- The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood by Beth Baron
The brutal beating of a fifteen-year-old Muslim girl, Turkiyya Hasan, at the Swedish Salaam Mission’s Home for Destitutes in Port Said in June 1933 exploded into a scandal. Beth Baron’s micro-history of the incident provides an excellent lens for examining the interaction of Protestant missionaries, Hasan al-Banna’s fledgling Muslim Brotherhood, British imperialism, and Egyptian politics in the first half of the twentieth century. [End Page 622]
Writing the history of Christian missions is no longer left primarily to missionaries, and Islamist movements have attracted much scholarly attention. Bringing the two fields together, Baron emphasizes unintended consequences: Christian proselytizing helped provoke the rapid rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in semi-colonial Egypt. She draws on US and British national archives, missionary archives, and Arabic articles, memoirs, and cartoons.
After a prologue outlining diverse perspectives on the Turkiyya Hasan affair, chapter one discusses Islamic law and practices regarding destitute children. In mid-nineteenth century Egypt, inadequate social services allowed Protestant and Catholic missionaries to move in with schools, hospitals, and orphanages. Muslims who turned children over to these institutions hoped for care, schooling, and a moral upbringing, but the ultimate goal for most missionaries was winning souls for Christ. Beginning in 1882, the British occupation provided an umbrella under which the missions flourished.
Chapters two and three discuss the Fowler Orphanage, which American Presbyterians operated in Cairo, and the orphanage which American Pentecostal Lillian Trasher founded in the southern town of Asyut. The United Presbyterian Church of North America’s “American Mission,” the largest Protestant missionary enterprise in Egypt, ran the Fowler Orphanage with Quaker support. The American Mission was headquartered in Asyut, where a substantial minority of the population were Coptic Orthodox Christians. The Mission primarily proselytized Copts. Trasher’s orphanage, which was affiliated with the Assemblies of God, was located across the Nile from Asyut. Taking in widowed mothers as well as children, it grew into a village. Much of its support came from local Copts.
Chapter four returns to the Swedish Salaam Mission and Turkiyya Hasan’s beating by a woman missionary. Maria Ericsson, the Swedish founder of the Mission, was an adherent of the Holiness revival movement who came to Port Said in 1911 to convert Muslims. “Islam is not an invention of man,” she wrote, “it is an invention of Satan himself against the Son of God and against human souls” (p. 85). Turkiyya’s refusal to convert drew a threatening letter from Ericsson: “My dear Turkya, will you be among those who are washed in the BLOOD of the LAMB?” “Are you ready when the Lord your Saviour comes?” “Do not fight against Him any longer.” “The dear Lord is coming back very, very soon, and oh, what cries of agony there will be from all who rejected HIM. … For then the great day of HIS wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (p. 2).
Chapters five and six detail the backlash to Protestant proselytizing. Baron highlights the centrality of northeastern delta and Suez Canal towns in the early life of Hasan al-Banna and his Muslim Brotherhood. As a [End Page 623] schoolboy in al-Mahmudiyya, southeast of Port Said, al-Banna founded an Islamic society to combat a school run by the London-based Egypt General Mission. Graduating from Cairo’s Dar al-Ulum teachers’ college in 1927, he became a primary school teacher in the Suez Canal Zone city of Ismailiyya. Ismailiyya had everything he reacted against: a large British garrison, the headquarters of the foreign-owned Suez Canal Company, schools run by the Egypt General Mission, and the Mission’s book depot full of Bibles and missionary tracts. It was thus in Ismailiyya that he founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. Rescuing Muslim children from missionary schools was a top priority. The Brothers turned the missionaries’ own tools back on them...