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1. Editorial

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Article title: 
1. Editorial
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Year: 
2007
Week: 
13
Article number: 
1
Date of source: 
13-06-2007
Author: 
Cornelis Hulsman
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An interesting discussion in Al-Dustūr between Muslim and Christian men of religion, including arguments of two prominent Christians and a Muslim Brotherhood member of parliament.
Remark on the Shūrá Council discussing a new law for building houses of worship,

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Dr. Mursī Sa‘d al-Dīn wrote an excellent article about the need for translation [art. six]. He refers to a massive project to translate books of non-Arab authors into Arabic, making views of non-Arab authors known to Arab readers who are not familiar with non-Arabic texts. Unfortunately however, there is not much of a reading culture in Egypt and most other Arab countries. Translations from Arabic into Western languages are certainly important as well to make a wider Western public better acquainted with thoughts in the Arab world.

‘Amr Khalid asks in art. 15 for tolerance, "We miss the culture of tolerance," he says. "It is not taught in mosques or schools or even through the television. We are not raised up on the concept of tolerance."

Al-Dustūr presented in art. 29 an interesting discussion between a Muslim and Christian men of religion, as well as the arguments of two prominent Christians and a Muslim Brotherhood member of parliament. Khālid Ismā‘īl argues that Muslim-Christian relations in the Egyptian community have been ruined because of the sway of the men of the both religions- Islam and Christianity- over their followers. One cannot blame all men of religion, but some indeed did not play a positive role and became involved in polemics and inciting language.

Shaykh ‘Askar tells his Coptic partners in the discussion, “We feel injustice as well as you do, but the state is afraid to touch you for it fears America." This is widely believed in Egypt but not so often explicitly stated in Egyptian media. Dr. Muhammad al-Biltājī adds to this by arguing that Muslims have been done more injustice to than Copts. These perceptions, regardless of whether one believes this to be right or wrong, certainly add to tensions between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. We have met Christian clergy and non-clergy in Egypt who expressed their support for U.S. policies in the Islamic world in the clearest way possible, that of course reinforces the widespread belief that Egyptian Copts are protected by the U.S, a belief that could well turn against Christians at any moment in time.

Shaykh ‘Askar then states "What really matters that the number of the churches built should be equivalent to the number of the Copts, as well as the mosques." Father ‘Abd al-Massīh Bassīt says he does not want to relate the number of churches to the number of Copts. Dr. Muhammad al-Biltājī then responds: “Hence you can build as many churches as you wish without any restrictions. But if it is to build churches in every mountain and every valley in order to let the country appear as a Christian one, in this case it is not the case of the Muslim Brotherhood but the Egyptian people as a whole. By doing this, you are ruining the good relations between the Muslims and Christians."

The discussion summarizes the relation between the estimated number of Christians and church building well; it is used by both Christian and Muslim participants whenever it suits their arguments. Interestingly enough however, Christians tend to use higher estimates of the number of Christians in Egypt if they rally to build more churches in general.

Shaykh ‘Askar and Dr. Muhammad al-Biltājī do the same but with the apparent intention to limit church building. The Shūrá Council is now discussing a new law for building houses of worship, regardless of whether this concerns mosques or churches. Only having equal regulations for building and restoring both mosques and churches is fair. The total numbers of Christians is not relevant; what is relevant is whether there is a local community of believers, Muslim or Christian, that do not have a place of worship.

Fahmī Huwaydī shows what damage discussions about emotionally loaded subjects can do. Several Christian authors have argued to either change or remove art 2 of the Egyptian Constitution which states that the Sharī‘ah is the main source of legislation. They have argued with secular oriented Muslim authors for a separation of mosque and state. Fahmī Huwaydī states they have asked to remove Islam from the Egyptian character and rule out the Islamic authoritative legislation. Huwaydī is especially upset over the participation of Christian clergy in this discussion. Huwaydī correctly states that the discussion about art 2 was not needed since it was not at all considered for amendment. He, too, is right that the discussions have left bitter feelings between Muslims and Christians, sad [art. 69, 70].

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