SALAMA MOUSSA ON COPTIC EXCEPTIONALISM
The Coptic thinker, Salama Moussa
Salama Moussa (1887 – 1958) was a great Coptic thinker. During his childhood and early youth, in the town of Zagazig where he was born, he was, like almost other Copts, close to the Church, being brought up in a traditional Coptic family. When he went to France and England, he fell under the influence of Marxism, and took Darwinism as his ‘religion’; and, gradually, he became estranged from Christianity and his Coptic roots took a marginal place in his thinking. As Egypt mounted its 1919 revolution against the British rule under the leadership of Saad Zaghlul, Copts were hopeful of a new Egypt where Muslims and Copts are treated equally. This dream was not to survive the 1930s and 1940s as Islam became a strong factor in Egyptian politics and society; and anti-Coptic rhetoric pervaded society and attacks on Copts multiplied. And, like many Copts, Moussa despaired as he saw Egyptian Muslims increasingly prefer Islamism over ‘Egyptianity’, and the citizenship bond weakened.
Particularly from the 1940, Moussa started returning to his Coptic roots; and he found in ‘Coptism’ a real connection to Egypt’s true values and history. From now on, we see Moussa engaged with his Coptic brethren and working with them to improve the situation of the Copts without his previous ideologies restricting him.
I dare to say that Moussa, being disheartened by the betrayal he saw from the Muslims, became a Coptic nationalist, seeing the Copts as a unique nation within a multinational Egypt – Egypt proved to be not a one-nation. Here is a good example of evidence: an article in Masr paper, dated 7 January 1948:
“We, the Copts, are distinguished by a nationality; have a different physiognomy, and we are unique in having a morality that distinguishes us all wherever we are, so much so that it is easy to say about one of us when seen for the first time, ‘This is a Copt in whom is no guile.’ And we have a religion that penetrated into the marrow of our bones, and changed our human nature into the Christian one – a religion that has taught us traditions, and directed our morals in a way that made the dealings of a Coptic man with his wife and a Coptic woman with her son based on the values of kindness, tenderness and generosity; something which makes the Coptic family a strong unit, with a model structure and behaviour.”