Father Neseen Elaborates on Muslims-Christians Relations in Egy.
|Sunday, July 8,2007 09:30|
Father doctor Christian Van Neseen, a monk in Christian Fathers House in Shobra, Dutch, living in Egypt since 1962. He is concerned with the Islamic- Christian relation, not on a political level, but on the cultural and social level, first for his religious position as a Catholic monk and second for his scientific position according to his much experience. He lived in Egypt for a long time and has several scientific studies as a philosophy professor in College of Human and Theological Sciences for the Catholic Christians in Maadi. He was a member in the Philosophy committee in the Supreme Culture Council in addition to his membership in the committee of philosophies and religions in Alexandria Library. He was also a staff member of the Dominican institute for eastern studies, led by father George Fatwai.
Father Christian considers the religious relation between Christians and Muslims as a matter of life and a focus in his studies. It was greatly tackled in his French-written book, entitled ( Christians and Muslims, brothers for God). He dedicated his book to his colleague Dr. Mahmoud Ragab, a philosophy professor, saying " the book is dedicated for my brother Mahmoud Ragab".
He speaks of his experiences and situations in the relations between Muslims and Christians, especially as he got his PHD in the Islamic thought, entitled ( The concept of God"s orders in Manar explanation for imam Mohammed Abdou). Father Christian concluded that no balanced relations would be established between Muslims and Christians except when based on citizenship and mutual project. This would not be carried out except through deep understanding and continuous talks and meetings. He believes there are some spiritual regions in common like prayers followed by politeness. The meeting between both parties help removing each party"s reservations and how they can be overcome. Each problem can be solved through talks. This would not be carried out except when believing that Islam is a religion having spiritual values, excluding the surrounding doubts prevailing since 11/9.
When I asked him why did not he call Islam as a divine religion, he responded " the expression of a divine religion is an Islamic expression. Islam in some people"s viewpoints mean that I deviate from my religion. This does not belittle my respect of it. The best evidence for this is my studies that try to find the common points before God without denying the differences. Yet, let us deal with the differences in a positive way. I believe that Muslims are part of the " we ". Being Christian does not mean that I come against the Muslims, they represent one thing for me.
Search in the past
*What about your evaluation of the current relation between Muslims and Christians?
**Father Christian : Egypt, as formed, represents one society with one culture. The relation between Muslims and Christians is interacted, there are no geographical or language differences. Yet, after Setback in 1967, the Egyptian street witnessed deep changes. For the first time in the Egyptian history, the country life citizens started to continuously move not to Cairo or Alex. But to the Arab countries. This led to the use of electricity, television and video. These changes led to deep revolts on the level of the cultural, social and economic situations. It created some sort of identity crisis, for many, accompanying the religion as the key element that is confined to identity.
The society started to witness classifications: this is Muslim and that is Christian. Even the Muslims and Christians have classifications according to sects. Yet, still there is a societal unity. We can not deny there are some crises inside Muslims and Christians groups, each group starts to get isolated from the other. That was not the case in 1962 in Ain Shams University where I felt no distinction. Yet, 20 years later, I saw a Christian student trying to merge with his colleagues while one of his companions rebuked him saying : Why are you talking to the Muslims?! This does not mean that this pattern prevails, yet, it can not be denied . As clashes took place at the beginning of the 80s, this pattern spread and fortunately, there were members at both sides trying to confront this phenomenon, struggling to contain these tensions. Justice and Peace society, founded by father Goerge Katwani carried out a role in this framework through several meetings with prominent figures in the Egyptian society.
*Why did Egyptian Church isolate itself?
The church has a fear of interaction, for fear of attempts to change religion. There is a feeling that some Muslims are carrying out these attempts. Personally, I am not sure of these events" authenticity. There is no study that assures this behavior. Yet, either we believe or not would change nothing. This feeling led to isolation, offering the social care and education classes to its citizens. Thus, interaction lessens. The same is applied to Al Azhar, whose leaders have intimate relations with us. As we evaluate the course that allows studying the different sects, reflecting a deepening of tolerance and as we understand that fundamentalism is away from us, yet, no interaction between Muslim and Christian young men would create problems that would appear later. I do not demand to open institutes especially for Christians, yet, this could be carried out in seminars where they could overcome their problems.
The isolation of the church and the Muslims raise doubts at each party to finally reach a double speech on an official level, reflecting peaceful situation. Yet, this implies a state of no confidence, on the other hand, prevailing speech of some Muslims and Christians. Some Christians repeat " we can not trust Muslims", and the same happens with some Muslims. We sometimes see this in some positions. It, honestly, represents a no permanent case.
* Are they individual acts?
I believe that these phenomena are not comprehensive, yet, they are not few. This spreads at some sectors of Christians who would like to carry out distinction in case they have possibility. The two parties have the same feeling, wishing to move the other from work and residence. This does not represent a problem between both religions. Yet, it is a social problem and it is wrong to tackle the minority"s suffering away from the majority"s problems. We have to study the society as a whole not sects and parties. We hosted in ( Peace and Justice) society some Islamists to define the reservations of each party, then we analyze them, paving the way to tackle them. Dialogue is the means to overcome problems.
It is possible with Islamists
*What do you think of the Islamists" role and their influence on the relation between Muslims and Christians?
They are not the same, I always warn against generalization and simplification in tackling such matters. There are Islamists that totally approve of citizenship in the full meaning of the word between Muslims and non Muslims. Some of them separate between Islam as a religion and Islam as a social, cultural and economic project. They consider this project as open, welcoming the non Muslims, even some of them approve that non Muslims work as presidents. This means that not all Islamists are fundamentalists. This concept is supported in different ways.
It can be indicated that sheikh Refaa Al- Tahtawi, in his book entitled ( Al-Morshed Al-Amin), tried to clarify the citizenship expression in a strange way. He tried to speak on it making use of his French readings and Islamist concepts. Citizenship says that human being belongs to the land, this dualism ( land and religion). Despite spreading a state of confusion, he stated that loyalty to land is include in the concept of citizenship with religion. In 1919 revolution, those believing in ( land and religion) were welcomed, especially the slogan of " religion for God, land for all". Thus, we may say that all live under this 1919 slogan in a period considered the most prosperous of citizenship stages. Equality prevails where Christians could be elected among the Muslims.
50 years later, it was not that simple in the People"s Assembly, apart from the Muslim Brotherhood"s support of the Wafd candidate Fakhry Abu Nour, where religious feelings were stronger and where it may be understood as a distinction against the non Muslims.
How can you exactly see the Muslim Brotherhood"s attitude against non Muslims?
Distinction between Brotherhood and other groups is important, especially on level of violence. Those groups especially those of jihad exclude the other party. I believe that Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have an initial and honest attitude against violence, confirming others" rights. This does not deny that there are questions over the Islamic project and the other"s position in it, whether they will allow the non Muslims to be active, joining them on a social and political level. Also whether religion would play a role in distinction against others. What about their view of the citizenship rights. Am I a citizen because I belong to Egypt or because I am a Muslim. In critical cases, these sayings are mentioned, not offending intentions.
I remember that Dr. Salah Abdel Motaal ( Islamist researcher) said once: I am ready to replace the _expression " Islamist project" with a" belief project" speaking of our ideas and thoughts about humanity justice.