Mohamed Eissa (HONORS 2016-17)

Mohamed Eissa

Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures & Societies (BGSMCS)

Mosque, Church, and State: Coptic and Muslim Debates on the Politics of Religion in Egypt



Al-Islām wa-uṣūl al-ukm and al-Kanīsa wa-l-dawla are two texts (published in Egypt) tackling a similar issue, namely the role of religion and religious leadership in politics and public life. The first text was published in 1925 and authored by the Azharī scholar and judge ʿAlī ʿAbd al-Rāziq (1888-1966). The second appeared in 1963 and was written by the Coptic monk and prominent Orthodox theologian Mattā al-Miskīn (1919-2006). Both Egyptian authors argue for distancing religion and religious leadership from politics. My research intends to compare the ideas and arguments mentioned in both texts. My study is also primarily concerned with analyzing the Muslim and Coptic responses to the ideas proposed by both authors. I plan to compare the writings of Coptic intellectuals supportive of Mattā al-Miskīn to the writings of Muslim intellectuals in favor of ʿAbd al-Rāziq. I plan also to compare the writings of Muslim authors critical of ʿAbd al-Rāziq to Coptic authors critical of Mattā al-Miskīn. These comparisons aim at revealing differences and similarities within the Muslim and Coptic responses to voices calling for limiting the role of religion in public life. Neither the Muslim nor the Coptic responses to both texts were monolithic. There existed different trends and views within each group. Positions from this debate were not drawn along religious lines. In fact, Coptic authors who refute Mattā al-Miskīn and Muslim writers who argue against ʿAbd al-Rāziq appear to share more than can be initially noticed. This is also true about intellectuals who are supportive of both scholars. This research attempts to study the debate around secularity in Egypt as a cultural question and not only as a political and a religious one. Putting the reaction of Muslim and Coptic thinkers in juxtaposition highlights the cultural aspects of the debates around secularity. Different trends among Egyptian intellectuals reacted to voices in favor of, or against, secularity in a manner that transcends religious boundaries. This research aims to identify trends that cross religious boundaries, recognize their common traits, and analyze the different modes of secularities that provoked this and similar debates.