Saturday, September 12, 2009

One of the things I was struck by when I returned to my neighborhood (Bab al-Luq) was not a bus or a taxi, but the progress made on a particular building whose entrance is on Fahmy Street which opens into Falaki Square a block west on Tahrir St. from my apartment building. I'd passed by the concrete structure many times on my way to classes, initially presuming it was a parking garage. Later minarets began rising from from the structure and I thought to myself, "Another set of loudspeakers tinnily calling the devout to prayer five times a day?" Lo and behold, when I returned, at the top of these "minarets" were Coptic crosses. A new church had been built downtown. Or I should say, is still in the process of being built. When I walked by the other night, there was a large depiction of Mary and either Jesus or a saint of some kind made up, of course, of lights. It looked like a giant Lite Brite creation. This was just after iftar had begun. Muslims were in the same street under tents enjoying their meals after having broken their fasts paying no attention to the wooden screens with crosses on them and the service or other kind of gathering going on inside.

Given the recent fatwa prohibiting the construction of new churches in Egypt, I was surprised at the lack of resistance in the community. Then again, as a non-Arabic speaker, I am not particularly integrated in my community here. But there have been no protests, not so much as a suspicious glance that I've seen. The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar had already declared the fatwa to be in error, but sectarian tensions in Egypt are already a problem without it. The recent arrests of Christians for not following Ramadan restrictions threatens to inflame them further, but perhaps the example of convivencia in the heart of Cairo is cause for a little optimism.

Also upon my return, I was exposed to a more light-hearted picture of peaceful religious co-existence. My flatmate Phil introduced me to CBC's Little Mosque on the Prairie, a program about a small Canadian town where a Muslim community rents out an Anglican parish hall to serve as their mosque. Canadian cheesy in the best way, the show still manages to bring compelling issues to the fore, causing people to stop and think. Plural marriage, gay marriage, wearing the burqa, dating, terrorism, Islamophobia, and more are addressed in the series that is well worth watching online if, as a non-Canadian you don't have ready access to CBC. If you are in Canada (and I may here be overestimating my readship), you can watch full episodes here.

1 comment:

Lisa Huberman said...

I discovered Little Mosque on the Prairie several years ago and love it. Another one to check out: Aliens in America, which had an embarrassingly short run on the CW a few years back. It was about an American family in middle America who are shocked when the foreign exchange student they take in is a devout Muslim. It's like the Wonder Years for the age of Obama.