For dhimmitude. “Coptic Orthodox Church Leader Blasts Egyptian Anglican Bishop In Letter to Williams,” from VirtueOnline, with thanks to all who sent this in:
The Most Rev’d & Rt. Hon Dr. Rowan Williams,
Archbishop of Canterbury,
Lambeth Palace, London, SE1 7JU.
Your Grace, dear Brother-in-Christ,
Last month at Trinity College, Dublin, a meeting was held to launch a resource pack “The Hand of History (Exploring Christian/Muslim Dialogue)” attended by the Grand Mufti of Egypt & Rector of Al-Azhar University in Cairo; the President of the Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions at Al-Azhar and Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, the Anglican Bishop in Egypt.
Whilst recognising the great importance of continuing dialogue in this vital but difficult area and valuing the contribution of Christians of all traditions, there were statements made by Dr. Mouneer which caused me some concern. When asked to comment on the issues of conversions from Islam and the increase in attacks on Coptic Orthodox churches, Dr. Mouneer replied by:
stating that the Egyptian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; quoting the Quran that “there is no compulsion in religion”; stating that most of the problems with conversion issues were within families rather than from outside agencies; and observing that, in his experience, the situation has improved greatly in the past 20 years.
It is certainly true that Article 46 of the Egyptian Constitution theoretically guarantees freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the Government places restrictions on these rights in practice, so it is misleading to quote this article without further qualification. Islam is not only the official state religion but, since the 1980 Constitutional amendment (article 2), Shari’a is the primary source of legislation effectively superseding article 46. Indeed, article 151 concerning the binding nature of International Laws and Treaties ratified by the Egyptian government, includes the qualification “taking into consideration the provisions of the Islamic Shari’a”.
Dr. Mouneer’s quotation from the Koran “Let there be no compulsion in religion ….” (Sura 2.256) is rather misleading as he must be aware that is a verse which is considered as abrogated (an-nāsakh wa’l’mansūkh) and is, at the very least, ambiguous.
Whilst there are undoubtedly many problems within families as a result of individual conversions, Dr. Mouneer must also know that current legislation makes conversion a dangerous course, at least for those converting from Islam to Christianity. There is no legal process by which religious identity can be officially amended, resulting in harsh measures against those who obtain illicit identity papers. Those who convert also lose many of their civil rights regarding inheritance, property rights and custody of children. Such inequalities in civil rights are the fundamental cause of problems for converts, rather than mere family tensions.
Since the violence and murders at El-Kosheh on New Year’s Eve 1999, instances of violence against Coptic Christians and Coptic Churches have increased both in frequency and in number. Several weeks of public rioting and sectarian protests in Alexandria last November does not suggest an improvement. On the contrary, international human rights groups are unanimously agreed that the situation has become more serious in the past few years.
As Your Grace well knows, the Coptic Orthodox Church under His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, has continued to pursue a positive and constructive dialogue with Islam and has actively supported the current Egyptian government in eschewing all forms of violence and extremism. The path of reason and moderation means that the Church prefers not to dwell on negative or divisive issues but equally the Pope’s measured yet unequivocal pronouncements against injustice and repeated assaults on Coptic Christians show the depth and potency of his concerns.
I am saddened that Dr. Mouneer has chosen to contribute to this dialogue with what some may see as a lack of frankness about the complex and profound problems faced by the Coptic Christians. Brotherly support from the Anglican community worldwide, and especially in Egypt is something much to be valued, but if it is to be of lasting value in enabling the diverse religious communities to live together in harmony, it is also necessary to highlight the source and reality of the problems which militate against this.
Commending myself to Your Grace’s prayers.
Yours very sincerely in XP,
Metropolitan Abba Seraphim
Metropolitan of Glastonbury
Cc. His Grace Bishop Angaelos
H.R.H. The Prince of Wales