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Cairo Bomb A Message For Muslims?


By Jayson Casper
Special to The Media Project

When a bomb ripped through the women and children praying together at the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo on Dec. 11, the nation’s grief was expressed through a Muslim doll.

The suicide attack claimed by the Islamic State - Sinai Province took place on the national holiday of moulid al-nabi, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The larger Islamic State has since called for bombings of Christian churches in the USA, with the aim of creating "bloody celebrations" there, as well.

Egyptians have begun trying to make sense of this latest wave of violence in Cairo, and the arousa doll has propelled expressions of grief. A popular cartoon depicted the arousa, traditionally given to Muslim girls, weeping in the black clothes of mourning. Behind her stood a somber crucifix.

Twenty-seven people died in the bombing, and their families have been changed forever. The Coptic community is approaching the Christmas season with fear wondering if another church will be targeted.

But does the timing of the attack suggest Muslims also have reason to be afraid?

The moulid, popular with most Egyptians and in particular the mystical Sufi trend, is rejected by many Salafi interpretations of Islam to which the Islamic State belongs.

It is a day for sweets, visiting family, and giving gifts. It is also a day Christian religious leaders congratulate their Muslim counterparts, reciprocated on Christmas.

But celebration of the moulid is condemned by Salafis as a religious innovation.

Coincidence or not, their extremists chose this day to escalate their insurrection and signal their willingness to inflict mass casualties.

“The message could be, ‘You love the moulid, and you like the Christians?’” said Sheikh Alaa al-Din Abul Azayim, head of the Azamiya Sufi order. “’Then on this day we’ll kill your friends – and you are next.’”

In claiming responsibility, the Islamic State did not draw a specific connection to the moulid. But one month earlier the Sinai Province executed two Sufi sheikhs, and then issued an ominous warning.

“We tell all Sufi lodges, sheikhs, and followers inside Sinai and outside that we will not allow the presence of Sufi orders in the Sinai or Egypt,” wrote the professed head of morality police in their weekly newsletter al-Nabaa. 

Sheikh Suleiman Abu Heraz was reported to be over 90 years old and a symbolic figure for Sufis in Sinai. Heraz was beheaded on the charge of witchcraft and professing knowledge of the occult.

Mokhtar Awad, research fellow in the program on extremism at George Washington University, does not make a direct link with the moulid. But he does note the worrisome development.

“Although this is an attack on Copts,” he told TMP, “it marks an escalation in targeting groups of Egyptian civilians.

“Sufis in particular have reason to fear,” he said, referencing the al-Nabaa article. “It is a specific signal of intent to attack and treat Sufis as legitimate targets.”

As many as two million Egyptians belong to Sufi orders, said Abdallah Schleifer, professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo.

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