Muslim and Christian leaders began the new year with a flurry of statements and comments condemning Islamic attacks on Christians in Egypt and Nigeria.

Victory Baptist Church in Maiduguri, Nigeria, was burned and its pastor killed by Islamic extremists on Christmas Eve. Two Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, was bombed on New Year’s Eve. At least 21 Christians were killed at the Coptic Christian church, and almost 100 others were wounded.

“These bombings are absolutely reprehensible,” said Mohamed Magid, imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Washington, D.C., and president of the Islamic Society of North America.

“ISNA condemns any and all acts of violence against innocent civilians,” he said in a statement on Jan. 3. “The attacks in Egypt and Nigeria are unacceptable and ISNA urges the Egyptian and Nigerian governments to take all measures to prosecute the individuals responsible for these heinous crimes swiftly and to the fullest measure.

“It is a sad day for all people when a simple act of worship or community celebration is marked by violence and innocent deaths,” said Magid.

Magid is an interviewee in the documentary “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” that aired last year on ABC-TV stations.

“ISNA asks Muslim community members and organizations in Egypt and Nigeria to lend support to the families who lost loved ones during these attacks and urges Muslim Americans to join them in prayer for God to ease the suffering of all those affected by this terrible tragedy,” he said.

In another Jan. 3 statement, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) condemned the bombing in Alexandria.

“This horrendous act of violence comes only months after fatal attacks and intimidation against the Christian community in Iraq left dozens dead and forced the cancellation of some Christmas celebrations,” said CMEP. “These attacks raise deepening concerns that anti-Christian violence in Iraq and Egypt may be connected.”

CMEP is a coalition of national denominations and organizations that include Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions.

“We condemn these acts of violence perpetrated by extremists in the name of religion. We also call on government authorities and religious leaders in both countries to take all appropriate measures to urgently protect religious minorities. These incidents call for our immediate attention to the continuing and desperate need for strong national and international leadership to help find peaceful and political solutions to ongoing tensions in the region,” said CMEP.

Writing in an column, Ayman Ibrahim, an Egyptian Christian, called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure the protection of Christians in Egypt.

“Save Egypt’s Christians from Muslim fundamentalists,” he wrote.

“This act of terrorism was an affront to all Egyptians,” said Egypt’s grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, who denounced the bombing in Alexandria.

“Terrorism … cannot be the outcome of any proper understanding of religion,” Gomaa continued. “It is rather a manifestation of the immorality of people with cruel hearts, arrogant souls and warped logic. It is thus with great sadness and outrage that we witness the emergence of this disease in our nation with the recent bombing outside a church in Alexandria that killed tens of Egyptian citizens. There is no doubt that such barbarism needs to be denounced in the strongest of terms, and opposed at every turn.”

The head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, urged his followers to calm down after several days of street protests and clashes with police.

“I believe that the state has a duty to solve Copts’ problems,” said Shenouda, according to Ahram Online, an English-language news site of the Middle East’s oldest newspaper.

Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, told that Christians needed to do more than condemn such attacks and ought to find ways to allay fears among Christians and Muslims.

“Conscientious efforts to work together for the common good – projects like the recent Baptist-Muslim mosquito net distribution in Tanzania – can do much to develop the kind of good will and positive relationships that help promote understanding and peace instead of conflict and violence,” said Prescott, who is involved in facilitating dialogue among Baptists and Muslims.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, reported that Egyptian Muslim college students have said that they will show their solidarity with Coptic Christians by joining them when they observe Christmas on Jan. 7.

An Egyptian, Rehab wrote that the attack on Coptic Christians was an attack on “all Egyptians.”

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