At Weekly Exorcisms, Egypt’s Muslims and Christians Unite Against the Demons.
The demon that had possessed the elderly Muslim woman was so strong that even an Imam couldn’t get rid of it. So her family opted for a priest. “My mother is possessed by a jinn,” the woman’s daughter said, by way of explaining why she and her Muslim family had decided to attend a recent Thursday night mass last month at Cairo’s St. Sama’an Cathedral. Her mother, who was slumped over a nearby bench, gave no indication of hearing anything. In a few hours she would be yipping and howling along with dozens of other women similarly possessed, but for the moment she just stared into the middle distance and muttered softly to herself.
Tensions between Muslims and Christians have been high in Egypt, ever since a military coup against the country’s first democratically elected Islamist President on 3 July unleashed a spasm of violence that saw churches burned, priests murdered and Christians threatened in hate speeches broadcast across the country. But there is at least one sphere of Egyptian contemporary life where interfaith cooperation perseveres, and that is at weekly exorcisms performed by one of the country’s most celebrated priests, Father Sama’an Ibrahim. He is one of the few priests in Egypt who can preform exorcisms — not even the Coptic Pope can — and his reputation for expelling demons of all kinds extends well beyond his Christian flock. Muslim Imams can do exorcisms as well, explains the woman, who declined to give her name, but her mother’s case required some extra muscle. “We went to a mosque first for healing, but the demons who harm her are more afraid of the Christian priest.”