MOUNT SINAI, EGYPT – St. Catherine’s Orthodox Monastery at Mount Sinai in Egypt is “the site of the Burning Bush, and at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the revelation of the Law” from God, according to its website, sinaimonastery.com. It is a World Heritage Site as declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and no less than the Prophet Muhammad established a covenant (Achtiname) with the St. Catherine Monks, securing their protection and freedom to practice their Christian faith undisturbed by Muslims or by any other group, and declaring that “if anyone breaks the covenant herein proclaimed, or contravenes or transgresses its commands, he has broken the Covenant of Allah.”
The Monastery has been preserved for 17 centuries, which according to its website gives it “a special aura…and justifies its significance as a destination for pilgrims second in importance only to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.”
Yet Ahmed Ragai Attiya, a retired Egyptian general, it trying to dismantle the Monastery and deport its “foreign” monks, most of whom are Greek, the newspaper Ahram reports.
In 2012, Attiya obtained 71 administrative orders regarding the demolition of multiple churches and other structures on the Monastery grounds, Ahram reports, which Attiya claims were built in 2006 and thereby are not eligible for historical preservation.
Attiya also claims that the Monastery monks – mostly Greeks – raised the Greek flag on the property, turning it into a site “occupied with foreigners,” which he considers a breach of national security and Egyptian sovereignty, and thereby demands their deportation from Egypt.
The Monastery’s attorney, Ihab Ramzey denies all of Attiya’s claims, Ahram reports, and in 2012 he says South Sinai’s Antiquities Department issued a letter clearing the Monastery of all such allegations.
Attiya has now filed a lawsuit, reinstating his claims, San Diego Jewish World reports.
Craig Considine writes in the Huffington Post that any attempts to demolish the Monastery or to deport the monks, violates, among other things, the covenant established by Muhammad himself.
Last summer, Considine, who has written extensively about the Monastery and violence to Christians in the area, pointed out that attacks against the monks violated Muhammad’s covenant, a translation of which, in pertinent part, he provided: “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
“Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
“No compulsion is to be on them.
“Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.
“No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.
“Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
“No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.
“The Muslims are to fight for them.
“If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
“Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
“No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”
In his Huffington Post piece, Considine concludes: “to destroy Saint Catherine’s would mean to destroy Muhammad’s orders for Muslims to tolerate Christianity. Destroying the monastery would not be a victory for anyone. It will be a catastrophe for Muslims and Christians.”
What is Attiya’s motive? “To completely destroy St. Catherine’s Monastery,” Considine told TNH. “Attiya’s actions appear to be driven by Egyptian nationalism and intolerance for ‘others.’”
A doctoral candidate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in international relations, Considine is has written extensively about the Monastery, which he deems “a pivotal symbol of religious tolerance for followers of Islam and Christianity.”
Though on the surface it seems that Attiya’s attitude is the exception rather than the rule, Considine says there is more to that than meets the eye. “Some Egyptians have contacted me, suggesting that Attiya is a lone ranger and that there is no chance that the Egyptian government will close Saint Catherine’s,” he told TNH. “However, I have been in touch with several scholars who note that fanatical Muslims want to destroy Saint Catherine’s.” One example he notes involves “the former head of the town of Katreen, General Abdel-Aal Sakr, issued a decree to confiscate land from Saint Catherine’s, calling for the destruction of the monastery. He argued that they had ‘stolen’ 20 per cent of the land of South Sinai.”
Describing himself a Catholic with an interest in preserving Ancient Christian communities, Considine notes that “Saint Catherine’s monastery an emblem of peace that serves as a symbol for Muslim-Christian tolerance and dialogue. Its legacy demands that Muslims tolerate Christians and it teaches Christians that Muslims do not set out to conquer and destroy them.”