Coptic Church Construction and Egyptian Muslim “Emasculation”
Because it was excerpted in Bat Ye’or’s pioneering The Dhimmi, I obtained Moshe Perlmann’s (1975) complete translation of a 1739 essay on the Churches of Cairo. Written by Sheikh Damanhuri (1689-1764), a highly esteemed leader of Al Azhar University, the pinnacle of learning in Sunni Islamdom, since 973 A.D., the learned jurist’s tract was a reply to a query in that year when, “…the dhimmisbegan the construction of a church in Cairo…causing great agitation among Muslims.” The good sheikh notes,
When I learned of the rise of this deplorable affair, and that in this community no longer is the prophetic injunction heeded to deter the infidels, the enemies of the faith, from their goal, I began to write the answer…by explaining the right path
Sheikh Damanhuri entitled his reply—in accord with the conclusion of his learned, Islamically-correct argument, “The presentation of the clear proof for the obligatory destruction of the churches of Old and New Cairo.”
Damanhuri states explicity (on p. 20) that areas “demarcated and settled by Muslims,” including Cairo, Kufa, Basra, Baghdad, Wasit, as well as “any village that was taken by force,” and not returned by a Muslim Caliph to those vanquished and dispossessed,
These are Muslim cities in which the protected people may not display any of their religious symbols, for example, erect churches, bring out wine or pork, or sound the clapper (calling to the church, a counterpart of bells). No new synagogue, church, monk’s cell, prayer assembly of theirs is allowed in these cities, by the consensus of the doctors [of Islamic law]. It has been mentioned above that our city, Cairo, is an Islamic town, started after the conquest of Egypt, under the reign of the Fatimids. Therefore, no church, synagogue, and the rest, may be erected in it.
But what Bat Ye’or excerpted in The Dhimmi that is truly fascinating—pathognomonic as we say in medicine—is how this learned Muslim jurist, in conformity with the prevailing orthodoxy, viewed Church construction by Christians as a form of Muslim emasculation! From (p. 21) of Perlmann’s 1975 translation of Damanhuri’s tract:
The Prophet, peace and blessing upon him, said: “No emasculation [khisa] and no church in Islam.” The word “emasculation,” khisa follows the fial, as the verbal noun of khsy, “to emasculate.” The relation between “emasculation” and “church” is that the erection of a church in Muslim territory denotes the elimination of manliness in the people of the territory, just as emasculation, in reality, is the elimination of virility in an animal. Though the sense of the word in our context is withdrawal from women by attachment to churches. The connection is evident. By “no church” the Prophet meant no construction thereof, a prohibition, that is, that no church in Islamic territory signifies the elimination of virility in the people of that territory, which is not permissible, even as the elimination of man’s virility by castration is not.
I would maintain this perverse, ugly sentiment of perceived “emasculation” remains amongst Egyptian Muslims and accounts for their lethal mass violence directed at The Copts for simply, and peaceably, exercising what modern human beings regard as a basic freedom—freedom of worship.