The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong met with Archbishop Mouneer Anis and the former Grand Mufti Sheikh Dr Ali Gomaa, both of Cairo, Egypt. The relationship between the Archbishop and the Grand Mufti is rather remarkable in general, being international leaders in both of their communities. Their friendship however has spanned the dramatic events of the last few years in Egypt.
Singapore has not forgotten their own race riots of the sixties, riots that were about Chinese and Malay ethnicity one the one hand, and Christian and Muslim values on the other hand. Bishop John Chew first invited Bishop Mouneer to Singapore for diocesan Synod about 2003. Their personal relationship, and the relationship between the two dioceses (and later provinces) has grown close over the last ten years.
It was said that when Bishop Mouneer first visited the Grand Mufti of Singapore, the Muslim clerics were impressed with the Bishop’s Arabic. Mouneer has invested himself in his friendship with Ali Gomaa, and together they have had an impact on Egypt. The Diocese and the Prime Minister have taken note of that friendship, and hope to learn from the two men.
I do not have any further details or insights into these relationships, but the fact of their friendship should itself be reason to take note and to ponder friendship. The two men are very clear and unequivocal in their commitments to Christianity and Islam. They do not try to water down either faith. Their friendship respects the fact as fact that the other man is committed to a different faith.
Anglicanism is growing in Egypt even in the midst of the turmoils. It appears to me that part of that growth is directly attributable to that friendship. The tone of their relationship gives a steady hope to Christians in an otherwise frightening time. Their demeanor communicates respect and dignity to people of Muslim and of Christian backgrounds. That is significant–how can the Church welcome new believers from a Muslim background if they have thought Muslims have less dignity and value? How can you accept as a brother a man whom you have previously cursed? But when the Church respects those around us, our neighbors, as people created in the image of God, then the door is open to our own witness and later to our neighbor coming into the Church as our brother or sister.
While these two men hold positions of status in their community, any and all of us can reach out to our neighbors and nurture respect within our own communities. Such respect and friendship in turn opens to doors for some to convert–and yes, for some of our friends to remain committed to their own faith. I want to learn how to build these kinds of friendships.