Easter Sunday: Christian-Muslim Relations Need a Boost
Easter weekend highlights one of the most important beliefs in Christian tradition. On this day, Jesus Christ is said to have risen after his crucifixion on the cross three days earlier. This serves as a powerful reminder to Christians of Christ’s message of love, humility and peace.
In the spirit of this holiday, the crucial yet fragile relationship between the Christian and Muslim worlds is in need of a serious resurrection effort. While many groups have worked tirelessly to promote better ties, current affairs in different parts of the world have been disastrous in reconciling the two populations.
The fate of Christian minorities in the Muslim world has been in a dire state of affairs. From Pakistan to Egypt, they happen to be one of the most discriminated groups, living under constant threat.
In Pakistan, Christian communities have been defamed and violently targeted under the infamous blasphemy laws. Earlier this month, a Christian-dominated area in Lahore was raided by a mob of close to 3000 people who accused a Christian member of the community of allegedly committing blasphemy.
Last year, a disabled Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, was accused of desecrating the Quran by burning pages from the Holy book. She was arrested until the case was thrown out by the Supreme Court for inconclusive evidence.
The Coptic community in Egypt has gone through great lengths for decades in trying to protect themselves from fundamentalist acts of violence.
On March 25, a group of Muslim men attacked a church, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, starting a fire that may have led to disastrous consequences. In addition to Wasta, Amnesty International reports that attacks on Christian populations have occurred in areas such as Cairo and Aswan, revealing a pattern of widespread discrimination.
The Copts have also been a target of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda. On New Year’s Eve 2010, a bomb exploded in a Coptic church that took the lives of nearly 25 people.
Meanwhile, Islamophobia in the Christian majority countries has been rife for a good part of the 21st century. Events such as 9/11 or 7/7 have been crucial in the animosity towards Islam and Muslim communities.
Over two years ago, plans to make a Muslim cultural center near the World Trade Center site, similar to a YMCA or a Jewish community center, had ignited a heated dispute, where those against the project had spewed hatred and misinformation about a Muslim conspiracy to "provoke" and hurt the sentiments of those affected by 9/11. Mosques were attacked and desecrated. The founders of the project were defamed and threats were made against their lives.
Under Pope Benedict, dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Muslim Ummah had hit a sour note. In 2006 the pope came under severe criticism for his remarks at the University of Regensburg for somewhat implying that Muhammad’s rule was one of "evil" and that his message had been spread through force.
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," the pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor.
Understandably, this stirred emotions and strong condemnations by various Muslim groups as well as governments were made. The Pakistani parliament objected furiously to the statements and demanded an apology. A small Orthodox church was attacked in Gaza within days of the address.
In an effort of reconciliation, over 100 Muslims scholars wrote an Open Letter direct especially to the Vatican highlighting the importance of Christian theology and Christians in Islamic Faith.
The statement quoted the late Pope John Paul II, Benedict’s predecessor and his thoughtful perception of the Islamic faith. "We Christians joyfully recognize the religious values we have in common with Islam. Today I would like to repeat what I said to young Muslims some years ago in Casablanca: We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection."
The newly elected head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has made a noteworthy statement in trying to continue to build bridges between the Muslims and Christians of the world. In a highly conciliatory tone, the pope reached out to what he described as "so many Muslim brothers and sisters."
A day earlier before these comments were made, the pope in a symbolic ceremony on Holy Thursday, washed and kissed the feet of a Muslim girl, attracting controversy from some but a generally positive response from many.
While geopolitical and domestic economies have a substantial role to play in sparking tensions between religious communities, especially that result in blatant persecution of minorities, the role of prominent figures in these communities to champion peace is crucial. Bigotry and hatred amongst two communities comprising 50% of the planet cannot cease to last.