Tag Archives: copts

… the Coptic Grave

 

 

IMG_2144

 

Notes from America: Muslims and Christians – At war in life, at peace in death

On a hot summer afternoon, Standing along with a few hundred Muslims at the Garden of Eden Islamic Cemetery located in a remote corner of a Christian cemetery in Burnsville, Minnesota, mourning the death of one of our friends, the reverences and the respect were not just given by Muslims, but also by the staff and workers at the Christian cemetery.

Everyone was taken by the gravity of the situation. Cemetery workers dug the grave, carried the coffin, lowered it into the grave, and waited quietly away until the end of the burial, cleaned up and walked away. What a contrast, Muslims in the United States, in the post 9/11 era are constantly exposed to all sorts of bigotry, discrimination and media demonisation, are chased, attacked, racially profiled at airports, spied on in schools, mosques, and young Muslims are entrapped by the FBI for show. But when they die they are welcomed and given most respect at a Christian cemetery in unmarked graves not too far distant from dead Christians.

I never understood the rules of religious proximity between the dead Muslim and Christian, and if no amount of interfaith dialogue could bring Muslims and Christians together, death can. As a hyphenated Muslim-American living in the US, I couldn’t help but wonder about the one Christian family that was living in my village growing up in Egypt 50 years ago, what became of them, and what trace they had left – if any. I decided to go back to a trip in history and find out more about this Christian family, and why my village was immune to the rift between the two religions.

IMG_2169My village, as I remember it, was a small, unassuming place in the Egyptian Nile delta. Before CNN and Al Jazeera, villagers lived the simple life of a farming community, and their interest in the outside world went only as far as the edge of their fields. The men left with their animals for work at dawn and came back at dusk, while their wives stayed home, busy preparing hearty meals and raising kids to work on the farm as soon as they mastered their first step.

IMG_2149People seemed to consult the same fashion designer, go to the same mosque to pray, eat the same food, celebrate the same holidays, and for generations, villagers kept the gene pool very much confined to the area’s families. I was interested to know more about the Coptic family who lived among us.

The Christian family’s peculiar lifestyle was intriguing to me. In fact, it was a breath of fresh air that invigorated the monotonous village life. “They seemed friendlier than most, and they easily smiled,” commented Haj Abdullah, one of the few relatives left with a sharp memory of the Coptic family history.

IMG_2148Unlike other villagers who worked on the farm, the Christian family was still in the hunting-and-gathering age. “They made their living chasing wild wolves lurking on the outskirts of the village,” continued Haj Abdullah. “The Christian father, Kyriakos, would vanish into the remote fields for days and suddenly resurface with his kill,” he added.

“The Coptic family would drag the dead wolf around in the streets for show-and-tell, describing the grave danger they had just faced and the heroic adventure they had encountered, which earned them considerable admiration from villagers and a handsome handout of rice, corn or whatever the season offered at the time,” explained my cousin Ezzat.

IMG_2157“I knew Kyriakos, the father; he had a great sense of humour,” Haj Abdullah added, “He was a joker.”

“I never thought of them as Christian or Coptic, just my neighbour,” shared my brother Abdel Rafaa. Growing up in my village, I liked to hang around with Sameer Kyriakos: one of the Coptic brothers, known simply as the Copt. Although I had the privilege and perks that came with being part of the majority religion, my alliance with him was personal, and it might have resulted from both of us being considered somewhat social outcasts by most of the villagers.

Both of our families had chosen a career other than farming. My family members were the educators who ran the only village elementary school for years. Sameer was in my class, and I always envied him for being a Coptic during our religion class: he was free to choose to stay or go to the school playground. I wished I could go too, if only to spare myself the abuse of our religion teacher.

Besides his great personality, Sameer had a unique skill: he was a sharp shooter, exceptionally good at using the BB gun, and I was good at using the slingshot. Our pastime was hunting small birds in the summer. We both left the village early in the morning and spent the whole day roaming the field hunting for these birds. The solitude of the field’s greenery and the empty roads gave us the emotional space to be close and good buddies; we talked about anything; kissing girls and other dreams.

Years went by, until the day the father suddenly died. The family was not prepared for this eternal fate, and neither was the rest of the village. Although the cultural tradition of the Muslim villagers to accommodate the Coptic family while they were alive, the religious burial traditions were not flexible enough to accommodate the mixing of their dead in the same cemetery.

“The Coptic family wanted to bury their father at their cemetery located away from the city, as most of them do across Egypt,” said Haj Abdullah. However, “before his death, Kyriakos the Coptic father asked your uncle [my uncle Abd Elhafeez] to be buried with him at the Muslim cemetery,” he explained. My uncle kept his promise to his Coptic neighbour.

“There was some reluctance and hesitation from the villagers,” my brother Refaat said. “Both religions prohibit mixing the dead in the same graves or cemetery,” he explained.

Before the Wahhabi-oil brand of Islam that was sweeping Egypt these days, there was more tolerance.

Members of my father’s family were not known for their religious zealotry, but for their kindness and generosity. ”If the Coptic family had lived in peace with the rest of us all these years without any trouble, there shouldn’t be much trouble while they were dead,” explained my cousin Fekary about Uncle Abd Elhafeez’s view at the time.

“My family consulted no one in the village,” said my brother Nasser. The burial ceremony was completed quietly at my family’s cemetery gravesite. Now and after all these years , like all Muslim graves, which lack any religious symbols or eulogy – only a name and date – just a Coptic family name remains, “Kyriakos” and the dates: “Born in 1911 and died 1962.”

IMG_2170What is so amazing today is that with all the rift between Christians and Muslims, and Islam and the West, and also periodic flair-ups between Egyptian Copts and Muslims, this has never translated into any hostility towards the Coptic family’s grave; no act of defacing or expression of graffiti on the unfenced Coptic grave can be found, which is remarkable in the age of the internet and the global village and religious fundamentalism.

All those years ago, in my village, Muslims and Copts had lived together and died together in peace and harmony. There is very little they can do when they are dead.

Ahmed Tharwat is host of the Arab-American show Belahdan. He blogs at Notes From America www.ahmediatv.com Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @ahmediatv

Watch The Trailer of the coptic grave film

Read it in other publications Daily News

StarTribune

Share

BelAhdan, Egyptian Americans Reaction to Film “The Virgin, The Copts and Me

Namir is a French filmmaker of Egyptian origin. One day he watches a videotape of the Virgin Mary’s apparition in Egypt with his mother who, like millions of other Copts, (Egypt’s Christians) sees the Virgin on the screen while he sees nothing. Skeptical about the videotape, Namir travels back to Egypt, to make a film about the bizarre occurrence of these apparitions.
The largest film event in the Upper Midwest, and one of the largest and longest running film festivals in the country, the MSP International Film Festival annually presents some 200 feature length and short form narrative and documentary films from 60+ countries around the world to growing numbers of attendees every year. For more than three decades, this spring event has provided an opportunity for audiences to experience new cultures and ideas through the medium and art of film, and has welcomed numerous prominent filmmakers and personalities to tell their stories.

Share

My home journey to the family grave!

Standing at Garden of Eden Islamic Cemetery, located in a remote corner of a Christian cemetery in Burnsville, Minnesota mourning the death of one our friends, I couldn’t help reflecting how Muslims in the United States, unlike European Muslims who usually live in isolated “ghettos”, are free to choose where they want to live, and actually do, however, when a Muslim dies in the U.S. there is only one choice: the Muslim “ghetto” cemetery located inside a remote section of an existing Christian cemetery.

I never understood the religious proximity taboo between the Muslim and Christian dead, and no amount of interfaith dialogue could bring the dead ones together; it is hard to argue that much when you are dead.

I remembered to more than 40 years back the one Coptic-Christian family grave in the heart of my primarily Muslim village cemetery in Meet Swaid, Egypt. We never questioned it, and we never thought of as something peculiar or unusual.

So what is the story of this Coptic family? How did they live as a minority in my small village?

As a hyphenated Muslim American living in the US, I wondered how it would be as a Christian living in a majority Muslim village. After all the years since I left my village, I decided to go back to find out more about the history of this Christian family and why my village was immune from the rift between Coptic and Muslims that periodically surfaced on the Egyptian scene, especially in upper Egypt. I took my camera and decided to find out the story of the Coptic grave in my village cemetery.

Driving along the freeway through the heart of the Nile delta, the road was surrounded by massive orange orchards with fruit peddlers lining the road. They dotted the neglected freeway side with a burst of color displaying their oranges and tangerines in shapes of pyramids ambivalent to the ominous piles of trash everywhere you looked

When I arrived to my village, it was evident that much has changed since I left it 40 years ago—people seemed to have moved on and it was becoming more of a crowded town. As I remember it, my village was a small, unassuming place in the Egyptian Nile delta. Many people’s lifestyles hadn’t changed that much since the time of the pharaohs, and local demographers couldn’t find any dramatic census changes for a long time.

Before CNN and Al Jazeera, villagers lived the simple life of a farming community, and their interest in the outside world went only as far as the edge of their fields. The men left with their animals for work at dawn and came back at dusk, while their wives stayed home, busy preparing hearty meals and raising kids to work in the farm as soon as they mastered their first step.

People consulted the same tailor or seamstress, prayed at the same mosque, celebrated the same holidays, eat the same food, and for generations, villagers kept the gene pool very much confined to the area’s families. But I was interested to know more about that Coptic family among us and how they lived within the village dynamic.

I found the Christian family’s lifestyle peculiar and intriguing—in fact, it was a breath of fresh air to invigorate the monotonous village life. Unlike other villagers who worked on the farm, the Christian family was still “in the hunting-and-gathering age, making their living chasing wild wolves lurking on the village outskirts,” explained, Hajj Abdullah, a village elder .

“The Coptic family would drag the dead wolf around in the streets for show-and-tell, describing the grave danger they had just faced and the heroic adventure they had encountered, and earned them considerable admiration from villagers,” Abdullah added.

“I never thought of them as Christian or Coptic, just my neighbor,” my brother Abdel Rafaa said.

Growing up in my village, I liked to spend time with Sameer Kariaquos, one of the Coptic brothers, known simply as ‘the Coptic.’ Although I had the privilege and perks that came with being of the majority religion, my alliance with him was personal, and possibly resulting from our both being somewhat social outcasts by most other villagers.

Both of our families had chosen a career other than farming. My family members were the educators who ran the only village elementary school for years, and his were hunters. Sameer was in my class, and I always envied him for being a Coptic during our religion class; he was free to choose, stay or leave to the playground. I wished I could, too, sparing myself the abuse of our religion teacher. Besides his great personality, Sameer had a unique skill: he was a sharp shooter, exceptionally good at using the BB gun and I was good at using the slingshot. In the summer, hunting small birds was our pastime. We both left the village early in the morning and spent the whole day roaming the field hunting for these “asafeer”, or sparrows. The solitude of the field greenery and the empty roads gave us the emotional space to be close and good buddies; we talked about anything, kissing girls and other dreams.

But one day, Sameer’s father suddenly died and neither his family nor the rest of the village was prepared for planning his burial.

Although the cultural tradition of the Muslim villagers accommodated the Coptic family, the religious burial traditions were not flexible enough to accommodate the mixing of their dead in the same cemetery.

My Uncle Abd Elhafeez had told me that the Kariaquos family wanted to bury their father at the Coptic Cemetery, much farther from the city, though customary among Copts. However before he died, the father asked my uncle to be buried in the Muslim cemetery, and while there was initial hesitation from the villagers, my uncle honored the request.

My family was not known for religious zealotry, but for kindness and generosity.

“If the Coptic family had lived in peace with the rest of us all these years without any trouble, there shouldn’t be much trouble while they were dead,” my uncle said. My brother Nasser mentioned that our family didn’t consult anyone in the village on this, and the burial ceremony was completed quietly in my family cemetery grave.

Now, after all these years, like every Muslim grave, his does not bear any religious symbol, just his family name, date of birth and death: “Kariaquos, Born 1911, Died 1962.”

What is so amazing today is that with all the rifts between Christians and Muslims, and Islam and the West, and also periodic flair ups between Egyptian Copts and Muslims, this has never translated into any hostility toward the Coptic family grave; no act of defacing or graffiti on the unfenced Coptic grave can be found, which is remarkable in the age of the internet and global village and religious fundamentalism.

All those years ago, in my village, Muslims and Copts had lived together and died together in peace and harmony.

As my brother Abdel Rafaa put it, “No diversity programs were required, no axis of evil was declared, and no crusade or jihad was launched.”

Share

… Christmas Greeting From Tahrir

…from Tahrir with Love

This year I have gotten more Christmas and New Year greetings from Egypt than I have ever gotten from all my friends here in the US. Americans don’t even send Christmas greeting anymore, they send Holiday greeting, as Fox News pundits claim that there is a war on Christmas in the US, not Egyptian Liberals, they are celebrating Christmas as if it is a national holiday. Egyptians elected for the first time in their long history a civilian president, which brought to power a Muslim brotherhood candidate, Mr. Mohammed Morsi. A few months in power the Egyptian liberals whom their candidate lost in the first round, have lost their bearing, gradually losing the ground to the entrenched well-organized Muslim brotherhood, and their Salafy alliance. Mr. Morsi lack of leadership and a few constitutional missteps gave the appearance of power grapping and the islamization (brotherhoodization) of Egypt. This was met by a stiff resistance from Egyptian liberals, who use the street as a platform for their demands and grievances. There is a deep struggle now in Egypt not so much about new ideas, but new Egypt. After 60 years of military dictatorship, Egypt is looking for a new direction, a new identity, wither an Islamic or secular Egypt. Liberal in Egypt found themselves on the defense, with their populist leader, nr. El Bradei and Mr. Sabbahi not willing to master any serious opposition other than calling for one-million march, to Tahrir every time they oppose something and want to have their voice heard. Now liberals are launching a crusade against Islamists and Muslim brotherhood rejecting the appearance of any Islamic symbols and tendency in Egypt. Liberals elites in Egypt will do anything to taunt the Islamists, and willing to do anything to stop Muslim brotherhood hegemony on Egypt buy becoming christen brotherhood themselves, pondering to Copts in every occasion, visiting church, celebrate Christmas, Christmas for them is not so much celebration of Jesus birthday , for liberals elites it is a westernized holiday that is full of flashes, fireworks, drinks and gifts, a commercial one. Where as Almoulid, Birth of Muhammed is usually celebrated in Egypt by the poor uneducated masses allover Egypt, voide of any greetings cards or fireworks, they don’t have a Hallmark company to speak for them, only their own tradition and values. The liberals Self loathing and Islamophobia reflects a paranoia toward Islamists that is worst than the one found here in post-911 America, the anti Islamist rhetoric in Egypt seems as if it is coming from Michele Backmann playbook. They think the Muslim Brotherhood not that penetrated the Egyptian government but everywhere the Egyptian society. They look at Islamists as backward, fanatic and extremists who will take Egypt a few century back, and in same time talking about old Egypt and its proud pre-Islamic history. “Egypt would lose its Pharaohnic identify” said Azza Soliman a political writer whom I interviewed in her house in Cairo, When I visited Egypt this Summer, “ the oppressive minority won” Said, liberal and head of Nassreist party after 63% of Egyptians said yes to new constitution referendum. I went to Tahrir Square for three different one-million-man march, two for Islamists (Salafy & Brotherhood) and one for so called the revolutionary forces, Liberals, lefties and all opposition, I found it easier to talk to Islamist than to liberals; who were more dogmatic and uncompromising, their self righteous blinds them from listening to any opposition. Where the Islamists were confident and open to dialog, My bearded camera Salafy help was chased out of one of the liberal tent with a can of spree like roaches, he smiled and left the tent apologizing.. The very same people who are accusing Morsi of siding with America and the west, are looking westward for salvation. They are against the new constitution because doesn’t protect minorities, and in the same time when Essam El-Aryan head of the Muslim brotherhood out of the blues invited Egyptian Jews living in Israel to come back to Egypt, and enjoy the new free Egypt “ they should not live in a country that occupy and exploits Palestinians ” he explained.. The Liberals went nuts, started a camping of treason and sell out accusation against him. After toppling the biggest dictator in Egyptian history, liberal ran out of ideas. Now short of making fun of Morsi and his party, they are sitting lame duck at Tahrir Square with no vision for Egypt except opposing its “Ikwanization” and western liberal slogans of Christmas greetings and Happy New Year wishes from Tahrir with love.

Ahmed Tharwat. Host of Arab American TV show, BelAhdan
Minnesota, USA
www.ahmediatv.com
email: ahmediatv@gmail.com

ß

Share