Egyptian Muslims can help build churches

Government gives the go-ahead for Muslims to collaborate in the construction or restoration of Christian places of worship. A decision that follows the fatwa issued at the end of January by the Egyptian grand mufti. But some of the faithful are against it: "Christianity is blasphemy".

Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Muslims in Egypt will be able to collaborate with Christians in the construction of churches, being employed as "paid workers" in all respects. It is a radical change in a nation with a large Muslim majority in which, in the past, this choice was often considered a taboo and Muslims were forbidden to contribute to the construction of Christian places of worship.

Following the official green light, Muslims will be able to contribute to the construction of each of the 44 churches currently being built in Egypt. They will also be able to collaborate in the restoration of the 16 historic Coptic churches affected by renovations.

The government's approval is linked to the fatwa issued on January 24 by the Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawki Allam, with which he granted Muslims the opportunity to "work or take part in the construction of churches, in exchange for a salary".

The decision welcomed by human rights activists and associations, Christian and otherwise, but which has sparked indignant reactions from some of the Islamic faithful. Mohammad Fouad, an Egyptian Muslim, writes on social networks of an “anomalous fatwa… Christianity is blasphemy and blasphemy is the gravest sin of all in the eyes of Allah. How could I help them build a church, free or for a fee? ”.

Menna Mahmoud adds: "It is much better for a Muslim to work in a mosque ... Oh Allah, do not lead us to the humiliation of serving the churches, but grant us the honor of serving only our mosques."

Christian activist Tom Doyle, of Uncharted Ministries, who speaks of a "big step" because in this case "this is the government saying, ‘We are giving our okay for this.’ And that’s another good sign. So we are thankful for that. And we pray that there will be better relations between Muslims and Christians. Because we know as Muslims become exposed to the Gospel and see the joy of the Lord and believers, it’s attractive to them. They want to know more.”

In recent years, under the al-Sisi presidency, the authorities have legalized hundreds of churches, already built or under construction. Nonetheless, there are still thousands of places of worship and buildings awaiting permits.

Christians (mostly Orthodox Copts) are substantial minority (10 per cent) in Egypt, a Muslim majority country of almost 95 million people. In 2016 and 2017, several violent attacks were carried out against the Christian community. For this reason, this year’s Christmas celebrations were held under tight security, especially around churches and Christian-owned buildings. For experts, such places are a weak link and easily accessible to extremists who target them because of their high international visibility.