The following interview with Freedom Center Shillman Journalism Fellow Raymond Ibrahim was conducted by Wolff Bachner and first appeared on The Inquisitr.
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 Raymond is fluent in Arabic and he has studied the Qur’an and many ancient Islamic historical documents in the original language.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?
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