Samuel Shropshire, founder and president of Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation (MVPR), was recently interviewed on HUDA-TV’s “Tonight.” His words were broadcast live throughout the Middle East and to other nations around the world. We are grateful to HUDA-TV for making this possible!
Here’s Samuel’s story about his journey to Islam and his interfaith work with Jews, Christians and Muslims–an initiative to help secure a better, more peaceful world for future generations. You can learn more about Samuel’s work at http://www.mvpr.org! Please share this interview with your friends and family members.
My visit to the pyramids of Giza
I recently fulfilled a lifetime dream of visiting the famous Pyramids of Giza, just to the south of Cairo, Egypt. These celebrated pyramids are among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the oldest built more than 4500 years ago! Modern scholars and archaeologists have long been curious about these ancient tombs of the pharaohs. Out of the three pyramids, the most famous is the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), which was built by Pharaoh Khufu around 2560 BC.
The Great Pyramid stands 137 meters (449 feet) high. Each side is oriented with one of the cardinal directions of the compass (north, south, east, and west). The Great Pyramid of Khufu is made up of two million blocks of limestone. Granite lines the entrances, the shafts and the chambers. The thousands of smooth white casing stones that beautified the sides of this pyramid, have long since been unfortunately removed, being used in other building projects.
I was pleasantly surprised when my Egyptian friends actually got permission for me to climb through the inner shafts of the Great Pyramid. This pyramid is equal in height to a modern 50-story skyscraper! For the better part of an hour, I was led upward through the narrow connecting shafts some 200 meters (656 feet) to the upper chamber of Khufu. Due to low ceilings in most of the shafts, one is forced to lean over while walking, literally crawling, in places, on hands and knees. It was a difficult climb, and I was drenched in sweat when I finally stood in the burial chamber of Pharaoh Khufu.
The Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) is situated to the southwest of the Pyramid of Khufu. Although it appears to be taller than the Great Pyramid, as it stands on higher ground, this pyramid is actually smaller than that of Khufu. This pyramid was built by Khufu’s son Khafre.
The third pyramid, the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus), which stands some 67m (220ft) high, was started by Khafre’s son Menkaure.
In front of the Great Pyramid stands the Sphinx, a statue of a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man. The Sphinx, which stands 20 meters (66 feet) high, and measuring about 73.5 meters (241 feet) long, was carved over 4500 years ago out of sandstone.
Archaeologists and historians marvel
Can you imagine one of our modern skyscrapers weathering 4500 years of harsh climatic conditions? Just how were these pyramids built? How have they stood the test of time?
Today’s scientists, historians and civil engineers stand in awe of the pyramids. They are continually developing theories as to just how the ancient Egyptian peoples could have carved and moved these millions of huge stones hundreds of miles from the far south to their Giza location and then haven assembled them into the pyramids.
When I was in graduate school, I remember reading the 1970 best-selling book by Erich von Däniken‘s titled Chariots of the Gods. The book theorized extraterrestrials interacting with early human life, passing on high-tech scientific information to undeveloped human civilizations in various parts of the world—one being the ancient kingdoms of the Egyptian pharaohs. (This theory was subsequently debunked by University of South Carolina professor Dr. Clifford Wilson in his 1972 sequel entitled Crash Go the Chariots.)
One of the best construction explanations I’ve found was published in the March 2008 issue of Science Daily.
The legendary curse of the pharaohs
Just two days after climbing through the Great Pyramid’s inner, narrow shafts leading to Khufu’s burial chamber, I ended up in a Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, hospital with a high temperature, swollen glands diagnosed with some mysterious, unknown virus. I was mainlined with some pretty powerful antibiotics for five days and then released to continue my recuperation at home. I have now fully recovered, but I couldn’t help but wonder about all the extraordinary rumors of pyramid curses that have circulated for centuries.
Movies and sensational Hollywood science fiction movies abound, encouraging the rumors—the classic being the 1944 horror film The Mummy’s Curse.
The idea of a mummy coming back to life from the dead, an essential part of many mummy curse legends, was developed in The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, an early work combining science fiction and horror, written by Jane C. Loudon and published in 1827.
Two other stories subsequently discovered by S. J. Wolfe, Robert Singerman and Jasmine Day–The Mummy’s Soul (Anonymous 1862) and After Three Thousand Years by Jane G. Austin in 1868–have similar plots. In both, a female mummy takes supernatural revenge upon her male counterpart.
The belief in a curse was brought to many people’s attention due to the mysterious deaths of several members of archaeologist Howard Carter‘s team while they were excavating the tomb of Tutankhamun (more commonly known as King Tut). The tomb was located far to the south in the Valley of the Kings and was opened by Carter and George Herbert, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon (Lord Carnarvon) in 1922.
The famous Egyptologist James Henry Breasted, working with Carter soon after the first opening of the tomb, reported how Carter had sent a messenger on an errand to his house. When the man came near to Carter’s home he thought he heard a “faint, almost human cry.” On reaching the entrance he saw a cobra in a bird cage. (The cobra was the symbol of Egyptian monarchy.) Carter’s canary had died in the cobra’s mouth, and this fueled local rumors of a curse. An account of the incident was reported by the New York Times on 22 December 1922. The first of the “mysterious” deaths was that of Lord Carnarvon. Carnarvon had been bitten by a mosquito, and later cut the bite accidentally while shaving. It became infected and blood poisoning resulted.
Two weeks before Carnarvon died, Marie Corelli wrote an imaginative letter that was published in the New York World magazine, in which she quoted an obscure book that confidently asserted that “dire punishment” would follow any intrusion into a sealed tomb. A media frenzy followed, with reports that a curse had been found in the King’s tomb, though this was untrue.
The curse rumors were further fanned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. In a film he suggested that Lord Carnarvon’s death had been caused by “elementals” created by Tutankhamun’s priests to guard the royal tomb, and this further fueled public curse frenzy. .
A newspaper report printed following Carnarvon’s death is also believed to have been responsible for the wording of the curse most frequently associated with Tutankhamun – “Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King.”
There is, though, a possible reasonable explanation for illness and even death resulting from noxious gases that are released when ancient tombs are opened. When Archaeologist Sami Gabra was working in tombs in the ibis-necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel, both he and his workers were seized by violent
headaches and shortness of breath. At first the workers feared of the ibis-headed god, Thoth. In reality, it was discovered that the cause was toxic vapors. When the tomb was fumigated, the crew returned to work..
Russians scale the Great Pyramid
A few months ago, Russian photographer Vadim Makhorov caused quite a stir when he published a set of stunning images captured from atop Egypt’s Great Pyramid. The photos, posted to Makhorov’s LiveJournal page, provide a rare view of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, though they’ve fueled a fair bit of controversy, as well.
Once the pyramid complex had closed to tourists, Makhorov and his two friends, Vitaliy Raskalov and Marat Dupri, staked out for nearly five hours, hiding themselves from Egypt’s armed guards. (Now if only I had been there to scale the pyramid with these guys!)
When they were certain the coast was clear, they embarked on the 481-foot climb to the top of the pyramids, where they captured incredible panoramic shots of the Giza Necropolis,. They were able to keep totally out of sight of the guards below.
According to Raskalov, the trio would have faced between one and three years in jail, had they been caught. Said Makhorov, “We didn’t want to insult anyone. We were just following our dream.”
Below are some of the photos Makhorov and his friends took.
Here’s an incredible video about the Great Pyramid of Giza:
Sources: Science Daily, The New York Times, New York World, Archaeology, The Pyramids of Egypt, BBC, The Verge, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Magazine, galactic-server.net, en.wikipedia.org
(last updated 6 July 2013, 12:00 noon)
The whole world is watching
Media around the world are broadcasting live from the streets of Egypt as that nation is once more in the midst of political upheaval. With much of the international network reporting; however, comes a lot of sensational misinformation.
I’ve just returned from Cairo. While there, I had incredible discussions with both Egyptians who support the Mohamed Morsi government and with the opposition who are claiming some of the “biggest street demonstrations in the history of mankind.”
In Tharir Square I found the Egyptian people more than willing to speak freely and openly—to express opposing views.
I sat down with two groups—members of the Muslim Brotherhood and also members of the the Tamarod, or liberal “Rebel” movement. All of this comes on the first anniversary of the birth of what was hoped to be a new democratic Egypt.
As I entered discussions with the rebels, I could feel the drama building up to a potential showdown in Egypt. Pro-Morsi adherents boast that Morsi was democratically elected. Opponents to the Morsi government say Morsi has not kept his promises to include minority political views in his government.
The Egyptian military has announced both sides must develop consensus for a inclusive plan to eliminate national unrest.
All agree that these continuing street battles are about freedom, democracy, transparency in government, about a sound economy that benefits all the Egyptian peoples.
What is clear is that happened last ear in Egypt is but the first stage of a new order that is sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East. Citizens are expressing their opinions, and they will no longer be silent.
Add to the current chaos in Egypt our world economic turmoil and threats from the Egyptian army to “enforce the will of the people,” and the situation is volatile and could lead to violence.
Morsi had accepted the resignations of several cabinet ministers and has apologized for “mistakes” he had made during the first year of his administration—specifically for failing to include youth and other political minorities in his government.
To his credit, Morsi has repeatedly called for dialogue with opposition groups, but his administration says the opposition has declined.
Morsi has said, “We are changing Egypt for the better—through a free and democratic way.”
Cairo discussions with Muslim Brotherhood
I first met with members of the Freedom and Justice Party—the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Waleed Alsharif was quick to point out that his Muslim Brotherhood friends seek to represent the concerns of all Egyptians—including minorities like Christians and Jews.
I had not brought up the subject of religious minorities, but Waleed quickly brought it up.
“We love Christians and Jews,” Waleed pointed out. “The Quran commands that we show them respect and that we advocate for their concerns as well.”
I asked, “What should Morsi do differently to gain the support of other Egyptian minorities?”
Waleed responded, “Morsi must be quick to include peoples of different faiths, different political perspectives and ages.”
The opposition Tamarod
Throughout Cairo one views opposition posters and graffiti condemning Morsi. Most of the posters call for Morsi to immediately resign, clearing the way for new elections.
Oppositionist Sahad Saleh, of the Tamarod, is quick to boast of anti-Morsi groups having collected more than 22 million signatures on a petition calling for the beleaguered Egyptian president to step down.
“The opposition will help complete the revolution,” Sahad proudly says. “We have corrupt officials leading our country. They must go.”
When I asked him for specific examples of corruption, he rattled off quite a few accusations, but was unable to come up with specifics, although with any new government greed and corruption seems to find a way.
Sahad and other opposition leaders are also quick to state that Morsi is not experienced and has no ability to lead Egypt, but then who does have such experience in Egypt?
As has been pointed out in recent days, the Egyptian opposition includes a melee of fractious political groups—including some Islamists even more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood.
One year ago, “free and fair” elections held
There is room for debate as to whether the hastily called elections held just over a year ago were indeed free and fair, given the short period of time various political parties had to organize themselves and conduct legitimate election campaigns.
After just one year, it’s easy to point out the many failures of the Morsi government, but what nation on earth has had an easy time at establishing a democracy as well as writing a constitution and developing laws to assure that all peoples have equal access to government and the freedoms that are necessary to guaranteeing a better future?
After the American revolution, it took the United States several years to write its Constitution and Bill of Rights. And it has taken many more years, through various amendments to the US Constitution, to make certain that the values encouraged by America’s Founding Fathers were applied to all its citizens and minorities. After all, in the US African slaves would not be freed for another 90 years, and once freed, they would not have the same rights as other Americans for another 100 years when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was finally enacted. American women would not be able to vote until 1919.
More recently, the new governments of Central and Eastern Europe have not had an easy go at democracy. Since the fall of communism in 1989 and 1990, many of these governments, while having made significant progress at democratization, are still struggling to make a go of it.
With the breakup of the former Yugoslavia came years of war and revolution, horrific genocide and retribution.
Outright lies and false reporting
Some Islamophobic American radicals have had a heyday attacking the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups. Tabloid journalism and false reporting by some American extremists have been beyond belief.
Jay Sekulow who heads televangelist Pat Robertson’s Washington, DC, American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), has printed blatant lies about Egyptian “jihadists” said to be in control of Egypt’s future—sensational untruths. Sekulow claims Egyptian Christians are literally being burned on crosses in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. (There is absolutely no evidence of such atrocities!)
Most recently, the ACLJ and a handful of radical US congressmen have put out several “action alerts” claiming “the Obama Administration’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood is out of control.”
I have on numerous occasions phoned the ACLJ office in Washington, DC, to point out that no Christians are being crucified in Cairo. I have repeatedly requested documentation for their unsubstantiated claims. They have provided none, but they persist with their disinformation quickly followed by the words “Contribute Now!”
It’s most disconcerting when a few religious extremists (be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish) re-write stories, manipulating “facts” to their own ends, in apparent attempts to hurt people who don’t believe exactly as they do.
Egyptian military intervenes
Last week the situation in Egypt is became critical. The Egyptian military high command said last Monday that “if the demands of the people are not met” within 48 hours, the military would intervene with a “roadmap” to end the standoff. This announcement, broadcast on TV, was applauded by millions of men and women rallying in Tahrir Square and across Egypt demanding that Morsi step down.
Morsi deposed; the world reacts
As expected, Morsi refused to give in to the demands of the military. He pointed out that it was impossible to solve all the economic and political challenges in a single year. He readily admitted that mistakes had been made. “What example,” he said, “does it set if a democratically elected government can be easily dismissed before its four-year term has been completed?”
But by Wednesday evening, Egypt’s army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi suspended the new constitution, dissolved parliament and ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Pro-Muslim Brotherhood radio and TV stations and newspapers were shut down. It was announced that the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court would be the new “caretaker” leader of Egypt.
For now, Morsi remains under house arrest. He claims the military has orchestrated a coup. The military says its wasn’t a coup but simply the armed forces imposing the “will of the people,” and millions of Egyptians continue to declare their future as democracy continues to evolve, not a the ballot box but in the streets.
US President Barack Obama was quick to release a statement expressing caution and concern, saying, “As I have said since the Egyptian Revolution, the United States supports a set of core principles, including opposition to violence, protection of universal human rights, and reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of the people. The United States does not support particular individuals or political parties, but we are committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law.”
Obama said the US would be closely monitoring the Egyptian situation. “I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process.”
UK Foreign Minister William Hague has said the UK “will work with the people in authority in Egypt” but condemned the ousting of its president as “a dangerous thing.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from office a “major setback for democracy in Egypt,” and warned of repercussions for the entire region, as he emphasized the urgency that Egypt gets back to constitutional order as quickly as possible.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has sent a cable of congratulations to the interim president of Egypt Adli Mansour. In his message to Mansour, King Abdullah appealed to God to help him “shoulder the responsibility given to him and to achieve the hopes of his people.”
For now, millions of opponents to the Morsi government celebrate the military’s intervention, while supporters of Morsi are shocked and in disbelief at the quick fall of their democratically elected president.
Some elements within the Muslim Brotherhood are vowing revenge and martyrdom rather than accept Morsi’s ouster. Fareed Zakaria has given us this excellent comment about the Egyptian crisis.
But common among all the Arab Spring democracies is talk about pluralism and human rights. Various political parties are battling for consensus. For sure, democracies don’t just happen–they evolve.
Sources: on-site interviews, CNN, The Guardian, Arab News, Al Jazeera, BBC, Der Spiegel