The recent upsurge in sectarian tensions, provoked by Father Bishoy’s remarks doubting the authenticity of certain Quranic verses and the alleged conversion of Kamilia Shehata, makes me wonder what will be the consequences of this crisis. Will it have a damaging long-term effect on Egypt or is there potential for anything positive to come out of it?
This crisis provides an opportunity for the wise among us to advise religious preachers to stop playing roles in public life for which they are unfit. Preachers should handle doctrinal issues, not political ones. Upholding one’s creed does not require the denial of others’ religious beliefs. On the contrary, all religions should be respected in public and in private, for what is said behind closed doors can eventually find its way to the public domain and stoke tensions during moments of provocation.
Moreover, religion must remain separate from the state. This does not mean, as some suggest, that religion should be undermined. Rather, it means preserving the integrity of religion and protecting it from being abused or manipulated by those who seek discord between Egypt’s religious communities. Religions have long been exploited to serve political ends, a trend which urgently needs to be reversed. Otherwise, I fear that one day Egypt will be permanently divided along sectarian lines.
Restricting the role of preachers is important in this regard. Preachers should not be regarded as authorities on civil issues, nor should they give statements to the media on general political matters, for that is simply not their function.
Perhaps the most bitter revelation of this crisis–which has not yet fully subsided–is the insight it has given us into what is being said by religious leaders in off-the-record meetings. Those who genuinely have our country’s interests at heart should accept that Egypt is a country of Muslims and Christians. Any attempt at marginalizing either group means stoking the flames of sectarian strife.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.