The celebration of Easter is one of hope, a proof of God’s greatness on Earth: like the springtime flowers blooming after a long winter, Easter celebrates rebirth. I personally have always felt uncomfortable and uneasy with the Easter holiday, given that Good Friday marks the death of Jesus; even if he rose three days later, ultimately he was taken from the Earth, a sign of mankind’s cruelness towards one another. A sign of religious persecution. As Christians in the Middle East continue to face persecution, violence and exodus it seems unlikely that salvation will come to their doorsteps, but perhaps it is time to look optimistically at the Middle East, even if that seems like an impossibility.
Ahead of the holidays already there seems to be a tiny bit of hope in the Middle East, although not of a religious nature: Iran has conceded to a deal over stopping its nuclear ambitions, in return for the lifting of damaging economic sanctions. As Iranians took to the streets to celebrate, I ask if the long-negotiated and difficult peace deal between Iran and world governments (lead by the United States, of course) could possibly serve as inspiration for finally settling the Palestine Question. Probably not, since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is positively seething with the good news, but it proves that cooperation is possible after all.
Quelling the Islamic State/Dae’esh is another issue of an entirely religious nature (superficially, anyway) that could do with some serious negotiating and discussion instead of fighting and airstrikes. As the region’s Christians prepare to celebrate Easter (The Coptic and Orthodox Easter Sunday actually falls on April 12th this year, a week after Catholic and Protestant churches observe the holiday) the need for peace and salvation has never been more strong, particularly in Syria and Iraq, ancient home to the world’s early Christians.“During Holy Week, which is now close, these families are sharing with Christ the unjust violence of which they are victims, and participating in the pain of the same Christ,” a statement from the Vatican reads; Pope Francis sent a personal envoy to Iraq to bring hope and faith and, apparently, special “Colomba cake” which is in the shape of a dove. How can the families who remain celebrate the holy month at all when Da’esh is patrolling around? I must admit that I am surprised that Cardinal Filoni trekked to the country during such unsafe times, although Baghdad (where he stayed during his trip) is safe compared to the historically religious and important Nineveh plains. His trip also included a stop in Amman, Jordan, where he visited Iraqi Christians living in refugee camps.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Easter celebrations are a less-hidden affair, with Lebanese celebrities readying for the holidays (interestingly, many seem to follow the Western dates and not Eastern dates). Some singers, such as Lebanon’s Elissa, Myriam Fares and Marwa as well as Morocco’s Jannat Mahid are giving Easter concerts. Muslims and Christians alike dye easter eggs, and local bakeries and candy shops decorate their shop windows with tasty treats to rival those in France. One difference this year is that baby chicks dyed pastel colors will not be available for sale in Beirut. The mayor has put a stop to this local practice which has been decried by animal rights activists in recent years.
In addition to Easter (most Egyptians follow the Coptic calendar), Egyptians of all religious backgrounds will be celebrating Sham El-Nasim (Inhaling the breeze, literally), an ancient Egyptian holiday dating back to 2700 B.C. which marks the arrival of spring. Music festivals (usually ‘alternative’ music such as house music) will mark the occassion in several beachside resorts, some with camping! Despite the hardline Islam which has grown ever so more popular in recent history, Egyptians (and Iranians, whose Nowruz festival is quite similar) still hold on to this incredibly old tradition, celebrating spring and its rebirth with picnics outside with their families. How can one argue with celebrating such a peaceful holiday which unites all humankind?
“How much longer must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace? We must not resign ourselves to conflicts as if change were not possible!” Pope Francis wrote in his Christmas 2014 letter to the Middle East. Indeed, I think a little hope and faith needs to be injected into international politics.
(fiṣḥ sa’īd) فصح سعيد
Christ has risen (el maseeh qam) المسيح قام