Al-Masihiyyoun bain Al-Watan wa Al-Muqaddas (The Christians between the Homeland and the Sacred) by Dr. Ikram Lamie, the General Egyptian Book Organization, Political Library Series, Cairo 2016. pp.251
This book’s author is directing it to the Arab Christians, unlike most previous books dealing with only Egyptian Copts, such as those by the judge Tariq Al-Bishri, Dr. Mustafa Al-Fiqi or Abu-Seif Youssef and other Egyptian historians and intellectuals.
The book also goes beyond historical review to the role that the Egyptian Copts played, side by side with Muslims, during the 25 January Revolution. The writer concludes by quickly addressing the role that the Copts should play in the aftermath of 30 June 2013 and the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The writer devotes the first four chapters to the events and incidents taking place before the advent of Islam, where Christians participated in building Arab civilisation.
This participation extended to the period following the advent of Islam. Dr. Lamie also records what he described as the “dangerous” splitting up of the Eastern churches and Western churches which unfolded due to their differing views on the nature of Jesus Christ and the violent incidents committed by Christians after the Roman Empire embraced it as its official religion.
Those incidents were committed by the new religion's adherents against Jews and those still believing in Pharaonic faiths as well as philosophers and the famed Alexandria University, which was one the grandest beacons of civilisation in the whole world, not only in Egypt.
As for when the Arab Muslims invaded, the writer sees that it was “the saviour for the Eastern church from Western persecution” and that it restored the Pope Benjamin to his papal seat in Alexandria.
The writer devotes special attention to the change which occurred to the Egyptian civilisation's identity due to the entrance of Arabs to Egypt with their desert identity, customs and traditions.
Throughout the succeeding decades the Arab Muslims became Egyptian while some Christians converted to Islam and Arabs and Egyptians intermarried. The consequence of this was the “noticeable transformation”, according to the writer, in the formation of Egyptian identity through the arrival of a new element in the social fabric.
A new Arab Islamic cultural fabric emerged in a singularly unique form. “The outcome of this was a civil Islam and a Christianity with an Arabic language, culture and theology,” the author writes.
The book also devotes special interest to the interaction which lasted for almost four centuries. For instance; Christians constituted a majority in Egypt until the end of the Umayyad Dynasty while during the Abbasid Dynasty they played the greatest part in translating Science, the Greek and Syriac Philosophy into Arabic.
They also became experts in money management and dividing the country’s agricultural lands for purposes of tax collection in the Coptic language to the extent that the books the moneychangers and bailiffs kept were the foundations that the French Expedition scholars depended on for taxation imposed on Egyptians.
The writer dedicates the last three chapters to the present day, starting with Egyptians, Copts and Muslims, who overcame most of their differences during the 1919 Revolution and afterwards.
The July Revolution was characterised by Egyptians rallying around the national project.
As for Sadat and Mubarak’s rule, it witnessed, according to the writer, the widest employment of religion and the striking of an alliance with the religious right. This was done to the extent that they were armed and trained during the rule of Sadat and the direct agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood during Mubarak’s rule.
Both regimes believed that the security solution was the best and only solution for dealing with sectarian incidents.
Dr. Lamie concludes the book by tackling the Christian standpoint and role towards the present and the future of the effects of the January Revolution and its succeeding waves.
The writer observes four myths which he warns Christians from succumbing to. The first myth is that the USA and the West are protecting them externally or that the military and the state are protecting them internally.
The second myth is immigrating and the consideration that this is the solution. The third myth is striking alliances with other minorities. The fourth myth is that human rights organisations will protect them.
Finally, the book states that there is no exit from this predicament except through renovating Christian theology and Islamic Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).
If the Christians become capable of living with the issues in their society and interacting with them, they wouldn't be afraid of religious extremism or civil persecution because they would have become part of the society.