The issue of Christian students entering the Azhar is one that crops up from time to time but is seemingly never fully resolved. This week’s editorial draws attention to the issue and highlights article 13 by Sāmih Fawzī in which he discusses the debate.
In article two this week there is a special report written by one of our interns Janina Chetty. Janina investigated claims that Christian clergymen in Egypt may possess weapons. Janina tirelessly searched the 22 000 articles in the Arab-West Report database which covers over ten years of reporting from the Arab press and found that that the word "weapons" had 733 hits in total. Searching through these articles she discovered that the articles that discussed clergymen were very few in number; in fact only 18 of them had anything to do with clergymen. Having analyzed these articles she has discovered that many of the claims are groundless allegations that are made at times when there are tensions between Muslims and Christians and thus these allegations may be rashly used as a technique to divert attention away from Muslim wrongdoings by highlighting the faults of the other side. However she also recognizes that this is not a strategy that is solely employed by Muslims, and states that Christians are just as likely to make baseless claims about Muslims in a similar situation.
In article 13 Sāmih Fawzī has written about the issue of Coptic students entering the Azhar University. This is an issue that has cropped up before in the Egyptian press and one that is likely to again. In this particular article Fawzī presents three arguments that Muslims cite concerning why Christians are not allowed to enter the Azhar University. The first is that the Azhar is an Islamic educational establishment; the second is that it was established to instruct and educate students in the Islamic sciences and jurisprudence and the third is that Muslim students are not allowed in Christian seminaries so why should Christians be allowed to study at the Azhar?
Fawzī also presents counter arguments to each of the three arguments; first that as the Azhar University is funded by taxpayers’ money and Copts also pay taxes they should be allowed to study there, second that the Azhar not only teaches Islamic sciences but also other non-religious subjects and thirdly that Muslims are not actually banned from studying at Christian institutions.
While these arguments are all true they do not present a complete picture of the issue. For example, the Azhar University is only partly funded by taxpayer’s money and also receives financial assistance from other Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia and also from Muslim endowments. Furthermore, in his argument about the Azhar University teaching non-Islamic subjects Fawzī does not mention the fact that even though non-Muslim subjects are offered, students still have to study at least one Muslim subject per semester.
Although it is true that not allowing Christian students to study at the Azhar University is a form of discrimination, it is also important to cover the debate from all possibly angles. Moreover, many would argue that it is practically a moot point because how many Christian students would, in reality, want to study at the Azhar University? Not only would the student have to have studied at an Azhar high school but social norms would also make it difficult. This debate highlights the problems that arise when religion comes face to face with secular rights and modern legal obligations such as paying taxes [for more on this issue see art 31 in wk 47, 2008].
However, Fawzī does present a sound conclusion to his article. To the proposal of the establishment of a Coptic university, he states that "the establishment of a Coptic university would be the epitome of segregation. We cannot fight segregation at the Azhar by further segregation through an all-Coptic university."
Briefly we would like to highlight one other articles in this issue. Article 8 which is a fascinating article about Shaykh Yūsuf al-Badrī performing a ’ruqaīyah’ or an incantation on a journalist for 350 Egyptian pounds (about 60 dollars) that is supposed to prevent physical and mental diseases. As a foreigner, and perhaps as an Egyptian too, it is remarkable to read about such practices that are still going on and the wondrous effects that they are supposed to have. It is interesting to note that the ruqaīyah actually involved things that are forbidden in Islam, such as touching a woman’s face that is not part of your family. While there is no question that the majority of Egyptian Muslims believe in or would be willing to pay for the type of ’ruqaīyah’ that Shaykh Yūsuf al-Badrī performed, ’ruqaīyah’ is a legitimate type of healing in Islam. When performed correctly it involves the recitation of the Qur’ān, and is used as a means of treating illnesses and other problems. To read more about the spiritual healing of ruqaīyah see www.missionislam.com/health/ruqiyahrecitation.html.