The Middle East has experienced much darkness during the last years. But a light is drawing attention.
Christians make up between 15-20 percent of the population of Egypt; most are members of the ancient Coptic church. The nation’s leaders talk about all citizens being part of one family, but reality has been otherwise. Muslim demands are often appeased at the Christian minority’s expense.
How should the church respond? Surely they should call for fairness and justice. However, efforts by young Coptic Christians to demonstrate for equal rights after the 2011 Arab Spring were literally crushed under military tanks. Now a different response from the church is having dramatic impact.
On Palm Sunday ISIS suicide bombers attacked two Egyptian churches, killing 44 persons and injuring over 100. At St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the bomber was prevented from entering the sanctuary by a guard, Naseem Faheem. So when the bomber detonated, Faheem was the first to die in the blast. A few days later Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, aired an interview of the widow saying “I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’” Adeeb sat in stunned silence, searching for a response. Finally he said, “Egyptian Christians are made of Steel! … How great is this forgiveness you have! If it were my father, I could never say this…” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.
Such a word of forgiveness differs radically from the prevailing Middle Eastern culture based on honor and shame, demanding revenge.
Christian forgiveness began to rivet Egypt in 2015 after ISIS executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya and the victim’s families publicly forgave the terrorists. This grace is winning the hearts of the nation. Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt, told a CT reporter that many Egyptians are seeing Christian forgiveness to be exactly what their country needs to “keep Egypt from becoming like Lebanon during its civil war.” Forgiveness, not justice, is the only possible path to peace in Egypt. An insistence on justice can never bring about reconciliation since each side tallies justice differently than the other. What one thinks would even the score, the other would see as a new injustice to be avenged.
Jesus is still the light of the world! And the darker the world, the more brightly we see the light of his way of love and grace even to one’s enemy.