I’m proud to present this guest post by Dr. John Awad, a recent graduate of the George Washington University School of Medicine, on our responsibility as Copts living outside of Egypt towards our brothers and sisters who are still there. I have met John in the past and have always been struck by his gift of always speaking the truth and always speaking it in love.
— Nermien Riad
On May 21st, 2017, I received my diploma for completing graduate school while at the George Washington University. That day was one of celebration and joy. Thousands of families of various ethnic and religious backgrounds came together to see hundreds of their children achieve lifelong dreams after years of hardship, toil, and struggle. Adorned in our graduation regalia, we took pictures, smiled, hugged, and stood reminiscing over the last four years regarding how much we learned and accomplished in our short time spent in the capital of the United States. And in one of those pictures, I, along with fellow Muslim and Coptic classmates, held proudly the flag of our home nation, Egypt.
I speak of Egypt because Egypt is a part of me. No matter where I go or what journey I embark on, I will always be an Egyptian American. Egypt is the country that reared my mother and father. Egypt is the land in which many of my aunts and uncles, first cousins, and numerous other relatives live today. Egypt is the land of my Coptic heritage, a heritage that extends thousands of years to the people of ancient Egypt. It is a heritage that I am proud of and share with all whom I come across. I am inextricably tied to Egypt, and Egypt to me. Thus, as long as I live, how could I ever forget my country Egypt, and my brothers and sisters living there daily in fear for their lives?
In recent weeks and months, our Coptic community has been the target of numerous bombings and bloody massacres carried out by radical Islamic militants seeking to destabilize Egypt, eliminate Coptic Christians, and drive a gulf between us and our Muslim brethren in the country. In the last year alone, we have had a myriad of killings aimed at bringing our community to its knees. According to the Esshad database (https://eshhad.timep.org/database) an “online platform that aggregates and collates alleged religious persecution and sectarian attacks in Egypt”, there have been over 500 incidents of sectarian violence directed at Copts in Egypt since 2013 alone. Prominent among these are the following:
• May 26, 2017- at least 29 Coptic Christians killed by gunmen as they rode buses to visit Saint Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Minya
• April 9, 2017- 29 killed in bombing St. George’s Cathedral in Tanta and 18 killed in bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria
• February 2017- 7 killed in various incidents throughout Arish, including shootings and a beheading while over 140 Coptic families were forced to flee Arish for Ismailia due to pressure by Sinai insurgents
• December 11, 2016- 29 killed in a bombing in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.
Aside from these larger attacks, there have been isolated incidents including the murder of a Coptic storeowner in Alexandria on January 3rd, the murder of a Coptic husband and wife as they slept in Menoufia on January 6th, the slaying of a Coptic doctor in Assiut on January 13th, and the killing of a man on January 17th in Masr al-Qadima. All of this is indicative of the larger problem within Egypt—that Copts have been increasingly targeted and murdered for their faith while the Western world is largely silent.
But we in the West, afforded the liberties of democracy and free speech, do not have to be silent. While our brothers and sisters at home suffer greatly, with little in the way of freedom of speech and few options for respite, we possess an incredible platform to speak out regarding these persecutions. In fact, it is our moral obligation to do so, and to do anything less is an evil in and of itself. Our Lord Christ at the beginning of His ministry reiterated the fundamental tenets of His mission as laid out in Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Our families in Egypt are brokenhearted. They have lost so much and suffered for so long. They live in daily fear for their lives because of an unfair and naïve hatred perpetrated by darkness. They have been shot, bombed, burned, stabbed, beaten, and imprisoned for their love for Christ. And yet they still believe in Christ and they still love others and they still desire a unified Egypt where Muslims and Christians dwell together in peace and harmony.
We can learn so much from our families in Egypt if we pay attention to their patience and unwavering faith in these dark times. They neither call for retaliation nor death for the perpetrators of these crimes, crying out instead, “we forgive you”. And in terms of their faith, they shout, “with our soul and with our blood we redeem the cross”. They truly follow in the footsteps of the martyrs before them, who shed their blood so our Church can survive and so we can worship in safety in the US, Australia, Europe, Africa, Bolivia, and elsewhere while they cannot enjoy these same freedoms. Without their sacrifices, none of us would be able to sit where we are today and worship in peace each day.
The late Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, author, political activist, and Nobel Laureate among other things was quoted as saying, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Likewise, in the same thought, St. James in his epistle writes that “to him who knows to do good, and does not do it, to him it is a sin” (James 4:17). Therefore, in this light, it is our duty to make known the suffering of our Coptic brethren at home. We must tell the public around us what they are facing daily and how they are discriminated against in both law and everyday life. We must share proudly—both in person and social media—with our neighbors who we are and what we believe. We must keep alive the traditions handed down to us by our forefathers, the traditions that martyrs like Saints Abanob and Moses the Strong and Mena sought to preserve. We must remember the names of every single person killed and lost in these attacks, asking for their prayers on our behalf and praying for the repose of their souls.
In practical terms, we can donate our money and time to charities like the Saint Verena Charity, Coptic Orphans, and others that visit the families of those martyred and offer financial, emotional, and spiritual support during these trying times. We should support efforts, such as those by Coptic churches across North America, to raise money for metal detectors to be placed outside of every church in Egypt for security purposes. We should reach out to members of our government to make them aware of these persecutions and ask that they not only condemn these killings but also offer support to Egypt and its Coptic people in the midst of these dangerous times. The United States and its citizens can have a sincerely positive humanitarian influence when we unite our voices together to say that we can no longer accept discrimination of any minority whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or any other religion, creed, and ethnicity. And having been a persecuted minority back home, we should reach out to the marginalized minorities in the West and seek to serve them with love, drawing on our own experiences to fully engage these communities and assist them with all their needs.
Finally, we should live as Christ taught us, loving those who desire to harm us, blessing those who curse us, doing good to those who hate us, and praying for those who spitefully use and persecute us (Matthew 5:44). We genuinely pray for those who commit these atrocities that they may find love and peace, and turn away from this evil to find the Truth. We also pray for our Muslim neighbors in this time of Ramadan, that their holy month may be blessed and that we would live together as brothers and sisters in peace and harmony. We strongly condemn any harm against the Muslim community in the US as well, and seek to always maintain cordiality, peace and unity together as we build a better future here in the West.
Lastly, let us never forget our Coptic families. They died because they found something worth dying for, and that is something we should never be ashamed of. To forget them, is to forget our identity, and to essentially forget ourselves. May God watch over us always: Long live Egypt and long live the Egyptian people.