The Muslim Brotherhood And Copts, Historical Perspective
The Muslim Brotherhood And Copts, Historical Perspective
Sunday, July 8,2007 08:32
By Abdullah Al-Tahawi

Discussing the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Copts requires longer periods so as to conceive facts and a broad mind to accept the divergence of opinions, seizing what is common between both parties. This relationship, at the same time, cannot be just concluded in the language of kisses and complements exchanged between the official speech and the church.

Copts are part of the islamic nation 

History records that the Muslim Brotherhood conceives the Copts as part of the Islamic nation, which is one union encompassing all those who admit its political authority, and appreciates in its intellectual literature the attitude of the moderate jurisprudence towards the non-Muslims and the privileges and the legal rights that were granted by the wise legislator to the minorities. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood has been comprehending that its religious awakening, as an identity and cultural project, is neither against the Copts nor does it try to give the wealth to the majority and neglect the minority. Also, it does not try to marginalize the Copts" political activities in the ruling institutions. Therefore, it cannot be compared to the Hindus in India or the sects in Syria and Lebanon, since the majority in Egypt can accomplish this goal without resorting to any cultural project that entails mental and dynamic efforts to be carried out through long decades.

The Muslim Brotherhood applied this in a practical manner, since it represented no threat to the Copts; it was never recorded that any member of Muslim Brotherhood caused any sort of harm to any Copt whether concerning souls, financial treatments, or even reputations. Hence, the relationship between the Copts and the Muslim Brotherhood in the general aspects of life was an example of toleration and appreciation. This kind of relationship emits from the moderate religious bases to which the Muslim Brotherhood refers and which formed a wall between the movement and extremism. At the same time, these bases are negotiable so as to make use of the discretional opinions that correspond to the soul of the age and its problems, especially if they grant more liberties to the non-Muslims such as the contributions of Dr. Muhammad Selim Al-`Awwa, Judge Tariq Al-Bishri, and Dr. Muhammad `Imara, in addition to the bases set by the scholars of the movements such as Judge `Abd Al-Qadir `Udah, Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Sheikh Al-Ghazali, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Shawi, and others.

Copts between seculars and colonists

Thus, it is a grave blunder that some Copts believe that allying with the extremist secular trends is the guarantee for respecting their beliefs. Also, the attempts of some of them to resort to the colonists to strengthen the Coptic body and to gain more privileges are grave faults and a kind of playing with fire; as secularism before battling with Islam will try to rule over the Egyptian Church including its most important beliefs such as the personal affairs issues, depriving them from the advantages that the Shari`ah granted them. All people will be judged according to French or Roman civil laws that do not consider the different cultures or beliefs. In addition, the struggle of the Egyptian Church to defend its independence will be cast away when the colonists come with the intention of putting the whole world into the Catholic frame or to spread the western trends in Upper Egypt. Hence, any turbulence can be dealt with save that of the outer interference since resorting to such interferences will be a great loss for the Copts themselves.

  How Hassan Al-Banna (founder) Viewed the Copts

Speaking about how Hassan Al-Banna (MB founder) reacted with Copts and viewed them, we must put into consideration that he established an ideology; and the establisher should try to set up its bases and reveal any vague aspects. The Islamic trend at that time - as Judge Tariq Al-Bishri stated - was at a phase that required founding general roots rather than dealing with branches. In addition, Dr. `Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ghazali - one of the leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood - said, " Al-Banna preferred to resort to the scientific way of thinking that involves gradual steps, setting aside all issues of divergence, and stressing on the meanings of comprehensiveness." Al-Banna thought that when the roots are well-founded, the on-going issues can be tackled with a more flexible sense.

Al-Bishri continued, "The opposition is revolutionary concerning its protest against the condemned reality; it rejects the bases upon which this life is founded, and exerts all possible efforts to found the main bases for the movement. It avoids indulging into or worrying about details in order to create a systematic body that follows certain clear and condensed slogans, and not to arouse disagreements."

Thus, what was proposed by Al-Banna concerning the case of the Copts or any other case was comprehended through this logic. He suggested his idea about the minorities in a conference, a preaching ceremony, a message, or a report whether in a village or during a demonstration, using his special style according to the attitude that prevailed his era and what was familiar to the intellectuals of that time.

No Sectarianism in the Muslim Brotherhood

In his message for the youths, Al-Banna stated, "Islam cares the most about the human bondage between all the human race. It also came with mercy from Allah to all humanity, and prohibits assault even in cases of anger and enmity. In addition, Islam recommends reverence among all citizens even if their creeds and religions differ, and treating the People of the Book with kindness; as they have the same rights that we have, and carry the same obligations also. We all recognize that; thus, we call for no ethnic discrimination, or sectarian fanaticism."

In his message "Our Movement in a New Phase", Al-Banna stated, "Our movement is universal since all people come from one father, and there is no preference among them except by piety and what the individual benefits the others, as Almighty Allah says, "O People! Fear your Lord Who created you out of one soul (i.e. Adam)." (An-Nisa": 1). Hence, we do not believe in ethnic discrimination; rather we call to fair brotherhood among all humans."

The previous quotations show that Hasan Al-Banna did not offer a sectarian or ethnic proposition; rather he was never shy to call all those who believe in God to stand as one firm line; as "the basic foundations of all messages are now threatened by atheism and dissolution. Thus, the people who believe in these religions shall stand up for their beliefs to save the humanity from these two dangers."

Al-Banna sent a message to Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha, the Prime Minister of Egypt in 1938, in which he asked him to apply the Islamic Shari`ah, ban dissolute parties, and carry out the obligations of Islam. He stated, "One may say that there are non-Muslims within the nation that do not like to be ruled by Islam. The answer is asserted by the real incidents, as non-Muslims have been mingling with Islam for many centuries during which they witnessed comprehensive justice. The word said by `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph, to the ruler of Egypt `Amr ibn Al-`As, is still in all hearts: How did you enslave people while their mothers had born them free?"

Al-Banna then repeated the same quest to Ahmad Khashaba, the Minister of Justice, denying any diminution in the rights of the People of the Book under the claim that if non-Muslim in Egypt if they were tobe ruled by the Islamic Shari`ah, this would contradict with the freedom of religion provided by the constitution. This issue is totally out of question because if the non-Muslims are ruled under the Islamic Shari`ah, that will never contradict with the freedom of religion since the provided freedom is that of creed, practicing the religious rites, and the personal affairs. As for the social affairs, they are determined by the nation, representing its sovereignty. If the majority follows a certain law to regulate these affairs, the entire nation should be committed to that law regardless of its source. Moreover, if non-Muslim are treated according to their creeds while keeping the rights of the state, this will not be a threatening privilege.

Al-Banna here seems to be emphasizing his admission to the legal variety provided by Shari`ah that is based on the respect of the different religions and resorting to their creeds, if a disagreement occurs, to judge their special cases. They are to yield afterwards to the articles of the constitution of the nation with all the connotation of the word such as equality, participation, and moving from the supremacy of sectarianism to that of citizenship and the constitution. This same concept is referred to by some modern scholars such as Dr. Ahmad Kamal Abu Al-Magd who believes that the principle of concrete and abstract equality in political and civil rights does not contradict with what is being applied in the entire world: the majority rules keeping the rights of the minority untouched with a sense of separation between both.

Al-Banna and Citizenship

Among the common accusations directed to Hassan Al-Banna is that he ignored to establish a clear image of citizenship, and that his sayings that talked about the brotherhood of creeds are but a means to deprive the non-Muslims from joining the inclusive picture of citizenship and taking part in the national movement. Some others added that Al-Banna proposed a schedule that aimed at preventing the Christians from directing the affairs of their country hand in hand with the their Muslim brothers stripping them from all the privileges granted by the constitution. Besides, they added that the Muslim Brotherhood might demonstrate for a Muslim in Pakistan not caring about a Copt in their neighborhood.

Firstly, we have to stress the fact that the idea of the Islamic movement or the brotherhood of creed was not the idea of Al-Banna alone, nor was he the first one who disclosed it; so many people shared him that aspect such as Gamal Ad-Din Al-Afghani, Mustafa Kamil, Khayr Ad-Din Al-Tunsi, and the Christian writer Selim Al-Bustan who was a supporter for the Ottoman caliphate and believed that "there is no objection under the shade of Nationalism that the official religion of the country to be Islam". Lord Cromer himself observed this movement, as he recorded in one of his reports that there was a national movement in Egypt mixed up with the Islamic movement. Hanna Weesa the eminent member of Al-Wafd Party approached this movement expressing that "there is nothing in the large circle of Islam that hinders the national development in smaller circles". Makram Ebeid, the eminent Coptic figure, stated, "Concerning religion, we are Christians; concerning nationality, we are Muslims." The Christian intellectual Dr. Yusuf Khalil explained this idea saying, "We cannot deny the power of Islam as a power that moves all the Arab community until our present day; as Islam is not only a religion and a creed, but also an ideology that regulates all aspects of both life and religion. The uniting power of Islam does not emit from belonging to a common faith, but rather mostly from the similar social composition and style of life shared among all people, and provided by Islam." He further views the Noble Qur"an as a guardian over the Arabic language; "it does not belong to the Muslims alone; as it stands as a heritage for the Arab Christians too."

In his book Al-Wa`y Al-Qawmi (The National Awareness), the Christian intellectual Kostanteen Rizq stated that each Arab should study Islam, and [Prophet] Mohamed, for he was the one who united the whole Arabs under one flag, since true Nationalism cannot contradict with the true edicts of religion.

The brotherhood of creed - as Al-Banna believed - is nothing different from what has been comprehended about Islam; he conceives this kind of brotherhood as a sort of Islamic renaissance that guarantees national independence, liberation of the nation, constructing the Muslim reforming community, the supremacy of the Shari`ah, then Arab Nationalism as the consciousness of Islam, and the Islamic university. Al-Banna defines the Islamic university as a bond of brotherhood for the entire Islamic nation that is comprised of various ethnics, languages, and religions, and that the non-Muslims are parts of this whole nation.

Hence, it is false to claim that there is no bond between those who live among the Islamic nation but nationality since this nation includes many other religions. That is because the tolerance of Islam extends to embrace our folks even if their religion is different from ours. The teachings of Islam obligate equality with the people dwelling in the same country; Islam is also considered one of the meanings of their nationality in reference to the fact that the non-Muslim minority in this country knows how they find equality, peace, and justice under the shades of our religion even if its teachings are not included in their creed.

Al-Banna in his explanations shows that he is ready to embrace the idea of citizenship with all its meaning provided that it shall not be a means to be united under the flag of the Arab tribal mentality so that it turns to a geographical, religious, or ethnic phenomenon; he believes that Arabism, Nationalism, and Islam are circles that correspond to each other, but never contradict unless this sense of Nationalism is meant to divide the nation into opposing sects or is used as a weapon used by some people to defy any other concept; only in this mentioned area the Muslim Brotherhood disagrees with them. The Muslim Brotherhood also disagrees in case Nationalism is meant to revive some pre-Islamic habits that died away; . Any way, they all meet in the essence of noble Nationalism and dignified belonging, since loving this land is an instinct that is planted within the hearts because of the obligation of Islam and to strengthen the bond between the offspring of the same country.

Egyptian Nationalism also shall have its place in our movement because the members of the Muslim Brotherhood are the most loyal people to their country; they work for the sake of Egypt because it is the land of Islam and the leader of the Muslim nation. He then wonders: how can the belief in Egyptian Nationalism contradict with what shall be called for by a man who calls for Islam. We pride our selves that we work hard for the welfare of this country, and will keep on doing that. Hence, we take our moves believing within our hearts that Nationalism is the first chain in the desired reformation, and that it is part of the Arab country as a whole because when we work for the welfare of Egypt, we actually work for the welfare of the Arab nation, the East, and Islam. There is no conflict between the three elements that help building the nation so that at the end, the Islamic university will turn to a global one, and the land of Islam to the land of man. Also, Imam Al-Banna says, "Islam cares about respecting the general bond between all humans, as it came to spread virtue, resist vice, and respect all ideals."

The Experience of Coexistence

It is important while mentioning some of the spots of Al-Banna"s life to stress the fact that these principles were not isolated from practice; his principles were mixed up with his movements, behavior, and relationships, especially when we consider that these principles emitted from a dynamic movement that thinks as much as it moves, and gives as much as the real life can take. Consequently, it is vital to resort to field and behavioral studies because it carries an important reference that shall never be absent in any sort of study. It is then important to refer to the article issued in the newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood by a member in the Arabic Language Academy: It is complete falsehood to believe that the movement of Hasan Al-Banna is a call for intolerable fanaticism that is clear in antagonizing those who do not have the same religion as him. That is because Al-Banna was a well-mannered, kind-hearted man who understood his religion as it should be; he knows that among the bases of Islam is that there is no compulsion in religion. I know that he was a true friend and a sincere brother for many people who were not Muslims. On the discussion tables, he used to give up his own opinion for another one that is more precise. These traits of the Imam defy the accusations that were directed to the movement.

 Copts" testimonials

In the anniversary of Hassan Al-Banna, the Christian figure, Makram Ebeid wrote an article in the Muslim Brotherhood Newspaper in Feb. 13, 1952. This article is considered one of the important documents and testimonies for the Muslim Brotherhood and its founding father (Hasan Al-Banna); he said "If you, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, have lost your elder brother whose reputation is immortal, it is sufficient for you to be acquainted with the fact that this man who submitted his face to Allah with Monotheism, turned his soul over to his country with modesty.

  It is enough for you to remember his glory in his life as you remember him in his grave. As life and death always battle over any one"s life, victory allies with death in case of remembrance, and defeat with life in case of forgetfulness. Thus, a dead person might be alive for you if you remembered him, whereas an existent might be dead for you if you forgot about him.

  There is no doubt that Hasan Al-Banna is alive among us with his memory; how can he be mortal since he used religion in the guidance of his Lord while his heart was filled with the inspiration of life?

  Remember him, you members of the Muslim Brotherhood, then remember him again as this represents a life for you. Who says that? It is Makram Ebeid his Christian friend who touched in his noble Muslim friend the meanings of honesty and friendship. If I come to mention something, I have to mention the countless times we exchanged visits and support. If I come to give testimony, how cannot I testify his glory after his death? That is to say, I swear by my Lord, this is but an honest testimony that my tongue utters out my heart"s inspiration. This is a testimony of a man who shared with the deceased the faith in the unity of his Lord and the unity of his nation; Unitarianism in all heavenly religions does not mean only to believe in the unity of the Lord, but also to stand for the unity in the cause of the Lord. Moreover, the unity of home does not only mean to unite its parts, but also - first and foremost - its people.

  The Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Wafd Party were the only entities that exchanged visits in the Brotherhood House and the club of the party. I also had the honor that he visited me in my own house expressing through a long talk the mutual national and personal feelings. During our talk, I noticed how he abstained from getting into formalities and trifles which proved me how he was an exceptional man of a deep intellect and an integrated conscience.

  I visited him - may he rest in piece - in his house soon after his death; I was flabbergasted of the view of the police force that besieged the street where his house was located, and that allowed me to get into in order to give condolences only after a police officer had recognized me. I can never forget how his honorable father narrated us - with tears filling his eyes - how they deprived his family from holding a funeral for him, and from receiving condolences in his house. The decent father thanked me afterwards and blessed me with some of his prayers that I still consider a good omen. I could not tell him that giving condolences is a duty upon each Egyptian which would be a stigma of faithfulness if not carried out properly.

  Brothers … oh yes brothers … You members of the Muslim Brotherhood … You are not only my brothers in religion and race, but rather in soul and feelings, and in Nationalism and faith. Since Nationalism is part of the faith, we are brothers in the Gracious Lord. If you remembered today the virtue in its grave, we have to remember freedom in its cell: we shall then call for the liberation of our country and releasing our unfortunate prisoners since this will be a means of condolence and a reward at the same time."

  In Ismailia

  Some people wanted to create disturbance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Christians in the beginning of the movement. The petitioner signed as "a Christian", and mentioned that the fanatic Muslim teacher Hasan Al-Banna is the head of a fanatic group called the Muslim Brotherhood, and that he humiliates and persecutes the Christian students, and favors the Muslim students to them. The petitioner finally requested Hasan Al-Banna"s exile from Ismailia to avoid disturbance.

  The petition was presented to the school Principal. Many Christian dignitaries and the Church itself sealed letters of condemnation to the Principal and many of them came to the school to condemn this petition such as the bishop of the Orthodox Church. The Principal enclosed these letters with his report to the Ministry of Education, which he concluded saying: The Ministry of Education should investigate before getting us into troubles of false complaints proved to be aiming at no good.

  In Qena, Upper Egypt

  When Hasan Al-Banna was transfered to Qena at Upper Egypt in 1941 due to the British pressure over Hussein Serri Pasha, the Prime Minister, many enemies spread rumors at Qena that Hasan Al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood despise the Christians and do their best to harm them. What did Al-Banna do to refute these rumors?

  The answer is denoted in these lines of the letter sent by Al-Banna from Qena to his father in Cairo: "The Muslim Brotherhood at Qena steps forward firmly; we had a party yesterday that was attended by the Archbishop and all the sects. It was a sounding strike for the Muslim hypocrites who try to create disturbance with them. I was extremely honest with courtesy while explaining the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood that was admired by everyone. Every thing is fine thanks to Allah."

  Khristo,  Hasan Al-Banna campaign manager

  When Al-Banna nominated for the parliamentary elections in 1944 during the ministry of Ahmad Mahir Pasha, the electoral agent of Al-Banna in Ismailia (Al-Tour district) was a Christian Egyptian of a Greek origin called Mr. Paulo Khristo. This was a fact from which the ruling party mocked, especially Ahmad Mahir Pasha and Al-Nuqrashi Pasha.

 

  The Christians allover Egypt felt the sense of mutual sincere affection between them and the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in the religious ceremonies the news of which the Muslim Brotherhood was keen to publish. The following was published in the Muslim Brotherhood Newspaper, for instance, in Nov. 11, 1946: "His Holiness the Archbishop of Sharkiya governorate and the other governorates visited the Muslim Brotherhood"s House in Zaqazeeq in 1365 A.H. to express his well-wishes for the Greater Bairam. His Holiness disclosed a long speech titled as (The Feast Gift) that deals with the meaning of unity, which is the symbol of victory. He concluded: I would like to thank the Muslim Brotherhood as they are brothers in feelings, in solidarity, and in effort."

  The Three Religions in One House

  The most unique incident of all these is what we copied from his diaries and took place at the end of 1927: "Forty days after we went to Ismailia, we did not feel comfortable in motels, so we decided to rent a house. It was a coincidence that we rented the last floor in a house the middle floor of which was rented by a group of Christians where they set up a church and a club. Moreover, the base floor was rented by some Jews where they established a synagogue and a club too. On the other hand, we were praying upstairs as if this building encompassed the three religions. I can never forget Umm-Shaloum, the custodian of the synagogue that used to ask us every Saturday to light the bulbs for her, and help her light the gasoline burner. We used to joke with her saying, "How far will you keep on using these tricks with which Allah can never be deceived; if Allah forbade fire and light on Saturday as you claim, did He forbid making use of them, or even seeing through them?" She apologized and the discussion ended in peace."

  A Message to the Patriarch

  Al-Banna sent a message to the Euanus, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Christians in Egypt, through the weekly newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood in May 16, 1936:

  "We - in Egypt - cannot offer but what can be afforded as charity for helping the heroes in Palestine. The Relief and Provisions Board in Palestine grants 140 quintals of wheat daily to feed the hungry. Therefore, we directed our attention to your kindness to overwhelm those poor struggling heroes with your parental thoughtfulness so that you order to supply the Arab Board in Jerusalem with what remained from helping the Ethiopians. We believe that you will be pleased to accomplish this plea so that you serve the two dear neighboring countries at the same time in similar crises. Also, I invite you to call upon the charitable Egyptians to donate for such a noble purpose, this is what is expected and known about you. Please accept my manifold thanks."

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