What would happen if Gad and Arshad switched places? If Gad, the Coptic Christian, were to live and work in London, while Arshad, the Pakistani Muslim man, were to live and work in Upper Egypt? The question arises, would both experience the same problems and rewards as they do today? My answer is that they clearly would not, since it is the community with its values and ideals that makes all the difference.
By Mounir Bishay | April 28, 2015
ISIL posing as religious people but in reality they kill, slay, and burn their victims alive
Gad and Arshad are two young men in their twenties. What brings them together is their hate for ISIL, and the desire of doing something to tell others about it. However, there are many things that set the two men apart. They differ, in their ethnic and religious backgrounds, in the place where they live, in the way their respective communities accept them, and in the tragic circumstances that await one, compared to the honor that surrounds the other.
Each of the two men has a remarkable story to tell. Let’s ponder some of the highlights.
Gad is a Coptic Egyptian Christian from the village of Nasereyya, Governorate of Menia in Upper Egypt. He is a new graduate at just 22 years old and works as an English teacher in junior high school.
Gad found himself, overnight, subject to investigation and imprisonment by the authorities in Egypt for taking a 20 second video of four students, mostly 15 years of age. The students were playfully making fun of ISIL who pose as religious people but in reality they kill, slay, and burn their victims alive. The video was later considered an insult to Islam that mocked the way Muslims pray. But it is clear from the consequences of the events that the purpose of the video was to mock ISIL and expose their hypocrisy. Those who were accused of making the video did not mean to distribute it but it was distributed by the Muslims of the village after they found it by chance.
Soon after the tape was distributed, Muslims of the village went on a rampage destroying and burning the homes of the Christians, while occupants were still inside. Security forces failed to respond to calls by the Christians asking for help.
The Coptic Christians in that village are now living in fear. Students don’t feel safe going to school. The board of education ordered Christian students to stay home for fear of being harmed. This is a very critical time for students to miss school. The school year is approaching its end and final exams are about to start.
As it always happens, even before the court issued its ruling, the mob had already made its demands that the five Christian families leave the village as a condition of returning to calm.
On April 17, 2015, a council meeting comprised of prominent people in the village along with representatives of government officials took place to bring reconciliation. The council made a decision that the teacher should leave the village after the court announces its verdict, and regardless of what is the verdict.
Still, the ultimate future of Gad is unknown. The video that lasted only about 20 seconds, which was meant to be criticism of ISIL, became evidence against him for insulting Islam. The punishment in such cases depends on the judge who can shift out of the legal penal code by using Sharia law instead, which differs drastically according to the school of jurisprudence. Thus, the punishment could be double or triple or can even reach the level of a capital crime. However, even before the judge pronounces the ruling, a punishment is already in place for Gad, which is departure, forever, from the place where he was born and raised.
In contrast, Arshad is a Muslim young man of Pakistani heritage. Arshad, who’s 29 years old, was born in London, England and lives there. He works as an aspiring comedian. Unlike Gad, Arshad receives a great honor. It comes from the British authorities. The English police employ Arshad to visit schools in London and expose ISIL and appeal to students to abandon religious extremism.
What Arshad does is talk about the issues that are dividing the British community in dealing with the Muslim community. His tool is poking fun of the issues. In one of his school meetings, Arshad asked the audience that those of Muslim background raise their hands. About one third did so. Then Arshad proclaimed, “Wow, with this we can take over the country, Sharia law is on the way!” but then, he quickly stated that he was only kidding. Arshad’s purpose was to make fun of what people believe that Muslims plan to take over the country and impose Sharia Islamic law on everybody. On another occasion, a young woman asked if she could give him a hug. After the hug, Arshad screamed “you stole my wallet!” still that was Arshad’s way to dispel the belief that Muslims are less honest than others. But, Arshad’s humor and criticism were never looked upon as insulting to anyone but rather as a tool to fight insults.
No doubt that Arshad does a great service for his community by correcting many misconceptions through laughter. But the greatest service Arshad does is to his country by trying to stop young British males and females from leaving to join ISIL. It is estimated that about 600 have left England en route to Turkey and from there to territories controlled by ISIL.
An important factor for the success of Arshad to reach the hearts and minds of his audience is that his message is personal, sincere and clear. He often talks about issues in his own life and in the lives of many who listen to him. He uses humor, rather than violent protests to express his feelings.
Arshad’s story began after the police authorities saw the YouTube videos he made of community situations he dealt with, using his funny style, and ending with a positive constructive message. They thought to add him to their staff to spread that message of reconciliation between the Muslim community and British society.
A thought comes to mind: What would happen if Gad and Arshad switched places? If Gad, the Coptic Christian, were to live and work in London, while Arshad, the Pakistani Muslim young man, were to live and work in Upper Egypt? The question arises, would both experience the same problems and rewards as they do today? My answer is that they clearly would not, since it is the community with its values and ideals that makes all the difference.
Mounir Bishay, an Egyptian by birth, is a human rights activist and writer on Coptic (Christians of Egypt) issues. He is the head of the Los Angeles based Christian Copts of California. Mr. Bishay is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.