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C.R.S. Program in Egypt to Help Muslims, Christians Avert Strife

13 Dec 2013 – By James Martone

CAIRO (CNS) — Select Muslims and Christians in Egypt are participating in a development project designed to avert further sectarian violence after a surge in clashes between the two religious groups.

The U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services is sponsoring the two-year initiative, which engages Muslims and Christians in implementing public works for the sake of the entire community.

“Some of the root causes that have led to … the recent sectarian violence were related to a lack of understanding or a lack of respect for one another, so bringing people together to collaborate is even more critical at this time,” said Erin Atwell, the CRS staffer overseeing the $800,000 initiative, “Tolerant Attitudes and Leadership for Action.”

She said the project’s English acronym, TALA, was the source for its Egyptian name, “Ta’ala,” which is the command for “come” in Arabic, Egypt’s national language.

“It’s like an invitation to come over [and] work across religious lines” on joint projects that improve areas prone to sectarian strife, or where such Muslim-Christian conflict has occurred in the recent past, said Atwell, CRS program manager for interfaith action and civil society capacity building.

She spoke to Catholic New Service during a meeting of the Ta’ala steering committee.

Atwell said Ta’ala project money was now funding the selection of different Christian and Muslim community leaders across Egypt as well as their training in models and methods for identifying, analyzing and intervening in potential conflicts.

Those same leaders will then select and train Muslim and Christian youth in their areas and collectively come up with ideas of what development projects their different communities need most, which Ta’ala will then pay to implement, said Atwell.

“Groups of youth, who have been working for at least six months in the project learning to work together to collaborate on a common vision, then go out into their own communities and conduct a needs analysis of their individual villages. It could be anything from youth seeing that they need to paint some buildings in the community, to deciding that they want an initiative with children in some schools to raise awareness about interreligious collaboration,” Atwell said.

She said the Ta’ala project started in October, two months after some of Egypt’s worst Muslim-Christian violence in modern history left dozens of churches burned, destroyed and looted.

The project builds on “lessons learned” from a 2012 CRS project that was led by Egypt’s Coptic Catholic Church but did not involve any Muslim organizations in its implementation, she said.

Atwell said that, unlike the 2012 project, which lasted only three months, Ta’ala will last two years and will be implemented jointly by the Coptic Catholic Church; Nour al Islam, an Egyptian Muslim nongovernmental organization; and Family House, an interreligious dialogue unit of Egypt’s highest seat of Sunni Muslim learning, Al Azhar University.

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Tags: Egypt Interreligious Christian-Muslim relations Dialogue