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Monastery of Saint Fana

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The Monastery of Saint Fana is a Coptic Orthodox monastery. It is named after Saint Fana, also known as Saint Bane (c. 354-395), an Egyptian Christian hermit. The monastery is sometimes called the Monastery of Abu Fana and is also known as the Monastery of the Cross, due to the presence of many beautifully decorated crosses inside its church.

Location

The monastery is situated in the Western Desert, not far from the cultivated land of the Nile valley. The monastery is located about 300 km south of Cairo, northwest of al-Ashmunayn, around 2 km from the village of Qasr Hur and east of the village of Beni Khaled.

Foundation and history

The monastery was most likely built around the burial site of Saint Fana. His tomb was found during excavations of an international team representing seven European academic institutions and led by Austrian scholar Prof. Dr. Helmut Buschhausen in 1992[1].

The 12th century historian Abu al-Makarim mentions the church of Saint Fana, which was restored by al-Rashid Abu Fadl[2]. Egyptian historian of the 14th-15th century al-Maqrizi wrote about the monastery's fine architecture.[3] The History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria mentions the monastery of Saint Fana twice, first in relation to the election of Pope Theodosius II, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, 1294 -1300 and second to the childhood of Patriarch Matthew I, 1378-1408. In pre-Islamic times the monastery reportedly numbered some 1000 monks. The monastery's numbers had drastically dwindled before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century. Al-Maqrizi reports that during his day, the monastery held only two monks. The French Jesuit priest Father Michel Marie Jullien (1827-1911) reported that the priest of the neighboring village Qasr Hur had cleared the church of debris and used the church for the Divine Liturgy [4]. When German scholar Dr. O.F.A. Meinardus visited the monastery in the 1960s, the place was in ruins with remains stretching over a wide area. Only the historical church survived. Pieces of gray granite were also found, suggesting that the monastery may have been built on the location where an ancient temple once stood. On a small hill stand the ruins of a qasr, or tower, which ancient monasteries had. Approximately 80 meters from the ruined monastery one finds the cave of Saint Fana, the location where he reportedly lived. Meinardus does not report on the monastery being inhabited.[5] The surviving old monastic building consists of an ancient basilica, deeply sunk into the sand in the center of a vast mound that, according to the Coptic Encyclopedia, “no doubt” conceals the ruins of the Monastery. The neighboring mounds perhaps conceal isolated cells or hermitages.[6]

Modern history

The modern history of the monastery starts with a renewed interest shown by the Coptic Orthodox Church in this monastery after the excavations of the team of Dr. Helmut Buschhausen in 1987-1993[7]. Following these excavations, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture decided in the year 2002 to declare an area of 1 km by 2 km as the archaeological periphery of the monastery. The Department of Antiquities suspects that this land may hold buried historical remains [8]. see map

After the Department of Antiquities decision, the Coptic Orthodox Church built new cells, a new entrance, a reception and a large cathedral just outside the boundaries of the archaeological periphery see photo –(monastic buildings built from the year 2000 onwards). Prior to 1999, no monks resided permanently in the monastery. Five monks came to the monastery in 1999, and in 2003, Pope Shenouda, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, consecrated an additional 12 monks, followed later by one more monk. From 2003 onwards there have been repeatedly conflicts over land with neighbors of the monastery. In July 2008 there are a total of 18 monks and 9 novices residing in the monastery, who are assisted by tens of laymen [9].

Tensions

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Extremist related events since 2001

On May 31, 2008, monks and Christians close to the Monastery of Saint Fana reported that monks' cells and a church belonging to the monastery had been attacked by a group of roughly sixty armed Arabs [10], a name commonly used in Egypt for Bedouins who have settled in villages bordering the desert [11] The location they show is an outpost of the monastery with monastic cells and a chapel dedicated to Saint Cyrilsee photo –(extension of the monastery that was attacked). The attacks resulted in damage to this section of the monastery and its surrounding property.

A subsequent attack left one Muslim killed, four Christians wounded, and three monks being briefly kidnapped, requiring hospital treatment upon their return [12]. The three kidnapped monks were tortured by the Arabs, who also tried unsuccessfully to force them to spit on crosses and to pronounce the Islamic Shahada[13][14][15][16][17][18][19]. In addition, the Arabs burned Bibles and church altars inside the monastery [20][21][22][23][24][25][26]. The clashes were followed one day later by a demonstration of around 300 Coptic youth in Mallawi who blamed the government for "inaction in the face of repeated attacks by Muslims against their community."[27]

13 Muslims and two Christians who were allegedly involved were arrested and brought before the prosecutor-general [28]. Governor Ahmed Dia el-Din found a number of police reports documenting disputes over land that span several years[29]. Saint Fana's Monastery had obtained a portion of their land by employing “urfi” contracts, resulting in the governor's rejection of the monastery's claim to possess valid land titles[30]. “Urfi” contracts, are agreements between two parties that lack the proper registration with the government, contracts that are drafted without first obtaining the required governmental permits. Monks of the monastery criticized local police, stationed approximately 6 km from the monastery, for arriving at the monastery several hours after having been informed of the attack[31]. Coptic activists abroad, both during and following the attack, were contacted by monks and laymen in and close to the monastery[32]. They responded by posting angry responses on the Internet and holding several demonstrations in North America and Europe[33].

Many Copts, both those living in the diocese of Mallawi, the diocese the Monastery belongs to, and Coptic activists in the West, alleged that Muslims attempted to force the three kidnapped monks to convert to Islam by declaring the Shahada, the Islamic creed[34]. Many YouTube productions followed, statements were made, press releases were published, all placing the conflict in a sectarian context, rarely making references to conflicting land claims and if this is done, it is often done to explicitly deny that a land conflict played a role[35].

The responses from monks, Christian workers in the monastery, and Coptic activists in the West encouraged hundreds of Christians to demonstrate in Mallawi, a Middle Egyptian town which is the seat of the Bishop of Mallawi who is also the abbot of the Monastery of Saint Fana. Demonstrations of Christians in Egypt is a relatively new phenomenon [36]. Christian protesters in Mallawi chanted "With our blood and soul, we will defend the Cross.” [37].

The attack on the monastery and the ensuing Coptic response in and outside Egypt was prominently reported in Egypt. Heated discussions following the attack were published in the Egyptian media for many weeks following the attack[38].

Coptic monks and Egyptian Christians close to the Monastery of Saint Fana placed the attack in a sectarian context which was echoed on several Coptic websites in the West [39]. Coptic leader Pope Shenouda stated that the assailants did not want the monks to cultivate the desert land they legally possess[40]. "These (assailants - referring to the Muslim Arab neighbors of the Monastery) do not have any one to rule them," Pope Shenouda said in a statement criticizing the Egyptian government for not being able to control the Monastery's Arab neighbors. Pope Shenouda's statement came very close to calling the conflict “sectarian[41]. The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church called on the Egyptian President Muhammad Husni Mubarak to intervene to prevent a repetition of similar assaults.[42]

Egyptian media quoted Egyptian officials explicitly denying that this conflict was of a sectarian or religious nature[43]. Egyptian journalist Muhammad al-Baz reports in Al-Fajr that the attack against the Saint Fana Monastery was not the first of its kind, and that attacks have been carried out since 2005, but denies that there was a sectarian element to the attacks. Instead, he believes that there were materialistic and financial motives (land ownership) involved. He criticized the monks’ allegations that they were targeted because they are Copts. Al-Baz claims that the monks pretended that the attacks were of a sectarian nature to obtain people’s compassion and prove that they are persecuted.[44]

Dr. Amr al-Shubaki stated on June 12 in al-Misri al-Yawm that the absence of a state of law hurts both Muslims and Christians alike, in the same way that other serious problems such as anarchy and unemployment do. Dr. al-Shubaki referred to the widespread use of urfi agreements and the system of Wad al-Yad – a common practice to obtain land. One does not own the land but nevertheless reclaims it and after doing so for several years the land becomes legally owned by the person cultivating the land [45].

Coptic intellectual Dr. Samir Morkos believes this is a land-conflict with religious dimensions that were introduced to strengthen partisan positions. He worries about the effect that this dispute may potentially have on grassroots Muslim-Christian relations [46].

Many foreign media have reported the attack; "Egyptian Christians, Muslims clash, killing one (Reuters/may 31), "One killed, four injured in Egypt monastery clash," (AFP/May 31). The Los Angeles Times (June 11) placed the attack in the context of other violence directed against Copts. The Washington Post (July 7) reported that attacks such as this one make the Christian Copts of Egypt turn inwards, strengthening a ghetto mentality. Christianity Today (July 23) focused on the growing pressure on land and water. Arab-West Report ( English - Arabic) and the National Council for Human Rights each sent a delegation to the region to investigate the tensions [47].

Current Abbot

The current abbot of the monastery is His Grace Bishop Dimitrius.

See also

References

  1. Buschhausen, H. et all, Die Ausgrabungen von Abu Fanah in Oberägypten im Jahre 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993
  2. Dr. Otto Meinardus mentions him in “Two thousand years of Coptic Christianity," American University in Cairo Press, 1999, p. 215 but does not explain who he is. He was probably a local Egyptian notable.
  3. Otto F.A. Meinardus, "Two thousand years of Coptic Christianity", American University in Cairo Press, 1999, p. 215
  4. Otto F.A. Meinardus, Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern, American University in Cairo Press, 1977, p. 365-366
  5. Otto F.A. Meinardus, Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern, American University in Cairo Press, 1977, p. 365-366 and 'Two thousand years of Coptic Christianity', American University in Cairo Press, 1999, p. 215
  6. Rene-Georges Coquin and Maurice Martin in the Coptic Encyclopedia, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991, Vol. 3, p.698-700
  7. H. Buschhausen, “Die Ausgrabungen in Abu Fano und die Identifizierung des Apa Bane,” in Acta XIII Congressus Internationalis Archeologiae Christianae, 1998, p. 159
  8. Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 3 Egyptian Villagers Resist Monastery's Growth
  9. Muslims, Christians clash over desert, faith, and politics in Upper Egypt, in Christianity Today, July 23, 2008, Figures according to the Deputy Head of the Monastery of Saint Fana, Father Antonius, 27 July 2008
  10. This number is mentioned in the joint press release by Coptic organizations on the monastery of Saint Fana attacks, June 7, 2008 Free Copts. The same number is mentioned by Father Dumadios of the Monastery of Saint Fana, Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 4.
  11. Katia Saqqa, a Syrian writer and translator living in Egypt, writes that the term “Arabs” is used in Egypt to refer to tribal communities in the desert, Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 7. The head of the Beni Khaled village, neighbors of the monastery of Saint Fana, explained the importance of reclaiming desert land in Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 5
  12. Al-Misri al-Yawm of 1, 2, 3 and 8 July 2008 , al-Usbua of June 7, 2008, al-Dustur of July 2, 2008 (Egyptian newspapers )
  13. http://coptreal.com/ShowSubject.aspx?SID=8852
  14. http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/archives/021581.php
  15. http://www.sonsofapesandpigs.org/2008/06/the-ethnic-cleansing-of-christ.html
  16. http://islam-watch.org/Misr/Islamic-Butchery-at-Egypt-Monastery.htm
  17. http://marychristinalove.wordpress.com/2008/06/12/exposing-butchery-and-desolation-in-the-oldest-monastery-in-the-world/
  18. http://au.christiantoday.com/article/egypt-muslim-christian-tensions-escalate/4485.htm
  19. http://www.eipr.org/en/reports/FRB_quarterly_rep_jul08_en/0408.htm
  20. http://coptreal.com/ShowSubject.aspx?SID=8852
  21. http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/archives/021581.php
  22. http://www.sonsofapesandpigs.org/2008/06/the-ethnic-cleansing-of-christ.html
  23. http://islam-watch.org/Misr/Islamic-Butchery-at-Egypt-Monastery.htm
  24. http://marychristinalove.wordpress.com/2008/06/12/exposing-butchery-and-desolation-in-the-oldest-monastery-in-the-world/
  25. http://au.christiantoday.com/article/egypt-muslim-christian-tensions-escalate/4485.htm
  26. http://www.eipr.org/en/reports/FRB_quarterly_rep_jul08_en/0408.htm
  27. The Peninsula Times, June 2, 2008 published an AFP report mentioning that "a security official confirmed that three monks had been kidnapped by Muslims during the clashes and were released on Sunday morning and taken to hospital for treatment." The publication also reported about the demonstration that followed the day following the clashes.
  28. The governor in Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 3
  29. According to the head of the Arab Beni Khaled village, Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 5
  30. Al-Misrî al-Yawm, June 23, 2008. See also several Coptic websites . Al-Maydan published an article on June 18, 2008 (p. 6) on clashes between Coptic activists and al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah on the issue of Saint Fana.
  31. Father Dumadios of the Monastery of Saint Fana, Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 4.
  32. Several Coptic websites make it obvious that there was contact between monks and Coptic activists in the West. The Free Copts website wrote on June 7, “According to one of the monks on the scene, the Egyptian police did not respond to the attacks until three hours after the call for help was made.” Most references appear to be to Father Mina, see for example Coptic Assembly.
  33. Reported on several Coptic websites and blogs such as Blog Spot, Coptic Assembly
  34. Reported on several Coptic websites but also in several Egyptian media such as al-Dustūr of June 13, 2008 (p. 1) and al-Fajr, June 16, 2008 (p. 27).
  35. Reported on several Coptic websites, see for example Copts United, which published the statement of a group of Coptic organizations on June 6, 2008, see also Coptic News
  36. The subject index of Arab-West Report, covering Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt starting in 1997 until today shows no Christian demonstrations in Egypt between 1997 and 2001, and has recorded several demonstrations since. These were the result of an outburst of Coptic anger against al-Nabā’, an Egyptian publication, which in 2001 alleged sexual practices of a monk in the Monastery of Dayr al-Muharraq. The allegations later proved to be false, the newspaper was suspended for some time. search in this subject index for Developments in Muslim-Christian Relations in the Arab world, then search in the subcategory for Christian demonstrations. Al-Ahram provides an overview of a Coptic demonstration,
  37. Reported on several Coptic websites, the The Peninsula Times, June 2, 2008. Nahdat Misr of June 3, 2008 headlined: "Copts of Mallawī demonstrated screaming the Muslims Brother's slogans". The author of the article Ayman Riyād mentioned that the Coptic demonstrators used a slogan that had been used earlier by Muslim Brothers: "I will pray, I will pray, no matter what may happen to me." The demonstrators also shouted: "Pope Shenouda take care of the issue, we are behind you and we defend you with our blood." It is noteworthy that the same article stated that it was proved that the abduction of the monks was a mere rumor.
  38. In the first days following the attack, June 1-8, 15 different Egyptian print publications published 43 articles, many of them lengthy. In the weeks that followed, June 9 – July 6, another 54 articles were published. For one month of reviews of Egyptian media following the attack see the English press reviews of Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 7,8,9 and 10 and Arab-West Report, 2008, week 16, art. 11
  39. Father Dumadios of the Monastery of Saint Fana, Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 4, see also the reporting on several Coptic websites.
  40. The governor denied the legality of the ownership documents of the monastery and called them urfi, that is not properly registered with government authorities. Interviews with the governor can be seen in Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 3 and week 16, art. 4.
  41. Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 8
  42. Al-Dustur, June 13, 2008, mentioned that the Holy Synod’s declaration is the first of its kind and that it was issued while the pope was on a medical trip to the United States. See also Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 8
  43. Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 7
  44. Al-Fajr, June 16, 2008, Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 8. This argument is supported by Christian activist Raed al-Sharqawi, Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 2.
  45. Dr. Amr al-Shubaki, ’Sectarianism and counter sectarianism,’in al-Misri al-Yawm, June 12, 2008, Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 8. The methods of buying land through urfi agreements and Wad al-Yad are explained in Arab-West Report, 2008, week 15, art. 2.
  46. Dr. Samir Marqus in al-Masry al-Yom, July 23, 2008
  47. Al-Wafd newspaper, July 18, 2008, translation is to be found on Arab-West Report

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