JERUSALEM – In what Egypt’s Christians fear may be a sign of things to come, a senior Islamic cleric asked Christians to bow in Muslim prayer in an act of submission to Allah.
On Friday, famed Egyptian theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a spiritual leader to the Muslim Brotherhood who hosts a popular Islam-themed television show on Al Jazeera, led the Islamic prayer services in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s uprising.
While he repeatedly offered nods to Egypt’s Coptic Christians, unmentioned in most news media accounts of the ceremony was that Qaradawi asked all in attendance, specifically singling out Christians, to bow in Islamic prayer.
A Coptic Christian at the event told WND the request was intimidating.
“Whether he meant to or not, this was asking Christian to bow in an act of submission to Islam and Allah,” said the Christian, who asked that he named be withheld.
“There were maybe 250,000 people at the rally. Almost all were Muslims. So when we (Christians) are asked to bow, and we are in the extreme minority in the crowd, it is intimidating.”
The Christian witness said thousands of Christians in attendance at the rally did not bow.
A Coptic Christian leader told WND he believes Qaradawi’s request may reflect a larger emerging Islamic role in Egypt.
Qaradawi’s speech was, in part, focused on political Islam, replete with his quoting verses of the Quran.
While he asked the entire rally to bow in Islamic prayer, he also used his speech to reassure the Christian minority of their place in Egypt, telling the crowd that “in this square sectarianism died.”
He discarded the customary Islamic clerical opening of “Oh Muslims,” in favor of “Oh Muslims and Copts.”
He praised Muslims and Christians for standing together in Egypt’s revolution and even hailed what he called the Coptic Christian “martyrs” who once fought the Romans and Byzantines.
Then he asked the Christians to bow in Muslim prayer.
“I invite you to bow down in prayer together,” he said.
Egyptian Christians fear implementation of Islamic law
Qaradawi had been a vocal opponent of deposed Egyptian rule Hosni Mubarak. He has lived in exile in Qatar for decades. His return to Egypt is seen as evidence of a change in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He is banned from entering the United States and Britain for his support of violence against Israel and American forces in Iraq.
Last week, WND reported members of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt quietly met with U.S. officials to object to the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in a committee that is forming a new Egyptian constitution.
Egypt’s ruling military council last week appointed a committee to amend the Egyptian constitution. The new committee consists of eight members, including Sobhi Saleh, a lawyer and a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood seeks to establish Islamic law in Egypt. Both Hamas and al-Qaida are violent offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood.
A top source in Egypt’s Coptic Christian community told WND he and other Coptic Christians held a meeting last Monday with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to raise objections about the inclusion of the Brotherhood in the constitutional committee.
The source said the Christian community pointed out that the official Muslim Brotherhood charter, amended in 2007, calls for the imposition of Islamic law in Egypt.
Among other things, the charter, obtained by WND, states that non-Muslims cannot hold government positions and must pay to the state the jizya, or special Islamic protection tax.
The constitutional committee held its first meeting on Tuesday with the president of Egypt’s military council. It is mandated to complete its work within 10 days, with a referendum on the amended constitution to take place within two months.
Reawakened terrorist wing
WND was first to report an Egyptian Islamist terrorist organization founded by the Muslim Brotherhood is re-establishing itself amid the political upheaval in Cairo.
Both Egyptian and Israeli security officials said the group, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, is being reconstituted at the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The officials affirmed Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya serves as the de facto “military” wing of the Brotherhood, which originally founded the group.
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya is suspected of involvement in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and it took credit for the 1995 attempted killing of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It has carried out scores of deadly terrorist attacks, some targeting foreign tourists.
Last week, an Egyptian security official was quoted in the news media stating Egyptian troops had arrested two armed Palestinians from Hamas who entered the country illegally from the Gaza Strip.
The security official told reporters the men had crossed from Gaza into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula using smuggling tunnels and that they were arrested in a stolen car in the town of el-Arish, near the border, along with three Egyptian smugglers.
The official told the Associated Press the two Hamas men were caught with weapons, hand grenades, two RPGs and about $8,600 in cash.
A senior Egyptian security official speaking to WND said an investigation found the two Hamas men were aiding in the reorganization of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which, he said, is attempting to reconstitute itself under the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Egyptian security official said Hamas is helping Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya organize into divisions and to arm itself with weapons currently in the Sinai waiting to be smuggled into Gaza.
Both Israel and Egypt say Hamas has amassed a large quantity of weapons in the Sinai Peninsula, where the Islamic group has been attempting to smuggle the weaponry into Gaza.
Now, the Egyptian security official said, some of those weapons are going to arm the reconstituted Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.
Notorious terrorist attacks
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya is classified as a terrorist group by the U.S., European Union and Egypt. Like the Muslim Brotherhood, the group was dedicated to the overthrow of Mubarak, seeking to replace his regime with an Islamic state.
The group has carried out numerous deadly attacks.
The group’s leader has talked publicly about collaborating in planning the murder of Anwar Sadat with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was blamed for the killing.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya carried out scores of terrorist acts in Egypt, including the murders and attempted murders of prominent Egyptian writers and intellectuals. The group also targeted tourists and foreigners.
In 1997, it carried out the notorious Luxor massacre in Luxor, Egypt, killing 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya went on a shooting rampage in that attack, even reportedly mutilating the bodies of victims. A note praising Islam was found inside one disemboweled body.
One year earlier, in 1996, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya carried out a shooting rampage at the Europa Hotel in Cairo, killing 18 Greek tourists.
In 1995, the group took responsibility for a car bomb attack on the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, murdering 16 people.
After a massive Egyptian crackdown on the group in 1997 following the Luxor attack, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya brokered a deal with the Egyptian government that is known as the Nonviolence Initiative, in which some leaders of the movement said they renounced violence.
Still, exiled leaders of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya maintained the group would not give up its violence.
Brotherhood declares war on U.S.
Prominent U.S. commentators also have been claiming the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate organization and denying any Islamist plot to seize power.
In November, the Brotherhood’s new supreme guide, Muhammad Badi, delivered a sermon entitled, “How Islam Confronts the Oppression and Tyranny.”
“Resistance is the only solution,” stated Badi. “The United States cannot impose an agreement upon the Palestinians, despite all the power at its disposal. [Today] it is withdrawing from Iraq, defeated and wounded, and is also on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan because it has been defeated by Islamist warriors.”
Badi went on to declare the U.S. is easy to defeat through violence, since it is “experiencing the beginning of its end and is heading toward its demise.”