AL-ISTIFHAM BA‘D AL-ISTIBHAM
An anonymous work whose title could be translated as “Book of Asking Questions after Being in Doubt.” It was written by a Coptic Catholic layman in 1771, although A. Mingana and G. Graf speak of 1772. The author wishes to demonstrate the falsity of the belief of the Coptic Orthodox called Jacobites, especially as concerns Christology. He says of himself that the book is by “a Coptic layman, attached to the holy Orthodox Catholic faith, addressed to every lay Coptic brother attached to the recent Jacobite belief.”
The work is extensive, containing twenty chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter deals with the Unity and Trinity of God. The others are not indicated in the catalogs, with the exception of the last, which is entitled “The Reason Why the Apostolic See of Rome Has Sent Missionaries to This Coptic Community and to Other Communities.” The conclusion is intended to summarize the foregoing chapters and to give some advice to permit the reader to return to the truth so as to attain eternal salvation.
At least three manuscripts of the work are extant, two at Birmingham (Selly Oak Colleges, Mingana Christian Arabic 32 [Catalog 69], A.M. 1534/A.H. 1233/June 1817, on commission from the priest Butrus, son of the priest Ishaq Ibshay al-Raqit [sic], 122 fols., the first being lost; and Mingana Christian Arabic 33 [Catalog 70], c. 1850, 89 fols.) and at Faytrun (Dayr Mar Dumit, no. 46 [no date], 222 pp.).
After al-Istifam ba‘d al-Istibham, the Faytrun manuscript contains two questions put to the author to which he replies. Unfortunately, nothing is known of the answers. These treatises were not mentioned by Graf in his brief description.
The first query was posed by the parish priest Mas‘ad of Misr al- Qahirah (sic) on 2 January 1783; it is a series of questions on sins. This is quite certainly the Greek Orthodox parish priest Mas‘ad Nushu’, born in Damascus but living in Cairo. (Note that this formula Misr al-Qahirah is found several times in his writings.) This author’s speciality was refuting the Latins; thus he wrote a refutation of the infallibility of the Roman pope in 1740 (Graf, 1951, pp. 140-41), of unleavened bread in 1747 (Graf, p. 141, no. 2), and of the Council of Florence (p. 143, no. 6). See especially his little polemics, often in the form of letters, contained in two manuscripts (Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Theology 119; Graf, no. 619; Simaykah, no. 464; and Birmingham Mingana Christian Arabic 38 [Catalog 50]).
Two other questions were put to him in Cairo in 1783 by the famous IBRAHIM AL-JAWHARI (d. 31 May 1795; cf. Graf IV, p. 136, no. 10) on faith.
These questions and answers show that the author of this work was in Cairo at the beginning of 1783 and that he was well known among the Coptic Orthodox and the Greek Orthodox circles of his time.
- Antuniyus Shibli. “Jawlah fi Kisruwan”; “Dayr Mar Dumit Faytrun.” Al-Mashriq 26 (1928):456-59, 644-49, 917-22; 27 (1929):192-95.
- Mingana, A. Catalogue of the Mingana Collection of Manuscripts, Vol. 2, p. 98 (nos. 69-70). Cambridge, 1936.
KHALIL SAMIR, S.J.