HOW BISHOPS CAN ERR IN NON-RELIGIOUS MATTERS: THE LATE SAINTLY BISHOP LUCAS OF MANFALUT AND COPTIC IDENTITY
Bishop Lucas of Manfalut and Abnub (1930 – 1965) was a great bishop who led a saintly life. His memory is kept to this day by Copts as miracle-maker; and many visit his preserved body at the Church of Manfalut.
Nevertheless, the sainthood of Bishop Lucas, whom I greatly respect, did not prevent him from falling in mistakes that are not related to the Faith. He is reported to have made the following statement:
“The Coptic blood is to be found in the authentic Arabic blood; for the mother of Ismail, the father of the Arabs, was Hagar, the sister of Ramesses. Ramesses, then, was the uncle of Ismail, the Arab. The relation and ties of blood, therefore, link the two [Arabs and Copts].”
One, of course, finds Hagar and Ismail in the Old Testament. Genesis says Hagar was an Egyptian slave woman of Sarai (Sarah), Abraham’s old wife, who gave her to Abraham to bear a child for him. He got Ishmael (Ismail) from her. There is a prophesy in Genesis that Ishmael “shall be a wild donkey of a man: his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him”. It is said that Hagar found an Egyptian woman for her son, and from their marriage descended the Ishmaelites, presumably the Arabs.
But that is it. We do not know much else about Hagar or her daughter-in-law; and there is no way of authenticating the story given in Genesis from any outside source. At its best, one can say the Arabs have some Egyptian blood in it – but it does not emerge from this that the Egyptians (I mean those who have descended from the Ancient Egyptians, such as the Copts) have Arab blood. Further, I am not sure how Ramesses becomes the uncle of Ismail. The story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, although written later, is supposed to have happened around the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period (1802 – 1550 BC), while Ramesses (one presumes he meant Ramesses II) reigned in the 13th century BC (1279 – 1213 BC). Bishop Lucas most probably didn’t use that in a historical sense, but tried to give a sense of the relationship between the Copts and Arabs, using the flowery Arabic rhetoric that can easily mislead and confuse issues.
Again, I stress, there is no Arab blood in the Coptic veins. That the Arabs have some Coptic blood in their veins, that’s something up to them to consider. It does not surmise from this that the Copts are ‘uncles’, as it does not arise from the fact that Muhammad took the Coptic slave woman, Maria the Copt, as a concubine, that the Coptic nation is father-in-law for Muhammad. Anyway, the Arabs, who presumably have Coptic blood in their veins, have not spared their ‘uncles’ or their Prophet’s fathers-in-law’s blood: history tells us of the savagery and cruelty with which Arabs treated the Copts. “The relation and ties of blood [that], therefore, link the two,” if authentic, were not strong enough to save the Copts from the hands of the Arabs.
Coptic religious leaders must be careful of what they write and say when it comes to non-religious matters, since they have a great influence on the minds of the Copts. A saintly bishop can nevertheless cause a lot of damage to how the Copts should perceive themselves. It is not only a matter of realising one’s identity, but, also, a matter of keeping your identity separate and strong in order to be able to fight Arab supremacy, and Arabisation and Islamisation of the Copts.
 Al-mas’ala al-ta’ifiyya fi masr (The Sectarian Question in Egypt) (Beirut, 1980); p. 232.
 Genesis 16:12.