By Ashley Samelson McGuire
Muslims protect and greet Orthodox Christians leaving the church where Saturday’s bomb blast took place in Alexandria, January 6, 2011, after the Coptic Christmas mass. Egypt tightened security around churches on Thursday, the eve of Coptic Christmas, after a New Year’s Day bombing killed up to 23 and sparked angry protests by Christians demanding more protection from Muslim militants. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
“I know it might not be safe, yet it’s either we live together, or we die together, we are all Egyptians.”
Such are the words one expects of great leaders on the battlefield, of politicians preparing a nation for war, of civic leaders rallying people for an inspiring cause.
But these are the words of Cherine Mohamed, a 50-year-old Egyptian housewife.
These words became a slogan of sorts for many brave Egyptian Muslims who chose yesterday to risk their lives in the wake of the New Year’s violence and attend Christmas Masses with their Coptic Christian brethren, serving as human shields against further potential acts of extremist violence on the Christian holy day.
A movement led by Muslim leaders and journalists, the civilian response has the heartening undertones of a civil rights struggle that transcends religious differences. It is furthermore a demonstration that because government officials in Egypt and other Muslim-majority countries have often failed to defend religious freedom, the people are taking matters into their own hands.
Egyptian Coptic Christians attend the Coptic Christmas eve mass in Cairo January 6, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany
According to Ahram Online, there were several prominent Muslim figures among the participants:
“Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.”
And the courageous acts belie the notion of an unreasoning and irrational Muslim “street” in Egypt run by religious thugs. Rather it is a reminder to the world that we are all called to be moral agents and stand up for the religious freedom of our neighbor, Jew or Gentile, Copt or Muslim.
When an Egyptian Muslim housewife will leave her spoon in the pot and attend a Christmas Mass to protect the very life of her Coptic neighbor, the cause of religious freedom takes a bold step forward.
Ashley Samelson McGuire is the Director of Programs for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.