Jones has agreed to cancel his “event” after being put in contact with Faisel Rauf, the imam of the proposed Cordoba Islamic Center (of “Ground Zero” fame and controversy), who (he claims) agreed to move the mosque’s location if the burning were cancelled.

I’m so happy that he’s saying he’s not going through with it. Thank GOD.

Read about it at the NYT

The VOA has a remarkably prompt article on it as well, albeit with spelling errors.

Also, President Obama has condemned the “event” as being a “recruiting bonanza for al-Qaeda,” noting that images of Christian-Americans burning the Islamic holy book would do nothing but incite violence against Americans internationally across the Islamic world.

The State Department also released a notice via e-mail to registered American expatriates in Egypt:

The Department of State is issuing this Travel Alert to caution U.S. citizens of the potential for anti-U.S. demonstrations in many countries in response to stated plans by a church in Florida to burn Qur’ans on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Demonstrations, some violent, have already taken place in several countries, including Afghanistan and Indonesia, in response to media reports of the church’s plans. The potential for further protests and demonstrations, some of which may turn violent, remains high.  We urge you to pay attention to local reaction to the situation, and to avoid areas where demonstrations may take place.

I should point out that the State Department  issues these warnings as a matter of mundane routine; we were even issued warnings in the aftermath of the Egyptian defeat against Algeria this past year, when Egyptian’s were throwing rocks and spray painting Algerian Air offices. But I wouldn’t in the slightest be surprised if there were protests in Cairo had this thing actually gone through.

This whole disgraceful affair might finally be at an end, and I’m happy at that.

Let’s just hope it really is at an end.

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Yesterday was Coptic Christmas (6 December), and though the streets were filled with “Kul sena wenta tayyib”‘s to many of my misunderstanding neighbors (who, despite my constant explanations, don’t quite seem to understand how Christians can function on different calendars), the reverberations of the Qena province shootings in Nag3 Hamadi were felt all over the blogosphere — and in Cairo, where angry young Copts took to the street.

I redirect you here:

The Guardian: Gunmen kill seven after Coptic Midnight Mass

and here:

At Least Seven Killed After Coptic Christmas Mass

Two Muslim bystanders were also killed in addition to the five Copts.

The local bishop is supposed to be pleading with the local Christian community (and the national Coptic population) to keep calm and bear patiently. Apparently, this is to no avail, as in Middle Egypt, according to Tweeter “Pakinamamer,” (these tweets from less than two hours ago):

One christian tells me “the age of martyrdom is coming back … But we won’t change our religion w’eza kan 3agebhom”

Split among group. Police brought bus. Some hopped on it. Others say they “won’t be cowards. And must enter on foot.”

Brief clash w a group muslims. Police fled the scene. Bahjoura, where we’re going, experienced fierce clashes this morning …

Ok, police outnumbered. But gunfire dispersed them a bit. Back on track, towards bahjoura now where most of these live.

Clashes. Police firing in the air!!!

Police cars tagging along now. Trying to take batons and sticks.

Now attacking closed shops as we walk. Most of them carry wood from tree, from construction sites now.

Group of copts am walking with got batons and are attacking passing cars. Breaking windows. Obviously I chose the angry bunch. Around a 100

Walking towards share3 tahrir with christian youth where hospital (and clashes) are. Streets filled w broken glass. Army ppl w machine guns.

Church officials trying to calm christian youth down. Father kirolos forbidding them from going to jabal where burial will happen

Here, I should point out a number of things.

1. The Guardian is actually pretty keen on pointing out that the massacre is most likely in response to the alleged rape of a Muslim girl some weeks ago. According to The Free Copts, the accusation of “rape” is usually one that points to an undesired connection with Christianity; Muslims families accuse Copts of “rape” or abduction in the event of an undesired interest or (even worse) conversion to Christianity. I should also point out that The Free Copts is a pretty intent on Coptic rights at any cost. This may or may not be completely or partially true.

2. The Coptic response to this is equally outrageous. While the hierarchy has responded as well as it could (urging prayer and calmness, particularly Karillos telling everyone to remain patient), the youth seem to forget the words of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Put up again thy sword into its place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matt 26:52).

“The era of martyrdom has come again.”

Good God. This country is a mess.

I sympathize with the Copts. In recent weeks I’ve really begun to see (and encounter) instances of absolute racism. Perhaps nothing akin to the United States’ darker moments in terms of “Copts and dogs forbidden,” but have spoken with a number of people and find their ignorance appalling.

What I find disheartening is also the unwillingness to understand on the part of both religions.

When I took Stearns’ course on the Qur’an in my sophomore year in college, I was surprised to discover in most Muslims’ critiques of Christianity what seemed like a deliberate misunderstanding of Christian doctrine. To illustrate: The Holy Trinity to medieval scholars was understood to mean God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Blessed Mother. Any Christian will tell you (even the most ignorant, fallen, I hate-the-Catholic-Church-convert-to-Atheism) that Mary, though incredibly important, has no place whatsoever with the Trinity. And yet the myth persists: just a few weeks ago, our well-meaning Somali neighbor came by with what he called “Christmas presents” — books on the conversion of Christians to Islam. My favorite was “Priests who Found Islam”; a rather misguided title that seems to think that all Christian sects have priests (they don’t) — which never quite seemed to address the elements that converted the said Christians, only that their lives were that much better.

Amin means well. I understand he was only doing his best for the sake of du3a: the betterment and perpetuation of Islam. This kind of proselytizing is totally legal here: however, the distribution of Christian literature is actively forbidden — by Copts or anyone else. In a secular state, this is genuinely disturbing.

I remember I had a conversation with John some time ago about how I had given up on theological arguments. People seldom change their opinion; especially with religion, most people stick to what they believe and don’t believe in the possibility of Truth outside of their own belief. Or, perhaps it is better to say that Truth is bigger than both belief and argument. I don’t think that makes me a relativist. I think it just means that I expect someone to take my faith as seriously and sincerely as I take theirs. Which means “Butt out, buster.”

There are a few Muslims from Manchester which do the ones that formerly lived here quite the injustice. A number of times I’ve walked past them, greeted them with a harmless “Good evening” or a “Hello” (either in English or in Arabic, since they’re from Britain), and am greeted with the following responses:

1. No response. They turn, look at me in the eye, and return to their conversation.

2. A stare, and then a very deliberate, “3laykum as-salaam wa-Rahmatallah wa-Barakatuhu” (And upon you be Peace, the Mercy of God, and His Blessings, the full response to Salaamu 3laykum, or Peace be with you — the generally Muslim greeting)

I have no problem with the salaam. Jesus said it, Kahlil Gibran did too. In fact, I say it everywhere except to them. Mainly because it does nothing but confirm their idiotic smugness. And perhaps it’s little of me, but it’s almost enough to wrap their doorhandles in bacon and soak their clothes in alcohol. I don’t mean that, of course, but I say it to illustrate a bit of my frustration.

In a way, it brings “sectarian violence” a little closer to home. When someone pushes their own religious behavior on you — pressures or intimidates or ignores you (neighbors!) into saying what they want you to say or do or act like, it makes you angry. It makes you want to do the opposite, in fact. A few weeks ago, I ranted on Fadhila’s insistence that I call Muhammad “the Prophet.” I don’t have a problem with that. Really. I have a problem with the pressure. When someone can’t even be religiously neutral in public (and just say “Good evening”), we have a problem. Little things make people angry and defensive, and it’s those things that need to be changed.

And how can the Copts not be angry, living here, stuck here, not going much of anywhere, when the secular establishment (supposedly democratic, supposedly religiously neutral) so flagrantly favors the Muslim population? When it stops churches from being remodeled? When it refuses to intercede on behalf of the Christian populous? Can you really blame them for being angry?

You can blame them for their violence, though, and shame to the rioters. “They shall know we are Christians by our Love.” There is no conquest, no blood wite, no revenge in Christianity. Ours is to turn the other cheek, and by that the world should know us. Can the Muslim majority not call us hypocrites otherwise — when Copts and Catholics and Christians are the ones that drink and smoke and riot in the streets and retaliate against others?

But…

Enough. This country is a mess. Tonight I am a little heartbroken for the Mother of the World and her children. My prayers are for the souls of all seven of those killed — and the rest wounded. God save Egypt. And let us hope tomorrow will bring healing.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا

Oh People! We have created you, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another (and not despise each other). Q 39:13.

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Rumi tuned me in yesterday to the controversy surrounding the Swiss popular vote to ban minarets. As usual, there’s what he termed “twitrage” about the decision, though for me, it raises some interesting questions about churches here.

Naturally, I’m outraged.

Interestingly, the character known to me only as “Sandmonkey” (see his amazingly crazy rants here) twittered in response to the ban: “Switzerland is banning the phalic extension of a mosque. Not building the mosque itself. Muslim countries do that, to churches.”

Kind of what I think.

Fadhila posted a really level-headed article by Tariq Ramadan of The Guardian on the ban’s motivation by fear: the Swiss fear “Islamization,” and that a variety of Islamic symbols are targeted as a result of fear — which is implied to be the product of ignorance among non-Muslims. I’m a fan of Ramadan’s articles in general (not his one on Benedict XVI, though), but I think that his assertion that the Swiss have voted “not against towers, but Muslims” is taking the matter entirely too far. And again, I’m outraged. I really am. I hate having to censor myself, I hate that I can’t hear church bells. I hate that being Christian in a Muslim country makes me feel a little under siege. And I don’t want anyone to experience that — ever — in any other country. But I’m not really asking if it’s really ethical, because we all know it’s not; I’m asking if we’re at all surprised at the decision.

When Hamas won the majority vote in the Palestinian legislative assembly in 2006, the rest of the world trembled a little, fearing that the election of the party would escalate the already simmering issue of Palestine. During the Bush administration, the atmosphere surrounding such election results was made to sound like evil was slowly taking over; that within years, the US would become embroiled not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in some tragic, painful conflict in Palestine. But no one interfered. Interference would mean compromising the electoral principle that, when people vote, they vote for a reason: neither the United States nor anyone else could eliminate that fact. Does the same principle apply? (Serious question)

When authors cannot freely publish critical books without incurring death threats and are forced into years of hiding (Salman Rushdie)…

When the publication of the positive portrayals of Islam in The Jewel of Medina (about the life of Aisha) is cancelled and delayed for fear of outcry against the publisher and threats against the author

When the director of (an albeit tasteless) film criticizing the verse from the Qur’an that a man has a right to beat his wife if she is disobedient is murdered in reaction to its release

Protestors outside the Danish embassy in London, c. 2006 following the cartoon controversy

When protesters to the Danish cartoon controversy react with violence against the cartoon depiction of Muhammad, portraying Islam as a violent religion….

When filmmakers are afraid to destroy the Ka’aba in a stupid blockbuster about the end of the world but are more than willing to topple the Basilica of St. Peter’s…

When underage girls in Antwerp feel as though they need to veil and be accompanied by their brothers to be socially accepted by their classmates…

When the display of Christian icons, crosses (even on one’s person!), or the open worship of Christianity is expressly forbidden by law and carries a prison sentence…

When all this happens, are we surprised by Ramadan’s assertion that such a controversy is “fuelled by fear”?

Of course it’s fueled by fear. Fear that we cannot criticize, fear that we cannot unveil, fear that we cannot protect our right to free speech. The public face of Islam is one that advocates itself as the True Faith and a unifying religion of peace; and yet, these items are at odds with the idea of free speech contained within liberal democracy. Shari’a law does do permit public worship of other religions, it requires other adherents to pay taxes: where Christianity conceives itself as a separate political identity (“Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…”), Islam is conceived as an umma, a nation of believers that is spread in a diaspora across the world, to be governed ideally by a caliph under shari’a law. Hence, as Bernard Lewis notes:

The penalty for apostasy, in Islamic law, is death. Islam is conceived as a polity, not just as a religious community. It follows therefore that apostasy is treason. It is a withdrawal, a denial of allegiance as well as of religious belief and loyalty. Any sustained and principled opposition to the existing regime or order almost inevitably involves such a withdrawal.

I too am a little afraid. When such potentials are so essential to the practice of the religion, what is the religion itself? Is Islam really how the theologians would have it? Or is it how the people practice it — how it is visible, perceived, and read?

Isn’t that always the question in religion?

——-

Later:

Bikya’s article on the ban makes me SO ANGRY in that it fails to address similar issues within Egypt:
http://bikyamasr.com/?p=6196

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Since leaving Middlebury College, I’ve missed a lot of things. Fall, in particular. I’ve missed the autumn rains and the snow, the smell of wood burning, strolling arm-in-arm with that special someone, the taste of Vermont apples (although there are some pretty tasty ones from Lebanon here). I miss the sunset over the mountains in the West and the sunrise over the mountains in the East. But most of all, I miss the bells.

Fr. Justin Baker, bless his crazy cowboy heart, was the first to start it at St. Mary’s eight years ago: he set the bell tower to ring out the Angelus, and most everyone in Middlebury flipped — in particular, the neighbors, who weren’t thrilled to have a five straight minutes of bells from the largest church in town sounding from mountain to mountain. Despite the complaints, though, the bells remained, and the complaints died down.

The Angelus is a pretty old-school Catholic tradition; it commemorates the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Mother that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and Christ would be born. Pretty much every Catholic Church in existence sounded the Angelus pre-Vatican II, until the practice was declared voluntary and gradually fell out of favor in more diversified communities. I first encountered the Angelus at TAC a couple of summers ago, when (in my more rebellious days) I had no idea what it was. Fr. Beaudin kept up the tradition after FJ left (or perhaps never turned off the timer), and I loved waking up to the sound, even if I just fell back asleep. It was a rather nice punctuation to the day, though I’ve sort of accustomed myself to the absence of church bells since being in Egypt (both times), and acclimatized myself to the adhan here. No church bells. Why? They’re illegal.

To my mind, the Angelus is kind of a toned-down adhan in both form and function. It reminds the believers of prayer, bringing them from the rolling hum of the day and back to the Divine. A few days ago, I went off on my own perceived imbalance of free speech here: today, I’d like to explain my sadness over the silence at six o’clock, twelve, and six again — when no bells sound.

85 and rising

There’s a lot of noise in Egypt. More than most people in America (or the suburbs) are used to. We play our music too loud or make too much noise at a barbeque and the neighbors complain. Here, everyone just turns up the volume that much more. It’s a case study in noise escalation at its finest.

At the base of all these sounds is the adhan; as I’ve noted elsewhere, the five-times-a-day call to prayer, sung out by every mosque in the city. Though saying it’s only five times a day is kind of a misdirection: in reality there’s an optional prayer (before the pre-dawn one) that gets a kind of “whispered” shout over loudspeakers, and an accompanying iqama — a call to prayer that’s repeated about fifteen minutes or so after the main adhan to signal that the men are lining up in the mosque. That totals to twelve calls to prayer– a grand total of 72 “Allahu akbar”s. Some adhans last a good ten minutes, too, depending on how drawn out the muezzin makes it. And a lot of muezzins draw it out. I once clocked the mosque across the street: the muezzin chanted for nine and a half minutes, largely due to long pauses between phrases.

Objectively speaking, the adhan can be stunningly beautiful; unfortunately, however, most decide to blast it from oversquelching, often back-feeding megaphones that detract from the muezzin’s particular skill. If the volume were perhaps lowered by an eighth on nine-tenths of these speakers, the effect would be (aesthetically) all the more stunning. Cairo’s noise level has been such that, in some areas, it amounts to almost 85 decibels. It got the NY Times’ attention here, anyway. I’m pretty sure there can’t be too much of a practical aspect to it anymore; the only thing there are more of on my street (which is a pretty average Egyptian street) aside from mosques are ahwas, so I don’t think anyone’s going to miss prayers even if the muezzin whispered the adhan. Word would get out, I’m sure.

To my mind, the best prayer calls have been shouted; once, the loudspeaker for Mesgid al-Saddiq (the mosque across from my building) broke, and the muezzin was forced to make the call from the steps of the mosque. It was breathtaking.

Not with a whimper, but a bang

To those not accustomed to living in a Muslim country, let me clarify that Friday is to Muslims what Sunday is to Christians: it’s congregation day. It’s when you dust off the Friday galabiyya and saunter off to the mosque, best prayer-beads in hand. It’s the day where you sit and listen to someone lecture you on your religion and offer you advice — the sermon called the khutba.

Traditionally, the khutba is delivered with a certain amount of “shidda.” Shidda is a word that can describe any number of emotions: passion being the lightest of them, anger and force being the heavier ones. Think of a good hellfire sermon: that’s pretty much the force that you get with a good khutba, but through loudspeakers mounted on the street level, which always metaphorically (and sometimes literally) rattle the windows and shake the shutters. It’s pretty difficult to escape.

I’m pretty used to the Friday sermon — to the point where I can sleep through it or watch movies through it. Yet, every time I’ve complained about this (not frequently) I seem to come under fire, Lord knows why. Yes, I moved to a Muslim country. No, I don’t expect them to stop. But why can’t we ring church bells?

Churches have bells, of course, but only certain churches — like the monastery of Abu Mina in the middle of the desert. And only certain churches are permitted to ring their bells at certain times — like Sacre Coeur on Easter Sunday. They require permission.

“In your face religion”

One of the most outraging articles I’ve ever read was posted some weeks ago on Bikya Masr on the murder of a 60 year-old Copt in Assyut, where sectarian violence is at its worst, and tensions are still quite high between Christians and Muslims. Here’s the part that really got to me:

Permission for churches is controversial in Egypt, where by law the president must give final say in the use of a certain space for religious purposes. Rights groups argue that because the president delegates authority in the matter to local officials, Copts have been forced to use illegal places for worship.

Many Muslims argue that it is not the idea of having Christian places of worship that bother them, it is the manner and place where they are established. Mona, a 62-year-old mother, asked why a church is being built directly in front of a mosque.

“What is the point of that? They [Christians] know that it will create tensions among the population and this sort of in-your-face religion needs to end,” she argued.

Seriously? Do have to describe why Mona’s statement is completely insane?

Now, I’ve been rolling that around for quite some time. I’ve polled people on the subject, in fact, after I cooled down for a while. While there are some exceptions (“What’s the problem with bells? We have the call to prayer.”), they are few and far between. Khalid, one of the folks at the restaurant where I now have my 8 LE dinners also pointed out that shari’a explicitly forbids the building of new churches or the ringing of bells. This is keeping in accordance with such historical examples as the pact of ‘Umar II, which forbid the reconstruction of churches and the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.

Hm.

Banning the adhan in Oxford

Fadhila’s often told me how, for the most part, it’s quite the inverse in Great Britain, where the Great Mosque of East London is only allowed to sound three of the five standard calls to prayer. When I asked if the fagr, the pre-dawn prayer, were among them, she laughed at me. No: it wasn’t permitted.

In all fairness, this isn’t acceptable to my mind, either. The issue of the adhan in England, however, poses several problems both socially and politically that the ringing of church bells does not. Dismissing the aesthetic idea (“A minaret is not English” or that the call to prayer is not as “aesthetically pleasing” as the ringing of bells or some other such froo-froo nonsense), there are a number of reasons why the two calls (angelus and adhan) are not the same.

First of all, there is the obvious issue of potential gheto-izing the area surrounding the mosque, forcing non-Muslim residents out and more Muslim residents in. While not a crime against democracy (people will live where they want to live, will they not?), it does seem something of a step backwards — and somewhat self-isolating. This seems to me to be the religious equivalent of immigrants not learning English or failing to integrate fully into an Anglophone society — which is not the point of immigration.

Additionally, there is the problem with the representative slice of the population. The call to prayer is pretty overpowering. But to have a loudspeaker intruding into the lives and homes of a majority non-Muslim population carries the same kind of absurdity to me that removing the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” from a nation of theists does. In a democracy, the majority rules. In Oxford, perhaps Muslims should turn down their loudspeakers just a little. Such a thing is neighborly.

But the situation in Great Britain is vastly different than the situation here in Egypt. They vary in that Britain hasn’t forbid the construction of mosques. The city of Oxford didn’t tell people to take their prayers inside and not be visible. Bishops are advocating for them. People are saying yes and no, but not because they’re Muslims; because they don’t want to be bothered. People in Egypt are used to the noise: the call to prayer rings out regularly, why not add a little more noise? In GB, church bells are less common, and you’re lucky to get the Angelus from the local traditionalist Catholic parish: you want to throw in something really, really, really noisy into a neighborhood not used to it? I’ll give you Fr. Justin’s number.

Furthermore, official government policy doesn’t back the Christian majority and lag for periods of twenty years when it comes to a building permit. But Egypt does. That despite the claims to free practice of religion, Copts and Catholics and Protestants can’t ring church bells. They can’t repair outer walls. Hell, they can’t even install a toilet.

Reciprocity

I want to move to close with a few thoughts on reciprocity. In the course of bouncing all over the internet for some support, I managed to find this, written by a pretty conservative Brit (I think?) that hits on quite a few good points — though I don’t agree with him entirely, or even at all, on some things (in particular, I don’t like his “antijihadi rhetoric,” which strikes me as ignorant) — but there are a few good hits in the highlights:

In Mecca, churches are illegal. The Bible and the cross are illegal. Priests are illegal. Preaching Christianity and other faiths is punishable by imprisonment, torture and death. Converting to Christianity or another faith is punishable by imprisonment, torture and death. In short, the heartland of Islam is one of the most appalling hellholes of religious intolerance in the world today.

[…]

The king of Saudi Arabia has announced that he is ready to support the construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center in Moscow, a city with only four mosques for its more than two million Muslims. In response and probably to block this, Orthodox Christians in Russia have called for opening a church in Saudi Arabia.

After the Saudi offer was reported, three Russian Orthodox groups — the Moscow section of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, the Radonezh Society, and the Byzantine Club — released an open letter to Saudi King Abdullah suggesting that there should be another mosque in Moscow only after a Russian Orthodox church was opened in Mecca.

Jean-Louis Cardinal Toran, the head of the Papal Council on Inter-religious Dialogue, agrees: “If Muslims consider it correct to have a large and beautiful mosque in Rome, then it is equally correct for Christians to have a church in Riyadh.”

The British writer Adrian Morgan raises the same point:

Yet when one sees the number of mosques being erected in Britain, often with money from Saudi Arabia, I wonder why no Far Left individual raises the question of hypocrisy. Saudi Arabia funds the export of Islam around the world (even to Nepal), yet prevents any Bibles from being brought into their kingdom. No churches are allowed to be built in Saudi Arabia, and migrant workers who hold unofficial Christian services have been jailed.

[…]

It’s probably better to look at it like a free trade issue. If a country is dumping its religion into other countries while prohibiting the entry of other religions into its own country, then sanctions and punitive tariffs must be applied to break down those unfair barriers. The restrictions on muslims under such sanctions would not be absolute. For example, the moratorium on mosque building can be lifted at any time by allowing free building of churches in Mecca.

Road sign denoting different roads for Muslims and non-Muslims in Saudi when transiting through Mecca

While I applaud these insights, Centurean2 conflates the idea of Saudi Arabia with Islam: that Islam is a politically entity that ideologically and religiously centers in Mecca. And while this is true to an extent (of course, with the hajj, Mecca and Medina are revered sites in Islam), the Saudis speak no more for a giant, overarching Islam than the President of the United States speaks for a giant, overarching Christianity. The significant difference being, however, that Saudi Arabia is a self-proclaimed theocracy, rather than a carefully defined democracy that has ambitions of secularism; Saudi’s adherence to a strict version os shari’a law comes off as pretty blatantly a violation of human rights. Saudi quite loudly claims to be a perfect shari’i government, not a perfect democracy. While I make no claims that any Western democracy is perfect in its practice of being blind to religion, it at least aspires to it, whereas the KSA doesn’t. And I suppose there is something strangely honest in that kind of human rights violation.

My point is that, if you’re going to call yourself a republic, or a democracy, you’d better shape up to the name. Britain better do it by letting the adhan ring out or, following the example of France, banning ALL religion (that’s hyperbole). And Egypt should do it by letting the bells ring.

And on earth, peace, and goodwill toward men

Back to bells.

Three weeks ago, around sunset, I was writing something long forgotten about when suddenly, my ears perked up. Three strikes on a distant bells. A pause. Three strikes again. What was it? Why did that feel so familiar?

The Angelus! Someone was ringing the Angelus!

I jumped up and burst into Tom’s room and onto the balcony, Tom looking up from his bed.

“Bells!” I cried. “They’re ringing bells! There’s a church ringing out the Angelus!”

Onto the balcony, and the sound continued. Three strikes. It had to be it! Where was it coming from? Cleopatra? The Jesuit Center? The church in Ibrahimiyya? I had no idea; and why tonight, why were they sounding them tonight?

I was ecstatic. It was like listening to the voice of someone long lost.

“What’s an angelus?” Tom asked. And as I turned to him to explain, the adhan drowned bells and explanation out.

As we turned to go inside where we could talk, I whispered a Hail Mary. At least that can’t be taken away.

And I suppose absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I haven’t heard them since.

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Norman was wondering why this hasn’t happened to him yet:

Nick George handcuffed after discovery of Arabic flashcards in his carry-on.

I wondered the same.

Presently, I wonder if this is an isolated incident, or if it happens all the time. Indeed, I wonder.

If this were me:

“Excuse me, sir, would you please step this way?”
– Sure thing. I’m just going to call the ACLU first.

Yes.

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Recently in the Times– how a distinct lack of pigs is destroying Egypt’s sanitation:

“Belatedly, Egypt Spots Flaws in Wiping out Pigs”

To give you a little background, some time ago, Norman sent this video to me on one of Cairo’s more shocking quarters. The focus of the video sensationalizes the poor treatment of Copts– which represent an oppressed minority in an increasingly conservative country. In fact, many Copts have perceived the recent mass-slaughter of khanazeer as a blow to Coptic communities: an interesting suggestion, considering that most Copts I’ve met detest pork just as much as most Muslims.

On the zabaleen (literally, the Garbage People), courtesy of an unnamed British exposé:

Zabaleen Part 1

Zabaleen Part 2

Zabaleen Part 3

Photo by Shawn Baldwin for the New York Times

Photo by Shawn Baldwin for the New York Times

I’m not quite certain where I stand on the matter. On one hand, I can’t make an great claims for the status of the Copts in Egypt– or the treatment of Christians at large, for that matter. My own personal experience with the Copts has been a disapproving one; they’ve struck me as insular and defensive– almost racist in their suspicion and distrust of their Muslim counterparts. Yet, conversely, I’ve met others– like Emad– whose best friends are Muslims.

Allow me to share one such experience with you. I’ve bought my groceries from Mahmoud on the corner for some time now: he is a Muslim– along with all the other Bashas that sit there nightly. Some time two years ago, I began also buying what Mahmoud didn’t have at one of the shops down the street, whose owner was a Copt. After noticing this, Hany (the owner) began to bother me about buying all my groceries from him– because “he was a Christian.” His point was that Muslims were just using me for my money, and that they really hated Christians– all Christians, not just the Orthodox. I’ve had a number of experiences like this, where Copts use it’s-because-I’m-Christian as the cause of all their troubles.

This may very well be true for all I know. But the problems of most Copts as I’ve encountered them are pretty much the same as everyone else: saving money and getting married. When you have something to blame, it might be easier to get more embittered by it. The result is a rather insular community that is not very welcoming to outsiders; at one point I was called a heretic by a Coptic monk at Abu Mina.

For the zabaleen, I’m uncertain. Doubtless, their plight is the result of widespread ignorance– either regarding the swine flu or Christianity. The trouble is determining which is the prevailing factor.

And sadly, it might be both.

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You catch a minibus west to Manshaya, and get off at the Nasser Restaurant, just before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here, the Corniche narrows to four lanes, and if you wait a few seconds, you can cross to the other side. You duck down a sidestreet, past the Traders’ Room, past shawarma stands lit up with neon lights, past entire avenues of men in rickety cane chairs — the air censed with cigarette and apple tobacco. And just as you find yourself approaching Saad Zaghloul Street, you stop. If you blink walking by, you might miss it; a hole in the wall with a painted airplane over the entrance, which has a frosted glass partitions hiding the interior from the street, which is in turn concealed by a little buttonwood tree. This is the Spitfire Bar– uncontestedly the best bar in Alexandria (and the only one open during Ramadan).

Once occupied by the British when the Allied operations headquarters was based at the Hotel Cecil down the road (more coming soon on Monty’s Bar), Spitfire has seen more history than most. Though Cap d’Or down the street likes to claim otherwise (it has some tres sweet art noveau mirrors), Spitfire reigns supreme. Business cards on the wall, a rather random fishtank, an ever-present Rolling Stones soundtrack, and a risque wet T-shirt poster that tells the visitor, “Order a beer. Light a cigarette. Make fun of the wandering tourists outside searching in vain for this paradise of a watering hole.”

The place is owned by a trio of brothers– all Muslim– who make a business of living and let live; they make an extra emphasis of pointing out that “There are good people and bad people in every nation…but no one like you, Mr. Mike.” I’ve heard that line so many times that I’ve stopped teasing them about it.

Mr. Mike? I get called that at school, too: it’s a little odd– but then, I guess, try throwing “Nevadomski” to them. You can see the knots form in their mouths.

Last Ramadan, I stepped in for a drop and a small sampling of peanuts, only to have Hassan and Osama get extra attentive around Iftar time:

My brothers and I are about to break fast, then go to the mosque to pray. Do you need anything else before we do?

Nope, Hassan. Thanks for everything.

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