Dear members and friends of the Egypt Diocesan Association (EDA);
A way out of the current nightmare?
You are probably expecting a sentence on coronavirus, but this part of the Newsletter is actually about something else! During the winter weeks of UK grayness, I managed to read my way through a fascinating book by Khaled Abou El Fadl entitled Reasoning with God. This long book was a long time in the making and draws on Abou El Fadl’s personal history – childhood and early education in Kuwait and Egypt – and his expertise as a gifted Islamic scholar and communicator residing in the West – currently Professor of Islamic Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The nightmare that Abou El Fadl addresses has two major components. The first lies within the family of Islam: “… criminal sociopaths pretend to be the guardians and ministers of the Islamic faith; one in which extremists assume the role of the spokesmen for the religion of moderation; one in which unspeakable acts of shameless ugliness are perpetuated on God’s behalf and in His name; one in which the religion of compassion and mercy has become associated in people’s minds with cruelty and oppression; and one in which many Muslims no longer recall the ethical norms that ought to guide their relationship to God and humanity”.1 The second component lies with a justifiable sense of grievance that Muslims worldwide have come to feel through the history of their interaction with Westerners: “… it is beyond dispute that many Muslims around the world have every reason to feel angry and resentful about the callous and deceitful treatment they have received from the West.”2 Abou El Fadl lists the legacy of the Crusades, the Reconquista, Western colonialism, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the installation of puppet regimes around the Middle East and elsewhere, the expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians, the arming of both sides in the Iran-Iraq conflict, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan – and so on. Plus the
contemporary, overwhelming boost to Islamophobia in many Western nations resulting from their perceived need to respond to 9/11, al-Qaeda, ISIS and equivalents. It is indeed a nightmare!
Abou El Fadl describes the emergence and rise to almost unquestionable domination of Wahhabism as the contemporary, default, theological lens through which Muslim students and teachers of Islamic law currently respond to the “back foot” on which Muslims generally find themselves in a world community in which they are hugely distrusted. The Wahhabi-inspired, iconoclastic, “Puritanical-Salafists”, as he calls them, have managed to transform “the [Islamic] faith into a dogmatic set of absolute laws that governs every aspect of a human being’s life”.1
Abou Al Fadl’s wistful response to “the nightmare” is to offer an exposition of “Sharicah” in the sense of it being the provider of a God-oriented “way” or “journey” through life. Hence the subtitle to his book: “Reclaiming Sharicah in the Modern Age.” He speaks as a moral ethicist about beauty versus ugliness in Muslims’ receiving of the sources of their faith (especially in Qur’an and hadith), and in their consequent living before God and relating to other human beings. One of the primary convictions of such living and relating, as far as Abou El Fadl is concerned, has to be “the centrality of the ethic of noncoercion in Islam. The Qur’an is straightforward enough about this – it clearly informs the Prophet that his role is to remind people of God’s message and that he, as God’s messenger, was not sent to control or dominate human beings. His most basic and quintessential function is to remind, teach and advocate.”2
Abou El Fadl quotes one or two contemporary, Islamic legal experts who promote visions similar to his own in seeking to help Muslims extricate themselves from their current nightmare, but the impression I got was that they are (as yet) pretty much lone (prophetic?) voices. Plus, I wonder, could he have published this anywhere other than in the West? Nonetheless, it is a captivating, brutally honest, personal and endearing exposition and I hope it will find a reading/hearing amongst those who really need to consider it – for all our sakes!
Enough of that nightmare!
The other nightmare!
Our trustees meeting for Wednesday, 18th March in London had to be cancelled due to government guidelines about non-essential travel and meetings during the current coronavirus nightmare. In consequence, we as trustees are seeking to find alternative ways of conducting essential-to-us business. There are several matters that need our attention. It is (was?) likely that the inauguration of the new Province of Alexandria (comprising the Diocese of Egypt; the Diocese of North Africa; the Diocese of the Horn of Africa; the Diocese of Gambella) will
occur before the Lambeth Conference this summer (that itself has now been postponed a year!). We as trustees hope to bring a recommendation to the AGM as to how we as the EDA will respond to that significant change. And then there is the Annual Gathering and AGM itself – will our 25th June date still be viable, for a London venue, for EDA members, for visitors from the diocese? And if not, what shall we do? Amongst other things, as a charity we need to sign off on our financial reporting for the year ended 31st December, 2019. Which brings me to the following …
Our privileged role in the EDA is to give as much support as possible to the diocese, and Bishop Mouneer has made clear that his main desire is for us to pray, and organise prayer, for the diocese. At the same time, wherever feasible, we strive to raise financial support to aid various ministries, institutions and churches in specific projects or in times of special need.
The EDA trustees are somewhat concerned that our financial statement for the year ending 31st December, 2019 is showing that we are not receiving sufficient income from members’ subscriptions to cover our own (EDA) administrative and support costs. Yet, with some 100 members of the EDA who have signed up since our GDPR exercise in Spring 2018, we should have more than sufficient funds to enable our own (EDA) costs to be easily covered each year, leaving us at liberty to pass on all gifts, legacies, etc. received (designated or not) to the diocese – as we indeed advertise on our website and in our promotional literature.
I am therefore asking all recipients of this Newsletter (which goes only to Members) to kindly:
Check that you have paid/arranged to pay a subscription to EDA for the current year (2020);
Reconsider the amount you are giving as a subscription (£20.00 per member per year is our advertised minimum);
Make sure you have, if feasible, filled in a Gift Aid form [copy attached if needed];
Make all our lives easier through paying your annual subscription by Standing Order [form attached if needed];
My apologies for the frankness of this housekeeping reminder, but we must ensure we do not compromise our charitable status – please confirm your support by taking action today!
I understand that peoples’ financial circumstances change and that hardships occur. I am sure that we can find a way to include as members those who, for good reason, are unable to sustain a yearly subscription payment. Please write to me personally at email@example.com if such applies to you.
Thank you for your help in this matter!
For the moment, our intention remains to hold our Annual Gathering this summer on Thursday, 25th June 2020 at St Michael’s, Chester Square, London. Obviously, much depends on what happens in our country vis à vis COVID-19 between now and then. Trustees are ready to consider alternatives should the June date prove non-viable. Meanwhile, thank you for your continuing support for the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa & the Horn of Africa through the EDA.
Finally, you may be inspired by words written by C.S. Lewis in the 1960s – at the time of post-WW2 worry of potential, impending, nuclear warfare:
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
Today we live in a real awareness that “a microbe can do that” – may the Lord help us all to live responsibly, compassionately, differently, generously aware of those especially frail and vulnerable, frightened, exhausted in what the current coronavirus crisis is delivering. Apposite words from an apostle: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1).
Yours in Christ our hope,
+Bill (Lent, 2020)