Free expression of religion is everywhere in Egypt. Women are veiled, differently according to their personal preferences and beliefs. The Call to Prayer echoes from multiple minarets, five times daily. People stop on sidewalks, in restaurants and even on airplanes to pray facing Mecca. The Egyptian people are free to celebrate and practice their religion openly, as long as they are Muslim.
Living in a religiously dominated country has altered my views on religion significantly. Whereas before I accepted the historic precedent that religion would affect political process, now I am almost adamant that it is unnecessary. I used to belong to a liberal church with a duty to combat the conservative Christian influence on American government, and now I lean toward churches and religious groups steering clear of policy completely. Part of me, perhaps, is starting to think they have little reason to exist at all outside of personal growth and moralistic reasoning.
When governments become obsessed with doing God’s will, other things fall from priority. In Egypt, tourism, the economy, and jobs seem less important than the discussion of whether or not women should be forced to wear veils in a certain way/at all. In America, keeping two loving people from getting married is higher on the to-do list than ending poverty.
But the argument stands that government’s job is to do the will of the people and if the will of the people is religiously biased, then so be it. I argue that it’s not always government’s job to promote the will of the people. Sometimes, the majority is oppressive and wrong. Sometimes, the people may be temporarily blinded by religion and it’s up to the smarter, wiser folks in power to research and investigate and steer the country in the correct direction. Slavery, discrimination, oppression, all worldwide issues that at one time may have had majority support in many countries. Just because the crowd, the majority at the time, dictates that it’s okay to burn a Coptic Cathedral, doesn’t mean the government should put up with it.
I know there are many ways to argue with this. I am arguing with myself right now. Do not our standards of right and wrong come from a religious place most of the time? Weren’t abolitionists and those who fought to preserve slavery doing so on religious arguments? I just wonder what would happen if religion were taken out of the equation completely. Would society crumble or would we see the beginning of a new era, one in which politics and religion could be kept separately while still respecting individual religious beliefs? I honestly don’t know what the answer is, but I do know I am tired of having my personal life, both here in Egypt and in America, dictated by someone else’s doctrine.