Has any religious leader in the U.S. the courage to state such truths?
The Egyptian priest, who is an authority on Islam, discusses the factors driving the murderous attacks on Christians and what he hopes the Pope will say when he visits Egypt this month.
VATICAN CITY — Oil money, Wahhabi extremism and an Islam unwilling to reform itself are the principal reasons for the terrorist attacks on two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday and the rise of Islamism over the past 100 years.
This is according to Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, professor of Islamic studies at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, who says it is false when people say such attacks have nothing to do with Islam. “ISIS is not doing anything which is neither in the Quran nor in the Mohammedan tradition,” he says.
In this April 10 interview with the Register, Father Samir — who is Egyptian himself — discusses the main motivations behind Islamic violence, why it’s important to say exactly how things are within Islam and help reform it, and his hopes for Pope Francis’ April 28-29 visit to Egypt.
What are the primary causes of these attacks? What’s behind them? Is it primarily to do with Islam, politics or something else?
For a year or more, the Muslim Brotherhood were attacking regularly during the presidency of Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013); they were attacking Christians, for any reason. For instance, they alleged a Christian who was building a house for his two children was in fact not building a house, but a church, so they are trying to make problems for the Christians. This happens regularly, but it became much more intense.
Now this time, what we hear from Egypt is that ISIS is saying they are behind these attacks, but there’s also support from the Muslim Brotherhood because they were ejected from the political system. The feeling is that the attacks against Christians in Egypt are becoming more frequent and violent. This has never happened before, that they attack so many churches and precisely on such a great Christian feast. The last ones took place before Christmas, and now these two attacks during Holy Week. The intent is probably to attack the president indirectly, through the Christians, to say he’s not able to govern or control the situation. In north Sinai, they attacked Christians and so the government moved them. Now they’ve come back under the protection of the army. In the past month, we’ve had three big attacks, and four months ago we had the attack near the Coptic cathedral.
Is attacking Christians, therefore, really about attracting negative attention against the government more than it is against Christians per se?
It’s both because they attack Christians without reason, in different situations — this year, last year and so on. Christians and Jews are their enemies, but there are no more Jews in Egypt. Christians are 10% of the population, 9 million people. So this Islamic movement, for six years now, has simply wanted to create a new caliphate, by all means possible, because there’s a great crisis within the Islamic world, and the crisis is turning into violence.
What is precipitating this crisis?
In Islam they are not prepared nor able to renew themselves, as [Egypt’s] President [Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil] el-Sisi said in December 2014 when he took power. He spoke to Al-Azhar University and gave a beautiful speech, in which he said we need to make a revolution in Islam, to rethink the whole system. The scholars all applauded, said, “Yes, Yes,” but they haven’t changed anything in the teaching. Many intellectuals on Egyptian television came and developed this argument and said Al-Azhar is unable to make the reform we need. Nothing has changed.
Are you of the view that Islamism is the true Islam?
ISIS is the application of what is taught. It’s not outside Islam, or something invented. No, they are applying Islam. When we hear it has nothing to do with Islam — that it means salaam; that it means peace — this is all false. It’s not true. ISIS is not doing anything which is neither in the Quran nor in the Mohammedan tradition. Everything is taken after a decision taken by an imam. A mufti and imam will say this is or is not allowed.
This isn’t just a problem in Egypt, but Egypt represents the greatest and strongest country, and also where you have the most important school of Islamic learning — just as we have Rome for the Catholic Church, Islam has Al-Azhar University.
And as Raymond Ibrahim concludes in Why Christians Are Being Slaughtered in Egypt:
until such time comes that the Egyptian government removes the “radical” sheikhs and their teachings from the mosques, schools, television stations and all other positions of influence, Muslims will continue to be radicalized, churches will continue to be bombed, and Christians will continue to be killed.