Egypt: Priests and Imams preach together in home province of beheaded Coptic Christians

Priests and Imams in Minya, the home province of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by Islamic State earlier this year, are launching an initiative to encourage peaceful co-existence in schools.

Supported by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and Patriarch Tawadrow II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, religious leaders will meet with students to encourage a culture of tolerance and respect between those of different faiths.

According to Fides, the Imams are all linked to al Azhar University in Cairo; a prestigious institution and the largest theological centre of Sunni Islam in the world. The Grand Imam has previously condemned the ideology of Islamic State, describing their ideas as "a perversion of the Islamic religion".

The Coptic Catholic Archbishop of Minya, Anba Botros Fahim Awad, said an inter-religious body called the 'House of the Egyptian family' was created years ago, but has been "and revitalized in recent times as a tool to prevent and mitigate sectarian conflicts."

An "upsurge of sectarianism" would endanger national unity, he added.

In total, 40 priests and Imams are part of the initiative, and it is hoped that the scheme will be rolled out across Egypt.

A video was released by ISIS in February, purporting to show 21 men, "people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian Church" according to a subtitle, being beheaded by masked militants in Libya.

The brutality was immediately condemned by leaders from both the Muslim and Christian communities. Ramen Atallah of Bible Society Egypt said the killings actually served to unite people of different faiths in the country, rather than divide them.

"ISIS hoped that the killing would foment sectarian strife in Egypt between Christians and Muslims, but it has had the opposite effect," he said.

"Christians have responded by sorrowfully calling out to God, and Muslims have shown love and care towards them."

Tensions have increased between some groups, however. A church that was being set up in memory of those murdered in February was attacked on the same day that a commemorative mass was held to mark 40 days since their death.

The church, which was being built in Al Our village, the hometown of 13 of the martyred Christians, was attacked with petrol bombs on March 27 by a group thought to be mostly Muslim youths.

On the same day a mob, who were identified by witnesses as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, attacked the home of one of the martyr's family while the mass was taking place.