Saturday August 18, 2012
Equality of all Egyptian Citizens
On August 7, 2012 a group of American Muslim leaders and leaders in the Coptic Church in the U.S., joined by two Members of Congress and my Institute, issued a joint statement calling on the drafters of the new Constitution to maintain the language that currently exists in the Constitution naming "Islamic law (Sharia) as the principal source of legislation," and to recognize the "equality of all Egyptian citizens". Because Egyptian society includes both Muslims and Christians, we felt that "the existing Constitution's language better represents the diversity of Egyptian society and should be retained."
We were, therefore, deeply troubled when we read a Religion News Service (RNS) story which grossly mischaracterized our effort. As carried by the Washington Post (and reprinted in several other venues) the story ran under the headline "Muslims petition Egypt not to include Shariah."
The first sentence of the story further compounded this erroneous interpretation of our work by stating that "Muslims and Coptic Christian leaders in the U.S. are calling on the Egyptian government to exclude any mention of Islamic law or language that discriminates against minorities in its draft constitution."
As noted above, our statement specifically and pointedly accepts the language of Egypt's current Constitution in recognizing "Sharia as the principal source of legislation". In fact, the only part of the sentence from the RNS story that is correct is the clause that notes that we called on the drafters to exclude language that would discriminate against any citizen.
By mischaracterizing our statement as a denunciation of any reference to Sharia, the RNS story and the Post headline played into the negative stereotypes of Sharia that are so prevalent in the U.S. today and threatened to undercut the unity of purpose we worked hard to achieve and sought to project in issuing our joint statement.
We will not be deterred. To emphasize our group's commitment to working together, leaders from the Islamic Society of North America and the Coptic Church in the U.S. joined Ambassador Rashad Hussain, U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in a mission to Egypt where they met with Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayyib of al Azhar and His Eminence Metropolitan Bakhomious of the Coptic Church. Our delegation was graciously received by their Egyptian hosts and found common ground in their shared message of inclusion for all Egyptians of all religious backgrounds.