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April 3, 2016

schoolInterior of School (Muslim) in Cairo by John Frederick Lewis (1865)

Edward William Lane (1801 – 1876), the British Orientalist was not a friend of the Copts. In fact, he was a notorious anti-Copt, who is responsible for much of the misinformation about the Copts which Europeans got from his book An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, in which he included a chapter about the Copts and another about the Jews in Egypt, but the bulk of the book is about the Muslims. Lane visited Egypt in the years 1825-1828 and 1833-1835, during the reign of Muhammad Ali (1811 – 1848), and wrote his famous book in 1836.[1]

As I said, Lane’s writing about the Copts was inaccurate and prejudiced – he never met Copts to enquire about their customs and manners, and got his information from a hateful man who converted to Islam, and, therefore, had every reason to denigrate the Copts. The reader can read more about that in my article, Edward William Lane and his Responsibility for Demonising the Copts and Misguiding the British about the Copts.

Despite his anti-Coptism, Lane managed to write about some of the practices of the Muslims of Egypt which were directed towards implanting hatred of Copts, and other non-Muslims, in the hearts and minds of the Egyptian from early age. In Chapter 5, Infant and Early Education, Lane describes the education Muslim children got and its purpose:

The parents seldom devote much of their time or attention to the intellectual education of their children; generally contenting themselves with instilling into their young minds a few principles of religion, and then submitting them, if they can afford to do so, to the instruction of a schoolmaster. As early as possible, the child is taught to say, “I testify that there is no deity but God; and I testify that Mohammad is God’s Apostle.” He receives also lessons of religious pride, and learns to hate the Christians, and all other sects but his own, as thoroughly as does the Muslim in advanced age. Most of the children of the higher and middle classes, and some of those of the lower orders, are taught by the schoolmaster to read, and to recite and chant the whole or certain portions of the Koran by memory. They afterwards learn the most common rules of arithmetic.[2]

Again, Lane, in Appendix D, Prayer of Muslim Schoolboys, shows us an example of “hezb” (or prayer), “which the Muslim youths in many of the schools of Cairo recite, before they return to their homes, every day of their attendance, at the period of the “‘asr,”[3] except on Thursday, when they recite it at noon; being allowed to leave the school, on this day, at the early hour of the “duhr,”[4] in consideration of the approach of Friday, their sabbath and holiday.” He observes that this prayer is similar to a portion of the “khutbet en-naat”( خُطْبَة النَّعْت), the sermon which the Muslim Khateebs[5] deliver in all mosques every Friday. The prayer calls for all sorts of misfortunes and catastrophies befalling the non-Muslims. Here is his translation for it:

“I seek refuge with Allah from Satan the accursed. In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O Allah, aid Islam, and exalt the word of truth, and the faith, by the preservation of thy servant, and the son of thy servant, the Sultan of the two continents,[6] and Khakan[7] of the two seas,[8] the Sultan, son of the Sultan, the Sultan [Mahmud[9]] Khan. O Allah, assist him, and assist his armies, and all the forces of the Muslims: O Lord of the beings of the whole world. O Allah, destroy the infidels and polytheists, thine enemies, the enemies of the religion. O Allah, make their children orphans, and defile their abodes, and cause their feet to slip, and give them and their families and their households and their women and their children and their relations by marriage and their brothers and their friends and their possessions and their race and their wealth and their lands as booty to the Muslims: O Lord of the beings of the whole world.”[10]

The infidels and polytheists include all non-Muslims, native and foreign. That was how Muslim children’s were brought up. But why am I talking about the way home and school education was in the first half of the 19th century when we are now in the 21st century? The reason is that Muslim Egyptian children are still largely brought up within their families to hate Copts – they are almost breastfed this anti-Coptism. Although the hizb described above is not prayed anymore in Egyptian public schools, it still forms part of the khuṭbah (sermon) every Friday in the mosques of Cairo and the rest of the country. Copts and other non-Muslims hear this every Friday; and no one tries to hide it – it is, on the contrary, broadcast from mosques through loud speakers all-over the place. This is coupled by the poisonous education undertaken by Muslim religious leaders everywhere in Egypt, including Al-Azhar.

Of course, not all Muslim Egyptians are brought up the same, but it is reasonable to say that the majority of Muslims are brought up in the same way their 1820s and 1830s predecessors were brought up. The problem is huge – it may get less (just less) with certain political changes, like it is currently under President Sisi, but it is still  endemic in Egypt.

Next time, I will write about the “khutbet en-naat”( خُطْبَة النَّعْت), which spits hatred and incites violence every Friday against all non-Muslims.



[1] I use the 5th Edition of 1960. Edward William Lane, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (London, John Murray, 1960).

[2] Ibid, pp. 59-60.

[3] Afternoon.

[4] Noon.

[5] Plural of khateeb (خطيب): the person (usually the imam who leads the prayer) who delivers the khuṭbah (sermon), during the Friday prayer and Eid prayers.

[6] Europe and Asia.

[7] Emperor or monarch.

[8] The Mediterranean and Black seas.

[9] Sultan Mahmud II was the reigning Sultan then (1808 – 1839), at the time when the above was written.

[10] An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, p. 575. I have changed God to Allah, El-Islam to Islam, and Mahmood to Mahmud.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Egiziane permalink
    April 25, 2016 2:53 pm

    Thank you for this article, it is a sad history from the start ,but our God is in control, learning from history will help us move forward to a better future. I have the original two Volumes (1836) written by Edward William Lane, I agree with your observations. Thank you.
    “المسيح قام! حقا قام!‎ (al-Masīḥ qām! Ḥaqqan qām!); المسيح قام! بالحقيقة قام!‎ (al-Masīḥ qām! Belḥāqiqāti qām!)”. It is the will of God that Arabic is now our language, this way we can reach out to all Arabic speaking people with the good news of the Bible, the Coptic Language so dear to every Copt will remain alive in the Church and in our hearts.
    Raafat Samuel Hanna

  2. edmundwyatt permalink
    March 6, 2017 9:45 pm

    Thank you for this fascinating article about Lane, who has often been seen as a reliable source on other matters. Could you suggest any other books (from the nineteenth or twentieth centuries) about the Copts?

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