Most of us in the West have little knowledge of what life is like for Christians in the Muslim world. Take for example, the Coptic Christians, who were once the dominant religious group in Egypt. Previously the mainstay of their nation, Copts are now living as an oppressed minority, denied religious freedom and equal status in Egyptian life. The Copts are routinely denied meaningful employment and may not hold positions in the Egyptian Civil Service. Copts are refused permission to build new churches and even a request to renovate a church that is badly in need of repair can lead to an outbreak of severe Muslim violence against the Copts. Recently, there have even been calls for a return to collecting Jizya from the Copts, a tax that the Qur'an instructs Muslims to charge to all Dhimmis (non-Muslims) whenever Muslims are in power.
To give our readers an accurate picture of the situation in Egypt, we asked Raymond Ibrahim to answer several questions about the Coptic Christians. Raymond is the son of Coptic Christian parents who were born in Egypt and he has firsthand knowledge about Coptic life under Islam. Raymond is a highly respected Middle East and Islam specialist, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. A widely published author, best known for The Al Qaeda Reader (Doubleday, 2007), he guest lectures at universities, including the National Defense Intelligence College. Raymond also briefs governmental agencies, such as U.S. Strategic Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Among other media, he has appeared on Inquisitr.com, MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, PBS, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, CBN, and NPR. Raymond is fluent in Arabic and he has studied the Qur'an and many ancient Islamic historical documents in the original language. You can find Raymond's latest writings at http://www.raymondibrahim.com.
Here is our interview with Raymond Ibrahim:
1. Who are the Coptic Christians and what is their history?
The Copts are the indigenous inhabitants of Egypt, before the Arab/Muslim invasion around 641 A.D. The word "Copt" simply means "Egyptian"; however, because all Egyptians were Christian in the 7th century—Egypt was a major Christian center, so much so that Alexandria vied with Rome over ecclesiastical leadership—"Copt" also became synonymous with "Christian." In short, the word Copt is similar to the word Jew: both words convey a people and a religion. Tradition teaches that St. Mark, author of the Gospel of the same name, proselytized the pagan Egyptians of the 1st century; by approximately the 3rd century, Christianity was the dominant religion; and by the 7th century when Islam burst into Egypt, Christianity was the religion.
2. When did persecution of the Copts begin and why?
Muslim persecution of the Copts begins with the Islamic invasion. It is true that, at the time, the Copts were already under nearly a decade of persecution by the Byzantine Empire over doctrinal disputes. However, with Islam's entry, the persecution took on a different shape, and grew steadily worse, until the modern era and the age of colonialism. At first, and because the Copts were the majority people of Egypt, they were merely deemed a subject race, to be heavily taxed and kept in line by their Muslim overlords. Over the years, however, their subject status came to be codified in what is seen as Islam's divine and immutable law, or Sharia.
3. What is Life like for a Copt today in Egypt?
There are approximately 10 million Copts in Egypt, roughly 12% of the population. This is not an insignificant number. In fact, in the entire Middle East, Copts make for the largest Christian minority. Accordingly, the everyday average Copt is not "persecuted"; however, everyday forms of discrimination are common (for instance, only Muslims get hired for the best jobs, and so forth). The problem, though, is that persecution of the sort that occurred centuries ago—for instance, the ongoing attacks on churches—is on the rise, unsurprisingly so, considering the overall Islamization of Egypt in recent decades, culminating with Islamists, who were once in jail for their extremist views, now sitting in Egypt's new parliament.
4. What can the Copts do to protect their lives and preserve their religion? What does the future hold for the Copts? Can they survive in the Middle East and remain faithful Coptic Christians?
This is difficult to answer, as there are several variables and contexts. For starters, emigration is not the solution for most Copts; not only is it impractical for 10 million people to pack up and leave, many Copts do not wish to abandon Egypt, seeing it as their home more than Muslims; some even say they would rather die than abandon their motherland. Their best bet is for a secular and free government to form, the sort of government the youth who initiated the Revolution wanted. Of course, with each passing day it becomes clear that it is the Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood followed by the Salafis, who will play the greatest role in shaping Egypt's future. Still, there are many secular Egyptian's who oppose the Islamists just as much, if not more than the Copts. Copts need to—and often do—ally with these parties, which stress, not "Muslim" or "Christian" as an identity, but "Egyptian." For the bottom line is, an Islamist government will not only be bad for Christians, but secularized Muslims as well, and these too are not an insignificant group. Likewise, though this is out of the hands of Copts and seculars, U.S. diplomacy could help empower the former, though the Obama administration appears more interested in aiding Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood. So, overall, it is a bad situation, though only the future can tell what will ultimately happen, and one is not optimistic.
What Does The Future Hold? [Afterword by Wolff Bachner]
The fate of the Copts is the same as that of every Christian society in the Middle East living under the domination of Islam. Despite the portrayal of Islam as the 'Religion of Peace and Tolerance" that Western Leaders and mainstream media constantly parrot like brainwashed Dhimmis, the truth is far different. Christianity in Muslim countries is experiencing its death throes at the hand of Islam. Lebanon has dwindled down from an 84% Christian majority to a 35% Christian Minority with hundreds more Christians fleeing the country every day. Iraq's once vibrant Christian community has been reduced to less than 200,000 and according to Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, "Iraq's ancient Christian community has run out of time and will disappear soon." Echoing Archbishop Warda's words was Rev. Jean Benjamin Sleiman, the Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, who said, "I fear the extinction of Christianity in Iraq and the Middle East."
While Iraq and Lebanon have been in the midst of upheaval and war for decades, Egypt has been at peace since the early 1970′s and the horrors of civil war cannot explain the destruction of Egypt's Coptic Community. The long suppressed Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, now freed from Mubarak's tight leash on those advocating for Sharia and a Muslim Caliphate, have risen to the forefront of Egypt's political and religious life. When Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, the leader of the Coptic faith, died on March 17th, 2012, the Islamic leadership of Egypt was quick to condemn him in the vilest fashion possible. Prominent Egyptian Muslim cleric, Wagdi Ghoneim, said, "Praise be to Allah. With the grace of Allah, the head of unbelief and polytheism, known as Shenouda, died yesterday, may Allah exact revenge from him. God's worshipers and the trees and the animals were all relieved by his death."
This sort of bigoted, hateful Muslim rhetoric is not only reserved for those of the Jewish faith, who are routinely condemned to death and annihilation by one Islamic Imam after the other. Leading the current onslaught against Christianity in the Middle East, is Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the highest official of religious law in Islam, who said, "It is necessary to destroy all the churches in the region." He reminded his listeners, that according to Mohammed, no other religion besides Islam can be allowed on the Arabian Peninsula.
The leaders of the West may deny the truth about the plight of non-Muslims in the Middle East. The leaders of the various sects of Christianity can remain as politically correct as ever. Doing so will not stop the eventual destruction of Christianity in the Middle East. Their denial will not stop the Egyptian Army from using their tanks to run over Copts peacefully protesting the burning of their churches by Muslim mobs, resulting in the death of 24 Copts on October 9, 2011. They will not stop Muslim religious authorities from calling for the burning of every church in the Middle East. Their willful ignorance of the modern Islamist supremacist movement will simply result in the death of all non-Muslim religions in the Middle East, as called for by Mohammed himself in the Qur'an. Until the world stops ignoring Islamist hatred of all other religions, the violence and oppression will only continue. It is time for Western leaders to understand that we are at the turning point in human history. The clash of civilizations, Western and Muslim, is real and it is just beginning.
Footnote: Mr. Ibrahim's full testimony on the Copts before the United States Congress is available online. His testimony is quite illuminating and a real eye opener for those of us who do not have access to this information.