Monday, February 25, 2008

Fans and Fanatics

Egypt won! Last week the national football (soccer) team of Egypt defeated Cameron (1-0) in the finals of the all African tournament. There was much rejoicing far into the night and the television
stations have replayed many times the highlites of the game and of the celebrations that followed. All Egypt were enthusiasts, fans, in a nice moment of national pride.
To the right is a poster which catches that spirit.

In the class I am teaching in Christianity from the time of Islam's beginnings until 1900, we are investigating what it is to be a "fan", and the differences between being a "fan", devoted to one's faith and committed to its principles, and being a "fanatic", going to extremes in one's actions to demonstrate one's allegiance to these truths. Sometimes in today's world we only associate this later concept of "being a fanatic" with the violent actions and destructive terrorism perpetrated by our "enemies" upon innocent victims. There has certainly been an abundance of such acts, most notably the terrible destruction of human life on September 11, 2001, and other acts of terrorism in this century, and these are to be deplored.

However, to gain a wider historical perspective on religion and violence, we are using a book recently written by Michael Gaddis: "There is no Crime for Those Who have Christ, Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire" to examine the roots and the expressions of coercive force within Christian communities, as well as those used by their enemies against them. From the writings of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who supported actions by the state to protect Christian truth and unity ("compel the people to come in"), to the violence actions of Christians (often monks) convinced they were acting out God's will in the destructive of property and lives of pagans and Jews, and even other Christians, we are studying the "dark" side of our own tradition and how we have treated our "enemies".

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (described earlier) was once destroyed by a "fanatical" Muslim caliph of Egypt (al-Hakim of the Fatamid dynasty) in 1009, and though it was rebuilt soon afterwards and again open to Christian pilgrims, this act became one of the major rallying cries for the Christian crusades in the Middle Ages. What is not often noted is that when the Crusader armies conquered the holy city, they put to the sword all peoples living there, Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

A Muslim leader from Egyptian, the Sultan Salad ad-Din, is still celebrated today as a local heroe led the counterattack, and finally expelled the "Franks" (as the western Christians were then called) from the region. He fought hard to expel the invaders.

What is not often mentioned is that within Egypt he pursued a policy of relative peaceful co-existence with the Coptic Christian community. The monument pictured on the right is from that period of history here in Cairo. It is characteristic of much of Islamic architecture, and suggests one of the central concept of "Islam" or "Dar al Islam - the place where God is obeyed and peace reigns". The building incorporates many different patterns and geometric designs and yet for me forms a beautiful, compeling, whole structure, with a sense of peaceful harmony among its diverse elements. I believe that this is the aim and desire of the vast majority of Muslims as well as Christians in this place, to be fans of, that is, devoted to their own faith, while respectful of and committed to living in harmony with others. This building is a nice image from the past of that desire.

There are presently many acts of violence by the few in this world, which create fear in us, and there will probably be acts of violence in the future which will try to shape our actions and policies toward others. But I want to close this section with the aims of the institute which Dr. Hans Kung heads (the Global Ethic Foundation), which are helping to shape the theme of the class I am teaching:
No peace among the nations
without peace among the religions.
No peace among the religions
without dialogue between the religions.
No dialogue between the religions
without investigations of the foundations of the religions.
Peace and justice. Roger February, 25, 2008

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