‘Together for a Better Egypt: the Imam-Priest Exchange,’ is an interfaith initiative co-ordinated by the Diocese. 30 imams and 30 priests are brought together for 4 weekends each year, in order to facilitate mutual understanding and encourage peaceful relationships between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.
The third meeting (30 September – 2 October) focused on how imams and priests can work together to address sectarian problems in Egypt.
Understanding each other’s place of worship. The group spent time in a Catholic Church in Cairo, and during a prayer time at a mosque in Menouf (a city in the Nile Delta). This allowed the participants to understand more about each others traditions and forms of worship.
Practical ways to work together. Bishop Mouneer hosted a session where participants discussed practical ways to work together. The ideas will be presented at the next meeting of Beit il-Aila (House of the Family), a group which brings together Christian heads of denominations and Muslim leaders in Egypt. Ideas and actions included;
- One participant is a Presbyterian priest from Imbaba, a poor area of Cairo which has faced sectarian violence previously. He recently met with the imam from the near-by mosque and they discussed how to stop the disease of violence. They agreed that they need to face problems directly. One area they will work on together is addressing the spirit of fanaticism in schools.
- One imam shared how the exaggeration of the media increases the sectarian problems.
- Another imam shared “we commit a serious mistake when we talk about ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We should always say we.“
- Another participants shared how a major problem is ignorance and illiteracy. “People who are open minded and educated have the responsibility to teach uneducated people about tolerance.”
- A Coptic priest from Ismalaya shared how he and the local imam visited an Islamic hospital and orphanage together. He said “People in the street were surprised and excited to see us visiting together. People are eager to hear and see hope. It is a matter of example and relationships, doing not just talking.”
Practically Serving the Community. The group spent a day in Menouf visiting children at the Episcopal School, special needs children at the Menara Centre, patients at Harpur Memorial Hospital, as well as a Coptic Orthodox church and a mosque. They walked through the streets together, which suprised the residents of this rural area of Egypt. One man was so happy that he wanted to invite the whole group for a meal! At the school, one imam shared at the group assembly. “Long live Egypt. Long live Islam and long live Christianity. Long live Egypt free and having national unity. Long live the country where we live together. Long live the Nile that gives us water. In the name of the one God, I pray that national unity will keep us from destruction.”
Building Bridges. The group visited the Minister of El-Awqaf, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and Bishop Mouneer, Dr. Mahmoud Azab (consultant of the Grand Imam for interfaith dialogue), Bishop Armaya (the Coptic Bishop responsible for interfaith dialogue) and others shared about the initiative.
Standing in Solidarity. 10 priests and imams visited the priest of Al-Adra Coptic Church in Al-Warraq, Cairo. In October, 5 people were shot, including an 8-year-old girl, as they were leaving a wedding at this church. The Coptic priest expressed how deeply he appreciated this visit.