Today is a NATIONAL holiday in Egypt in celebration of Eastern Christmas which is celebrated by the majority of Egyptian Christians along with many other Orthodox communities around the world. (To my knowledge no Western country has a national holiday on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday!).
The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas with a Christmas Eve service. Traditionally, Muslim government and civic leaders attend the first part of that service in every church in the country as a way of giving their greetings to their Christian brethren.
For the past 30 years, Rebecca and I have attended the Christmas Eve services at the Garbage Village Church. Last night’s service, however, was quite different than any of the previous ones due to the unusually large number of Muslims of all walks of life who attended the first part of the 3 hour service! We could not believe it as they kept coming in large numbers all evening. This was apparently so in other Churches across the country as well.
The difference this year was not just in the number of visitors, but was that the majority of the Muslim guests were not there in an official capacity, but rather came spontaneously to express their solidarity with Christians on this occasion.
This is clear evidence that there are many Muslims in Egypt who want peaceful coexistence with Christians and wanted to express this fact practically by coming to Church on Christmas Eve.
It’s not easy to attend a service in a Church of a different denomination as one is not sure how to behave oneself. In Orthodox services in particular, visitors always find it difficult to know when one should stand and when sit. So for Muslims to make the effort and have the courage to come to church on Christmas Eve (in spite of the cold and first rain of the year) is certainly a great testimony of their serious intent to communicate a positive message of love and appreciation to their Christian compatriots.