(RNS) Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders in the U.S. are calling on the Egyptian government to exclude any mentions of Islamic law or language that discriminates against minorities in its draft constitution.
In an letter released Tuesday (Aug. 7), the leaders urge the constitution writers to "recognize the equality of all Egyptians and to reject any language that would discriminate against any citizen of Egypt on the basis of that citizen’s religion or gender.”
Because Egypt is home to millions of Christians, attempts to describe Islamic law, or Shariah, as the source of the country’s law should also be rejected, the letter said.
Shariah is interpreted differently by various schools within Islam; some Muslims believe Shariah is a personal code that has no place in government, while in several Islamic countries -- Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and others -- Shariah infuses national law.
Egypt's recently elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood but has pledged to be "the president of all Egyptians."
Signatories of the letter include Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress; Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim organization in America; as well as the Rev. Hegomen Moises Bogdady and the Rev. Michael Sorial, priests with the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. James J. Zogby's Arab American Institute sponsored the letter.
The Egyptian Embassy in Washington did not reply to requests for comment.
The letter represents an unusual move by U.S. Muslims to try and shape policy toward Muslims and non-Muslims in a Muslim-majority country like Egypt, especially against a backdrop of attempts in some 20 U.S. state legislatures to ban Shariah from state courts.
The letter is also an important interfaith document between Muslims and Copts, whose relations have been strained in recent years. After a Coptic Christian family of four was murdered in their Jersey City, N.J., home in 2005, the American Coptic Association and some other Coptic groups initially accused Muslims. The killers turned out to be non-Muslims, but relations never completely healed after that incident.