Page 1

JJuhood The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

Ethiopia Explored Views of Syrian Christians Sayyid Qutb, A Terrorist?

‫מאמצים‬ ‫מא‬ ç abalari



Letter from the Editor


he American public has been exposed to images of the Middle East and North Africa for over a century. Films like Cecil B. DeMille’s The Arab in 1915 and 1960’s Exodus testify to a fascination with the region that predates the modern fixation on jihad. Then, after September 11th, a vision that was permeated with exoticism and fantasy became steeped in fear. Juhood aims to fill the space that both fantasy and terror ignore – a space that includes some of the world’s greatest civilizations and it’s most contentious cultural and political conflicts. In this issue of Juhood, we examine identity politics from Egypt to Afghanistan. It is important to us that you, our reader, develop a better understanding of the social and political milieu of the region. Identity formation is a never-ending process that threads the ancient and the modern; that helps explains how things change or why they stay the same. We first encounter it with Ottoman women, whose images were produced and distributed across Europe in the 19th century. What do these representations say? How have they shaped our modern perception of the harem? What do they reveal about the relationship between “East” and “West?” In raising these questions, the lead article asks how Americans came to associate exoticism and fantasy with the Middle East. It clues us in to how The Arab came to be. By providing you with the facts, we ask you to recognize stereotypes – to take nothing for granted. Through recognition alone, you may develop a more nuanced perception of the region’s peoples, histories and cultures. The articles in this issue also invite you to take an interest in religious and ethnic struggles for recognition. Other than heavily influencing the region, they often resonate in worldwide diasporas, linking residents of Atlanta with those in Addis Abba or Swedes with Cairenes. “Juhood,” pronounced “ju-hoo-d,” is an Arabic word that means, “make every conceivable effort; do one’s utmost.” This is our attempt to offer new perspectives on the Middle East and North Africa. In producing this journal, we are doing our utmost to engage the Duke community in a discussion that has nothing to do with magic carpets and terrorist cells. In fact, our cover illustration points to our efforts, as two horses (Arabian, no doubt) pull the jiim, the first letter of “juhood.” We hope that the launch of this first issue will encourage Dukies, grad and undergrad, to take part in our efforts. This is an ongoing project, and identity politics is only one area of scholarship. Therefore, we ask you to join us with contributions, suggestions and comments to expand the forum for things to come.

Tina Carter, Editor in Chief

Staff Editor-in-Chief Deputy Editor Copy


Tina Carter, ‘10 Andrew Simon, ‘10 Edith Chen, ‘10 Leila Del Santo, ‘10 Michael Natelli, ‘10 Jennifer Rowland, ‘11 Moeed Sufi, graduate student Ashwin Kulothungun, ‘09


Betsy Elliot, ‘10


Christof Galli

Associate librarian – middle eastern, affiliate of duke university middle eastern studies center

Kelly Jarrett

Program coordinator and senior staff of duke islamic studies center

Mohsen Kadivar Visiting lecturer, affiliate faculty of duke islamic studies center


Mbaye Lo

Assistant professor of the practice of the department of asian and middle eastern studies, core faculty of duke islamic studies center

Rebecca Stein

Assistant professor of the departments of cultural anthropology and women studies and core faculty of duke islamic studies center

The University Publications Board (UPB) John Spencer Bassett Fund Committee Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) Duke University Center for International Studies (DUCIS) Department of Women Studies

The information provided by our contributors is not independently verified by Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs, referred to hereafter as Juhood. The materials presented represent the personal opinions of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Juhood or the Duke University community. Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs


4 12

OCCIDENTAL GAZE: Female Representations in the Ottoman Empire

Andrea Patiño


Andrew Simon

22 26

SNAPSHOTS OF ANTIOCH: Views of Syrian Christians

Anna Mahzirov

FROM RESIDENTS TO CITIZENS: Ethiopian Muslims in Transition

Jonathan Cross

36 40

MORE THAN MARLEY: Ethiopia Explored

NETWORKED MINORITIES: An Examination of Hazaras and Baha’is


FACT OR FICTION: Sayyid Qutb, A Terrorist?

Nathan Schick

Chloe Sarnoff

Occidental Gaze: Female Representations in the Ottoman Empire Andrea Pati単o


t was Ruth Bernard Yeazell who wrote, “[any] study of the West’s relations with the harem must be in large part a study of the imagination.”1 For exoticism, hypersexuality, and savagery, are among those fine points that characterize the East. These concepts reflect a complex set of discourses and power relations that have defined the ways in which the East and West look at each other, especially after the 19th century. Even today these notions litter Western textbooks, literature and media.

1. Yeazell, Ruth Bernard. Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), 1

The concept of the harem is arguably the most popular of these dyadic and reductive images. Derived from the Arabic word haram, or forbidden, it is “a term applied to… parts of a house to which access is forbidden.” But in the Western imagination, a harem is a group of women who live in seclusion and sexually service the Sultan. This illusion was fodder for the Western man, who could condemn immoral sexual freedom, and visualize himself as having access to this erotic and otherwise impossible space. In many cases, Western women used the descriptions of harems and the role of women in the Ottoman Empire to criticize their own societies’ attitudes towards gender. From Lady Mary Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters to the first Western feminists’ treatises, descriptions of Oriental females became a mirror of their own situations and a means of criticism. Other examples range from men using the image of women to promote nationalist discourses or of contemporary female scholars writing about representations of Ottoman women in the 19th century. Hence, the rhetoric of power pervades the image of the harem through the discourses of nationalism, science or contemporary scholar writings. Visual depictions of Oriental women were also used by European powers to justify their colonial agenda: sexualized women or female slaves of the harem were symbols of Oriental “backwardness.” Ethnographic and anthropological studies complemented these ideas. There are three views of the harem that address female representations in the 19 th century. They relate ideas of gender and sexuality, but also contribute to discourses of national identity, class and society. The first view that I explore is the male-dominated discourse that completely disregards the role of women in processes of representation. This unidirectional lens, which has lasted for hundreds of years and still functions today, locates the Western male as a witness to the intimate scenes of the Oriental women. Within this paradigm, it is very difficult to find female voices and records that counter the male gaze. The lack of an archive is telling, and I will analyze it as a highly significant element of this particular narrative. The second approach is a feminist response that challenges male dominant discourses and proposes an active role of women in representations of the Orient. This is the feminist discourse, and it explores the internalization of Orientalism in Western women. Another portion of this narrative criticizes and questions “men’s sexual double standards” and the use of women as instruments of nationalist agendas.2 The last, and most recent scholarly approach, not only furthers this feminist response, but it empowers the Orient by emphasizing the role of the Oriental female in the processes of her own representations. This last way of addressing this issue proposes a new paradigm of understanding, in which “the exclusivity of the Western myth in visual representations of the harem” is challenged. 3 Hence, it proposes a discursive space for dialogue between East and West.

Occidental Gaze: Female Representations in the Ottoman Empire


2. Graham-Brown, Sarah. Images of Women. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 34 3. Roberts, Mary. “Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in the Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature”. Objects/ Histories: Critical Perspectives on Art, Material Culture, and Representation. Ed. Nicholas Thomas. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007).

I. THE MALE-DOMINANT DISCOURSE AND THE LACK OF A FEMALE ARCHIVE Given that the harem constituted a forbidden space for the Western man, it became an object of desire. Graham-Brown describes this fantasy by saying,

4. Graham-Brown., “Images of Women”, 9

5. Yeazell., “Harems of the Mind”, 22

6. Alloula, Malek. “From the Colonial Harem”. The Colonial Harem. cols. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986)

7. Graham-Brown., “Images of Women”, 7

[b]ut behind these barriers, men reigned supreme, living in a sexual paradise in which four wives and unlimited concubines were permitted. The fantasy consisted of gaining access to this world – seen as the antithesis of Christian monogamy with its sexual taboos and emotional problems which the fantast wished to escape.” 4 Therefore, Orientalist painters provided Europe with images that they would not have been able to access had it not been for the imagination. Yeazell likens the harem to the veil: “Like the veil, the harem constituted a perpetual challenge to visual desire. Forbidden to look upon Muslim women, Western men responded by conceiving the harem as a place given over to obsessive exercise of the eye.”5 Yeazell’s idea reinforces the very basic dilemma of gender: male opposing female. As Graham-Brown discusses in her book Images of Women, photography not only became a way to report “reality,” but also became a tool to reinforce relations of power between the male West and the female East. In this process, women were represented through a paternalistic mirror, and masculinity was at the crux of the act. In their reception of these images, Europeans embraced this masculinity to the hilt, and in doing so, objectified its female “other”: the Orient. This idea resembles Mallek Alloula’s From the Colonial Harem, in which she criticizes 19th century postcards that bore staged photographs of hypersexual Algerian women. According to Alloula, the postcards not only represented “sexual phantasm”, but also revealed “the ideology of colonialism.”6 Even though it is a fact that the majority of the so-called “Orientalist” artists were men, some Western women were also affiliated with the movement. Traditional histories do not mention them and their role in the process of representing the Orient, and more specifically the harem. From commonly-used art history textbooks, like E.H. Gombrich’s A Story of Art or the famous Janson & Janson’s A Basic History of Western Art, to academic works, including Edward Said’s Orientalism, the lack of information about both Western and Eastern female roles in representing the harem is astounding. The lack of an archive regarding these female positions is telling. If one looks at this shocking absence in an allegorical way, it is possible to genderize East-West relations as whole; where the East represents the female and the West the male. This dynamic of gender continues to reinforce self-assigned European male superiority. Graham-Brown illustrates this division by saying that “[t]he Orient as the domain of the ‘other’, as Europe’s cultural and spiritual foil, was often conceived of as female. Jules Michalet saw the Orient… as the ‘womb of the world’ from which the ‘cultured’ male emerged.”7 Given that the dominant accounts of art history are Eurocentric, the historical choice of male Orientalist artists over female ones reflects the European mindset. There is an obvious preference for male artists that goes along with the Western discourse; one that typically projects itself as a heterosexual white male. Reina Lewis describes the lack of texts that she encountered while researching for her book Gendering Orientalism: It is illustrative of traditional attitudes to women, culture and imperialism that when I started to do research which informs this book, I did not know of any women Orientalist artists. But I was convinced that they had to exist. Everything I knew about women artists


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

and feminist art history told me that they must exist, or if they did not, that the reasons for the exclusion would in themselves be revealing of the interaction between definitions of gender and nation in the second half of the nineteenth century.8 In fact, Lewis’s concern is still true given the lack of research done on female Orientalist artists. Consequently, the surviving art history of the Orientalist has only remembered male artists: Eugene Delacroix, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and John Frederick Lewis are among the most well known.9 These men have left a lasting impression on the Western mind, particularly through fabricated images. Most artists traveled to the Orient seeking the images that would meet their preconceptions, and satisfy the fantasies of their European audiences. This was especially true in the case of the harem. One of the most notorious producers of these imaginaries was renowned French Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix, who, during his stay in Northern Africa in the 1830’s, painted harems that were actually portrayed by Jewish women. Many other male painters, who didn’t even have the chance to travel to any of these “exotic” territories, simply imagined what it would be like to witness “the harem,” and painted accordingly. Thus, their paintings not only depicted groups of sexualized women, but also a created fantasy that contributed to the European perception of superiority in the 19th century. Additionally, their visual representations allowed Europeans at home to access the gaze of the Orient through art exhibitions. Consequently, it was the work of these artists that nourished the ideas of Europeans when thinking of the Orient. Not only did the general audience praise their paintings, but also other artists, critics and academics lauded their fantasy projects as featuring the “true Orient.” Needless to say, these fantasy projects fed Europeans with the “other”, and reaffirmed the Western self-image. Visual depictions of Eastern women were not solely meant to satisfy a European audience. Political and scientific discourses were also part of the project of female representation. As aforementioned, imperialism coincided with the invention and proliferation of photography, thereby allowing the imperial powers to visually represent the backwardness of the East and ultimately justify imperialism. Citing Frantz Fanon from A Dying Colonialism, Graham-Brown explains the dynamics of imperial power behind female photographs in the context of French colonized Algeria: This [idea about the role of women] enabled the colonial administration to define a precise political doctrine: ‘If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where men keep them out of sight.’ 10 Concurrently, the development of anthropology and ethnography took advantage of these technical instruments to create visual records that would scientifically prove European racial superiority. With Social Darwinism in mind, Western powers were invested in the project of categorizing the Orient and its people. Even though these projects were more common in other regions like India,11 Ottoman territories were also the subject of study in many cases, the most outstanding of which was the Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians by E.W. Lane.12

Occidental Gaze:Female Representations in the Ottoman Empire


8. Lewis, Reina. “Rev. of Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature by Ruth Bernard Yeazell”. Nineteenth-Century Literature. (56:3, 2001), 2, 401-04 9. Graham-Brown makes a concise review of the catalogue for the exhibit The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse, which took place in London in 1984. The review gives the reader a good synthesis of the cultural and social frameworks in which these Orientalist representations emerged.

10. Graham-Brown., “Images of Women”, 18 11. In the section The Feminine Picturesque of her book The Rhetoric of English India, Sara Suleri Goodyear discusses one of the most extensive and detailed ethnographic studies of the 19th century. The Peoples of India, an eight volume project to record, describe and classify the “tribes of Hindustan”, serves as a great example of the uses of photography to justify imperialism. Even though the study was made outside the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, the relation between England and India can be used as an example of an Orientalist discourse. 12. Graham-Brown considers this to be the best example of an ethnographic study made within the Ottoman region. Despite “its preconceptions and methodological flaws, [the study] remained one of the most detailed and careful Western studies of a Middle Eastern society carried out in the nineteenth century” (Brown 15). The detailed study of Egypt also illustrates Edward Said’s argument in Orientalism where he argues knowledge provides power to the West.

II. THE FEMINIST APPROACH After Edward Said published his major work Orientalism in 1978, a key debate erupted regarding Western approaches to the East. Its appearance marked the beginning of a severe criticism of traditional Orientalist discourses. Particularly in regards to Orientalist art history, it was only after Said’s work came out that the European maledominant paradigm – which had long dictated the fundamentals of Orientalist art history – was challenged. Female scholars have largely developed the feminist approaches to Orientalism in the last decades. Lisa Lowe’s criticism of Said’s work in Critical Terrains: French and British Orientalisms is an example of the ways in which Said’s argument has been problematized. Lowe’s criticism works on a different and more heterogeneous framework; one in which women are given agency through representations that have been produced by other women. She also proposes a paradigm of identification and differentiation. In this paradigm, women like Lady Mary Montagu, which Lowe uses as her case study, identify with Ottoman women, transgressing the boundaries of East and West. When referring to Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters and her descriptions of women’s behaviors in the Ottoman Empire, Lowe explains:

11. Lowe, Lisa. “Rereadings in Orientalism: Oriental Inventions and Inventions of the Orient in Montesquieu’s ‘Lettres Persanes’”. Cultural Critique (15, 1990), 43–44, 115–43.

12. Ibid., 3

In one respect, her statement forcefully intervenes in the orientalist discourse that proposes the enslavement of Turkish women as a sign for oriental barbarism. Her claim further implies that Turkish women are freer than English women, a statement that directly contradicts the anti-female discourse….” 11 Like Lowe, Reina Lewis develops Said’s criticism of the Orientalist Western discourse, and takes it further in conversation with issues of gender in Gendering Orientalism. Lewis’s argument attempts to counter typical frameworks that “analyse Orientalist images of women rather than representations by women.” Lewis writes, “women did produce imperialist images and … that an analysis of the production and reception of representations by women will develop and understanding of the interdependence of ideologies of race and gender in the colonial discourse of the period.”12 Hence, Lewis takes into consideration the role of Western women in the construction of the imperialist conception of the Orient, and she proposes to read the colonial discourses behind representations made by women. For example, many female painters were so invested in the colonial discourse that similarly to men, they saw themselves above Oriental women. However, they were still trapped in a framework of Western patriarchy. Lewis explains this complex set of narratives by stating that, It is my intention to highlight the multiplicity, diversity and incommensurability of possible positioning within Orientalist discourse in order to contribute to our understanding [of how women] … came to understand themselves as part of an imperial nation: … as beneficiaries of a structure of systematic differences that, whilst placed them as superior in the West/East divide of colonialism (the relative privilege of the European woman traveler in the Orient), also placed them as other inferior in the gender divides of European art and society.13

13. Ibid., 5

Overall, the feminist approach proposes configuration more than the simpler female East and male West relationship. Lewis proposes dilemmas of gender within the Eastern and Western frameworks, respectively. Hence, one arrives at four categories, wherein the Western male continues to dominate, and the female Oriental is doubly in shadow.


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

Lewis’s argument is complemented by her reference to the Orientalist French artist Henriette Browne (1829-1901). Browne is a testament to the significance and the danger of the female Orientalist. As a female artist, her most recurrent subjects were, contrastingly, nuns and harems. Browne is a perfect example of the internalization of Orientalism that, as Lewis argues, places her as a female artist above the Oriental other, yet below the Western male. In relation to the reception of her art, Browne was rather successful. Given that her gender allowed her to enter the harem, her credibility among Europeans was high and her paintings were perceived by many critics as faithful depictions of the “true” harem. However, as any other male painter, Browne, too, was highly fascinated by the exoticism of the Orient, and, to a certain extent, portrayed an imagined harem. Given the audience’s expectations and the male-gendered nature of the artistic sphere, Browne did not go beyond the delineated space, and simply reinforced the prevailing codes of representation that I described in the first section. Lewis mentions only a few other female Orientalist artists, but in general she does not find that their works challenge the Orientalist discourse. As Yeazell states in her final notes in Harems of the Mind, “[t]hough Lewis identifies several other female Orientalists, a few of whom painted images of the harem or of odalisques, they do not significantly challenge prevailing codes of representation.”14 However, Lewis is more open to recognizing written records of Ottoman women in the early 20th century. In her work Rethinking Orientalism, Lewis recognizes the agency of Ottoman women who in the early 20th century exchanged letters with European females. According to Lewis, this action counters Orientalist paradigms by giving them agency.

14. Yeazell., “Harems of the Mind”, 299

Furthermore, it is important to recognize the work of all these female scholars. Their analyses project the political and social situations of their times and represent the agency of more recent feminism.

III. NEW MODELS OF UNDERSTANDING: EMPOWERING THE ORIENTAL FEMALE In her book Intimate Outsiders, Mary Roberts addresses representations of 19th century Ottoman woman with an interesting and innovative shift. Whereas Lewis and Yeazell tend to focus on the role of Western female artists, Roberts raises the question of the impact of the female Oriental subject in her own representation.15 The intervention of the female subject challenges the conception of the powerless and static Oriental women. In a broader sense, not only does it counter the traditional notions of the Orient, but it also poses the idea of an Oriental consciousness. In order to illustrate her argument, Roberts describes the experience of a rather unknown British artist, Mary Adelaide Walker. In the late 1850’s Walker was invited to Istanbul to paint Princess Fatma Sultan, daughter of Sultan Abdülmecit and wife of Ali Galib Pasa. Given the influence that Europe had on the Ottoman Empire at the time, Walker arrived to a space that drastically challenged her Orientalist expectations.16 Princess Fatma’s demands to be painted in French clothes and her constant demands and interventions, struck Walker as contradictory to the image of oppressed woman. Princess Fatma’s desire to define and intervene in her own representation emphasized her consciousness in regards to her identity, and thereby challenged the idea of the static, repressed and sexualized Oriental woman.

Occidental Gaze:Female Representations in the Ottoman Empire


15. Roberts., “Intimate Outsiders”.

16. Walker, Mary Adelaide. “Eastern Life and Scenary with Excursions in Asia Minor, Mytilene, Crete and Roumania.” Ed. Chapman and Hall London. 1886. (accessed April 2009)

17. Ibid., 78

Roberts also mentions the Danish artist Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann’s, who in 1869 entered a harem in order to make portraits of Princess Nazli. Similarly to Walker, Jerichau-Baumann came to the harem with expectations, ready to satisfy the established codes of representation. However, Roberts argues that Jerichau-Baumann’s intrusion in the harem “extends the parameters of the genre by prompting a consideration of the roll of cross-cultural exchange in the production of these paintings and brings into view the sitter’s priorities in choreographing her representation.”17 Roberts proposes a shift in the study of these portrayals. Along the lines of a cultural history, Roberts suggests that it is not possible to understand female representations unless the cultural and social contexts in which they are produced and received are studied. Continuing with the example of Jerichau-Baumann, Roberts explains: Jerichau-Baumann’s Orientalism redefines and reaffirms orientalist categories…the complexity of social change in harems that is registered in Jerichau-Baumann’s diary is absent from the harem fantasy paintings that she produced back in Europe. Whereas Jerichau-Baumann’s portraits potentially challenged the Western sexualized harem stereotype and her diary incorporates a complex mix of social and sexual discourse, her fantasy paintings reaffirm the trope of the sensual harem beauty.” 18

18. Ibid., 139

Through this fragment, Roberts explains that Jerichau-Baumann deliberately painted and exhibited an Orientalist image of Princess Nazli, even though accounts from her diary counter this view. By the time the artist was there, harems were undergoing profound social changes that would not satisfy her Western audience. As Roberts explains, “[a] discourse of desire is enmeshed within a discourse of social progress.” Roberts’s argument is weakened by several aspects. Firstly, there are still only few examples to support her argument, yet as it has been explained before and as she acknowledges herself, research on Western female Orientalists artists is rather scarce. Secondly, Roberts’s case studies pose questions regarding dilemmas of class. Hence, the discussion is problematized by adding this layer. Her accounts only represent the wealthier women of the Empire and also of the Western world. Finally, she doesn’t seem to fully explore internalized Orientalism among the women of the harem, whom might have been intervening in their representations, assuming Western customs to give off an air of civility.

19. In her article Rereading in Orientalism: Oriental Inventions and Inventions of the Orient in Montesquieu’s “Lettres persanes”, Lowe questions the use of terms such as “discourse, Orientalism or the Other”, because as she claims dominant narrative like these ones “underestimate the tensions and contradictions within a discourse, the continual play of resistance, dissent, and accomodaion by different positions.

However, Roberts’s proposal of a new understanding of female representation is remarkable, given that no prior approach had considered the role of Oriental females. Hence, Roberts empowers the Oriental woman, and consequently the Orient as a whole. In 1990, Lisa Lowe had written a similar proposal, but in regards to ethnographic and anthropological studies.19 Looking at the lateness with which Roberts’s argument appears and her relatively low readership, one is able to get a sense of how enrooted Orientalist discourses were within Western societies, especially in scholarship. Going against the grain, she challenges Orientalism, and thus, the dynamics of power and gender between East and West.

IV. CONCLUSIONS The sustained lack of research on female Orientalist artists and the lateness with which critiques like Roberts’ appear, evince that overall, there is still a lack of a female archive in the Orientalist discourse. The Western’s voice – a masculine one – still dominates the narratives of art history. How long will it take for new paradigms to proliferate and set


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

in the Western minds? Take per se, the way in which pieces are displayed and narratives told at European museums. Discourses of power and politics can always be read behind them.20 Thus, approaches like Roberts’, which posits a conversation between Eastern and Western narratives, do not seem to be very popular because they question the dynamics of power. And it is clear, that in order for such questioning to happen, major shifts in the politics and society need to precede it. It is, however, important to counter the traditional narratives that create tropes and stereotypes. As they reinforce false ideas about “the other” and inform political and social discourses, they might produce a real impact in political and social dynamics. For instance, the idea of a European superiority, which is at the core of the Orientalist discourse, projected the Western mindset. Ultimately both processes end up influencing the formation of the other. This is also especially relevant given that these discourses not only deal with an East-West dilemma, but also with narratives of gender in both societies.

Occidental Gaze:Female Representations in the Ottoman Empire


20. In her article Islamic Arts in the Ottoman Imperial Museum, 1889– 1923, Wendy M. K. Shaw discusses the importance of the Ottoman museums of the period and the way in which these spaces projected the political and social contexts of the time. Shah explains how museums showed the Ottoman’s dilemma between nationalism and Ottoman identity.

Contextualizing Clash & Convergence: Re-Writing Coptic-Muslim Relations Andrew Simon


ince ‘Amr Ibn al-‘As’ conquest of Egypt in 642 A.D., Copts and Muslims have lived together as neighbors. Their co-existence has spanned fourteen centuries and is often portrayed in terms of clash, rather than convergence. Despite daily interactions on the street and in the workplace, relations between Copts and Muslims, as described in literature, are defined in moments of confrontation, wherein religion monopolizes complex identities and mobilizes the Coptic minority against the Muslim majority, and vice versa. It is incidents of sectarian violence that fill the pages of Egypt’s most widely circulated newspaper, Al-Ahram, while the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Reports accuse the Egyptian government of disregarding religious tensions, and in doing so, exacerbating conflict.1 In what the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Michael Posner, recently deemed “an atmosphere of intolerance,” 2 Egyptian Muslims play the role of the aggressor who routinely reduces the Copts to a powerless minority, whereas the Copts are forced to side with either their compatriots at home or their coreligionists in diaspora.3 Along these entrenched fault lines, both parties lay claim to be the ‘true Egyptians.’ The Coptic minority traces their origins to Saint Mark’s arrival in 42 A.D.; the Muslim majority insists that they delivered Egypt’s independence after overthrowing the British-backed monarchy in 1952. This paper argues that such polarizing storylines and rigid narratives, although aesthetically engaging, fail to account for a number of historical factors required to rewrite Coptic-Muslim relations in 21st century Egypt. By neglecting early interactions between these Abrahamic siblings, a period of history is conveniently silenced. This paper adopts two critical lenses in an effort to narrativize4 this forgotten past in order to better understand the compatriots’ relations in the present. The first, navigating intra-civilization outbreaks of sectarian violence5, and the second, addressing ideological common ground that facilitates recognition, if not understanding, of ‘the other.’ The Man from Bashmour (1998), written by Salwa Bakr, an Egyptian Muslim novelist, functions as a literary gateway into the Coptic-Muslim dynamic during the 7th century Arab conquest,6 and personal interviews7 conducted with Copts “on-the-ground” in the summer of 2009 offer an ethnographic window on contemporary ligatures between the pious patriots.8

THE COPTIC ORTHODOX CHURCH: ASSISTANCE AND INTERFERENCE “The Church determines what being a ‘Copt’ means,” 9 explains Hawa, a twenty-year old graduate of the American University in Cairo (AUC). The Church Hawa refers to is the Coptic Orthodox Church, the most influential and largest church in Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church serves as the focal point of Coptic culture and is the leading actor in Coptic civil society. It is the Church that “indoctrinates the Copts to live as Copts.”10 The ecclesiastical hierarchy instructs its practitioners to pray seven times a day and speaks for all its patrons on religious, as well as secular, subjects. A recent series of interviews conducted with thirty members of the Egyptian minority in 2009 reaffirms the Church’s influence in the Coptic community. When asked to identity the most representative Coptic institution or group, 60% named the Coptic Orthodox Church. When asked to cite their favorite Coptic figure, 40% answered

Contextualizing Clash and Convergence: Re-Writing Coptic-Muslim Relations


1. See: An Evaluation of The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, 107th Cong., Sess. 2 (2002) (Statement of Congressman Pitts), 29. 2. http://www.thedailynewsegypt. com/article.aspx?ArticleID=27141 (accessed February 18, 2010) 3. Although exact figures are not available, Copts abroad (Aqbat alMahjar) number upwards of 700,000 to 1,000,000, and boast a large online presence. 4. Hayden White. “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality” (Critical Inquiry, 7.1, 1980), 6. According to White, to narrativize is to pose upon reality the form of a story. 5. This notion of “intra-civilization” clash markedly differs from “intercivilization” clash, as expounded on by Samuel Huntington in “The Clash of Civilizations?” (Foreign Affairs, 1993). This form of violence is also not limited to physical abuse, but also attempts to strike fear in the minds of others. 6. Salwa Bakr’s novel is not without its faults, which I elaborate on inthe first chapter of my thesis: Unveiling Polemics in Popular Culture. For the sake of this paper, however, I am more concerned with Bakr’s discussion of mutual victimhood and religious harmony. 7. In total, I conducted thirty interviews in Arabic and English from June–July 2009 in Cairo, Egypt. These conversations are noted as “interview,” henceforth. 8. I invoke this term to address both Copts and Muslims from Bruce Lawrence’s paper: Islam in the Public Square: Minority Perspectives from Africa and Asia (Youngstown: Youngstown State University, 2009), 8. 9. Interview, Hawa. 10. Ibid.

11. These statistics are derived from my personal interviews.

12. Salwa Bakr. The Man from Bashmour: A Modern Arabic Novel (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1998), 5. 13. Ibid, 9. 14. Ibid, 9.

15. The priest’s name remains anonymous, although his suspension is briefly documented on the following website: http:// campaign-kick-off-review.html (accessed January 15, 2010).

Pope Shenouda III, the reigning Coptic Patriarch.11 These statistics, although primarily limited to the voices of young (19 to 31 years), educated Copts, beg the question, how did the Church come to play such an important role in Coptic communities at large, as well as in shaping the identities of Egypt’s Christians? In an effort to locate the Church’s emergence as the religious authority for all Copts in Egypt, it is beneficial to consider Bakr’s novel, The Man from Bashmour. Although fictional, the text paints a detailed picture of the early Church. Bakr’s story is told through the eyes of Budayr, a Coptic sexton who serves under Father Joseph at the Qasr al-Sham Church in Old Cairo. From the beginning, it is clear that the Church is the only agent capable of cleansing Copts’ sins; “it is the church that sweeps away sins and iniquity and which purifies the heart.” 12 The individual is incapable of selfpurification and must routinely attend confession to wash away his or her transgressions. This dependence on the church is evident in the relationship between Budayr and Father Joseph. The priest leads mass and the monk is “carried along with him,”13 in heart and in spirit. Budayr is “taken up wholly in prayer and distracted by nothing.”14 Whereas Muslims communicate directly with God, Budayr and his fellow monks rely on Father Joseph, who is their conduit to the vertical realm. It is through this rigid, male-dominated hierarchy that the Church operates. Absolute obedience is required by those who are lower in the chain to those above, a system that is absent in mosques, where no single worshiper is higher than another. In addition to functioning as a religious institution in Bakr’s 7th century fictional theater, the Church is currently focusing its efforts on building an intricate Coptic community, extending out from the Cairene metropolis and into the countryside. It is the Church that knows everyone, provides jobs to its members, and marries Copts. Permeating the everyday rhythms of Coptic life, the Church’s hierarchy represents the Egyptian minority in the political arena. Pope Shenouda III annually pledges his support for President Hosni Mubarak in the name of all the Copts, while those below him fall in line, or risk ex-communication, as was the case with a priest who supported Ayman Nour in the 2005 elections and was promptly suspended from the Church.15 Thus, the Church asks Copts to place their faith in God and trust in their political maneuvers. This loyalty buys the faithful’s safe passage to the afterlife and ensures their protection as a Christian minority living amongst a Muslim majority in modern Egypt. Many Copts are not content with the Church’s appropriation of the entire community’s political positions. One interlocutor, George, a graduate student in comparative politics, complained: I don’t like what is going on in the church; I don’t like the hierarchy; I don’t like what the hierarchy is doing – concession after concession, compromise after compromise.16

16. Interview, George.

No longer in charge of directing only worship, the church’s elite have ventured into social and political arenas – an advance that has been applauded by some Copts and lamented by others. By exploring the Church’s role at the time of the Arab conquest, Bakr illustrates how the establishment positioned itself at the center of Coptic life as a religious entity. The Church, invested with divinely-granted power, determined what was “orthodox,” who was “heretical,” and promoted a policy of dependence on its leaders. Interviews with Copts in the summer of 2009 complicate the Churches’ image as a strictly religious body. The candid conversations attest to the Church’s secular ventures, namely in community


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

building and politics. This transition reflects the desire of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to remain the most influential actor in Coptic society at-large. To that end, the Church’s ever-expanding authority, and the positive and negative reactions to these advances challenge those who cast the Church as a static entity, representative of all Copts.

DEFINING THE ENEMY: MUSLIMS AND MELKITES Sectarian violence is on the rise in Egypt. There have been more than 30 attacks on Copts in the past 20 years and the responsibilities of the Church have steadily increased.17 “[For] Christians, the church in Egypt is a community,” 18 explains Sherif, a student of economics. “It is not a place for worshiping only.” 19 Elaborating on the Church’s role vis-à-vis Islamic places of worship, such as Al-Azhar, the young Copt opined, “the Church in Egypt functions as a society within a society, whereas Islam attempts to build an Islamic umma that interlinks every Muslim.” 20 From the perspective of many Copts, it is clear that the Church is taking deliberate steps to establish a sanctuary for the minority – a society within a society whose obligations transcend religious obligations. In order to understand why the church is striving to build a tight-knit community, rather than constructing a worldwide Coptic network, one must first examine the Islamic umma to which the church is responding. In Muslim Networks: From Hajj to Hip Hop, miriam cooke and Bruce Lawrence define the umma as a global Muslim community that “signifies all Islam, but does so within the broadest boundaries defining Muslim collective identity.” 21 If the Church is truly the safehouse that many Copts claim it is, this collective Muslim identity is the threatening enemy at the gates; and, if it is not individuals or groups of Egyptian Muslims that pose a direct threat to Copts, it is the Egyptian government’s discriminatory policies and dismissal of sectarian tensions that force the minority to isolate itself behind the Patriarch’s fortified walls. Although every Copt is not forced to choose ‘between integration and isolation,’ as Coptic scholar, Rafiq Habib, asserted in 2005,22 many Copts turn towards the church for guidance and support. Some scholars have referred to this process as sectarian seclusion,23 clearly attributing the retreat to religious motives. Others argue that the Copts naturally withdraw to the church for financial and political support. Whether turning inwards for religious or secular reasons, literature that frames Copts and Muslims as enemies, or as some Egyptian textbooks put it, “Black is to White as Copt is to Muslim,”24 is diluting the compatriots’ complex relations. Contrary to popular discourse, Copts were embroiled in conflict with coreligionists long before clashes with their Muslim compatriots. Following the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., a date readily referenced by texts but rarely explained, Coptic Orthodox Christianity emerged as a distinct body. The schism between the Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholics was primarily attributed to a disagreement over the nature of Christ, though there are some writers who posit that Egyptian nationalism may have played a role in the division. The Roman Catholics considered Christ to be human and divine, while those in the Oriental block promoted Monophysitism, or the belief that Christ maintained a single nature. In the aftermath of the council, Orthodox Copts branded the followers of the Melkite Church as heretics and believers of a false religion.

Contextualizing Clash and Convergence: Re-Writing Coptic-Muslim Relations


17. For a complete list of the attacks on Copts, see Adly A. Youssef’s Tragedies and Sufferings of Egypt’s Copts (Manifesto): Copts in Egypt: A Christian Minority Under Siege: Papers Presented at the First International Coptic Symposium, Zurich, September 23–25, 2004 (Zurich: G2W-Verlag, 2004), 31. 18. Interview, Sherif. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid.

21. miriam cooke and Bruce Lawrence. Muslim Networks: From Hajj to Hip Hop (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 2.

22. See: Rafiq Habib, Al-Jama’a al-Qibtiyya: Bayn al-Indimaj wa-l-I’tizal. (Arabic) [The Coptic Community: Between Integration and Isolation] (Cairo: Al-Shorouk, 2005). 23. The tendency to frame Coptic isolation in religious terms is exemplified in Meir Hatina’s In Search of Authenticity: A Coptic Perception (Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2006), 51. 24. Marie Louis Bishara, a member of the Advisory Committee for Suzanne Mubarak, introduced this analogy at the Civic Engagement in the Middle East Conference on November 14, 2009 at Duke University. Bishara recalled this comparison from her textbooks in grade school.

25. Bakr. The Man from Bashmour: A Modern Arabic Novel, 48.

Bakr conveys this tension between the Melkites and Copts through telling the story of Fla’as. A monk at the Atrib Monastery, Fla’as is accused of reading forbidden books and misinterpreting the sacred texts. As a result of his transgressions, Fla’as is violently beaten by the other monks and imprisoned in a vault beneath the monastery. In the underground dungeon, he is denied food and provided with only two cups of water to survive. Deacon Thawna, Budayr’s companion, questions whether or not Fla’as is a spy from the Melkite church, contemplating, “He may have been planted in the monastery for some reason. Maybe he came to spy out conditions in our monastic church.”25 This fear of “the Christian other” resurfaces throughout the novel. At the time of the Arab conquest, the tyrannical Melkites were the primary threat on the Coptic Church’s horizon, whereas the Muslims represented a potential ally in the war between the Christian churches. Fla’as’ beating, and ensuing imprisonment, is one of many examples that complicates the common belief that Copts and Muslims were always enemies. Although the majority of incidences involving sectarian violence have, in fact, taken place between Copts and Muslims in recent memory, Bakr’s text forces the reader to acknowledge that sectarian violence among Christian coreligionists pre-dates modern religious conflicts between compatriots. In other words, Muslims were not always the “aggressive majority” and Copts were not always a “powerless minority.”

RELIGIOUS FLUIDITY: COPTIC MUSLIMS AND MUSLIM COPTS When addressing the relations between Copts and Muslims the majority of texts stress that the compatriots share in their allegiance to Egypt, but are pitted against one another in the religious arena. This tumultuous relationship resonates in a number of Western and Egyptian titles, ranging from Sana Hassan’s Christians Versus Muslims in Modern Egypt to Muhammad Baz’s Why do the Muslims Hate the Copts in Egypt? Traditional discourse maintains that Copts are citizens of Egypt only to the extent that the word Copt, which many readers incorrectly associate with Christian, actually stems from the Greek word Aiguptios, meaning Egyptian. Failing to address the Copts as citizens beyond an etymological footnote, this body of literature for unveiling relations between compatriots is problematic on a number of levels.

26. Bakr, The Man From Bashmour: A Modern Arabic Novel, 32.

First and foremost, there was a great degree of religious fluidity at the time of the Arab conquest in the 7th century. “[The] early Muslims,” like the Coptic monks, “had been pious and God-fearing and had preferred lives of asceticism and self-denial,” 26 Bakr notes. Moreover, Copts, as well as Muslims, placed (and continue to place) a high importance on ritual purity, or the belief that one must cleanse the body prior to purifying the mind. Those who set Copts on one side of the religious spectrum and Muslims on the other overlook these similarities. Ramy Emam’s blockbuster, Hassan and Morcos (2008), is an exception to the rule and highlights the compatriots’ common ground. In the film, Mokhtar Salem, the head of the Egyptian security agency, forces Father Paulous and his family to assume the identities of Muslims, in light of a recent assassination attempt on the priest’s life. The Copts are provided with new Muslim names and falsified IDs, in order to ensure that they are neither recognized, nor identified as Christians. Rather than simply focusing on the underlying societal tensions, Ramy presents the shared values held by the Abrahamic siblings nearing


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

the end of the motion picture. After Father Paulous cautiously enters a mosque with his son, Gerges, the priest listens in awe to a Qur’anic passage being recited by the mullah: You will find out that the Christians are the closest to the Muslims. That is because some of them are saints, some of them are monastic, and they condemn arrogance.” 27 By bombarding their audiences with incidents of sectarian violence and religious extremism, literature on Coptic-Muslim relations neglects the compatriots’ common ground, as invoked by the mullah in the film. The struggle to exert one’s religious identity, as either Coptic or Muslim, is prevalent in modern Egypt and a common theme in literature. This need to manifest one’s religious affiliation is clearly presented by Salem, a student at Misr International University, who states, “there is fear of this other identity…rejection is an automatic response. You have to prove that your identity is the right and valid one.” 28 The widespread notion that Coptic and Muslim identities are destined to clash is further addressed by Christina, a faculty member at Cairo University, who explains, “Muslims listen to the Qur’an on buses [and] now Christians do the same thing in Christian areas. It is like they have competing identities.” 29 United by certain religious rituals and beliefs in theory, Copts and Muslims are seemingly divided by their respective religious affiliations in practice.

27. Ramy Emad, Hassan and Morcos, 1:12.

28. Interview, Salem.

29. Interview, Christina.

Bearing in mind the points of clash and convergence between Copts and Muslims, it is necessary to return to Bakr’s novel. Shortly before passing to the other side, Thawna reflects on Coptic-Muslim interactions, pondering: I used to wonder after all the unjust warfare I had witnessed with my own two eyes: Are not all these people its victims, be they Christians or Muslims, and do they not all deserve to be received into Paradise? 30 Despite the divide between Copts and Muslims, which, according to interlocutors, has become more prominent in recent decades, the fact remains that sectarian conflict is a zero-sum game, where both the majority and the minority are united in their mutual suffering. This truth is articulated by Thawna, a fictitious Deacon, but rarely acknowledged in scholarly and non-academic discourse. Emphasizing the deaths and numbers wounded on either side after a violent event, this body of literature fails to recognize that Egyptians, not ‘Copts’ and ‘Muslims,’ are the true victims. Generally framed in the context of a “strong majority” vis-à-vis a “weak minority,” the early religious fluidity between “Coptic Muslims” 31 and “Muslim Copts” 32 forces writers to at least acknowledge that similarities between the compatriots extend beyond their allegiance to Egypt.

30. Bakr. The Man From Bashmour: A Modern Arabic Novel, 294.

31. The Muslims, in the words of Bakr, who oppose the tyranny of their coreligionist governors. 32. The Muslims, according to Bakr, who live amongst the Copts, united in their anger over paying the Kharaj, a tax levied by Muslim conquerors on their non-Muslim subjects.

CONVERSION AND COMPULSION The issue of conversion rests at the heart of Coptic-Muslim relations, past and present. On a purely quantitative level, conversion can be defined as the increase of membership in one religious population at the cost of a decrease in another. This shift in numbers, while appearing insignificant on a case-by-case basis, has large repercussions in the distribution of resources, as well as making the argument for greater political representation. The fear that conversion, amongst other factors, will lead to the demise of Arab Christians is a talking point for many writers, including Hilal Khashan in Arabs as Christian Symbols. In 2001, Khashan gravely predicted, “should the current rate of attrition continue, Christians could decline to less than 6 million by the year 2025.” 33

Contextualizing Clash and Convergence: Re-Writing Coptic-Muslim Relations


33. Hilal Khashan. “Arab Christians as Symbols”. (Middle East Quarterly 8:1, 2001), 6.

34. Imad Boles. “Egypt - Persecution: Disappearing Christians of the Middle East”. (Middle East Quarterly 8:1, 2001), 23–29. 35. Paul Rowe. “Building Coptic Civil Society: Christian Groups and the State in Mubarak’s Egypt”. (Middle Eastern Studies 45:1, 2009): 111–26. 36. In its coverage of the Nag Hammadi incident on January 6, 2010, the BBC released an article titled: “Egypt’s Anxious Copts Await Next Catastrophe.” See: middle_east/8478397.stm (accessed January 29, 2010) 37. In its coverage of the Nag Hammadi incident on January 6, 2010, the New York Times released an article titled, “In Egypt, Religious Clashes Are Off the Record.” See: http:// world/middleeast/01egypt. html?pagewanted=1 (accessed January 29, 2010). 38. Bakr., “The Man From Bashmour”, 87.

39. Ibid., 61.

In light of the fact that the Coptic population in Egypt alone has grown from 6 million to 10 million members from 2001 to 2009, Khashan’s forecast appears unlikely. However, many of those who write about Coptic-Muslim relations, such as Imad Boles, the Chairman of the British Coptic Association, insist that Copts remain an “endangered minority,” 34 marginalized and alienated from the rest of Egyptian society. If not addressing the minority as second, or even third-class citizens, nearly every written work emphasizes the importance of numbers. Regardless of the fact that the Copts have been able to create a strong, vibrant niche in civil society and function as a “useful pillar of internal stability” 35 for Mubarak’s regime, writers often reduce the minority to ‘approximately 10% of Egypt’s population.’ A percentage that is, in fact, no more than an educated guess since the Egyptian government has refused to conduct an official census since 1976. Vastly outnumbered by their Muslim neighbors, Coptic-Muslim discourse is grounded in catastrophe,36 where the threat of conversion, and forced conversion in particular, is very real.37

FINANCIAL GAIN AND SPIRITUAL ELEVATION Unlike the result of conversion, the motives behind the process have changed over time. In an effort to present these factors, this section examines two distinct periods: the 7th century and the 21st century. With respect to the first, the concept of conversion in Bakr’s novel revolves around monetary reward and inner-healing. During the Arab conquest, conversion from Christianity to Islam often brought improved financial footing. Upon entering the village of Ghaya, a stop for Muslim pilgrims on the path to Mecca, Thawna and Budayr learn that a large number of Coptic villagers had converted to Islam. In exchange, the new converts reaped great financial rewards from the pilgrims, including silver and dinars. After witnessing their neighbors’ newfound wealth, “very few in the village retained an affiliation with the Church.” 38 This willingness to convert poses several problems for the devout Copts remaining in the village. The old Coptic woman who receives and feeds Thawna and Budayr, for example, fears that she has angered God by marrying her daughter to a Muslim, in light of the lack of suitable Coptic candidates. In addition to those who convert for financial gain in Bakr’s narrative, others do so for spiritual fulfillment and inner-healing. Budayr converts to Islam after his repeated struggles with sexual longings and lustful memories. The failure of confession to cleanse his sins and tainted soul, which has “been dead by virtue of Adam’s original sin since the beginning of time,” 39 is healed by reciting the Qur’an and welcoming in the inner-light of Islam. In the eyes of Budayr and Bakr, Islam is the truth and Arabic has removed the veil that has long obstructed the monk’s vision as a Copt. Thus, the two instances of conversion presented by Bakr occur without compulsion. Islam, in the text, brings financial stability to some and spiritual serenity to others.

FEAR AND PUNISHMENT Whereas Bakr depicts conversion in the 7th century as a choice, free from compulsion, many Copts fear forced conversion in the 21st century. Sara, a community outreach intern at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Cairo, starkly conveys this threat:


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

there have been stories in the Christian communities about Awlad Ragab Al Mahmal.40 They abduct Christian girls, rape them, and then force them to sign on paper to be Muslims. 41

40. Awlad Ragab Al Mahmal is a supermarket chain in Cairo.

A recent report published by the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights and the Christian Solidarity Movement reaffirms Sara’s fears and introduces 25 additional cases of Copts being forcibly converted to Islam.42 Of the 25 conversions covered, the majority involve kidnapping, abducting, and compulsory marriages. These instances of forced conversion directly violate the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Article 46 of Egypt’s constitution, which states, “The State shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of religious rites.” 43 Nevertheless, infringements on international and state law often go unpunished by the United Nations and Egypt’s government, allowing the fear of forced conversion to promulgate. In addition to dreading the possibility of forced conversion from Christianity to Islam, the punishments for converting from Islam to Christianity also concern many Egyptians. When addressing these dangers, Sara insists: If I am Egyptian it is my right to convert without being killed. If a Christian converted to Islam, it is fine. If it is the other way around, he needs to flee the country since he might be killed. 44

41. Interview, Sara.

42. coptic_report_master-final_report_ pdf.pdf (accessed January 29, 2010)

43. Egypt’s constitution can be located in its entirety in Gilbert Flanz’s Constitutions of the Countries of the World: A Series of Updated Texts, Constitutional Chronologies and Annotated Bibliographies (2007). See: Wolfrum and Grote section (2007); 3.

44. Interview, Sara.

Based on the interlocutor’s comments, it appears that the majority of Copts are conscious of the dangers conversion poses. Muslim converts to Christianity are considered to be apostates and those who have committed the crime of apostasy are persecuted by Egyptian society. Even if escaping societal harassment, the Egyptian government often refuses to reflect the apostate’s conversion on his or her ID. In order to reflect a change in faith, Muslim converts must obtain a “certificate of conversion” from the church, a process that is infinitely complicated; only one formal request has ever been granted.45

45. http://www.thedailynewsegypt. com/article.aspx?ArticleID=21028 (accessed February 2, 2010)

CLASHING ARTICLES: THE EGYPTIAN CONSTITUTION “I have a friend whose father is Muslim and his mother is Christian,”46 explained Adam, a student at Misr International University (MIU). “He wants to become a Christian, but cannot do that because he would be killed. If someone killed him it is not a crime – that is the law.” 47 The Copt’s striking remarks highlight a troubling dilemma in Egypt that is often left untouched by scholars, journalists, and others who write on Coptic-Muslim relations: the clash between Islamic and secular law in the Constitution. Article 46 guarantees one’s freedom of belief, but Article 2 states that “Islam is the religion of the State” and “Islamic Law (sharia) is the principal source of legislation.” 48 Bound together in the pages of the Constitution, the divergent articles are further compounded by the government’s neglect of the Coptic minority. Since the publication of the first International Religious Freedom Report in 1999 and up until 2005, when the format of the executive summaries changed, Egypt was consistently labeled a category three offender, or a state that neglects discrimination and persecution of its minorities.

Contextualizing Clash and Convergence: Re-Writing Coptic-Muslim Relations


46. Interview, Adam.

47. Ibid.

48. Flanz, Gilbert. Constitutions of the Countries of the World: A Series of Updated Texts, Constitutional Chronologies and Annotated Bibliographies, (see: Wolfrum and Grote); 3.

Category Number 3: State Neglect by year, from the International Religious Freedom Report Category Breakdown (1999-2005) 1999

Bulgaria, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Uzbekistan


Egypt, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Nigeria


Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nigeria


Bangladesh, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Nigeria


Bangladesh, Egypt, Georgia, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Nigeria


Bangladesh, Egypt, Georgia, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka


Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka

Allegedly protected from conversion in the secular and religious realms, Article 2 ferments the Copts’ fears of forced conversion and fosters the worries of Muslims who seek to convert to Christianity.

49. Pieternella Van Doorn-Harder makes this claim in: “Copts: Fully Egyptian, but for a Tattoo?” The article serves as chapter 2 in Maya Shatzmiller’s Nationalism and Minority Identities in Islamic Societies (2005). Even Van Doorn-Harder questions the legitimacy of this figure under “Notes,” but still chooses to employ it.

Authors and scholars alike embrace conversion as a major theme in their writing. Likewise, a Copt’s conversion to Islam and a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity are considered highly-contentious stories suitable for a mass audience. This body of literature often addresses conversion on a fundamental level, a process altering the number of those in the Coptic minority vis-à-vis the Muslim majority. However, blanket statements, such as “the Coptic Church in Egypt loses over 6,000 members a year,” 49 even if substantiated, mask the intricacies behind conversion. In light of the fact that conversion is vigorously debated in the Egyptian public square, and the individual’s rights to practice their faith are preserved in written law, it is clear that the result, a believer added and a believer deducted, is not as important as the reasons and actors behind the process.

conclusions 50. Omid Safi. Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 89.

It is important to recognize that Coptic-Muslim relations did not begin with the Arab conquest in 642 A.D. Although the focus of this paper has been on early interactions between compatriots in Egypt, Copts and Muslims were mingling and marrying prior to


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

and following Prophet Muhammad’s divine revelation in 610 A.D. Coptic carpenters helped the Quraysh rebuild the Ka’ba in 605 A.D. 50 and Maria (Maryam) bint Shim`un, a Coptic maiden, wed the Prophet following the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah in 628 A.D. Known as Maria al-Qibtiyya (“Maria the Copt”), the governor of Alexandria offered the young woman to the Prophet as a gift. Shortly thereafter, Maria converted to Islam on the path to Medina, where she resided in a garden house on the periphery of the city. In Medina, Maria garnered the praise and respect of nearly all Muslims for delivering the Prophet a son, Ibrahim. When reflecting on Muhammad’s ecstasy following the birth of his baby boy, one English historian, who remains anonymous, went as far as to state, “Ibrahim’s birth had given him pleasure, perhaps equal to the conquest of Mecca.” 51 Therefore, Copts and Muslims were by no means foreign to one another prior to Ibn al-‘As’ arrival.

51. Fida Hussain Malik. Wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1977), 165.

In an essay on belief and politics, Talal Asad, a distinguished scholar of religion, notes that historical events must be grounded in their respective historical contexts. Words, such as “Copt” and “Muslim,” “belief” and “religion,” change meanings over time, like chameleons change colors. According to Asad: 52. news/EventDocuments/ asadreligionpolitics (accessed February 4, 2010)

It is that defining is an historical act and when the definition is deployed it does different things in different times and circumstances, and responds to different questions, needs, pressures. 52 By continually identifying Copts and Muslims as enemies at worst, or incompatible compatriots at best, writers neglect circumstances on-the-ground and ignore the compatriots’ lengthy history, allowing sectarian divides to inevitably deepen in print. Already reduced to their respective religious affiliations by their ID cards, current Coptic-Muslim discourse similarly fails to recognize that Copts and Muslims embody several identity markers that are activated at different times. The compatriots, simply put, are not crosses and crescents. By critically adopting Salwa Bakr’ The Man from Bashmour as a literary lens into the early periods of interaction between Copts and Muslims and incorporating the voices of many young Copts on-the-ground, current relations between Egyptians are clarified, as well as complicated. The pitfalls of the simple minority-majority template that analyzes isolated incidences of sectarian violence, overstates religion, and provides unsubstantiated statistics, have been analyzed and exposed. The Coptic-Muslim dynamic is constantly changing as its members and institutions develop different views and challenge their preconceptions of the other. With these developments there must come a change in the way all parties understand, imagine, and write about Coptic-Muslim relations.

Contextualizing Clash and Convergence: Re-Writing Coptic-Muslim Relations


Snapshots of Antioch: Views of Syrian Christians Anna Mahzirov


any are surprised to hear about the Christians in the Middle East, not realizing that these were in fact the first Christians. Syria with its proximity to the Holy Land is full of holy early-Christian sites. Currently Christians are the minority, but still maintain their heritage, living in their own neighborhoods. The influx of 2 million refugees from Iraqi has increased Muslim-Christian interaction. Muslim and Christian refugees alike take advantage of the services that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate offers to refugees, such as technical training, schooling for children, and hand-outs.

(Left) The Convent of Our Lady of Saydnaya, built in 547 AD by emperor Justinian. The ancient episcopal city of Saydnaya is second only to Jerusalem as a Christian pilgrimage site in the Middle East. Local tradition holds that this is the site where Cain slew Abel. (Below) The Orthodox convent of Deir Mar Thecla. This church, accessible only by stairs in the mountainside, was built around the cave-tomb of Saint Thecla, a first-century persecuted Christian.


Bible written in Syriac

Children’s band plays at the opening of a new church. The area is considered to be where Paul roamed after his conversion to Christianity.

(Left) The daughter of Iraqi artist Salim Salameh. She was kidnapped for several days in Iraq until her parents with the help of the church paid her ransom. Christians, who often have relations abroad, are considered profitable targets for kidnapping. (Overleaf) Iraqi refuges from in and around Damascus rushing the gates of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which gives out free food, medical and household supplies.


From Residents to Citizens: Ethiopian Muslims in Transition Jonathan Cross


slam, with its adherents and devotees, is not a newcomer on the Ethiopian scene. In 615, the Prophet Muhammad sent a small contingent of Muslims to Negash, the Christian king of northern Ethiopia. Seeking sanctuary from the hostile Meccan authorities, Muhammad entrusted this distant king with his nascent movement. Including ‘Umm Ayman (the Prophet’s nurse), Bilal bin Rabah (the first muezzin, or singer of the call to prayer), Uthman bin ‘Affar (the second caliph), Ruqayya (daughter of the Prophet), and Jafar (the brother of the fourth caliph Ali),1 In some ways, Islam had gone global even before it gained local momentum. The Negashi narrative weaves Ethiopian Muslims into the earliest moments of the umma (“community” or “nation of believers”); before Islam crossed the Red Sea and accessed Ethiopia, it covered the Arabian peninsula. But despite nearly fourteen centuries of an Islamic presence, Muslims have only become a poignant constituency with an audible voice since 1991. After the Italian occupation (1936-1941) and the fall of emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, a military junta – the Derg – hijacked the Ethiopian government until 1987. It was only after the Derg had effectively equalized all religions under the pretense of socialism that Muslims began to feel included in the Ethiopian polity. The post-1991 regime – the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) – affirms secularism but retains a tenuous relationship with Ethiopian religious authorities. It is in this new environment that Ethiopian Muslims are pluralizing “Ethiopianness” to include the voices of those who were once considered only “Muslims living in Ethiopia.” 2 The cultural and religious milieu is expanding, and no longer is Ethiopia perceived as being solely Christian. However, although the status of Ethiopian Muslims has changed considerably over the last twenty years, Muslims are still not on par with their Orthodox and Protestant Christian peers.

1. Dereje Feyissa, “Setting a Social Reform Agenda in the Homeland: The Identity Politics of the Ethiopian Muslims in the Diaspora,” working paper, 2010, 34.

2. “Muslims living in Ethiopia” was an expression used by the Haile Selassie and Derg regimes. (Personal Communication, Mahmoud, 30 June 2009).

This paper offers ethnographic research conducted during my ten-week stay in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in the summer of 2009. The notion that Ethiopian Muslims are stakeholders in the Ethiopian nation-state is a contestable point – one that is addressed through the voices and echoes of my Ethiopian Muslim interlocutors. My interviews revealed three crucial factors that regulate Ethiopian Muslims’ articulations within and in relation to the Ethiopian nation-state: historical legacies, globalization, and internal trends. Critical to this analysis are Muslim-Christian relations, as religious affiliation not only anchor Ethiopians in their respective communities, but it often bridges ethnic and regional gaps as well. To consider the ongoing transition from “Muslims living in Ethiopia” to “Ethiopian Muslims” it is necessary to appreciate the religious demographics of contemporary Ethiopia. According to the 2007 government census, Ethiopian Muslims constitute 34% of the population, whereas Orthodox and Protestant Christians constitute 45% and 18%, respectively.3 This is a critical point of departure because it situates the Muslim population as the numeric minority, as determined by religious, rather than ethnic or racial identity. Hence, identity politics are founded on, substantiated by, and expressed through religious affiliation. While these census statistics are hotly contested by homeland as well as diasporic groups, the numbers nevertheless lend insight into Ethiopian affairs: majority-minority politics often overlap with Christian-Muslim relations.

CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM RELATIONS PRIOR TO 1991 Christianity’s entrenchment in Ethiopia dates back to the 4th century, when an Ethiopian king adopted the foreign faith as the state venture after two Syrian

From Residents to Citizens: Ethiopian Muslims in Transition


3. Feyissa, “Setting a Social Reform Agenda in Homeland”, 3.

monks shared the story of Christ with him. But the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church draws on yet another narrative to establish itself. Like the Nejashi account, this Solomonic narrative relies on the intimacy of Ethiopians with foreign religious authorities. The Christian claim draws from an earlier momen – that of King Solomon and Queen Sheba of Ethiopia. In the 10th century BCE, their son Menelik I purportedly transplanted the Ark of the Convenant from the Second Temple in Jerusalem to Axum, Ethiopia. As defenders of the Ark, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians selfidentify as the vanguard of Christianity. From Menelink I to Haile Selassie, every Ethiopian monarch (with few exceptions) extended the Solomonic dynasty. And since the divine line ended with Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has desperately wanted to reinvigorate it.

4. Personal Communication, Sheikh Muhammad, 25 June 2009.

5. Feyissa, “Setting a Social Reform Agenda in Homeland”, 14. 6. Personal Communication, Ahmad, 15 June 2009.

7. Personal Communication, Zekaria, 19 July 2009.

8. Hussein Ahmed Hajji. “Co-existence and/or Confrontation: Towards a Reappraisal of Christian-Muslim Encounter in Contemporary Ethiopia”. Journal of Religion in Africa (36:1, 2006), 5. 9. Personal Communication, Bahr, 1 June 2009. 10. For a valuable historical survey of Ethiopian rulers see: John Markakis. Anatomy of a Traditional Polity. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1974). 11. Personal Communication, Najib, 7 June 2009.

With this divine sanction, the pre-1991 bond between the Ethiopian government and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) was unbreakable. According to one Ethiopian Muslim interviewee, the EOC was the “Hand” and the government was the “Sword;” the government operated with a blank check from the Ethiopian religious authorities.4 Because the Church had a lock on Ethiopian politics, the religious majority set the national agenda. As scholar Dereje Feyissa has noted, “Ethiopian national identity long equated with the Orthodox Church, [which meant that] religious minorities such as Muslims were integrated in the nation as ‘internal others.’” 5 It was during this long historical period that one interviewee noted, “What it meant to be Ethiopian was defined by non-Muslims. To be Ethiopian was to be Christian.” 6 After toppling Haile Selassie, the Derg severed, albeit incompletely, this relationship in its pursuit of secularism, thereby making space for Ethiopian pluralism to take new form. Today, in light of centuries of denial and second-class citizenship, Ethiopian Muslims are struggling to find their place in a recently secularized Ethiopia. The once monolithic notion of “Ethiopianness” is increasingly contested by Muslims who are adamant about their inclusion in the larger national narrative. As we will see, Ethiopian Muslims today are convinced of their capability to improve global Islam (the umma) and Ethiopia as well. In the words of one Muslim interlocutor, “When I become a true Muslim I am a true Ethiopian – I owe much to my country.” 7 Given the Nejashi narrative and the long presence of Islam in Ethiopia, the folding of religious and national ventures into a single enterprise is logical. Prior to the current regime of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Muslims were only peripheral residents at best. Geographically, Muslims lived in the arid valleys encircling the fertile highlands, the bastion of Ethiopian Christianity. Muslims enjoyed healthy social interactions with their Christian peers, but often suffered under the institutional actions of the Church and the State. The late scholar of Ethiopian Islam, Hussein Ahmed Hajji argued that “the long held notion of Christian-Muslim tolerance and peaceful coexistence needs closer scrutiny.”8 Corroborating this critique is one of my interviewees, who said, “Muslims were expected to tolerate intolerance.” 9 Historical examples abound, but those most relevant to Muslims today are the terrors inflicted by the Ethiopian emperors Yohannes IV (1831-1889), Menelik II (1844-1913), and Haile Selassie (1892-1975).10 The reign of Haile Selassie fomented an expression that best sums up the experiences of Ethiopian Muslims prior to the EPRDF: they were classified as “those Muslims living in Ethiopia” (first appearing in a 1971 government newspaper, the Addis Zaman).11 The outright denial of Muslims as Ethiopians, paired


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

with the tacit presumption that “Christian” and “Ethiopian” were interchangeable, is a recurring tear in the Ethiopian social and political fabric. This agitation – the denial of Muslims as Ethiopians – is being revived and iterated today by wings of the EOC that are intent on suppressing the Muslim voice. Recently local Muslims were evacuated from Gondar (northern Ethiopia) after the local Orthodox authorities claimed, “We permitted you [Muslims] to live here for the last 1,400 years, and now is the right time for you to leave the country.” 12

12. Personal Communication, Murad, 1 June 2009.

POST-1991 MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN RELATIONS Consider that both Ethiopian Christianity and Ethiopian Islam developed indigenously, with relatively little external foreign influence. Ethiopians treat religion as a national issue, one that garners genuine pride as well as resistance to foreign pressures. For many Ethiopians religion is inextricably connected with their national, ethnic, and social identities. In fact, they treat their faiths, the movements they demand, and the responses they elicit as quintessential to daily life. Until fairly recently, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians have been well accustomed to the synergy of nationality, religion, and ethnicity. Ethiopian Muslims, on the other hand, are only now struggling with the ways in which these three spheres interact. This is due in part to the idea of the “Ethiopian Muslim” – a neologism that reflects the long-awaited acceptance and participation of Muslims. An interview with a prominent Muslim sheikh elicited this response regarding the Muslim mentality: “Historically, we were meant to be economically, geographically, and intellectually atomized. No ‘we’ mentality ever developed.” 13 This sense of a concrete Ethiopian Muslim community – one not defined provincially but nationally and internationally (the umma) – is catalyzing Muslim participation in the national agenda. Since 1991, Muslims have started to feel Ethiopian, and their presence is increasingly recognized, much to the chagrin of many Orthodox Christians. By denying religious institutions a place in political affairs, the Derg equalized religion in Ethiopia. Suddenly, the Orthodox Church was no longer a member of the government. With few exceptions, their pleas and claims for legitimacy fell on deaf ears. Although Muslims retained their second-class status, a new dynamic began to emerge. Religion was to find a new orbit in secular Ethiopia. Although the Church retained a significant sway over many Derg officials, it had lost its historic seat next to the head of state. Muslims benefited from this dramatic change as Christianity was no longer the official religion and was no longer capable of relegating Muslims to the background. This is not to suggest that “Muslims in Ethiopia” became “Ethiopian Muslims” overnight, but rather that the reassignment of religion in the Derg regime signaled a gradual, and still incomplete, transition. Christians and Muslims may have lived in near-idyllic harmony for centuries (an enduring Ethiopian claim that deserves deeper scrutiny), but the acute inconsistencies promulgated by the Orthodox Church led to a cleavage between Christians and Muslims. One Ethiopian Muslim describes this inequality: “Tolerance in the past meant that Muslims had to compromise their identity and personality.” 14 He asserts that this sense of isolation and marginalization prohibited any “we” mentality – a challenge that echoes in Muslim civic participation today. Although the EPRDF does not reject religion (as a public enterprise) as the Derg did, the current regime has yet to level all religious inequalities among Ethiopians. Using “goverchurch” to describe the current regime, one Muslim interviewee criticized

From Residents to Citizens: Ethiopian Muslims in Transition


13. Personal Communication, Sheikh Muhammad, 25 June 2009.

14. Personal Communication, Abdullah, 25 June 2009.

15. Personal Communication, Yassin, 14 July 2009. 16. Personal Communication, Ahmad, 15 June 2009.

17. Personal Communication, Meftuch, 30 June 2009.

government officials of having “the brain of church. They practice their religion in their position. They act not as the government employee but as the Church. They don’t want to see the Muslims rise up.” 15 While the post-1991 government may claim to be secular, Muslim perception offers a different reality. The dominant Muslim voice agrees that “If the secularism prohibits me, and is against my religion, it is not secularism.”16 Ethiopian Muslims challenge a notion of secularism that relies on the foundations of historical prejudice, a secularism that retains its favoritism for Orthodox Christian involvement in politics. In this arena, rewriting relations between Ethiopian Muslims and Christians is a labyrinthine challenge. The history of Muslim-Christian relations, whether positive or negative, elicits a variety of responses from contemporary Ethiopian Muslims. Many of my interlocutors divide the relationships with their Abrahamic peers into two categories: social and institutional. While tensions between the EOC and Muslims were (and certainly still are at times) strained and injurious, many Muslims contend that social, or neighborly interactions present a very different story. The dominant narrative tells of Muslims and Christians who live in harmony despite isolated incidents (which almost always revolve around holidays or mosque/ church construction projects), and flourish in each other’s company. Sharing in national as well as religious holidays, celebrations and mourning is not uncommon – it is the norm rather than the exception. This narrative demonstrates a powerful reality: proximity facilitates healthy relationships, even across religious boundaries that often appear divided. The historic proclivity for coming to know the “other” as an individual with a distinct, but commensurately significant personality, rather than as an abstraction, is positive, even hopeful – a sign for the future of Ethiopian Muslims and Christians alike. The post-1991 possibilities are accented by one of my interlocutors: “Today, now, I feel much better, I feel Ethiopian. My Muslim identity has no problem being Ethiopian.” 17

A GLOBAL ETHIOPIA Influences of globalization are easily recognizable in contemporary Ethiopia. Consumerism dominates the streets of the capital city, Addis Ababa. Super-malls now consume Addis’ main shopping district; bookstores are expanding their linguistic repertoire; urban Internet cafes are in vogue, often filled with young Ethiopians connecting locally as well as globally. With the increased accessibility to technologies like the Internet, cell phones, and entertainment media, religious activity is broadening. Protestant missionaries continue to spread their interpretation of Christianity across the country, often with the financial backing of Western powers. Simultaneously, American, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Saudi governments and businesses fund massive development projects, as well as religious activities in Christian and Muslim socio-political circles. While many Muslims claim that the Protestants (called “Pentis,” short for Pentacostals) are attracting more Orthodox Christians than Muslims, it is likely that this is a defensive mechanism to deny the Evangelical movement’s credibility within the Muslim community. Regardless of their actual influence on Ethiopian Muslims, the Protestant population is growing at the expense of the Orthodox one, and is actively challenging the traditional MuslimOrthodox dyad that has been commonplace in Ethiopia since the 7th century. Ethiopian Muslim diasporic communities also play an active role in homeland affairs, though their effectiveness is questionable. Badr International, Negashi, and the Network of Ethiopian Muslims in Europe (NEME) are some of the many cyber-spaces where


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

Ethiopians contest the current regime, and contribute financially but fall short in achieving real genuine social or political change.18 Still some Muslims contend that these organizations help diasporic communities maintain their Ethiopian cultures and traditions. The eastern Ethiopian city of Harar, which is often considered the fourth holiest city in Islam, is an example of how diasporic funds have bolstered economic development. Hararis maintain tight-knit, cross-continental networks by hosting conferences (such as the Harari Sports and Cultural Festival held annually in the United States) to maintain their connection to the homeland and preserve their ethnic heritage.19

18. See Terrence Lyons, “The Ethiopian Diaspora and Homeland Conflict,” draft paper presented at the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, 2–7 July 2007. 19. See (accessed 11 April 2010).

CHALLENGES OF EXTERNAL FORCES One recent event exemplifies involvement in and reception of diasporic movements. In 2007, Badr organized a delegation representing Ethiopian Muslims in the United States, Europe, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.20 This diasporic network studied contemporary events in Ethiopia as they related to Muslims, and wrote an extensive document highlighting the relevant concerns. Given the document’s significance to diasporic as well as homeland Muslim groups, it is appropriate that Feyissa calls it the “‘manifesto’ of the emerging Ethiopian rights movement.” 21 The document seeks to rectify the historic marginalization of Ethiopian Muslims by capitalizing on the liberal EPRDF government. In this critical time for Ethiopia, it seeks to renegotiate the role of and space for Ethiopian Muslims. Despite its significance to the diaspora, the document’s affective power inside Ethiopia is questionable. According to several interlocutors, these diasporic projects only stir up trouble in Ethiopia. By operating beyond Ethiopia, diasporic groups like Badr and NEME can dilute the Muslim argument, thus losing their credibility in the eyes of the government and local Muslims. Given the EPRDF’s fear of foreign influence, these foreign diasporas pose a serious threat to the Ethiopian Muslim cause. Often considered dangerous to Ethiopian stability, these diasporic projects are sometimes considered inconsequential by homeland Muslims. One interviewee shared his frustration with these groups, saying that the diaspora is “not relevant to Islam in Ethiopia.” 22 How do these foreign groups, although operating with the best intentions, skew the agenda and negatively affect internal dynamics? Whether a contributor, dilutor, or detractor, the Ethiopian Muslim diaspora requires greater scholarly attention, with particular focus on the diaspora-homeland relationship.23 In addition to Ethiopian Muslims abroad, the voice and influence of non-Ethiopian foreigners is growing louder as they garner support of affluential stakeholders. Geographically, Ethiopia is the bridge between southern, predominantly Christian Africa and northern, predominantly Muslim Africa. Whereas many other African nations are decidedly Christian or Muslim, Ethiopia’s demographics place Muslims and Christians on the cusp of majority/minority labels. As a result, both Christian and Muslim forces are eager to tip the scales and project either the Nejashi or the Solomonic narrative on to the global scene. Christians from the West are competing with Salafis from Saudi Arabia, and both are contending for Ethiopia’s dominant religious identity. The EPRDF has expressed grave concerns over this foreign influence: Recently, the government has passed a new law that limits foreign financial contributions to 10% of any non-governmental organization’s funds. This inhibits the economic incentives of Western and Saudi groups but does not preclude their physical presence in Ethiopia. Western missionaries are drawing converts to the growing Evangelical movement from both Orthodox and Muslim communities. Operating mostly in the southern, rural

From Residents to Citizens: Ethiopian Muslims in Transition


20. Feyissa., “Setting a Social Reform Agenda in Homeland”, 19–27.

21. Ibid., 13.

22. Personal Communication, Sheikh Mekete, 8 June 2009.

23. In his analysis of the Ethiopian diaspora, Lyons concludes “The case of the Ethiopian diaspora in the United States reflects both the diversity of the community and the critical roles played by those who are most actively engaged in the political struggles in the homeland. Ethiopian politicians perceive the diaspora as a key source of resources, ideas, and leadership. Both the government and the opposition seek to build support within the diaspora and regularly send delegations to brief communities abroad and to use internet and other forms of media to promote their positions” (Lyons18).

24. Personal Communication, Geytaun, 19 July 2009.

regions, these Protestants offer novel economic and social opportunities, making them exceptionally attractive. Salafi Muslims (Arabs as well as Ethiopians returning from Saudi and the United Arab Emirates) are introducing a new Islamic consciousness and polemical perspective to the public discourse. The influence of Salafism is growing, or as one Muslim interlocutor commented, “When you are in a renaissance, you may search for different practices; especially due to globalization, which brings an interchange of ideas. Therefore, all Muslims may have some access to this Salafi movement.” 24 According to the same Muslim, an educator in Awassa (southern Ethiopia), Salafism is attractive because it offers a political edge that Sufism (the dominant form of Ethiopian Islam) lacks. Sufism encourages passivity in political affairs; Salafi ideology demands engagement. Thus, for many Ethiopian Muslims, Salafism is a financially stable conduit for the articulation of Muslim interests. Salafism also offers Ethiopian Muslims an ideological and cultural link to the supposed heartland of Islam-Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Salafism fulfills the Negashi narrative by re-establishing and operating through the link between Ethiopia and early Islam. Despite the 1,400 years of dormancy, the Negashe narrative is now alive again with the Salafi bridge to Ethiopia.


25. Personal Communication, Abdullah, 30 June 2009. 26. Personal Communication, Hasan, 10 July 2009.

Combined with the influences of history and globalization, internal trends are pushing Ethiopians to reshape their notions of the state, religious authority, and civil society. Muslims are learning to articulate themselves as citizens with (technically) equal rights under the Ethiopian Constitution, while Christians are contending with apostates and Protestantism (and occasionally Islam), the demotion of the Orthodox Church, and the end of Christian-Amhara dominance. According to one Ethiopian academic and civil servant, the “EOC misses its upper hand” and is straining to retake center stage, dismissing other distractions (like Muslims and Protestants) along the way.25 Another Muslim voice argued that “The history of the past regimes, particularly Haile Selassie, informed Muslims that ‘you are not invited to be representatives [of Ethiopia]’.”26 Now that Muslims are involved in the national agenda despite the EPRDF’s restrictions, they are indeed representatives of Ethiopia. The EOC is afraid of another religious authority and seeks to quell the growing Muslim movement. Today many Ethiopian Muslims blame current local conflicts and heightened tensions on Orthodox Christians attempting to reestablish their tradition as the single religious and political envelope. Composed mostly of young, urban Ethiopians, the Mahbere Qedusan (“Association of Saints”) is an Orthodox movement that offers polemical messages through modern media. In Addis Ababa, they have deftly transformed minibuses (the primary mode of transportation for Ethiopians of every social and economic class) into mobile churches – vehicles of both promotion and antagonism. With their rigid theological claims, often debunking Muhammad and the Qur’an, these minibuses sell CDs and DVDs assaulting Muslims. Many of their activities are in response to foreign Muslims such as Ahmed Didat and Dr. Zakir Naif, public figures who are almost universally admired and accepted by Ethiopian Muslims. Moreover, the Mahbere Qedusan manipulates arguments from those like Israeli scholar Haggai Ehrlich in order to pervert Islam and paint Muslims as terrorists who threaten Ethiopia with their foreign weapons, funds, and ideologies. The uniformity of “Muslim” and “Terrorist” is assumed and reinforced. Muslims are homogenous, external threats, and explicitly un-Ethiopian. For the Mahbere Qedusan and many EOC members, Muslims are colluding with their foreign co-religionists to undermine Ethiopian stability.


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

This tactic engenders an apologetic trend as well – tracing blame to a foreign source. The predominantly Christian government fears Salafi influence and actively constricts Muslims’ voices to the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). The EOC condemns Muslims for their “foreign-ness” and, by extension, their “extremism.” Yet one interviewee staunchly claimed, “I could say that Ethiopia is the most unfavorable country for entertaining Islamic extremism.”27 Many Muslims too are apprehensive about the rise of Salafism in Ethiopia and either dread or deny the burgeoning population of fundamental Muslims under foreign dictates. Ergo, foreign religious ideas, in collusion with local voices, are perceived to be responsible for heightened contemporary tensions. As one speaker opined, “The current challenge of tolerance is an external issue.”28 Religious competition in Ethiopia – for both converts and the authoritative cultural voice – is intensifying, regardless of the source. Addressing these challenges must be a top priority to mend Ethiopia’s social comity and to accelerate economic and political development. Along this same vein, the relationship between Islam and the state is of utmost importance for Ethiopian Muslims who see themselves as critically engaged in the success of the secular nation-state. Many maintain that the tenets of Islam, which demand comprehensive freedoms and social responsibilities, make Muslims effective political actors. The Ethiopian Muslims’ dominant narrative argues that secularism in Ethiopia is highly beneficial for all Ethiopians, or as one stated, “Muslims benefit from the separation of the Church and the State.” Memoires of Christian hegemony reinforce this belief and steamroll any form of theocracy.29 Ethiopia’s rich ethnic and religious diversity prohibits shari’a law from appropriating Muslim political sensibilities. However, Ethiopian Muslims are divided as to where to draw the lines that differentiate the secular and religious activities. This is perhaps best exemplified by their complete rejection of the EIASC. Many Muslims claim that their governmentappointed representatives “are on the side of politics and not on the side of the religion [Islam].”30 Another Muslim suggested, “The Majlis [EIASC] is the extended hand of the government.”31 This lucid observation, which cuts across ethnic and economic lines, argues that publicly engaged Muslims must speak for the betterment of Islam first, Ethiopia second. The contrary argument, another widely expressed narrative, advocates that Muslims who maintain their Islamic values should abandon theology in decision-making and policy formulation. For many Ethiopian Muslims, secularism means legal processes and governing bodies bereft of any one particular creed or theological motivation. Consequently, the government is actively managing the Muslim voice to prevent foreign influence. Ethiopian Muslims are well aware of this reality, and almost universally reject the EIASC. Yet another Muslim observed, “Today every Muslim knows that these individuals [EIASC members] are not for Muslims.”32 But then he went on to say, in an even more strident and electrified voice, “As a Muslim I have to participate, but I cannot because the Majlis [EIASC] does not allow it.”33 Accordingly, the government uses the EIASC as a tool for appeasing, as well as regulating, the Muslim voice. Ethiopian Muslims’ general sentiment is that the EIASC has failed to represent Muslims, even in the most superficial sense, because they have neglected the key issues facing Ethiopian Muslims. The EIASC has not contested the institutional and social rejection of hijab (head covering) and salat (prayer) in universities. It has also failed to build a mosque in Addis Ababa, symbolizing its failure to mobilize the Muslim community. With only one government-sanctioned and recognized entity, Muslims are currently unable to engage the EPRDF through legal mechanisms. This is what one interlocutor

From Residents to Citizens: Ethiopian Muslims in Transition


27. Personal Communication, Geytaun, 19 July 2009.

28. Personal Communication, Hasan 10 July 2009.

29. Personal Communication, Abu Bakr, 11 July 2009.

30. Personal Communication, Najib, 7 June 2009. 31. Personal Communication, Sheikh Muhammad, 25 June 2009.

32. Personal Communication, Ahmad, 15 June 2009. 33. Ibid.

34. Personal Communication, Mengeshu, 10 June 2009.

35. For commentary on Surat al-Kalam (chapter 68), see Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali, “A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an” (Herdon: The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 36. Personal Communication, Yassin, 14 July 2009.

37. Personal Communication, Sheikh Mekete, 8 June 2009.

called “secularism with setbacks,” a reality that reveals lingering traces of the Ethiopian government’s affinity for Christian relationships.34 The government is still intimately involved in religious affairs but is careful to traverse the minefield of accusations that it might favor one group over another. This political game of accommodating religious institutions and peoples is certainly not unique to Ethiopia. It is the intersection of ethnicity with this particular blend of Salafis, Sufis, Protestants, and indigenous Orthodox Christians that amplifies this contest. In any case, in order to influence Ethiopia’s uncertain future, Ethiopian Muslims must learn ways to engage in the public sphere as Muslims. In doing so, they can garner the support of their co-religionists (barring EIASC members), encourage genuine secularism where religion is an asset to the state rather than a detractor, and to prevent extreme religious voices from dominating the public rhetoric about Christianity, Islam and foreign involvement. Clearly, there are many challenges facing Ethiopian Muslims today. Manifest in these three broad areas, Ethiopian Muslims must continue to mature their nascent identity in relation to the Ethiopian nation-state, the umma, their Christian neighbors, and their notion of “Ethiopianness.” Contesting foreign influence and historical precedent constitute the pressing concerns for Ethiopian Muslims. Citing Surat al-Kalam from the Qur’an,35 one Muslim speaker identified the fundamental role of knowledge in Islam as best exemplified by Jibril’s injunction to Muhammad: “read.” 36 Several of my interlocutors accented education – rewriting Ethiopia’s history with greater attention to Islamic influences and focusing on Islamic heritage management in universities – as the most critical step to a more inclusive definition of “Ethiopianness.” Globalization and the resulting exposure to new ideas – whether moral, social, economic, religious, political, or racial – will all guide Ethiopian Muslims in their expressions. More specifically, the religious forces from both the West and the Middle East will continue to shape Ethiopia’s religious environment. How Ethiopian Muslims navigate foreign Salafism and Protestantism is another pressing issue. Related to this challenge is the reading of history. Many Ethiopian Muslims blame contemporary issues on past grievances. The infamous notion that Ethiopia is “an Island of Christianity within a sea of Islam,” recently revived by the Mahbere Qedusan, is a painful scar on the history of Muslim-Christian relations.37 If Ethiopian Muslims focus on this instead of on concrete endeavors to amplify their contributions, the future is rather dismal. Recalling these memories as the dominant narrative of Muslim-Christian relations will only reinforce their poignancy and continue to evoke bitter emotions and anxieties. Such reactions will undoubtedly cripple self-identification and interreligious relations.


38. Ibid.

Ethiopian Muslims are not leaving Ethiopia. They are proud to be both Ethiopian and Muslim. One interviewee expressed this when he said, “I’m so happy that I’m an Ethiopian Muslim. It’s better that I’m a Muslim in Ethiopia rather a Muslim in America because Bilal was a Habesha [Ethiopian] and Nejashi was the first Muslim king in Ethiopia.”38 Ethiopian Islam may be contested both internally (Sufi vs. Salafi) and externally (Muslim vs. EOC/Protestants), but for Ethiopian Muslims, there is no better home than Ethiopia. Looking ahead, there are several critical factors for the future of Ethiopian Islam. According to many Ethiopian Muslims, the greatest challenge to accelerating Ethiopia’s development is education. Recent statistics reveal a gross disparity (respective to their


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

populations) between Muslims’ and Christians’ educational involvement. While Muslims in higher education most probably do not exceed 15%, the younger generation is far more promising, where an estimated 50% of elementary school children across the country are Muslim.39 This has triggered two serious reactions: some Orthodox Christians feel threatened by the increasingly engaged Muslim youth, while many Muslims are now doubly invested in the younger generations. Additionally, young Ethiopians are now developing more radical and polarized religious beliefs and articulations. Many Mahbere Qedusan and Salafis are young Ethiopians committed to the fundamental demands of their respective orthodoxies. Regardless, Muslims consider education to be the quintessential key to improving civic engagement.

39. Personal Communication, Nadia, 25 July 2009.

Historically stigmatized as uneducated merchants, Muslims will have to overcome both a public perception and internal struggle. Moreover, Muslims involved in the educational curriculum will set new precedents and take actions that will stimulate Islamic and Arabic studies in and beyond the context of Ethiopian history. Muslims in schools and universities will also begin to recast the relationship of Ethiopian Muslims and Christians on a more level intellectual and social plane. Ethiopian Muslims are undoubtedly hopeful. Many express immense gratitude for the EPRDF and the emerging dynamics within Ethiopia, saying that the current regime has created previously unimaginable possibilities for Muslims. This does not mean that they are blind to the inadequacies of the current regime, the EIASC, and the related threats of the Mahbere Qedusan and Wahhabism. Moderate voices, both religiously and extrareligiously articulated, must negotiate these radical risks to prevent large-scale collision. Ethiopian secularism still treads a fine and undefined line. Perhaps for the first time in their long history, Ethiopian Muslims are moving from mere residents to audible citizens in the Ethiopian polity. Echoing many Ethiopian Muslims, one interlocutor revealed a salient perspective, “Every political sphere, every intellectual sphere, every historical sphere was defined by others.” 40 There was no participation of Muslims in defining what is ‘Ethiopian.’ This reality is changing; contemporary Muslims echo the sentiment that they are only now starting to “feel Ethiopian.” 41 Gleaning inspiration from the Qur’an and hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), Ethiopian Muslims are revising their role in Ethiopian history, attuned to the synergism of being Ethiopian and Muslim. Spatially and digitally unbounded globalization, and the consequent exposure to new ideas, will continue to shape Ethiopia’s religious environment. How Ethiopian Muslims navigate the growing Salafist and Protestant movements is the critical question. Related to this challenge is the invocation of history, as many Ethiopian Muslims blame contemporary issues on past grievances. If Ethiopian Muslims focus on the negative narratives, instead of concrete endeavors to amplify their contributions, their future is rather dismal. Fourteen-centuries after the first hijra delivered Islam to Ethiopia, these longtime residents are just beginning to explore their potential as citizens in the secular, post-1991 Ethiopia. The outdated paradigm – that tolerance required Muslims to compromise their personality – is unraveling. Perhaps the parting words of one Muslim say it best: “I feel that I am an Ethiopian Muslim. What I want is to express myself as an Ethiopian and as a Muslim. For me there is no conflict in these matters. When I am honest for Allah, I am honest for my country.” 42

From Residents to Citizens: Ethiopian Muslims in Transition 37

40. Personal Communication, Ahmad, 15 June 2009. 41. Personal Communication, Meftuch, 30 June 2009.

42. Personal Communication, Geytaun, 19 July 2009.

More than Marley: Ethiopia Explored Jonathan Cross


thiopia is more than Bob Marley, coffee and famine. The second most populous nation in Africa, Ethiopia is nestled between Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti. Although briefly occupied by the Italians in the mid-20th century, Ethiopia was never colonized like her African peers. Today, the Ethiopian nationstate is home to Christians and Muslims, as well as over eighty different ethnic populations. During the summer of 2009, I traversed the Ethiopian landscapes and cityscapes; these pictures attempt to capture the colorful traditions and daily experiences of her citizens.

This young Harari girl carries bundles of firewood to generate a paltry income for her family. Transporting natural resources from the countryside into urban environs is common labor for many Ethiopians.

An Ethiopian Orthodox Christian priest proffers a Bible handwritten in Ge’ez, an ancient semitic language used in Ethiopia Orthodox liturgy. This Bible is made of goat hide and offers vibrant depictions of biblical figures and events. Lake Ziway, in southern Ethiopia, is the natural habitat of rare birds, fish, and hippos. Ziway’s sustainable fish population provides local Ethiopians with a large economic opportunity. Tourists flock to the lake for hippo watching tours in rickety boats piloted by young Ethiopians.

Khat, the popular stimulant and Ethiopian cash crop, is sold in local markets such as this one in Harar. Although the sale of khat produces economic opportunities for Ethiopians, the drug induces lethargy and loss of appetite – both of which are detrimental to productivity.

(Over) This Amhara (one of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups) lives in the rolling hills of northern Ethiopia – a sparsely populated region with ample natural resources but little refuge from the elements.

An Irish NGO supports these young Ethiopians’ athletic aspirations by providing a track and running equipment, as well as funding coaches and competition trips. While the boys were posing for this picture the girls were practicing sprints for their next competition. Foreign civic organizations, particular those from Europe, the United States, and China, have become increasing engaged in developing Ethiopia’s economy and providing educational opportunities.

Ethiopian shopkeepers in the Harari smugglers’ market are participants in a historic Muslim trade network.vT-shirts, silk, shoes, and leather travel from China to East Africa, where Somali traders smuggle the goods into Ethiopia. Here we see an Ethiopian women selling silk for making hijab, the traditional Arab headscarf.

Networked Minorities: An Examination of Hazaras and Baha’is Nathan Schick


etwork methodology is key in understanding how transnational minority groups understand and reinforce group identity. Mobilization theories draw attention to important issues for minorities and their demands for full citizenship rights. In a global community where networks often overlap or spill beyond the isolated geographic boundaries of nation-states, the trans-national character of these networks is viewed suspiciously. They are threats to national security. They are channels of subversion. The Hazaras of Afghanistan and the Baha’is of Iran are minority groups helped and blighted by the paradoxical nature of networks and mobilization. Yet their respective statuses as minorities shape the dimension of their particular networks and the scope of their mobilization. A key difference in the cases of the Hazaras and the Baha’is is that while the Baha’is are primarily religious minorities in Iran, the Hazaras are both religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan. The Hazaras’ Shi’a affiliation, coupled with the pilgrimage and migrant labor networks, create distrust with the ruling Sunni Pashtuns. Likewise, the minority groups of Afghanistan, including the Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmens and Tajiks distrust the Pashtuns in turn. But Alessandro Monsutti warns against overemphasizing ethnic belonging and division. In his ethnographic work on the effects of economic and social ties of the Hazara migrant labor network he writes, “Too great a stress on the ethnic dimension does, however, mask the reality of the solidarity networks, which are usually organized around infra-ethnic aspects such as lineage, marital ties or residential proximity. Regional origin also often carries greater weight than ethnic affiliation.” 1 While this warning is valid, it is also noteworthy that the Hazaras are the only ethnic group to connect the labor network of Mashad, Iran to the Hazarajat in Afghanistan by surmounting economic hardship.

1. Monsutti, Alessandro. War and Migration: Social Networks and Economic Strategies of the Hazaras of Afghanistan. (New York: Routledge/ Taylor & Francis Group, 2001), 141

A second key difference is the relationship that the peripheral nodal communities have with their center, respectively. While the Hazaras have connected citizens outside Afghanistan, they are migrant laborers who return regularly, and thereby construct a circulatory system of exchange in their transnational network. In contrast, Iranian Baha’is, who have fled Iran to escape persecution, established diasporic communities in Europe and North America, and are still attentive to – even active in – Iranian affairs through the Internet. This virtual diaspora allows expatriates to circumvent the threat of government retaliation, and draw attention to human rights abuses within Iran. In this way, the structure of their network is more unidirectional and reflective. However, while having external allies and quasi- or former citizens can attract awareness of international institutions and aid groups, it can also be problematic and divisive for minorities in the home node. This dynamic can be seen with the Egyptian Coptic diaspora in the U.S., as it illustrates how the diaspora’s influence can lead to divisions within the Coptic community in Egypt. Mariz Tadros pointed out how “outspoken criticism has been voiced by some Coptic groups in the diaspora who have accused Pope Shenouda of selling out to the government.” They have also criticized the U.S. lobbying group CopticAmerican Union for accusing Pope Shenouda of aligning with the government in a way that compromises the safety of Copts in Egypt.2 Through the external efforts of the diaspora, tension between the state and the resident actors is sharpened. Inside Iran, alerts to individual cases of Baha’i persecution have resulted in rapidly-mobilized petition responses from the diaspora. The mistreatment of Baha’is, in the form of questionable arrests and legal proceedings or executions, has been reported to the


2. Tadros, Mariz. 2009. “Vicissitudes in the Entente Between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the State in Egypt (1952–2007)”. International Journal of Middle East Studies (41, 269–287., 278

international Baha’i digital networks within astoundingly short spans of time. This raises the specter of the Baha’i networks and brings the plight of their Iranian co-religionists to international political and media attention. The result is that incidents of mistreatment or violence have shifted to rural areas where it takes longer to reach these global networks, and are more easily explained away by leaders in Tehran as being outside of their control.

3. Buck, Christopher. “Islam and Minorities: the Case of the Baha’is”. Studies in Contemporary Islam. (5:1, 2006) 83–106.

4. Accessed on www.bic-un. (New York: Baha’i International Community) accessed Novmber 11, 2009, English translation found at ( wpcontent/uploads/2007/12/ 5_theisrccdocument_en.pdf

5. Monsutti., “War and Migration”, 138

6. Abbink, Jan. “Islam and Communal Relations in Wallo.” Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa. ed. B. Soares & R. Otayek, 65–83. (Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 73–74

The activity of the diasporic Baha’i community has instigated government crackdowns on the domestic Baha’i community. After international pressure concerning the judicial proceedings of several Iranian Baha’is, the Iranian authorities dismantled the underground “Baha’i Institute for Higher Education” in 1998. The educational network had spread to include 500 private homes and 900 enrolled students as a result of admissions discrimination.3 Likewise, when the Baha’i International Community’s representative to the U.N. was elected to chair the Committee on the Status of Women in 1990 – their first chairmanship – a secret memo was being circulated among the Iranian Revolutionary Cultural Council featuring guidelines stipulating how the Baha’is were to be dealt with, including the implementation of “a plan…to confront and destroy their cultural roots outside the country.” The memo also stated, “their political…[espionage]…activities must be dealt with according to appropriate government laws and policies.” 4 While there is information being passed from the Baha’i diaspora into Iran, money is not transferred as extensively due to restrictions on Iranian banking and deposits. Hazaras, on the other hand, as migrant laborers make use of remittances more widely. A majority of Hazara men will at some point in their lives be migrant workers in Iran. Working in Iran has dual benefits: providing relatively high-paying jobs that facilitate remittances; hosting the site of Shi’a pilgrimage shrines. Although they work difficult manual labor jobs in agriculture, factories and mines, their ability to send home money gives them prestige as reliable providers upon returning home. Their having made the pilgrimage to the tombs of imams in Mashad, Qom, Karbala and Najaf bestows upon them the title of zawar (‘one who has made the pilgrimage’), imbuing them with religious prestige. It is a rare Hazara who can take advantage of the educational opportunities in Iran – despite the social divide between Iranians and Hazaras – and attain the title of mullah (religious teacher). As Monsutti points out, when mass expulsion orders result in whole communities returning to Afghanistan, these returning mullahs sometimes hold important leadership positions. This provides a contrast to the traditional hierarchy in which the Malik (a kind of tribal or regional leader) has control over his Tol (group of families).5 This phenomenon finds similar expression in other Islamic networks. For example, when Sunni laborers from various states travel to Saudi Arabia for work and return with a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and money to fund its projects, they are imbued with a new kind of prestige. Jan Abbink describes this dynamic’s effect on the Wallo in Ethiopia. “I saw new mosques in about twenty towns and villages in Wallo, and local people always told the same story: an NGO member or a local Muslim (usually a migrant worker or religious student or teacher) had gone to Saudi Arabia or another Arab country, established contact with a private religious financier or organization, and brought back the funds to start a mosque or a madrasa.”6 Hence the migrant worker networks influence minority communities by mobilizing behaviors based on a universal, textual interpretation of religion – in contrast to its local interpreted expression. “’Reformed’ Muslims deemphasize elements of folk Islam,


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

defining Muslim identity exclusively on the basis of faithfulness to the holy scriptures and promoting transnational, ‘deculturalized’ ideals of Muslim identity.”7 Both Baha’is and Hazaras utilize co-religionist networks and mobilize within them to draw emphasis to their plight and make claims to civil rights. But their utilization is not without its pitfalls. Ethnic differences play into the kind of networks established and maintained by the Hazaras. The digital diaspora of the Baha’is drew international attention to the human rights abuses they suffered in Iran, but it carried repercussions for those within the state’s borders. The migrant labor pattern of the Hazaras to central hubs of Shi’a learning and pilgrimage bring greater prestige to the returning migrants, as well as rearrange the traditional village hierarchy. While minority citizens embrace these networks for the benefits they reap, majorities see them as objects of fear, creating an ongoing tension. Despite this tension, the benefits to mobilization through networks are greater than the pitfalls associated with them and will result in their continued use.

Networked Minorities: An Examination of Hazaras and Baha’is


7. Ibid., 78

Fact or Fiction?: Sayyid Qutb a Terrorist Chloe Sarnoff


he media’s portrayal of Sayyid Qutb in the years since 9/11 is both fascinating, and – it would appear – misleading. Over and over again, Qutb is referenced alongside Osama bin Laden and other Islamic terrorists, giving the public the impression that he, too, advocated extreme violence against non-Islamic cultures. He has repeatedly been called the “philosopher of Islamic terrorism” and the father of modern fundamentalism.1 Yet despite these numerous claims that Qutb was the inspiration for groups like Al-Qaeda, or that he “was the most influential advocate in modern times of jihad (holy war),”2 the question remains whether Qutb had envisioned the extreme and destructive lengths to which his ideas would be taken. Did he actually intend to inspire violent Islamic terrorist groups? This paper shall address two major debates on Qutb that resurfaced in the wake of September 11: (1) Were his ideas and writings the foundation and inspiration for terrorists in their attack on America? (2) If Qutb truly was not the originator of these ideas, and therefore not the progenitor of 9/11, how were the beliefs of a benign literary scholar morphed into those of a “radical fundamentalist?” It is more likely that the media significantly misunderstood, and continues to misconstrue, the true nature of Qutb’s writings in the post-9/11 West. In an attempt to discover why these attacks transpired, the media has looked for simple answers to extremely complicated questions, and has assigned to Qutb much of the blame for 9/11. While it is likely that bin Laden and others were familiar with Qutb’s works, there is very little evidence that suggests that Qutb would have advocated this kind of indiscriminate violence against America, which he scarcely references in works other than America I have Seen. Additionally, I argue that the media has largely overplayed the importance of Qutb’s writings on his visit to America. In doing so, they have underestimated the impact of Qutb’s homeland of Egypt, and his imprisonment there, on his views and writings.

1. Paul Berman. “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror.” The New York Times, March, 23 2003, story/story.php?storyId=1253796. 2. Robert Irwin. “Is this the man who inspired Bin Laden? Sayyid Qutb, the father of modern Islamist fundamentalism”. The Guardian, November 1, 2001. http://www. nov/01/afghanistan.terrorism3.

Because many of the reporters and authors who have written about the relationship between Qutb and 9/11 in recent years are not specialists in Middle Eastern affairs (e.g. Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer Prize Winning book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, wrote movie screenplays before writing Looming Tower), the media has failed to provide the public with a thorough understanding of the historical context of Qutb’s writings and the tremendous influence of the social, political and religious fabric of Egypt on his work. Sayyid Qutb was born in 1906 in a small town in Upper Egypt. As an adolescent, he moved to Cairo to continue his studies at Dar al-’Ulum, a secondary school that was relatively secular for Egypt at this time. At this point in his life, Qutb had been exposed primarily to secular, or Western, methods of teaching; this continued when he attended Cairo University in 1929.3 In the late 1920’s, Qutb began his career as a literary critic and author. During this time, he focused mainly on analyzing books and poetry, and also worked as an inspector of schools for the Egyptian Ministry of Education.4 Qutb matured in post-World War II Egypt, a period stricken with political and economic turmoil. During the war, urban populations grew exponentially due to industrial growth in the cities and dilapidated conditions in the countryside.5 A growing middle class also began to form, and they were frustrated by the concentration of power within the monarchy, and the highly unfair distribution of property between landowners and peasants. Amidst the political and economic strife, this lower-to-middle class started to support either of two popular intellectual groups – the Leftists or the Islamists.


3. Musallam, Adnan, A. From Secularism to Jihad. (Connecticut: Praeger, 2005), 35 4. Ibid., 43 5. Ibid., 12

6. Ibid., 15

7. Ibid., 66-69

8. Ibid., 111-119

9. Ibid., 76-86

10. Ibid 113-119

11. Musallam., “From Secularism to Jihad”, 73

12. Ibid., 122

During the early stages of his career, Qutb was acutely aware of the tensions mounting in Egyptian society. Although he began writing poetry, he then shifted the focus of his work to literary criticism and analysis and, eventually, Qur’anic exegesis. Qutb reinvigorated his relationship with the Qu’ran with an analysis of its artistic imagery in an essay entitled “Al-Taswir al-Fanni fi al-Qu’ran.”6 He later began to emerge as a notable literary critic, writing responses to Taha Hussayn’s piece, The Future of Culture in Egypt. During this time, Qutb wrote one of his most renowned books, Social Justice in Islam. This work explored universal concepts like freedom, equality and justice, and their respective places in an Islamic society. When examining the content of Qutb’s early Islamic works, one must ask why this shift in focus occurred. In Dr. Adnan Musallam’s book From Secularism to Jihad, he suggests that in addition to Qutb’s awareness of the growing social problems in Egyptian society, the death of his mother and a failed attempt at a romantic relationship could have contributed to this shift from poetry to social and religious critique.7 In 1948, the Ministry of Education sent Qutb to America to learn about educational administration. Within his first few years in the United States, Qutb studied at several different teaching institutions, including Wilson Teachers’ College in Washington D.C., Stanford University in California, and Colorado State College for Education in Greeley.8 Qutb’s stay in America is a period of his life that has been studied vigorously. During his time in the United States, Qutb’s pre-existing negative perceptions with the United States intensified. In the 1930s, Qutb’s criticism of the West was largely cultural; however, by the 1940s, his arguments became more political. Angered by America’s involvement in and support of Israel, Qutb arrived in America ready to critique what he saw.9 His encounters with American women reinforced his perception of them as loose and promiscuous, and the racism that Qutb faced as an Arab in the 1940s contributed to his understanding of America as a country infected by injustices.10 However, it is crucial to understand that Qutb’s own moral compass did not undergo a radical transformation during his time in America. As explained in Musallam’s From Secularism to Jihad, “the emergence of Qutb as a stern moralist should not be seen merely as a development of the 1940’s. Moralism had been ingrained in him by his upbringing and environment.” 11 This notion is commonly misinterpreted by Western writers, who attribute his radicalization to his trip to the United States. The media’s mistake is not in saying that Qutb became more radical after visiting America, but instead lies largely in attributing this change to his view of America. Qutb’s radicalization crystallized when he returned to Egypt and became a prisoner in his own country – a country that he saw collapsing around him. Qutb’s return to Egypt marked the end of his work with the Ministry of Education and the beginning of his membership with the Muslim Brothers. In the early 1950’s, the Egyptian people experienced “a period of intense frustration…(and) financial and sexual scandals touching the king became the staple of Cairo gossip.” 12 The army was the only credible source of governance. “During this period, the army was the only institution in Egypt that had emerged intact from the chaos of the Palestine War and the burning of Cairo, and it was the only force left that had the power to restore law and order and govern with credibility if given the opportunity.” 13 

13. Ibid., 24

In July of 1952, the Free Officers led a revolution, that installed Gamal ‘Abd Al-Nasser as the leader of Egypt. Yet Qutb remained frustrated with Egypt’s political state.


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

Optimistic about the Brothers’ ability to bring about change, Qutb joined the Brotherhood and quickly became the editor-in-chief of th organization’s weekly newspaper.14 Musallam discusses Qutb’s publications during this period, noting that “in these articles, Qutb tackled many issues facing Islam, the Muslim world and society…. On the international level, Qutb accused the white man (al-rajul al-abyad), European or American, of being the number-one enemy of Egyptians and all other Arabs, and attacked vehemently the white man’s stooges and legacy in various sectors of Egyptian society, such as in education and the press.”15 Initially, Qutb, the Muslim Brothers and Nasser maintained a cordial relationship, but tensions soon mounted when many of the Brothers were angered by Nasser’s refusal to establish an Islamic government in Egypt. They considered many of his reforms too secular. Then, when the group was linked to an assassination attempt on his life, Nasser ordered that the Brothers be disbanded and imprisoned.16 Qutb was among them, remaining incarcerated from 1954 to until heatlh reasons sanctioned his release in 1964. However, if Nasser had hoped that by imprisoning Qutb he and the other Brothers would lose their power and popularity, he severely miscalculated. During his time in prison, “Qutb managed to write many works that would eventually make him the leading ideologue of radical and jihadist Islamists. Indeed, Qutb’s prison writings in 1954-1965 would become an integral part of Islamic resurgence in the next forty years.”17 In the Shade of the Quran and Milestones on the Road are the most famous books that Qutb wrote while in prison. In both, he discusses the need for every Muslim’s participation in jihad. However, before discussing Qutb’s understanding of jihad, one must first focus on his perception of the enemies of Islam. In In the Shade of the Quran, Qutb writes: “When we speak of an ignorant society, we are not referring to conditions that might have prevailed during a particular period of history. Ignorance is in every society in which human beings are subjugated by others. This is the cause under all existing systems on earth today. In all these contemporary societies, people look to other human beings for the formulation of their concepts, principles, values, standards, legislation and traditions.” 18 Although Qutb suggests that ignorant societies transcend historical periods, one of the first examples he gives of an “ignorant” society that threatened human freedom is preIslamic Arabia, writing that “they actually represented the very depths of ignorance; ideologically, intellectually, morally, socially, economically and politically.”19 Here, Qutb demonstrates that the battle is not between Islam and the rest of the world, but instead, between Islam and ignorance, which can even permeate majority Muslim societies. This notion that Qutb even advocated reform in seemingly-backward Islamic societies is extremely important in the context for the time in which Qutb was writing. While in prison, Qutb watched as Nassser impeded on Egyptians’ freedoms and destroyed opportunity for a true Islamic state. Therefore, it would appear that Egyptian society and government were the intended targets of Qutb’s advocacy for jihad – rather than the West, which he rarely mentions. In both In the Shade of the Quran and Milestones, Qutb directly explores the nature of jihad in the Qur’an. In the former, Qutb primarily combines this focus with the “Jewish problem” in the Arab world. In the following quote, exemplifies Qubtb’s union of Qu’ranic exegisis on jihad with the question of the Jews: “Muslims should fight to save their oppressed Muslim brethren who cannot emigrate from the land of war. In this way, the latter will be able to join the Muslim community in its land and will not be subject to persecution that aims to turn them away from their faith.

Fact or Fiction?: Sayyid Qutb a Terrorist


14. Ibid., 134–138

15. Ibid., 146

16. Ibid., 142–145

17. Ibid., 154

18. Qutb, Sayyid. In the Shade of the Quran, Vol III Surah 4. (Leicester, UK: The Islamic Foundation, 2001), 5

19. Ibid., 4

They will not have to suffer life under a system other than Islam, and will be able, instead, to enjoy life in a pure Islamic society…. Associated with the orders concerning jihad is a strong denunciation of the hypocrites and their alliance with the Jews of Madinah who schemed in every possible way against Islam and the Muslim community.”20

20. Ibid., 11

21. Ibid., 12

22. Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones on the Road

23. Lia, Brynjar. The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. (Ithaca, NY: Ithaca Press, 2006), 84

24. Ibid., 173

25. Qutb., “Milestones”, 72

In this portion of In the Shade of the Quran, Qutb does not identify the enemy of Islam to be America or the Western world, but selects the Jews, who he believed “hope[d] ultimately …to gain control of the Muslim community, its land, resources, and property, just like the Jews of Madinah exploited the two Arab tribes which lived there.” 21 Therefore, Qutb’s writings on jihad are more likely his response to Egypt’s and Israel’s oppression of freedoms and Islam – rather than that of the West, to which he makes scant mention. Qutb continues his writings on jihad in his book Milestones. In the chapter entitled, “Jihad in the Cause of God”, Qutb attempts to correct misinterpretations of the word “jihad”. In Milestones, he argues that the act of jihad does not force people to accept and practice Islam, but, instead, jihad means using “preaching as well as the movement… to strike hard at all those political powers which force people to bow before them and which rule over them, unmindful of the commandments of God, and which prevent people from listening to the preaching and accepting of the belief.” 22 While in this chapter Qutb makes it clear that jihad is never meant to force people to believe in Islam, what he does not clarify is what exactly he means by “movement.” He explains that jihad is the combination of preaching and movement to fight those systems and governments that hamper religious freedom, but he does not explicitly articulate what that entails. Brynjar Lia briefly references the Brotherhood’s understanding of jihad and its place in their society in his book Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. Lia discusses how the leaders of the Brotherhood stressed the need for a “mighty spiritual strength” that would be followed by a “stage of formation.” 23 This would be carried out by a highly specialized and trained group called the Battalions. The Battalions, alongside another group, the Rover Scouts, would received military training, presumably to be used against “imperialism and Zionism.” (171) Although Lia is discussing the foci of the leader of the Brotherhood, rather than Qutb himself, it seems likely that Qutb’s beliefs were in line with those of the organization of which he was a part.24 Qutb also refutes the claims that jihad is a “defensive movement,” because he did not believe that God intended jihad to be used only when Islam is persecuted. He believed that if the concept of jihad was limited to a defensive movement, then one must undertake the defense of all of mankind, not just Muslims.25 By saying otherwise, Qutb seems to justify aggressive acts of jihad on behalf of the Muslims. However, it is difficult to determine whether or not Qutb believed in any limitations on jihad, because – although he only advocates the use of jihad against systems that have “usurped the Divine attribute” – this could include a wide spectrum of groups. As stated above, he could be advocating for jihad against corrupt systems within the Muslim world, or against every society guilty of human oppression, including those in the West.

26. Ibid., 57

Although Qutb is vague about his definition of movement within jihad, he does state that “the Islamic jihad has no relationship to modern warfare, either in its causes or in the way it is conducted.” 26 Again, Qutb does not go into much detail about the ways in which modern warfare differs from jihad, but he does note that “the causes of Islamic


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

jihad should be sought in the very nature of Islam and its role in the world.” 27 Here Qutb most likely means that jihad is infinitely more complicated than modern warfare, as it is rooted in religious history and practice. When considering the question of whether Qutb’s understanding of jihad is truly at the root of modern Islamic fundamentalist ideologies, one must remember that the focus of Qutb’s writings on jihad is almost never on America, let alone the West atlarge. Secondly, although Qutb stresses the reasons for jihad and the world’s need for it, he does not lay out instructions for how it should be used against other nations (besides Egypt).28 As Qutb was writing Milestones, he watched as Nasser damaged any chance of establishing an Islamic government and started to understand secularism as the source of his captivity, isolation and destruction. Accordingly, the source of Qutb’s radicalization was not his negative impression of America, as many Western scholars have suggested, but was instead his own battle for justice and Islam in his own country. As stated in Musallam’s From Secularism to Jihad, “the Egyptian Revolution is responsible for Milestones on the Road because the social stage would have developed into a revolutionary struggle had Sayyid Qutb not been imprisoned, and he would have become one of the great revolutionaries.” 29 In recent years, discussions of Qutb have proliferated in the American media through articles, documentaries, news stories and books. One book in particular has familiarized Western audiences with Qutb – Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Wright begins this book with a chapter entitled “The Martyr”, which traces the history of Qutb’s life from his early days in the Ministry of Education to his imprisonment and execution. Within the first few paragraphs, Wright notes that during the early 1940’s, when Qutb worked at the Ministry of Education, “the ideas that would give birth to what would be called Islamic fundamentalism were not yet completely formed in his mind.” 30 Even before discussing the works for which he was admired and followed, Wright proclaims that Qutb’s ideas became the seeds for modern Islamic fundamentalism or radicalism. Wright’s description of Qutb in his younger years is equally important. Qutb is described as “Western in so many ways – his dress, his love of classical music and Hollywood movies.” 31 By identifying Qutb as a Muslim who appreciated many aspects of Western culture,Wright leads the uninformed reader to understand Qutb as a man who turned his back on America after a single visit, and who allowed his disapproval of certain Western customs to fester into hatred. Immediately after identifying the ways in which Qutb could relate to and appreciate the Western world, Wright conveys his perception of Qutb’s transformation from curious to loathsome. “I hate those Westerners and despise them!” Qutb wrote after President Harry Truman endorsed the transfer of a hundred thousand Jewish refugees into Palestine. “All of them, without any exception: the English, the French, the Dutch and finally the American, who have been trusted by many.”32 This quote is inserted into this chapter with little to no contextual support; the reader does not know when Qutb wrote these words, or if it was before or after he left for America. Without context, it is unclear whether Qutb harbored a hatred for America before he arrived on her shores, or whether his disdain developed after his stay there. However, where Wright really leads the reader off track is in his presumption that Qutb’s trip to America was the foundation for the development of his theories of jihad and, therefore, future fundamentalist thought. As discussed above, there is much more

Fact or Fiction?: Sayyid Qutb a Terrorist


28. Ibid., 70

29. Musallam., “From Secularism to Jihad”, 170

30. Wright, Lawerence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 10

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid., 11

evidence that Qutb’s writings on jihad were instigated by problems within Egypt and the greater Islamic world, rather than on his opinions of America. Accordingly, one must assess why Western reporters and authors, like Wright, have tried unfailingly to establish a connection between Qutb’s stay in America and Al-Qaeda’s attack on 9/11.             

33. Sayyid Qutb, “The America I Have Seen: In the Scale of Human Values”.( 9–2) Kamal ‘Abdel-Malek. America in an Arab Mirror: Images of America in Arab Travel Literature

34. Robert Siegel, “Sayyid Qutb’s America: Al Qaeda Inspiration Denounced U.S. Greed, Sexuality.,” All Things Considered. Host Robert Siegel. Natl.ional Public Radio, 6 May May 6, 2003. (accessed October 17, 2009)

As this paper has tried to demonstrate, there is little evidence to suggest that Qutb targeted America and the West or jihad in his books Milestones and In The Shade of The Quran. While Qutb wrote in his book America I have Seen that America has “added nothing, or next to nothing to the account of morals that distinguishes man from object and indeed mankind from animals,” 33 his writings on jihad were directly focused on problems in the Muslim World. Nevertheless, since 9/11, the Western media has repeatedly identified Qutb as the inspiration for terrorists like bin Laden.  By taking Qutb’s words out of context, authors like Wright provide a distorted perception of Qutb. For example, in an excerpt from The Looming Tower, Qutb is quoted as saying that “[t]he white man in Europe or America is our number-one enemy… they [our children] should destroy him at the first opportunity (27).” What Wright fails to mention is that these words were written in a personal letter that Qutb wrote to a friend, Tewfig al-Hakeem. While he unquestionably conveys a strong distaste for America, he did not distribute this message in one of his broadly-released publications. Thus, it would seem unlikely that this excerpt was intended to incite widespread jihad against America and the West.  While Wright certainly is a prime example of a Western author who, despite having no specialty in Qutb or the Middle East, has latched on to the assumption that Qutb was knowingly and intentionally supporting jihad against American customs and culture, he is by no means alone. In a radio segment on National Public Radio entitled “Sayyid Qutb’s America,” host Robert Siegel stated that, “some of Qutb’s conclusions may have been the result of the clash of two very different cultures. The way Qutb saw America was sharply at odds with the way Americans saw themselves.” 34  Like Wright, Siegel is seemingly trying to connect Qutb’s impression of America with Al-Qaeda’s involvement in 9/11 – a big leap at best. The misconception is not that Qutb disliked and disrespected American culture; he makes these negative feelings clear throughout America I have Seen. However, this does and should not lead to the conclusion that Qutb was the inspiration for a terrorist attack carried out by Al-Qaeda, a group that was not yet formed at the time of his writing. Why, then, is this tenuous connection so often made in the West? Perhaps it is because the Western media is frustrated, angry and frightened, and is craving a scapegoat in order to make some sense of the seemingly-senseless slaughter of thousands of Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.  Maybe it is easier to deflect responsibility than it is to come to grips with the horror of 9/11 by concluding that Al-Qaeda and its related terrorist organizations were not borne of Western intervention in the East, but that Islamic scholars have always hated and advocated violence against the West.  In short, perhaps in the wake of 9/11, the media has decided to focus on Qutb, and associate his name with bin Laden’s, merely because they both harbored negative feelings about America and wrote extensively about jihad. Yet there is little evidence to support the common misperception that the two are inextricably related. 


Juhood: The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs

Call for Submissions

• Please submit contributions to • Essays may be print or photo, and should include a title, subtitle, author and his/her year of study. • Papers should be between 1,200 and 5,000 words. • Papers should be formatted by Chicago-Style Citation guidelines, with footnotes. Do not include in-text citations or a bibliography. • Photo essays should feature four to six pictures. • Photo essays should include an abstract that situates your photo within a narrative. • Submissions can concern any number of disciplines, and are not limited to the Islamo-Christian tradition or a discourse on Arabs. Issues of popular culture, the arts, human rights and Mizrahim presence are just a few viable topics. • The papers should be well-researched and reflect a significant amount of academic rigor. For an electronic version of the journal, please visit


Juhood Andrea Patiño is a rising junior from Bogota, Colombia, pursuing a major in Cultural Anthropology and a minor in Art History. Andrew Simon graduated in 2010 with a BA in Arabic, Middle Eastern Studies, and Islamic Studies. He was recently awarded a full-year CASA Fellowship for Arabic studies in Cairo (’10-‘11). Anna Mazhirov graduated in 2010 with a BA in English. She spent the summer of 2008 volunteering in Syria. She fell in love with the country and hopes to go back soon. Jonathan Cross graduated in 2010 with majors in Religion and Arabic, in addition to a certificate in Islamic Studies. An avid student of both languages and travel, Jonathan has been fortunate to study German, Arabic, and Italian in locales all along the Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa. Nathan Schick is a second year MA student in the Department of Religion, specializing in modern Islam. He was a research assistant for "The First Islamist Republic" (Ashgate Press 2007), which focused on the Bashir leadership’s rise to power in Sudan. He is currently working on his Arabic and Farsi skills. Chloe Sarnoff is a freshman at Duke University from New York City. She is planning to major in Public Policy.

Juhood, The Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs, is a scholarly publication that aims to encourage discussion on the MENA region at Duke University. It tries to provide a diverse array of opinions on the cultures, histories and religions that constitute the region. It strives to be a space in which students can publish research on the Middle East and North Africa. It endeavors to place objectivity and erudition at the center of each contribution.

Juhood: Vol 1 Issue 1  

The first Issue of Juhood: Duke University's Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs.