World attention is focussing on Egypt’s Coptic Christians after a bomb exploded outside a Church in Alexandria killing 21 people and injuring 70 more. The attack sparked clashes between Egyptian police and Copts protesting against government inaction in protecting their community and places of worship. “Now it’s between Christians and the government, not between Muslims and Christians,” shrieked one Christian woman as several hundred young men clashed with helmeted riot police in the street outside the targeted church hours after the blast.
At a protest in Shubra, downtown Cairo, some 500 Muslim and Coptic activists, politicians and other civil society leaders shouted the slogan, “Not a police state, not a religious state, we want Egypt to be a secular state.”
Egypt is already a secular state where religious political parties are banned and those calling for the implementation of Islamic law (sharia) in society (Islamists) are heavily persecuted. Copts in Egypt do face oppression but so do Muslims and the cause is not sharia but the absence of sharia in Egyptian society. In the absence of any religious restrictions on the conduct of ministers, politicians, judges and police, ordinary Egyptians – both Muslim and Christian – must suffer at the hands of policies which further the interests of the ruling party, their families and supporters. This is why Egypt is a police state, ruled under a state of emergency since 1967 apart from 18 months between 1980 and 1981. The law of emergency is used to restrict any non-governmental political activity: street demonstrations, non-approved political organisations, and unregistered financial donations are formally banned. Some 17,000 people are detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run as high as 30,000.
In one horrific example of police abuse, Imad Kabir, a Muslim, was filmed being tortured and sexually assaulted by police officers. Instead of the police officers being punished the victim Imad was subsequently jailed for three months on the charge of ‘resisting authority.’
The law of emergency is applied under the excuse of fighting terrorism which means clamping down on the Islamist opposition, who are the only threat to the brutal Egyptian regime. However, as Abdullah al-Ashaal, professor at the American University in Cairo said, “I think the terrorism is from the government for neglecting the needs of the people and not serving the national interests. This intensifies the tensions in Egypt…And if any terrorism arises, it is because of the government policies – raising prices, the detention of people and the injustices which are prevailing everywhere.” 
In regards to some of the issues blamed for inflaming tensions between Muslims and Copts in recent years such as killings, kidnappings and forced conversions, those with a wider political agenda use them as evidence to claim Muslims are oppressing Christians and Islam should be further removed from societal affairs, i.e. more secularism. French President Sarkozy’s comment, that “We cannot accept and thereby facilitate what looks more and more like a particularly wicked program of cleansing in the Middle East, religious cleansing,” shows how the issue is being inflamed by the west to justify meddling in the affairs of the Muslim world. The hypocrisy of Sarkozy’s statement is clear when we look at France and other western countries silence and inaction over the Rwandan Genocide where 800,000 Christians were actually cleansed from the country.
A closer examination of these crimes against Copts shows the motivation is not necessarily religious. In Egypt as in any other country criminals exist. Some of these criminals are Muslim and some are Copts. Murders take place, and a Muslim may murder a Copt or a Copt may murder a Muslim. This is crime and cannot be viewed solely through a Muslim vs. Christian lens.
On the allegations of kidnappings and forced conversions of Christians, Youssef Sidhoum, the editor of a well-respected Christian newspaper, says the allegations are always difficult to prove. Often, he says, they are love stories that have gone wrong. Very often they are not kidnapping or forced conversions, but relationships between Christian girls and Muslim boys. Sometimes it is their parents who say they have been kidnapped in order to hide their shame, when in fact the girl has married a Muslim of her own choice. “They tend to exaggerate the cases,” he said. “We have investigated lots of cases, again and again. This is an important issue to us and we go wherever the cases are. “But I don’t recall since 1997 more than three definite cases where we had clear evidence that there was kidnap and forced conversion.”
So what is the way forward for Copts and Muslims in Egypt? Is the problem a growing ‘Islamisation’ of Egyptian society as those with a wider political agenda to secularise Egypt and reshape Islam are claiming?
In answer to this we need to examine the sharia laws relating to Christian and other non-Muslim citizens living in an Islamic State and look at some historical examples of when these sharia laws were applied on the Copts of Egypt.
Non-Muslims citizens living in a Caliphate have an honourable status and are referred to as dhimmi (people of contract). Their places of worship, lives and property are protected and they are not persecuted for their beliefs.
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) wrote to the people of Yemen: “Whoever is adamant upon Judaism or Christianity will not be tormented for it.”
The classical scholars of Islam also detailed the rights of the Muslims towards the dhimmi. The famous Maliki jurist, Shaha al-Deen al-Qarafi said:
“The covenant of protection imposes upon us certain obligations toward the ahl al-dhimmah. They are our neighbours, under our shelter and protection upon the guarantee of Allah, His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), and the religion of Islam. Whoever violates these obligations against any one of them by so much as an abusive word, by slandering his reputation, or by doing him some injury or assisting in it, has breached the guarantee of Allah, His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), and the religion of Islam.” 
Dhimmi are not forced to become Muslim or leave their beliefs, values and worships. They are permitted to drink alcohol, eat pork, marry and divorce according to their religions. In all other areas of society they are viewed and treated in the same way as Muslims unless belief in Islam is a pre-requisite for the action.
Allah (Most High) says in the Holy Qur’an:
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ
“There is no compulsion in religion” 
Christianity and other religions do not have detailed rules and systems governing societal affairs such as government, foreign affairs and economy. Christianity for example adopts the principle:
“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”
Therefore dhimmi in their societal transactions will obey the law of the land which in the Caliphate happens to be sharia (Islamic law). This will not be a source of conflict since these laws do not contradict any religious rulings. A good example of this is the spread of Islamic finance based on sharia throughout the western world. Even a country such as France which is staunchly secular and anti-Islamic, passed laws last year aimed at making France a hub for Islamic finance. This is not because France has any love for sharia but because of the economic benefit derived from the transactions.
The general atmosphere in an Islamic society towards its non-Muslim minority is shaped by the above Islamic evidences and does not lead to a hostile atmosphere of persecution. However, the Caliphate is not a utopia and crime will exist and a dhimmi might be attacked and murdered by a criminal as happens in all societies.
An accusation brought by Copts in Egypt is that Muslims are not punished for crimes against their communities or given lesser punishment. In a Caliphate Muslims and dhimmi have equal status when it comes to crimes such as assault, rape and murder. An Islamic judiciary judging by sharia will not apply disparate punishments as found in secular Egypt.
Allah (Most High) says in the Holy Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
“You who believe, be steadfast in your devotion to Allah and bear witness impartially: do not let hatred of others lead you away from justice, but adhere to justice, for that is closer to awareness of Allah. Be mindful of Allah: Allah is well aware of all that you do.” 
The dhimmi is allowed to be a witness in an Islamic court against a Muslim and their evidence is acceptable. The conditions of being a witness apply equally to Muslims and dhimmi. The conditions of a witness are: sane, mature and ‘adl (trustworthy).
Punishments for crimes are applied equally to both Muslims and dhimmi with no distinction. The only distinction is that dhimmi will not be punished for those actions which are permitted for them such as drinking alcohol, whereas a Muslim would be.
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “The diyyah (blood money) of the Jews and Christians is like the Muslim’s diyyah.”
It is narrated in a hadith that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) killed a Muslim for a mu’ahid (citizen of a foreign state with which the Caliphate has a treaty) and said, “I am the most noble of those who fulfil their dhimmah.”
This hadith clearly indicates that if a Muslim kills a mu’ahid he is punished with death. This applies to the dhimmi who has more rights than a mu’ahid since the dhimmi is a full citizen of the Islamic State.
If we look to the history of Copts in Egypt when they lived under the Caliphate we can see these sharia rules detailed above being implemented in practice. Whilst there were times during the Caliphate when dhimmi did suffer some persecution at the hands of tyrant rulers we cannot generalise and paint the entire 1300 year history as one of persecuting non-Muslims. The fact that Coptic Christians and their places of worship exist today is proof enough that the Caliphate did not adopt a policy of religious cleansing like Europe did.
Thomas Arnold mentions this point: “But of any organised attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the Caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years.” 
Nabil Luqa Bebawy, a Coptic, religious author compares the conditions of Copts before and after Islamic rule. He said that Orthodox Christians were brutally tortured at the hands of Byzantines. The number of Copts who were killed during the rule of the Byzantine emperor Diocletianus [284-305 AD] is estimated up to one million Coptic Egyptians. The is why the Orthodox Coptic Church called that age the age of martyrs and the Coptic calendar starts at this age.
When Islam came to Egypt, all conditions changed dramatically and Copts witnessed an age of freedom that they had not known before. About the Jizya imposed on non-Muslims, Dr. Bebawy says that they were part of the “security pact” made between Muslims and Copts. Jizya was a tax paid in exchange for exempting Copts from joining the Islamic army.
Finally, Dr. Nabil Luqa Bebawy stresses that the ill practices of some Muslims rulers in dealing with Copts are individual behaviors that have nothing to do with Islamic teachings.
Hani Shukrallah, a Coptic Christian and a former editor of the newspaper Al-Ahram writes:
“It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political and cultural identity of modern Egypt.
Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21st century, the previously unheard of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity…”
Even during the Crusades when western Christians invaded and occupied parts of the Islamic State, the Copts of Egypt defended the Caliphate under the rule of Salahudin Ayyubi who was the governor of Egypt during the Abbasid Caliphate.
Carole Hillenbrand, in ‘The Crusades: Islamic perspectives’ says:
“…Saladin had a private secretary, ibn Sharafi, who was a Copt and Saladins brother al-Adil put a Copt named ibn al-Muqat in charge of the army ministry (diwan al-Jaysh). The appointment of a Christian to a position of such power in war-time and in an area that was military so sensitive tells its own story. Indeed, the loyalties of the Copts in the Ayyubid period seem often to have lain more with the Muslims and with their own local interests than with the Crusaders. This was demonstrated in the Crusade of Damietta in 1218 when the Copts helped to defend the city, and as a consequence suffered greatly at the hands of the Crusaders.” 
These are some of the reasons why Egypt’s Copts need the Caliphate, and in fact all the non-Muslims of the Muslim world need the Caliphate.
- Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam, ‘The Book of Revenue,’ Translation of Kitab al-Amwal, Garnet Publishing Ltd, p. 25
- Shaha al-Deen al-Qarafi, Al-furuq
- Holy Qur’an, Chapter 2, al-Baqarah, Verse 256
- Matthew 22:21
- Holy Qur’an, Chapter 5, Al-Maidah, Verse 8
- Narrated from Amru bin Shuaib from his father from his grandfather
- Al-Bayhaqi, extracted from the hadith of Abdurrahman Al-Bailimani
- Abdurrahman Al-Maliki, ‘The Punishment System,’ translation of Nidham ul-uqubat, Dar Ul-Ummah, Beirut, Second Edition, Chapter: Al-Qawad
- Thomas W.Arnold, ‘The Preaching of Islam,’ Second Edition, Kitab Bhavan Publishers, p. 72
- Carole Hillenbrand, ‘The Crusades: Islamic perspectives,’ p. 414