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Muslim Body Sets Conditions for Christian Citizenship in Egypt

By Mary Abdelmassih

10/1/2010 Egypt (AINA) – Bishop Bishoy, secretary of the Coptic Church’s Holy Synod and the second highest authority in the church, caused a Muslim furor last week when the media published excerpts from a lecture he was due to give later to the clergy during the “Coptic Faith” Seminar held in Fayoum, south of Cairo on September 23.

He was questioning whether some verses inferring that “Christians were infidels” were added to the Qur’an after the death of Prophet Muhammad by one of his successor Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (644-656), suggesting that they may have been inserted for religious/political purposes. Bishop Bishoy’s lecture was later canceled for unknown reasons.

Angry Muslims considered his queries about the time frame of these verses as accusations that the Qur’an was distorted, since they believe that all verses were received by Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel during his lifetime and that the words have remained undistorted since then.

In an effort to diffuse the situation, Coptic Pope Shenouda III apologized on state-run TV on Sunday September 26 saying: “I am sorry if our Muslim brother’s feelings were hurt. Debating religious beliefs are a red line, a deep red line.”

Bishop Bishoy told the clergy audience in Fayoum that his questions were merely about the time of the verses, which say “Verily they are disbelievers and infidels who say ‘The Messiah, son of Mary, is God.'” (Qur’an 5:17). He believes these verses contradict the Christian faith. “I don’t understand how that can be turned into an attack on Islam,” he said, insisting that his remarks had been taken out of context.

Many Copts were against the Bishop’s remarks, especially coming at a time of heightened tension with Islamists, when demonstrations were being staged by them in front of mosques against the Coptic Church and Pope Shenouda, with false accusation like the abduction of a converted to Islam priest’s wife (AINA 9-17-2010) or the Church stockpiling weapons to wage war against Muslims (AINA 9-21-2010).

On Friday, September 24, thousands of Islamists demonstrated in front of Ibrahim Mosque in Alexandria demanding the detainment of Bishop Bishoy and insulting Pope Shenouda and throwing shoes at his photos.

Members of al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Council held an emergency meeting led by the institution’s head, Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, repudiating Bishop Bishoy’s comments and accusing him of provoking sectarian tension.

A “Statement to the Nation” was released by the Council on Saturday, September 25 in which al-Tayeb said “This kind of behavior is irresponsible and threatens national unity at a time when it is vital to protect it.” He also warned against repercussions these sorts of statements can have among Muslims in Egypt and abroad.

The Statement went on to say the Council stresses the fact that Egypt is an “Islamic State” according to the text of its Constitution, which represents the social contract between its people. “From this stems the rights of citizenship, as taught to us by the Messenger of Allah in his pact with the Christians of Najran, in which he decided that they were to enjoy rights and duties as the Muslims. However, these rights are conditional to respect for the Islamic Identity and the citizenship rights as set by the Constitution.”

The Christians of Najran, Medina, refused conversion to Islam in 631 A.D. and offered Mohamad to maintain their faith, accept the dominance of Muslims and pay an annual tribute (the jizya), he accepted and the pact was sealed between them.

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