The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State

The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State

The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State

The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State

Synopsis

The rise of political Islam has provoked considerable debate about the compatibility of democracy, tolerance, and pluralism with the Islamist position. As The Challenge of Political Islam reveals, Egyptian Islamists today are more integrated into the political arena than ever, and are voicing a broad spectrum of positions, including a vision of Islamic citizenship more inclusive of non-Muslims.

Based on Islamist writings, political tracts, and interviews with Islamists- including members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and other important contemporary thinkers- this book looks closely at how modern, politically-oriented Egyptian Islamists perceive non-Muslims in an Islamic state and how non-Muslims respond. Clarifying the movement's aims, this work uncovers how Islamists have responded to the pressures of modernity, the degree to which the movement has been influenced by both a historical Islamic framework and Western modes of political thinking, and the necessity to reconsider the notion that secularism is a precondition for toleration.

Excerpt

In December 2004, sectarian tension broke out between Muslims and Christians in Egypt over the alleged conversion of Wafā' Qustantīn, a Coptic Christian, to Islam. Qustantīn was the wife of a Coptic priest and had allegedly converted to Islam to escape marital problems, having previously and unsuccessfully sought a divorce (Islamic law forbids a Muslim woman from being married to a non-Muslim man, so on Qustantīn's conversion, her marriage would be annulled). Due to social and economic pressures, the conversion to Islam by Egyptian Christians is a relatively common occurrence in Egypt. However, in a society that is based on the religious family, such conversions are also a source of considerable shame. the conversion of a priest's wife was viewed as particularly egregious and was vehemently resisted by many Copts.

The Coptic Church claimed that Wafā' Qustantīn had converted under duress. the U.S. Copts Association (USCA), which lobbies on behalf of Copts in Egypt, claimed that Qustantīn had been forced to convert and petitioned President George W. Bush to intervene. Western media seized upon this allegation and did not report the Muslim perspective. in Egypt, many Copts, having been mobilized by the Coptic Church, demonstrated. Pope Shenouda iii, the current Coptic patriarch, demanded that Qustantīn be returned to the church. She was subsequently handed over by security forces, symbolizing, according to one commentator, that the church had “twisted the arm of the state.” Qustantīn was then detained in a monastery in Wadi al-Natrūn, north of Cairo, for closed-door church advisory sessions. There are indica-

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