Being Christian No Easy Feat in Muslim Egypt: Discrimination Is Condoned by the Government

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Being Christian No Easy Feat in Muslim Egypt: Discrimination Is Condoned by the Government


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


CAIRO - The Rev. Menes Abdul Noor's office on the second floor of his Presbyterian church could belong to any megachurch pastor: a CD player, a copy of the Christian magazine Voice and books by charismatic evangelists Billy Joe and Sharon Dougherty of Tulsa, Okla.

The difference is the map of Cairo on his wall, the Arabic version of Windows 95 on his computer and his unusual guest list.

"I am visited by Muslims who want me to become a Muslim," he said. "I respect their religious zeal and I respect their preachers for coming to see me. Muslims will say the Bible is wrong, that Jesus is not God."

He pauses. He has heard these arguments often.

"They say, `We have prayers.'

"I say, `I have prayers, too.'

"They say, `We pray five times a day.'

"I say, `Prayer is talking to my lover. Should I only talk to Him five times a day?' "

This often stops them. "Usually they leave," he says, "or they come back as seekers.

"I have been asked by the police to report the Muslims who come to me. I say no, it's the secret of the confessional. I am not going to do your dirty work for you."

COMPLAINTS OF PERSECUTION

Spokesmen for Egypt's 6 million to 10 million Christians say persecution is a way of life. The Islamization of this country greatly disheartens the country's Christian minority, especially its Coptic church, one of the world's oldest Christian communities.

Others compare Egypt to living in a shooting gallery. In the last two months, there have been attacks on three Coptic priests in southern Egypt, one of whom died Sept. 2. Government officials say violence affects Muslims as well; the Christians say attacks are disproportionately aimed at them. Christians interviewed also volunteered that things could be worse - after all, Egypt is where Arabic-speaking Christians order their Christian books.

Muslims who publicly convert to Christianity - that is, attend church regularly or get baptized - often end up in jail, unless they manage to flee the country or unless a human rights group agitates on their behalf. Egyptian law forbids Muslims to "apostacize" to another faith.

"Proselytizing Muslims is not a task I would recommend to anyone," said Abdelaleem Abyad, press attache at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington. "The traditional penalty for apostasy is death, but that is not implemented in Egypt. But you risk social ostracism."

Mr. Noor's church, Kasr El Dobara, openly evangelizes Muslims. At a revival held in February, 851 persons indicated a desire to become Christian.

When American evangelist Luis Palau held a crusade at the church in March 1998, those attending had to cram inside the sanctuary and adjoining rooms because no large Christian meetings are allowed outside a church. Except in one place.

CHURCH DUG INTO MOUNTAIN

The drive to one of the world's most unusual churches runs through Cairo's garbage dump. East of town, about 30,000 people live in the fetid suburb beneath the shadow of Moqattam, a large mountain sprouting a nest of radio and TV antennae.

One's car jolts through narrow alleyways out of a casbah movie, past acrid trash and piles of plastic bottles. Just when one begins to think there may really be such a place as purgatory, an arch looms up and the pale walls of a monastery comes into view.

Next to it is a church, a huge cavelike auditorium seating about 10,000 people, blasted into the limestone of Moqattam and built in the past decade. The man responsible was a Coptic priest, Father Saman, who did the blasting during Ramadan, when the sounds could be concealed by the traditional blasting of holiday cannons.

As Egypt's largest church, it is also the only church for the suburb's 30,000 Christian garbage pickers, many of whom who fill it on Thursday nights for healing services. …

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