In his column in the Saudi state daily Al-Watan, 'Ali Al-Sharimi criticized the religious position forbidding Muslims in Egypt from wishing Christians well on Christmas, and called for doing so in order to bring Christianity and Islam closer together.
Following are excerpts from the column:
"I will not deny that I was glad to read once that the sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, headed an Islamic delegation that included the mufti of Egypt and a large number of scholars from Al-Azhar that wished the Copt Patriarch Theodore well on the occasion of the New Year. The patriarch described this meeting, [which was aimed at] wishing the Copts well on their holidays... as an important meeting that presents a true image of human coexistence... At the meeting, the Al-Azhar sheikh said: 'Islam calls for loving the Copts and those whose religion is different from ours, and anyone who behaves differently does not know Islam.' The mufti of Egypt said that mutual gatherings should be held and that sons of the same homeland should wish each other well, [because] 'this is the essence of the spirit of Islam.'
"[I was also glad when] the Malaysian ambassador to Egypt announced that in the coming days over 20 senior scholars from Al-Azhar would arrive in Malaysia, led by the Al-Azhar sheikh, to lecture on tolerance between Islam and other religions, and on Al-Azhar's role in achieving world peace, unity, and harmony among peoples.
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"However, unlike many Egyptians, I was not thrilled to hear the sermon delivered by Sheikh [Muhammad] Al-'Arifi in Egypt [on January 13, 2013], in which he expressed satisfaction with the ties between the Copts and the Muslims... because [his sermon] was contradictory. Is it not strange for a sheikh to deliver a cautionary sermon and use the expression 'it is recommended that you treat the Copts well,' but when asked on a different occasion about wishing Christians well on their holidays say, 'One can congratulate the "infidel" on a happy occasion like a promotion, graduation, and the like, but it is forbidden to wish him well for religious rituals'...?
"In a country like Egypt, why can't a Muslim wish a Christian [neighbor] well on the occasion of the birth of Jesus, of which the Koran speaks...? Why should we not wish [Christians] well on Jesus's birthday, when it was He who foretold the coming of our Prophet Muhammad...? Why should we not wish them well on Jesus's birthday when we are closer to Him [than they are]? Why should we not express our gladness on Jesus's birthday when the Koran says: 'And peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he dies and the day he is raised alive'?
"... I see the Christian [New] Year as a renewable movement which brings the Hijri and Christian calendars together in order to actualize the story of the encounter and the mutual understanding between members of the monotheistic faiths, specifically Christianity and Islam. This occasion makes us recall the life of Jesus, peace be upon Him, and learn from Him how to achieve world peace, just as we live [this lifestyle] with our honorable Messenger [the Prophet Muhammad] who, inspired by Allah, determined the blessing of Islam: 'Peace be upon you'... [and taught us] to live in peace, to discuss our disagreements and reach mutual understanding, to show [empathy] towards each other and not to use loathsome sectarian language, but rather the language of love that will open people's hearts to each other.
"We must read our reality, and must not fall to those who try to draw a picture of conflict between Islam and Christianity without understanding that the true problem of the conflict is tyranny. There are tyrants among the Muslims as well as among the Christians and the Jews. We should rejoice on this great occasion – especially since our societies have tired of reliving the tragedy, and crises destabilize them at every turn.
"Ultimately, we must ask: What do we have to lose by bringing joy to the heart of our Christian brother?"