This article was originally posted on Christianity Today, May 31, 2012.
The first free election in Egypt's history has captured headlines worldwide with its unexpected runoff between a Mubārak regime figure and a Muslim Brotherhood leader.
Less known is that 17 Coptic evangelical leaders met with five Muslim Brotherhood counterparts at the Brotherhood's headquarters on February 28, and crafted a joint statement of common values that both sides agree the new Egyptian constitution and government should uphold. Evangelicals comprise a minority of Egyptian Christians, almost 90 percent of whom are Coptic Orthodox.
The 10-point agreement touches on historically controversial issues, including citizenship, religious freedom, the construction and repair of churches, equality of opportunity, and the application of sharī’ah law.
Christianity Today probed these issues more deeply with representatives from both parties in order to create the explainer below.
Andrea Zakī is vice president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and general director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services.
Mahmoud Ghuzlān is the official spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Did Egyptian evangelicals signal agreement with Sharī’ah law?
Yes, though it is more complicated than that. Article Two of the pre-revolutionary Egyptian constitution stipulated that Islam is the religion of the state and the principles of Islamic Sharī’ah are the primary source for legislation.
Almost no Egyptians—liberal, Christian, or otherwise—call for the cancelation of this article. Debate surrounds the word 'principles' rather than the more restrictive 'rules,' and whether or not the article should be amended to allow non-Muslims to rule on personal and family affairs according to their scriptures.
Zakī: "There is a major difference between the principles of sharī’ah and the rulings of sharī’ah. This is because there are differences in sharī’ah interpretation according to four judicial schools, some of which are very conservative while others are very open.
"If you stick to the principles of sharī’ah, then they can be applied well according to consensus; but if you go with the rulings of sharī’ah, then you must choose a particular school—and who will make this choice?"
Ghuzlān: "With the principles of sharī’ah we can extract that which most suitably applies to the circumstances of reality. In terms of rulings, there has been great debate among scholars over each and every issue—some of which are contradictory. If we use the term 'rulings,' we have to determine whose rulings to apply.
"What [Christians] are requesting [a special amendment for non-Muslims] is already guaranteed in the sharī’ah, but we have no objection to adding this clause if they insist upon it to make them more comfortable."
What about religious freedom, especially to evangelize and convert from Islam? Isn't this restricted under sharī’ah?
This section of the agreement is both encouragingly clear and elusively vague. "Respect for beliefs and sanctities is obligatory" is followed by "prevention of any contempt of others' belief or incitement of hatred is a compulsory social responsibility of loyal citizens." How much limitation does the word 'contempt' impose on religious freedom?
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