In Egypt, an American ally where Coptic Christians are regularly oppressed and persecuted, controversy over the treatment of non-Muslim minorities has arisen anew after the issuance of a fatwa (a ruling on Islamic religious law) that prohibits the building of new churches or donating money to build them, comparing them to “a nightclub, a gambling casino, towards promoting the alcohol industry or for building a barn for rearing pigs, cats or dogs.”
[Dr. Naguib Gabraeel] went on to inquire “So what is the Shari’a position to what was mentioned especially concerning the will of a Muslim to donate for the building of a church or a monk’s cell? If the answer is prohibition, aren’t these houses where the name of God is mentioned? Is not Christianity a recognized religion according to the Egyptian constitution? There are also a lot of wealthy Copts and Coptic businessmen who donate towards the building of mosques.”
The Fatwa Council replied affirming the correctness of what came in the textbook and issued a Fatwa on September 10, 2008 (document number 1809), which is also published on its official website.
To highlight the reason for this “sin” the Fatwa went on to state: “Salvation in the Christian religion is the belief in Jesus as Lord, where Muslims fundamentally disagree on it. Muslims believe that Issa [Jesus in Arabic] peace be upon him, is a slave of Allah and His Messenger, and that Allah is one. He begets not and He is not begotten and there is none like unto Him. So if it is seen that one sect has deviated from this absolute Monotheism, then according to that person’s own religion he is forbidden to donate for the erection of buildings where Allah is not worshiped alone.”
According to Mohammed el-Maghrabbi, deputy chief of the Faculty of Law, and author of the controversial textbook, what he wrote is a principle agreed upon by all Islamic jurists. He added that a will, if devoted by a Christian for building a Church, is forbidden and sinful and is considered in Islam as separation from God. So it is also illegal if a non-Muslim wills his inheritance towards building a Church or a Synagogue.
This Fatwa has shocked many as it classified churches with nightclub, gambling casinos, and places for rearing pigs and dogs, which are considered ‘unclean’ animals according to Islam and Muslims.
The article later reports that Dr. Gabraeel called on Grand Sheikh Tantawi, the head of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which is the acknowledged center and intellectual leader in Sunni Islamic thought, to seek a clarification from him. Sheikh Tantawi then caused a ruckus of his own by denying the fatwa:
On August 19, 2009, a delegation from EUHRO, headed by Dr. Gabraeel, paid a visit to Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, who said that the Fatwa was wrong and untrue and that Muslims can make voluntary contributions to build churches, as a church is a house for “worshiping and tolerance” and that “Shari’a does not prevent Muslims from donating to the building of a church, as it is his free money. He also affirmed that Al-Azhar does not object to the “unified law for building places of worship.”
Tantawi added that building churches should be left to the Christians and Muslims are not allowed according to Shari’a to interfere in other faiths, “because religion, faith and what a person believes in is a relationship between him and his God.” He also called on the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa to hold the five jurists who issued the Fatwa accountable.
Other Islamic scholars were quite upset with the Grand Sheikh, and with reason: the prohibition against building or repairing churches and synagogues is fundamental to Islamic law, being a part of the Pact of Umar, a deal made between the second Caliph, Umar, and subjugated Christians. Christians agreed not to:
1. Build “a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk”;
2. “Restore any place of worship that needs restoration”;
10. “Publicize practices of Shirk” – that is, associating partners with Allah, such as regarding Jesus as Son of God. (This is the argument of the fatwa-issuers. -Phineas) In other words, Christian and other non-Muslim religious practice will be private, if not downright furtive;
11. Build “crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets” – again, Christian worship must not be public, where Muslims can see it and become annoyed;
12. “Sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims, nor raise our voices [with prayer] at our funerals, or light torches in funeral processions in the fairways of Muslims, or their markets”;
Follow the link to read the whole thing. It’s enlightening. In essence, Sheikh Tantawi was going against the decree of one of Muhammad’s own companions, one of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs. One wonders if he sincerely believed this, or if his statement was “political,” meant to avoid another Muslim-Copt riot.
Regardless, this contretemps over Coptic churches is another example Islam’s compulsion to seek supremacy over all other faiths and of the incompatibility of Islamic law with Western democratic liberties.