Tuesday, September 24, 2013

‘Father forgive’: A message for hope and healing

Dr Nagia Abdelmoghney Said (Photo: Suresh Mathew)In 1972, two of my colleagues and myself, all engineering students at Cairo University, were invited by Oxford Polytechnic to visit Britain and Switzerland. During our tour we visited Coventry which was heavily bombed by the German Nazi air force during World War II. The historic Cathedral was hit and almost totally ruined. After the war it was rebuilt. Yet the designer, with great sensitivity and creativity, integrated the modern building with what was left of the ruins of the medieval cathedral. He salvaged nails from the ruins and made a cross which he placed on the old altar. Under the cross he mounted the prayer 'Father forgive'.

Today, one month has passed since the massacres of Rabaa and Al Nahda where peaceful protesters were martyred. They sat in for about six weeks opposing what many consider a military coup against democracy. The temporary government impatiently decided to crack down and disperse thousands of demonstrators by force. Over a thousand were killed in both sites, many more injured (including women and children). Some of the victims were burned to death as the Rabaa mosque and field hospital were set on as fire, as well as the Al Nahda site. The same day bulldozers moved in to clear the sites, even before allowing the martyr’s bodies the dignity of being removed with grace. The next morning looters rushed into the sites to pick up any valuables left behind. The overall number of the victims is still unknown because many protesters are still missing and their names were not found among those arrested.

The temporary government allocated twenty five million Egyptian pounds to restore and beautify the site of Al Nahda and eighty five million Egyptian pounds for Rabaa.

Clearing the mess, restoring and renovating the buildings and landscape started immediately - but unfortunately without a vision and a message of hope and healing. Moreover, one wonders, why the hurry? Shouldn’t they have waited for a proper investigation of what really happened. Why was there such a rush to clear away the evidence? Anyhow! God Almighty knows what really happened and someday the truth will be revealed.

Beautifying the site of a horrible act will not clear the memories of the dreadful images we saw on T.V. or lived through. Healing the hearts has precedence over improving the image. This cannot happen without a proper investigation into what really happened, revealing the truth and having the courage to admit the wrong, asking forgiveness from God, paying tribute and respect to the souls of the martyrs.

Finally, I only wish that some memorial is designed and constructed as a reminder and symbol for healing and reconciliation. In Arabic there is a profound saying meaning: ‘From agony, poetry is born’. Perhaps an artistic competition could be organized for the design of such memorials. Ironically, the Rabaa mosque, which witnessed the massacre, was named after a well known and respected Sufi poetess who was able to challenge a thief and change his heart though her patience, diplomacy and compassion. So instead of harming her, he repented and straightened out his life. Al Nahda square and promenade lies between Cairo University, the historic zoological and botanical gardens as well as the statue and masterpiece by the great Egyptian sculptor Manhood Mokhtar, which symbolizes the uprise and renaissance of Egypt.

The following is a message from David Porter, which might better explain Coventry Cathedral’s symbol of hope and healing, and inspire peace loving human beings to transform a tragedy into a triumph by promoting the sanctity of human life advocated in heavenly scriptures.

A message from David Porter, Canon for Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral:

Memorial Ruins: ‘A Witness to Hope and Healing.‘

The ruined shell of the fine medieval Cathedral of St Michael has become a spiritual home for many. This special place reminds us of our human capacity both to destroy and to reach out to our enemies in friendship and reconciliation. The ruins speak so powerfully of this message that they have become a place of pilgrimage for people of all cultures and faiths. As well as providing a tranquil space for reflection, they are the City's most important landmark and symbolic of its own destruction and resurrection.

We are seeking to give focus and further purpose to the ruins in the 21st Century by designating them as a memorial to all civilians killed, injured or traumatized by war and violent conflict worldwide.

Civilians are the unspoken targets and forgotten casualties of war. In the last century, tens of millions of civilians were caught in the turmoil of armed conflict. In a world that still fails to find peaceful alternatives to violent means of resolving its disputes, we want to create a living testament to the tragic consequences of this lack of moral imagination.

Memorial to ‘Unknown Civilians Killed in War’.

We believe that Coventry's Cathedral Ruins can become a witness to this suffering and a catalyst for positive action. Our plan is to use a combination of art, educational material, prayer and worship to explore the impact of conflict on our world today and challenge the prevailing culture of war. We want this to be a place of pilgrimage where people of all faiths and nationalities can come to remember their own personal loss or that of their community. Through commemoration, conservation and conversation, the ruins will provide a constant reminder of the continuing suffering of civilians around the world, and serve as a call to action as we seek to bring about the more Christ-child-like world" that Provost Howard spoke of.

Nagia Abdelmoghney Said is an architect who has been active with Initiatives of Change for many decades.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.