Comment from Understand The Times:
One of the great signs that we are in the Last Days will be when Muslims embrace false appearances of a woman believed to be the mother of Jesus that will bring about peace and unity. As mentioned in the article below this happened at Zeitun, Egypt in 1968.
One of the common denominators between Roman Catholics and Muslims is their reverence for "Mary." Current problems in Egypt may well bring about another round of apparitions, or as described in biblical terms, "lying signs and wonders" that will occur in a time of great deception.
Why millions of Muslims are seeing apparitions of the Mother Mary?
Wednesday 17 July 2013 10:23AM
Why have apparitions of the Mother Mary appeared across the Muslim world in recent decades, and why was St George celebrated just as much in 19th century Anatolia as he is in modern Britain? Margaret Coffey explores the inter-religious saints that have bound together different faiths in shared ceremony and respect.
Mary's image was seen first in April 1968, a month after workers had gone on unprecedented strike in another Cairo suburb, by two Muslim watchmen at a garage across the road from the church. The apparitions recurred for five months, for hours on end, and more than a million and a half people claim to have seen Mary during this time. There was no verbal message received, but many Egyptians interpreted the apparitions as a message about Egyptian unity and peace, and as testimony to the power of the spiritual realm.
Again, in December 2009, a Muslim neighbour of a Coptic Church in Giza, Egypt's third largest city, claimed to have seen a light over the Church from the vantage point of the coffee shop over the road. Over the following days, 200,000 people, Christian and Muslim, shared his observation—and took it as a sign of difficult times to come, when unity would be a challenge to the Egyptian people.
It turned out to be a timely warning—soon after, at the Coptic Christmas, a number of Christians were shot down in front of a church.
So, where is Mary now, when Egypt is again in a time of crisis?
Mary has been one of the strongest symbols across the Middle East for unity, across religions, tribes and nations.
In his [Nicholas Doumanis's] family, as in other Greek refugee families, there was a deal of nostalgia for their Anatolian past of happy memory. The stuff of these memories was that Greeks and Turks did not hate each other—and it went against the grain of the official Greek or Turkish stories.
In fact, Mary has made an appearance in another trouble spot, Syria.
In 1982, the year that saw the so-called Hama massacre, when the Syrian regime put down with particular thoroughness a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city that became one of the first opposition centres in the current war, Mary appeared in an ordinary house in the old city of Damascus. She was preceded by other manifestations that drew thousands of people, and when she delivered her messages over a period of years, they emphasised unity and peace, first among Christians, and then between all peoples. Our Lady of Soufanieh remains a focal point of prayer in Damascus—every day at 5 pm, the house is open for prayer, and those who come include both Christians and Muslims.
The role of Sainthood in Fragile States has been explored in a book co-edited by Danish scholar Andreas Bandak, who takes a particular interest in Our Lady of Soufanieh. He's fascinated by the way saints emerge, often to transcend differences and bind people together.
For instance, St George, although claimed by the British, is also a prominent Middle Eastern figure. In Christian and Muslim versions in the Middle East, St George was slayer of dragons—and foreign enemies. But he was also a figure who helped build community. Nicholas Doumanis is an Australian historian who has explored the way both Muslims and Christians celebrated St George in 19th century Anatolia. Greeks, Turks, Armenians who shared this vast area under Ottoman rule all celebrated St George's feast day, in each other's company. St George wasn't the only metaphysical idea they shared: Dr Doumanis describes shared beliefs in the efficacy of angels and devils, and the practices of attending each other's religious ceremonies, such as rituals around circumcision, baptisms and weddings. He argues that it was the sharing of these liminal spaces that enabled people from different religious traditions to get on together and respect religious boundaries—they found such ways because they wanted to live together well.
What put an end to this co-existence—or what he calls inter-communality—was the emergence of the nation state and ultra-nationalism. In other words, religion didn't cause the wars that displaced and killed hundreds of thousands of people across the Middle East. Rather, nationalism that exploited religious difference was the culprit.
Dr Doumanis's own family history drew him to this study. His grandfather fled the city of Bodrum in Anatolia for the Greek island of Kos in the early part of the 20th century. In his family, as in other Greek refugee families, there was a deal of nostalgia for their Anatolian past. His family had happy memories of a time when Greeks and Turks did not hate each other, a time not recorded in official Greek or Turkish stories. So he went in search of what made Christian-Muslim coexistence possible in 19th century Anatolia.
Saints like St George could be partisan of course. Andreas Bandak points to the way the figure of Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, is assuming 'saintly' proportions among his followers.
Interestingly, one of the motivations for Hezbollah fighters to enter Syria has been to defend against extremist threats a place sacred to a highly significant Shia saint—Sayyeda Zainab, granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammad and daughter of Ali, the first Shi'i Imam. Her tomb, in a southern Damascus suburb, is a focal point for Shi'i pilgrimage. More than a million people visit her tomb each year, including from Australia. For a people who believe they are under threat, Sayyeda Zainab is a powerful rallying figure, but interestingly she is also seen as pointing to unity amongst all Muslims, Sunni and Shi'i.
But whether, after the civil war, she will be seen as a figure of shared heritage or as a sectarian symbol is a moot point.
And there's another question: given that some saints lose their efficacy or are made obsolete by the passage of time, what new saints will emerge in response to the needs of the time? Where are the saints who can enable people to transcend their differences and allay their anxieties?