The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood

The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood

The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood

The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood


On a sweltering June morning in 1933 a fifteen-year-old Muslim orphan girl refused to rise in a show of respect for her elders at her Christian missionary school in Port Said. Her intransigence led to a beating-and to the end of most foreign missions in Egypt-and contributed to the rise of Islamist organizations.

Turkiyya Hasan left the Swedish Salaam Mission with scratches on her legs and a suitcase of evidence of missionary misdeeds. Her story hit a nerve among Egyptians, and news of the beating quickly spread through the country. Suspicion of missionary schools, hospitals, and homes increased, and a vehement anti-missionary movement swept the country. That missionaries had won few converts was immaterial to Egyptian observers: stories such as Turkiyya's showed that the threat to Muslims and Islam was real. This is a great story of unintended consequences: Christian missionaries came to Egypt to convert and provide social services for children. Their actions ultimately inspired the development of the Muslim Brotherhood and similar Islamist groups.

In The Orphan Scandal, Beth Baron provides a new lens through which to view the rise of Islamic groups in Egypt. This fresh perspective offers a starting point to uncover hidden links between Islamic activists and a broad cadre of Protestant evangelicals. Exploring the historical aims of the Christian missions and the early efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood, Baron shows how the Muslim Brotherhood and like-minded Islamist associations developed alongside and in reaction to the influx of missionaries. Patterning their organization and social welfare projects on the early success of the Christian missions, the Brotherhood launched their own efforts to "save" children and provide for the orphaned, abandoned, and poor. In battling for Egypt's children, Islamic activists created a network of social welfare institutions and a template for social action across the country-the effects of which, we now know, would only gain power and influence across the country in the decades to come.


One hot summer morning in June 1933, an orphan girl named Turkiyya Hasan failed to rise in a show of respect for a visiting Protestant missionary at the Swedish Salaam Mission School in Port Said, Egypt. The defiance of the fifteenyear-old Muslim girl infuriated the Swiss matron, who rebuked and then began caning her when she answered back. News quickly spread from the Mediterranean port city to Cairo that a matron of the “School for Peace” had beaten an orphan in an attempt to convert her to Christianity. The story fed into a stream of reports on conversions, or attempted conversions, touching a deep nerve among Egyptians and creating a national uproar with international repercussions. The scandal marked the beginning of the end of foreign missions in Egypt and the simultaneous take-off of Islamist organizations such as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (the Muslim Brotherhood).

The Orphan Scandal uses the Turkiyya Hasan affair in the summer of 1933 as a lens to examine the dynamic among Christian evangelicals, Islamists, and offcials of the semi-colonial Egyptian state. It details the passionate efforts of American and European missionaries, many of whom were single women with little more than their faith to guide them, to look after orphaned and abandoned children. Their attempts to convert their wards aroused the concern of Muslim activists, for whom the beating of Turkiyya Hasan at the Swedish Salaam Mission served to communicate the need for Muslim social welfare to the wider public. In battling missionaries for the bodies and souls of Egypt’s children, Islamists appropriated evangelicals’ tools to fight them, and in the process created their own network of social welfare services. State offcials viewed the expanding anti-missionary movement as a threat and moved to crush it by cutting of its ability to fundraise, to assemble, and to publicize its views. At the same time, the state tightened control over private social welfare institutions and extended its own, sowing the seeds of a Muslim welfare state.

Facilitated by the British occupation, Christian missions reached their . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.