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photo from St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church, Zeitun (at bottom of page)

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Muslim/Christian dialog

Al Qur'an was-Sunnah Society

Islam: Questions and Answers

Muslim Students Association, University of Houston

Salim Morgan's Islamic Site



Muslims and Christians seek miracles at large "Virgin's Tree" near Cairo, Egypt.

An old gnarled sycamore in Egypt is attracting pilgrims -- Christians and Muslims -- from around the world. The tree is said to have miraculous effects such as healing and is at a spot where the Virgin Mary stopped and rested with Joseph and the Infant on their travels through this mysterious land two millennia ago.

Will it one day serve as the catalyst for true communion between religions? Will it bring Muslims -- who acknowledge Mary as a very blessed historical figure -- into understanding the power of Christianity while allowing Christians to find kinship with Muslims?

Many are those who rub the tree and massage it as if to absorb its essence. Actually, the original sycamore, known as the "Virgin's Tree," fell sometime in the 17th century and was replaced with a new sapling in 1672. In 1906 it fell again but was replaced with a shoot that was saved and nurtured to produce the large tree at which pilgrims now come to pray.

According to The New York Times, an early 19th-century traveler described the journey to the tree as a rugged trip along the Nile, through a strip of greenery that gave way to desert six miles from the walls of the inhabited city of Cairo.

"On approaching within a mile of the site of Heliopolis, the traveler passes by the village of El Matariya, where are pointed out an old sycamore, under the shade of which (according to tradition) the Holy Family reposed, and a well which afforded them drink," wrote Edward William Lane in his "Description of Egypt" in 1825.

Today the old village of Matariya is a densely populated, garbage-strewn neighborhood on the way to Cairo's airport, "a shabby maze of alleys and market streets near middle-class Heliopolis, where the prosperous and politically connected elite of the city make their home," notes The Times.

But there is mysticism in the air. A silence falls. There is the chirp of birds that seem in tune with the mood. Indeed, the tree isn't far from where the Virgin Mary appeared during the 1960s and 1970s over a Coptic church in Zeitoun -- apparitions approved by the Coptic hierarchy and witnessed by more than a million.

"I will ask Mary if she would ask Jesus to cure me from disease," said one recent visitor, George Sobhi, who had suffered a minor stroke. "I will pray for health."

According to the newspaper, last year the Egyptian government enclosed both the tree and the well that Mr. Lane mentioned inside a walled compound, set up a ticket booth and assigned police officers to guard it. However, the ticket has not deterred visitors. "For the love of Mary the virgin, nothing is too much," said a woman named Umm Badri, who came with her daughter-in-law today to embrace the tree. "She will cure us."

There must be a power here. There is excitement among those who visit -- a sense of grace. Is it a sign of the times? Is it a missive from heaven to understand each other at this critical time?

The tie-ins keep coming on. It is noted that Fatima in Portugal -- another famous spot -- was named after royalty that took the name from the daughter of Mohammed. It is nearly as if the Virgin keeps beckoning those who follow Islam.

Mr. Sobhi and his cousin, meanwhile, had completed their slow walk around the compound, reported The Times last week. "They had stared in silence at the large modern painting of the Virgin Mary, seated by a spring against a charming background of orderly farms and forests, that the government installed in a tiny chapel near the tree."

"'Are you Muslim or Christian?' one pilgrim asked when she saw a foreigner. Then she displayed the small tattoo of a cross on her wrist, a typical decoration for Copts. 'It doesn't matter," she added quickly. 'We are all descended from Adam and we are all family...'"

Peace be with you.

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