Egypt’s Muslims are not ‘guests’

A visitor  who stays at your home for an hour, a day or even an entire year is a guest. But the description is much less fitting for someone who has stayed for 14 centuries.

This is how Father Bishoy, secretary of the Coptic Ecclesiastical Council and a vocal Church leader, described Egypt’s Muslims–as guests.

Commenting on recent calls for the Egyptian government to stop interfering in Coptic religious affairs, Bishoy said that Egypt’s Muslims have forgotten that the Copts were the original inhabitants of the country.

“We treat with love those guests who have come to us and lived in our country and whom we have considered as our brothers,” he said.

Fourteen centuries have elapsed since those “guests“ first came to Egypt, yet some people still regard them as such and talk about two discrete groups in Egypt: the original inhabitants and the unwelcome visitors.

Not only are such arguments misleading, they are also politically unwise. There is no “pure nation” anywhere in the world, nor is there a single culture that is free of influence by other world cultures. All human societies transform over the course of history, and their cultures, religions, traditions, and even geographies change in the process.

Is Father Bishoy aware that Scandinavian countries–which boast the highest safety and security records in the world–were once home to the ruthless Vikings?

Would anybody in his right mind suggest that Native Americans–by virtue of being indigenous communities in the US–should expel present-day Americans who settled there two centuries ago?

Similarly, it would be sheer lunacy to demand that Spain be returned to the Muslims who ruled it for 700 years and that the Christians who retook the country by force and set up religious inquisitions be kicked out.

There is no doubt that Egypt was once Coptic, but even that period was preceded by a long Pharaonic history. And it’s true that the Islamic invasion of Egypt in the seventh century had its imperial calculations. But it also successfully persuaded many of Egypt’s Copts to convert, learn Arabic and marry newly-arrived Muslims.

Egypt’s Copts have definitely suffered discrimination during the long period in which Muslims and Christians have lived side by side in this country. However, to give credit where it is due, Islam can also claim many instances of tolerance towards other religions, more so than Christianity in the West.

Father Bishoy’s statement are illogical and represent a grave mistake. They will only serve to stoke the flames of sectarianism. Is this in fact what the Father wants?

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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