Reflecting on Egypt’s deadliest terrorist attack on the predominantly Sufi Rawda mosque in Sinai that has left over 300 dead, Monica Gerges brings us face to face with the brokenness of our humanity and leaves us to question, until when?
The preacher would always say, “We need to put God in our lives.”
The master responded to him, saying, “God is already in our lives; our responsibility is to discover this.”
- Anthony De Mello, One Minute Wisdom
Secluded from the outside world, I wander through a garden and take refuge on a rooftop where I bask in the sun and reflect on passages from literature and music, from the Quran and the Bible, from Gibran Khalil Gibran and Fairouz and Shams el Tabrizi. I dwell upon odes that tell of the beauty of the sun, of experiencing God through the minute details, of coming as we are in our brokenness and confusion and questioning. Around me, 30 people from all walks of life bare their souls on an interfaith spiritual retreat for a weekend of vulnerability, silence, and reconnecting with the very essence of God’s beauty, purity, justice, and perfection that is imprinted within humanity, regardless of our faith.
As Friday prayers from a nearby mosque come to a close, I ask a friend why all the prayers after the sermon call for blessing, protection, and goodness for Muslims alone. What about everybody else? Moments later, as I watch the events of the Rawda mosque attack unfold, I learn that these prayers are not just for Muslims – they are only for those who are considered ‘Muslim enough’.
In the face of hatred or injustice or death – be it the Rawda mosque attack in North Sinai that just took the lives of 300+ predominantly Sufi Muslims, the 2012 Port Said Stadium riot that took the lives of 74 people, or the recent stabbing death of Coptic priest Samaan Shehta – humanity continues to ache; down to our very cores, we have been wired to know that death and hatred are not part of the natural world order. Most of us are able to see the imprint of perfection behind our present human imperfection, so we look to the world and immediately sense that something has gone terribly awry. This is not the way the world should be.
This begs the unavoidable question: if the bulk of humanity is aware that we were not made to live this way, why is this happening?
While hatred is the absence of love, the absence (or opposite) of love is not hatred – it’s selfishness. “When we do not get what we want, our self-centered nature immediately looks for someone to be the scapegoat for our unhappiness…My drive to secure myself means I am tempted to do whatever is necessary to make sure that I am okay and get what I want, even if it means someone else suffers,” author and speaker Tim Day explains in his book, God Enters Stage Left.
“Our self-centeredness has become the most destructive force on the planet. Put aside the natural disasters and diseases for a moment. Stop and consider what human self-interest has done to this world: systematic oppression of the weak, slavery, endless war, genocide, widespread pollution, unbridled destruction of our natural resources,” the author elaborates before pointing to an unshakeable truth.
“The worst stuff that happens on the planet cannot be blamed on nature or God. It rests at the feet of the human race.”
And so as we recognise that the natural world order is not meant to be laden with death and destruction, we’re left with nothing more than a mirror in our hands through which to analyze the ways of the world. Selfishness comes at an inescapable cost – in this case, the by-products are deadly for some whose only crime in the eyes of the selfish is that they are not Muslim enough.
When Islamic terrorists kill Muslims in mosques as a means of securing their own triumphant entrance beyond the pearly gates, the rhetoric changes and the script gets flipped. Suddenly there’s chaos and confusion, and the world is left yet again asking those who believe in and represent ‘true Islam’ to please tell those who believe in – yet apparently do not represent – ‘true Islam’ that killing is 7aram (wrong).
In the wake of this outrageous juxtaposition that captured the world’s attention on Friday morning, the Eiffel Tower went dark and the CN Tower lit up red, white, and black; Egypt is going through three days of mourning and entities across the globe are condemning the violence. Yet in the midst of these symbolic acts of solidarity, I watch as those dear to my heart grapple with these all too familiar words: “most of the people who were killed were killed in the name of religion – the religion I abide by… the people who did this, I – in one way or another – am associated with them.”
Now that the narrative has gone beyond the Christians and the conscripts, something is rustling deep within a nation’s collective core – something inside our souls has awoken and it cannot be silenced. As we ache and mourn, we’re left asking for truth and clarity amid the chaos and contrasting absurdity of it all. Because somehow the most incredible, loving, giving people in my life happen to abide by the same principles of faith as those who seek salvation through the blood of ‘infidels’. Something is amiss here; there is a gap to be bridged and questions to be answered, and that is our responsibility.
Yet those who begin to ask questions are immediately vilified - shunned, silenced, scorned by those with a vested interest in their silence. That’s why we must immediately question the very things we are told not to question, because those who fear being questioned are those who have something to hide. In the wake of these circumstances – and many similar circumstances before them – we are fed a particular narrative and are scolded should we choose to question or deviate from it. Those who try to regulate our freedom to think for ourselves and question the fundamentals of life as we know it are afraid of the power we may wield when we uncover the answers hidden outside the narratives we’ve been fed our whole lives.
So as I remain isolated from the rest of the world in this safe haven of those who set aside the semantics and step into a shared experience of the surreal and inescapable elements of the divine, I realise that such is the crux of an untainted version of humanity that we do not know, but for which we long – a humanity that loves beyond condition; a humanity that loves beyond race and creed and religion. The truth is, humanity was not made to live in the shadows of death, hatred, and destruction. So as our questions beget more questions than answers, humanity seeks to know and understand the truth behind all this destruction, because there is freedom in truth.
Until then, we will continue to long for a shared humanity. A humanity that recognises the imperfection in our world and a humanity that aches from the inside out at the destructive consequences of human selfishness. A humanity that cannot but ask why? How? And until when?
Photo: (EPA-EFE/Ahmed Hassan)