It was Egyptian media that brought the appalling “Innocence of Muslims” trailer to the wider attention of Muslims around the world. The consequences have been tragic to watch.
The country has also seen all-too-regular violent clashes between local Muslim and Christian communities, that have got no better since Egypt’s revolution.
In this difficult atmosphere, the Diocese of Egypt, under the leadership of Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, has relaunched a magazine online that was first started by two pioneering CMS missionaries more than 100 years ago.
We asked Bishop Mouneer why now was the time for Orient & Occident mark two, and about the inspiration behind it.
CMS: What made the diocese want to start up an online magazine?
Bishop Mouneer: We live in an electronic age. People are communicating more through social media networks and the diocese does not want to be backwards in this field of communication. We feel an electronic magazine is appropriate at this time.
Why did you choose to relaunch Orient & Occident instead of a new publication?
Orient and Occident was launched by Temple Gairdner and Douglas Thornton, and they are very precious figures to us. They were behind the real start of the Anglican Church in Egypt. They are not the ones who started the church, but they are the ones who started to engage with the Egyptian society and not just care for British citizens who lived in Egypt.
Temple Gairdner was a great thinker and a pioneer. He was 100 years ahead of the community when he started interfaith dialogue with the magazine. He allowed Muslims to write in it and responded to them. He was ahead of the whole world in engaging with the Islamic world. We cannot find better that what Temple Gairdner and Douglas Thornton did, and we would like to have the same spirit they did, which we need much more than any time before.
What inspired you about the original publication?
It is the spirit of engagement – with the context and the people around us. It is not to stand away and attack but the spirit of engaging, encountering, and respecting the other, communicating in a civilized way. If we need anything in this world it is this spirit.
What place do Temple Gairdner and Douglas Thornton hold in the consciousness of the Egyptian church? Do people still know who they are?
Not all church people know about them. I very much want to teach the people about them. I teach the students in the Alexandria School of Theology about them, and the new clergy. I put their photos in the corridor of my office. I hope students make research and want to translate some of their work. Orient and Occident will bring some of their articles into life again.
What is the mission of Orient & Occident today?
We hope to engage with the young and old, with Christians and Muslims. In the Anglican Church of Egypt we think of ourselves as a bridging church. Through the electronic magazine Orient and Occident we hope to play an important role in bridging between other denominations and other faiths.
Is that different to the original?
I don’t think so. As I said, Temple Gairdner was ahead of his time. He felt the best thing was to bring the orient and the occident together, to bring the Christian and the Muslim together – without compromise. He wanted to bring them together to understand and coexist, and to move from coexistence to cooperation.
Orient & Occident is published online in English and Arabic. Read Orient & Occident here.
Thanks to Orient and Occident editor Jayson Casper for his help with this interview.