The incitement propagated by radical clergymen to prevent the exchange of felicitations between Egyptians on Christian feasts continues. This came in the form of either advising against the admissibility of such greetings, or insulting the symbols of such religious occasions, including Santa Claus and the Christmas tree, as well as their prohibition too.
Some also committed the depreciation of Christianity while discussing the issue of prohibition, arguing that there should be no imitation of the “infidels” and that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in the wrong time of the year, which is winter, whereas he was born during the summer. They continued to issue fatwas on topics related to Christianity, which include the birth of Jesus Christ, and no one proceeded to hold any of those accountable for their encroachments, especially that they are renowned personalities who appear on different media channels.
We were waiting for Al-Azhar Institution, as a voice of Islamic moderation that denounces offending religions and beliefs of Egyptian citizens and stresses on the unity of all Egyptians, to proceed to confront those radicals. What rather happened was that Dar Al-Ifta Al-Misriyyah confronted them by issuing a fatwa authorizing the greeting of non-Muslims on the condition that they would not be at variance with Islamic Shari’a.
This fatwa provoked further dispute instead of resolving the ongoing debate. For what does “not be at variance with Islamic Shari’a” mean? Does this mean the use of Islamic expressions in the greetings? Or does it mean that the greeting should not diverge with the Sacred Law following the example of what the Political Islam current added to the oath of allegiance at the first session of the previous People’s Parliament?
In my own opinion, the objective behind adding the “not be at variance with Islamic Shari’a” that was mentioned in the fatwa issued by Dar Al-Ifta, is to stress on the admissibility of greetings on some feasts and their prohibition on others. According to Islamic Shari’a, the fatwa authorises greetings on Christmas because there exists no controversy over the birth of Jesus Christ, except for an ongoing contention over the actual timing of birth.
While all Christian denominations agree that Christ was born in winter, some Muslim clergymen argue his birth was during summer. Moreover, the fatwa also translated into the prohibition of greeting Christians on Easter Sunday because it is a controversial topic, for there exists no crucifixion or resurrection in Islamic conviction, but rather a belief that Christ was raised to heaven.
We are not engaging in a debate between religions and convictions, for this is a belief issue that concerns the followers of each religion and there exists no benefit in debating on a religious ground. What we are rather discoursing about is the idea of coexistence between the sons and daughters of one country, most of whom come from the same racial background. A genetic study has revealed that more that 98% of Egyptians descend from the same racial origin, thus they are all Copts, meaning ‘Egyptians’. They became Christians during a specific stage in history and most of them became Muslims in a following historical stage. The fundamental rule guiding human relations is these ideas of coexistence and community-living regardless of differences. When humans exchange greetings on different occasions, they do not do so from a religious perception, but rather from a humanist one. Hence, exchanging greetings with others is dictated by the nature of the occasion and does not indicate that I am sharing the same conviction or belief. It is a simple greeting where I wish the other person contentment and well-being.
In this context, I deliver greetings to people on their religious and social occasions, not seeing in this action what could defame my convictions and beliefs. If we scrutinise the greeting before uttering it and try to articulate it from a religious outlook, we will refrain from such exchange of greetings with those whose religions and sects are similar to our own. In the condemnation of greetings lies an assault on the ideas of a nation, patriotism and co-existence and what they mean when it comes to diversity, pluralism and heterogeneity.
Emad Gad is vice president of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.