World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Christians in the Muslim World (026) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: MON 19, 2.30 - 4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Chair: Yaron Harel (Bar Ilan University)

Paper presenter: Yaron Harel (Prof. of Jewish History, Dep. of Jewish History, Bar Ilan University), “A Unique Cooperation in Gaza: The Fight of the Mufti and the Rabbi against Conversion to Christianity”
In the 19th century the Protestants were a fresh factor on the scene, seeking entrée to spread their religious doctrine in the Middle East. A belief in the imminent Jewish return to their land crystallized among 19th century millenarian groups affiliated with the evangelical movement in England. These groups, and their supporters, sought to hasten the End of Days by founding missionary societies and dispatching emissaries to different spots worldwide in order to bring them the message of Christianity, devoting special attention to the Jews, to oriental Jews in particular. Underlying Protestant activity among oriental Jews was the notion that the second messianic coming depended upon the Jewish return to their land and upon their conversion to Christianity. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Protestant missionary work also began in Gaza. The Jewish community in Gaza was renewed in the year 1881 when four families who had come from Russia to the Holy Land settled in the city. While most Gaza residents were Muslims, a veteran Catholic minority also lived there in a separate neighbourhood. Relations between the Muslims and the Christians had their ups and downs. In 1908, the Protestant missionaries, with the encouragement and support of the British government, built a hospital and a school for boys and girls. In this school, the Arabic and English languages were taught. The success of the missionaries in preaching their ideas also to a wide Muslim public moved the Mufti of Gaza, to initiate a response at the level of theological polemic. For this purpose he turned for help to the rabbi of the Gaza community, and suggested that they would fight the missionaries together. In my lecture I'll present the missionary activity in Gaza in the first decade of the 20th century and the war that was declared against this activity by a unique cooperation between the Mufti of Gaza Abdullah al-Alami and the Rabbi Nisim Binyamin Ohanah.

Paper presenter: Samuel J. Kuruvilla (Post-Doctoral Researcher), “Contextual Liberation in Israel-Palestine: How Palestinian Christian clerics 'do theology' in their quest for political liberation”
Palestine is known as the birthplace of Christianity. However the Christian population of this land is relatively insignificant today, despite the continuing institutional legacy that the 19th century Western missionary focus on the region created. Palestinian Christians are often forced to employ politically astute as well as theologically radical means in their efforts to appear relevant within an increasingly Islamist-oriented society. An important corner-stone of the modern (post-1967) Palestinian Christian political experience has been the ecumenical movement in the Holy Land, as spearheaded by leading Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran priests, pastors, bishops and affiliated organisations. This movement has sought to unite Palestinian Christians, Muslims as well as sympathetic Western Christians and Israelis in a common voice against socio-political injustices in the Occupied Territories and Gaza. In this conference paper, I have sought to focus on two organisations; the liberation theological-oriented Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, headed by Palestinian Anglican cleric Naim Stifan Ateek in Jerusalem and the contextual theological-oriented International Centre of Bethlehem (ICB)-dar annadwa addawliya, led by Palestinian Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb. By highlighting the politico-theological nuances that these two men have brought towards their analyses of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the role of Christians in it, I have sought to understand how their work is contributing towards liberating Palestinian Christians and the wider Palestinian community from the socio-economic malaise and political impact of over forty years of Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. I have also sought to highlight how the historical and national situation of the Palestinian people has played a vital role in the rise and development of these Palestinian Christian-led organisations, thereby helping them to achieve a considerable socio-political voice in their own context and putting them on the road to being broadly representative of Christian nationalist sentiment in the Israel-Palestine region. In the process, I argue that the grassroots-oriented educational, humanitarian, cultural and contextual theological approach favoured by the ICB in Bethlehem is more relevant to the Palestinian situation, than the more sectarian and Western-oriented approach of the Sabeel Centre. These two groups are analysed primarily according to their theological-political approaches. One, (Sabeel), has sought to develop a critical Christian response to the Palestine-Israel conflict using the politico-theological tool of liberation theology, albeit with a strongly ecumenical Western-oriented focus, while the other (ICB), insists that its theological orientation draws primarily from the Levantine Christian (and in their particular case, the Palestinian Lutheran) context in which Christians in Israel-Palestine are placed. Raheb of the ICB has tried to develop a contextual theology that seeks to root the political and cultural development of the Palestinian people within their own Eastern Christian context and in light of their peculiarly restricted life under an Israeli occupation regime of over forty years. I seek to prove in this paper that the ICB has sought to be much more situationally relevant to the needs of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, given the employment, socio-cultural and humanitarian-health opportunities opened up by the practical-institution building efforts of this organisation in Bethlehem.

Paper presenter: Houda Blum Bakour (Doctoral Student), “The Coptic Mouled Feast in Religious Identity Shaping in Egypt”
This paper aims to analyse the baraka (the grace of God) as a culturally cathegory shared by two of the major religious communities in Egypt: the Coptic Christians and the Sunni Muslims. It will analyse the Coptic mouled ritual in which take part adherents of both communities in the sake of the baraka of a particular Christian saint. In such condition, the baraka allows the sharing of ritual practices and a alignment between the two communities, despite Muslim and Christian religious reformism movements, which tend to reinforce the religious borders of both groups, raising several levels of tension within Egyptian society in the last decades.

Paper presenter: Hiroko Miyokawa (Post Doctoral Researcher, Sophia University), "Positioning the Copts in Egyptian Nationalism: Comparison between Liberal Egyptian Nationalism and Pharaonism"
Since liberal Egyptian nationalism in the early twentieth century, the Copts of Egypt have been positioned as Egyptian citizens with equal rights and duties as their Muslim compatriots. This stance prevails to date; every time confessional strife or problems of this nature occur, the equal citizenship of the Copts is reemphasized. Therefore, the position of the Copts in nationalist thought is important when considering the Coptic question in modern Egypt. In this presentation, I will provide an overview of two trends in Egyptian nationalism, liberal nationalism and Pharaonism, and compare their positioning of the Copts as Egyptians and their effects on the national integration of the Copts. Liberal Egyptian nationalism defines the Egyptians as inhabitants of the Nile Valley who are loyal to their homeland regardless of ethnic background and religious beliefs. From this point of view, foreigners who settled into Egypt were Egyptianized over time and integrated into indigenous Egyptian communities. Pharaonism, on the other hand, defines the Egyptians as descendants of the ancient Egyptians who built the great ancient Egyptian civilization. From this point of view, Egyptians preserve the bloodline, language, and culture of their ancestors through their Egyptian Arabic and customs. Although Pharaonism was basically an ideological attempt to define the Egyptians of both Islam and Christianity as ‘sons of Pharaohs’, the Copts came to be considered as having ‘purer’ blood and preserving ancient cultural heritage more robustly than Muslims, because the Greco-Roman and Coptic era followed immediately after the ancient Egyptian dynasties. In addition, they still use the Coptic language, the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language, in their Liturgy and have the Coptic calendar, used as an agricultural calendar. While both liberal nationalism and Pharaonism have had a strong impact on the national integration of the Copts, the former tends to emphasize the equality between Muslims and the Copts and the latter, to emphasize the Egyptianness of the Copts.