Christian Proponents of Equality Under Ottoman Rule

Published: January 18, 2015

In a new paper published by Al-Mesbar Center, George Massuh, Chairman of the Center for Christian-Islamic Studies at the University of Balamand (Lebanon), describes activity by Christian intellectuals prior to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Their efforts reflect an attempt to use non-religious discourse to support pluralism and partnership with Muslims. Such attempts, according to the study, were made by a combination of pan-Arab nationalists, Socialists, and secularists. Despite the ideological differences among the groups, all sought to strengthen the principles of citizenship in the country.

Professor Massuh goes on to discuss the role of Christian elites in transmitting the theoretical principles of citizenship which from nineteenth-century European philosophy. The author lay out some of the most important ideas presented by Christian thinkers, in which they attempted to counter religious intolerance by promoting egalitarianism. Reformists like Misbah Al-Bustani, who called for secularism during the sectarian crisis of 1860, argued the need to struggle for national cohesion in the face of intolerance. Shibly Al-Shumail, who harbored radical views opposing organized religion, called for a humanitarian ideology that would transcend national and religious identities; he aimed for a “universal nationality,” and went on to create the Socialist Party of Egypt in 1908. Farah Antoine (1874-1922) believed that states should be founded on the principles of freedom and equity which, he felt, can only be achieved by separating religious and civil authority. Finally, Massuh examines the ideas of several religious figures, including Patriarch Ignatius the Fourth and Bishop George Khudhr, and highlights the role of the Orthodox Church in calling for coexistence. Masooh himself prescribes a state in which the principle of citizenship is enshrined in the constitution — in his view, the only way to achieve equal rights for all.