6.5.09

The Copts: Persecuted Christians of Egypt

"The word “Copt” is derived from the Greek word, “Ai-gypt-os” meaning Egypt. The middle part of the word “gypt” was later pronounced as “Copt” and used to mean Egyptian. From the time Egypt embraced Christianity in 54AD to the time Islam invaded Egypt in 642 AD, all people of Egypt were called Copts, After the Islamic invasion, some Copts embraced Islam and excluded themselves from the name. Those who remained faithful to their Christian faith clung to their Coptic identity, and still do.

Christianity was introduced to Egypt in 54 AD by St. Mark, a North African Jew and one of the 70 apostles of the early church. St. Mark is the writer of the Gospel of Mark, one of the four gospels of the New Testament. He was the first Patriarch of an unbroken 117 patriarchy of the Coptic Orthodox church. St Mark was the first martyr of many Coptic martyrs who gave their life for the faith. In 68 AD, St Mark was killed when he was seized and dragged with a rope through the main streets of the city of Alexandria.

St. Mark put the foundation of the Church of Alexandria, one of the ancient pillar churches at the time. The other churches were the mother Church in Jerusalem, the Church of Antioch, the Church of Rome, the Church of Ephesus, and the Church of Constantinople. St Mark also founded the school of Alexandria which produced great theologians in the history of Christianity such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen.

In the year 642 AD the Arabs led by Amre Ibn El As invaded Egypt under the banner of Islam thus ending the Coptic era. Islam soon spread in Egypt as a result of imposing a high tax on Copts (People of the Book) called Jizya. Those among the Copts, who were able to pay the tax, did so and remained as Christians. The poor Copts were offered two choices, either to convert to Islam or be killed. Many Copts were martyred. Those Copts who remained Christians were reduced to the Dhemmi status, a third class citizenship, after the Arab Muslims and the Egyptian Muslims. It is a class of people who are allowed just to exist with little or no rights. Soon the Arabic language was forced onto all Egyptians and the Coptic language was restricted until it completely disappeared except in church liturgy.

The Copts in modern Egypt are suffering from discrimination and persecution. They are frequently subject to terrorist attacks on their persons, homes, businesses and churches. Not a month passes by without a major assault taking place. According to a study made by Ibn Khaldoun Research Center, more than 240 major attacks took place just between the years 1972- 2003.

Hundreds of Coptic young girls, including many under aged, are being kidnapped, raped, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men..."

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