Cairo (dpa) – Muslim clerics across the Middle East used their Friday sermons to discuss tolerance and call on Christians and Muslims to unite against terrorism, as they condemned a deadly bombing outside a Coptic church in Egypt last week.
Coptic Christians around the world celebrated their Christmas Day on Friday.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa – the second highest religious figure in the country – talked about the story of the birth of Christ and the co-existence between Islam and Christianity in his sermon.
“Some people tried to disturb our joy with Christmas by this heinous crime that has caused grief across the country,” Gomaa told thousands gathered at a Cairo mosque.
“Such crimes, which do not differentiate between Muslim and Christian or between a man and a woman, were rejected by the prophet (Mohammed),” he said during the sermon broadcast on TV in order to reach wider range of people across the country.
He also asked people to pray for God to “spare us disorder and chaos.” Earlier this week, the Ministry of Religious Endowments instructed preachers across the country to use the Friday sermon to renounce violence, condemn the attack, and talk about tolerance of religions.
“Different religions do not lead to violence or persecution between the two parties because all share the same community,” one Imam in Cairo said.
In southern Egypt, preachers said that the attack aimed at provoking sectarianism as a pretext for foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs.
The Doha-based Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, meanwhile, stressed that “those behind the blast have harmed Islam, whether they were Muslims or not.” In Saudi Arabia, the Grand Imam of the Prophet’s Mosque, Sheikh Salah Badr, described the blast as an act of injustice and aggression that is prohibited by Islamic law.
Badr told Muslim worshippers in the mosque in Medina that despite progress and development, the world has descended into violence, conflicts and wars that have diminished values like tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
Egypt’s Copts celebrated Christmas on Friday amid tight security, as plainclothes security were also spread in the streets.
The country has been on high alert ever since a suspected suicide bomber detonated a nail-packed bomb at the church early on New Year’s day, killing 23 people and injuring up to 100 in Alexandria.
The blast came shortly after an Iraq-based group affiliated with al-Qaeda recently warned that Christians throughout the Middle East are legitimate targets.
Streets were cordoned off Thursday afternoon with state security cars and officers around churches.
“Before I congratulate you for Christmas, I want to mourn our children in Alexandria and in many countries where they have been martyred; innocents who haven’t done anything,” Pope Shenouda III, told the Christmas Eve mass at Cairo’s main cathedral.
In the Church of the Saints, where the suicide attack took place, Thursday’s evening mass was filled by grief. Women were wearing black, while men wore badges that read “Pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you.” “Believe that everything leads to goodness for those who love God.
What happened was a test for our faith,” the priest told churchgoers in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city.
The blast sparked daily protests across Egypt, with both Muslim and Christian demonstrators injured in clashes with police and a number of others arrested. Yet it also sparked a sense of national unity across the country.
Dozens of Muslims headed to the Christmas mass Thursday night, offering their bodies as “human shields” to showing solidarity with Christians against Islamic militants.
Over the past week, thousands of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to images depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one.
Copts account for around 10 per cent of Egypt’s population and accuse Egypt authorities of discriminating against them.
Although violence between Christians and Muslims is rare in Egypt, tensions have been high since an attack on a church in the south of the country about a year ago. Gunmen opened fire on parishioners leaving the church, killing eight Christians and a Muslim policeman who had been guarding the church.