While working on news stories in Egypt I heard other stories of modern miracles that intrigued me, so I started keeping a list. The list grew to about 50 miracles, interventions in the physical world, or blessed locations. Over about 6 years I tracked down these stories to their sources and made photographs along the way.
Miracle, flying cat seen in Egypt is the title of the clip on YouTube. It shows a white cat with winglike appendages on the table of a home in Ismalea. The father stretches out the cat’s wings and turns it around, the better for the camera to film it. The family tells the story of how the cat landed on their balcony. Someone says “It is a sign from God,” especially as its landing coincided Sisi’s rise to power.
The journalist who originally reported on the cat said he will take me to meet the family, but never follows through. So I am left with the three facts I can glean from the video: The father’s name is Ibrahim Naseem, He lives in a neighborhood called Salam, and he is a Christian.
I start my quest early in the morning, walking from church to church and asking for Ibrahim, and while church members try to be helpful none of them had heard of Ibrahim Naseem or his winged cat.
Around 3pm I find the last church. I duck inside and the security guards wave me over and ask what I want. I tell them I am looking for Ibrahim and his winged cat and they say “come with us” and walk me to the closest police station.
In the station I share the same story of my search for a winged cat to a series of low level police men until I am passed upstairs to the head officer. After I’m inside the stations only air conditioned office I wait my turn because there is already a sweaty portly man standing at attention wearing only white underwear. He is being verbally accosted about something to do with drugs. My best guess is he came from a holding cell for one last scolding before being released.
The man in his knickers is ushered out and I am invited to have a seat and share my story of miraculous cats. I expect some sort of reaction from the officer but he doesn’t even blink. He asks to look at the photos on my camera and tells me to wait a little longer as if this is a normal occurrence.
I am ushered out and another fully clothed man is ushered in my place. My short wait turns into 2 hours in a office with police who were filling out reports and organizing a drawer of cell phones. While these are the state’s eyes and ears on the ground none of them have heard of a winged cat in their district.
I became restless and a little concerned because no one will tell me what I am waiting for. I text my location to a few colleagues just in case I am disappeared down to one of the holding cells. Eventually a dapper looking member of State Security walks in and introduced himself in perfect English.
He pulls out a pen and a pad of paper and starts interviewing me and taking notes for an interesting addition to my docier that I imagine will be filed deep in the bowls of the feared security forces offices.
When he finished getting my story I was released and make my way back to the last church. A deacon who knew everyone in the church said he didn’t know any Ibrahim Naseem and assured me that I had visited all the churches in the area. So I trudged to my hotel defeated.
The next morning, as I’m riding to the bus station I relate this whole story to my taxi driver. He surprises me by saying that I had forgotten to visit one small evangelical church, a minority sect of a minority religion in Egypt.
We happened to be near the offices of one of their prominent business members so he dropped me off and told me to ask inside his tire store.
One of the advantages and disadvantages of these small communities is that everyone knows everyone. When I ask for Ibrahim Naseem the owner puts me on the back of a motorcycle and told his shop boy to drive me back into the neighborhood.
Within 15 minutes I meet the neighbor of Ibrahim. He confirms the video of the cat with wings. Ibrahim is at work on the other side of town so I take his phone number and call him.
It was a short and sad conversation over a bad connection. But he told me how that the moment of jubilation at the sign from God, had turned into doubt, and eventually he questioned if the cat may not have come from god, but may have come from the devil.
So the family decided to cut off the cat’s wings, and the cat escaped, lost somewhere, walking through the streets of Ismalea.
Footprints of Mohamed
The Rifai Tariqa from Dishna performs a ritual known as “Dosa” at the Moulid Abou Al- Hassan Al-Shazly. Followers put a sword on their neck and the leader stands on top of the blade. If the man pure and fears god he will not be cut. Another similar ritual is putting a long skewer inside the mouth and piercing the cheek. When done by pure men who haven’t recently drank or smoked no blood is drawn.
Tree that bleeds
Every Friday the men go to the small mosque for Friday prayers and women sit under the tree that bleeds. They wait until the end of the sermon then light small fires and swing their children over them 7 times.
Some of them are looking for answers to their problems of mental afflictions, fertility issues, or accidents like a concussion after falling down stairs.
Many families visit the the Jebel El-Tier Moulid to pray for children, then return the next year with a child. The room for baptism has so many babies that they are done in batches on an assembly line, one priest takes the oaths, another priest dunks in the water, and the last priest blesses with oil.
Sheikh Fathala is 92 years old and doesn’t move any more so his daughter carries on his work of teaching the Quran to children and praying with visitors. Sheikh Fathala memorized the Quran when he was 7 years old. He became famous for helping people with all kinds of problems and teaching the Quran to the children of El Deir Esna for many generations. Now his daughter Oum Ziad is in charge of the house.
When people come to pray with the sheikh she will put their hands in his and say a prayer with them. Then she leaves for a minute to fill a plastic baggie with water, say an appropriate ayat from the Quran over it and tell them to drink it. In the few hours I stayed there were many visitors, a young couple, an older lady, a small group of ladies.
Remains of exorcisms
Fathar Saman holds weekly exorcism services at the Simon the Tanner Church in Mansheyat Nasr. Beside the sanctuary there is a room filled with the wheelchairs and crutches of people who have been healed. Fathar Saman has a strong following but his popularity and practices have brought retaliations from the Coptic Church hierarchy.
1968 Appearance of Mary
The appearance of Mary above a church in the Zeitoun district of Cairo is one of the most well known miracles in the country. It drew large crowds every night for months and was officially acknowledged in papers and by politicians like the rising Hosny Mubarak.
Mary is venerated in Christianity and Islam so her appearance was celebrated around the country. The timing of her appearance was also a convenient distraction from Egypt’s recent defeat in the 1967 war with Israel.
Praying for a home on Humaithera
The Moulid of Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili occurs annually in the eastern desert. Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili predicted his own death when leaving Alexandria on the Hajj in 1258, he fell ill at Mount Humaithera and died. After climbing to the top of Mount Humaithera people stack stones and ask God for help, often for to travel to Mecca or build a house.
About 6 months after the Moulid Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili I visited the Rifaai Tariqa in Dishna. One of the men who had built a pyramid on Mount Humaithera asking for a house was actually building his new house.
Exodus 3:2 – There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
Quran 20:10 – When he saw a fire, he said to his family, “Stay; I have noticed a fire; Perhaps I can bring you a torch therefrom, or find some guidance by the fire.”
On Jan 25th revolution the security forces violently pushed protesters out of Tahrir Square. As I was running I saw a burning bush out of the corner of my eye.