Our reading of the Cairo press this month takes us to the weekly al-Qahira, published by the Culture Ministry, which printed an article by Talaat Radwan tackling the much-touted issue of teaching a human rights curriculum in schools and universities. Under the title “A university professor outdoes the fundamentalists in demolishing loyalty to the homeland” Mr Radwan wrote: “I accidentally read the textbook on human rights taught to first year students in Alexandria University’s Faculty of Arts. The book cites that ‘freedom of belief’ only applies to the right to belong to the three heavenly religions, meaning that Baha’is have no right to legal marriage contracts because their faith is not considered a heavenly one and its principles contradict those of heavenly ones.”
Outdoing the fundamentalists
The textbook explains that the Administrative Court has ruled that Baha’i is not among the religions—Christianity and Judaism—whose followers are considered by Islam dimmis and who should accordingly pay jizya. Jizya is an Islamic per capita tax levied on a Muslim State’s non-Muslim citizens in return for practising their faith, enjoying a measure of communal autonomy, and being exempted from military service since their loyalty to the Muslim State cannot be trusted. So right from the outset the book’s author implies that Christians are not ‘citizens’ but are dimmis. As to Baha’is, the author writes, it is not valid to consider them free to practice their faith, since this freedom is based upon modern Constitutions and civil law. For them to be allowed religious freedom, their faith should be emerging from any of the three heavenly religions, otherwise they are in opposition to public order and behaviour. Their adherence to their faith is moreover tantamount to ridda or desertion of Islam, punishable by death according to sharia or Muslim legal code. The author thus institutes the principle that the religious ‘other’ warrants death.
So this is the long-awaited Human Rights course, a Pass/Fail course pre-required for a student’s promotion to the higher class. Mr Radwan insisted on not citing the name of the book or the author so as not to lend them any fame. It is my personal opinion though that he should have given this information if only to scandalise the author and the university which approved the use of such a textbook.
In four successive issues the independent weekly Sawt al-Umma hosted the Islamist thinker Zaghloul al-Naggar who accused two Coptic priests—Father Morqos Aziz and Fr Makari Yunan—of baptising converts at a secret villa on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, and the Islamist journalist Abu-Islam Ahmad Abdullah who attacked the Evangelical priests Rev. Ikram Lamei and Rev. Rifaat Fikry because they were active in preaching and conversion.
The issue stirred huge controversy in the written and visual media. Al-Mihwar satellite TV channel’s famous talk show “Ninety minutes”, presented by Moetaz al-Shazly hosted Zeinab Radwan who is a professor in al-Azhar University to talk about the subject. Dr Radwan in turn accused the Catholics of being active in preselytising, upon which Fr Rafiq Greish, the Catholic Church’s spokesman gave the programme a telephone call in which he asked a very obvious question. Why is it, he said, that preaching Christianity is a crime while preaching Islam is the epitome of righteousness? All means of media and education in Egypt, he remarked, preach Islam round the clock. Why is this right given to one side but not the other?
On the same topic, Pope Goregorious III Laham of the Greek Catholic Church wrote in his Christmas message published in the Catholic weekly Hamel al-Resala or Le Messager “The Muslim World fears preaching other religions whereas it calls for preaching Islam. It is an unreasonable situation; we demand that Muslims give us the freedom to lovingly, respectfully and appreciatively preach about our religion. We do not demand that others follow our religion, but rather discover, love, respect and appreciate it.”
The newly-established civic movement “Citizens in one homeland” called for a change in leaderships of the apparatuses responsible for managing sectarian crises in Egypt. It accused current leaders of lack of vision, adhering to traditional, impotent mechanisms to solve sectarian issues, and consistently failing to reach any solution. The movement, the members of which are a group of Coptic activists headed by Sameh Fawzy, Samir Morqos and George Ishaq, declared that the current Coptic-Muslim incendiary climate can only be relieved by recapturing the concept of the national group in lieu of the religious identity. The statement issued by the movement was only published in the Cairo independent daily al-Masry al-Youm, and then in an inner unattractive page, and was otherwise entirely disregarded by the media.