Posts Tagged ‘Copt’

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Culture Killer

February 13, 2011

“When he was asked why the vast majority of Egyptians, the heirs to a great pre-Islamic civilization, speak Arabic rather than Coptic, a leading Egyptian historian replied: ‘Because we had no Ferdowsi.’”  Amil Imani

The Persian poet Ferdowsi was able to save the Persian language and culture, but the original Egyptians are but a shadow of their former selves.  Unsurprisingly, Islamic taxation also played a part in the systematic destruction of that national pre-Islamic Egyptian identity.  A passage from Mordechai Nisan’s Minorities in the Middle East explains that history quite well (thanks to a Feb. 2 CAMERA article for bringing this to light):

The Islamic conquest of Egypt from 640 to 641 inaugurated the decline of Christianity in the Nile Valley. There were one hundred bishoprics in the year 600, but only seventy by 700; in the year 1300 only forty remained. While some Copts joined the Arab governmental apparatus as accountants and translators, others engaged in revolt to secure Christian self-expression. Overtime, the burden of dhimmi taxation compelled thousands to accept Islam. The surge to revolt, like the insurrections from 725 to 773, persisted intermittently until 830 at least, but to no avail. Copts were dragged off to Baghdad as slaves. By the tenth century, the spoken Coptic language had all but died, replaced by Arabic. The caprice of changing rulers would arbitrarily affect the Copts’ condition. It is said that Saladin, suspecting Copt collusion with the crusaders, punished them sternly. The overall Christian population, formerly some 90 percent of Egypt, dwindled incessantly to some 10 percent.

 The extreme fragility of Copt existence was rooted in the superiority of Muslims exercised through the dhimma doctrine. Islamic supremacy often degenerated into brutal repression. A Maghrebian visitor to Cairo in 1301 witnessed the degradation of the Christians: None could ride a horse or hold public office; churches were closed; and Christians had to wear a distinguishable colored turban different from that of the Muslims. Violence against Copts and their ecclesiastical establishment was a central theme in the sectarian relationship. Muslim mobs, based on the rule of Islam, ransacked Copt neighborhoods and massacred their inhabitants, as in Cairo in 1343.

 The situation led continually to mass conversions from the Cross to the Crescent. Islam legal opinion developed a harsh attitude toward churches, as both Ibn Taimiyya in the fourteenth century and Shaykh Ahmad al-Damanhuri in the eighteenth century condoned the construction of churches. Sixty churches were destroyed in 1321. With the Copt religion victimized, the Copt language fading, and the Copt community straining under heavy jizya and kharaj tribute, Copt history was burned with minority-status bitterness under Islam for more than a thousand years. (Page 119)

Remember, the kharaj can be even an even greater tax burden than the jizya, and it is imposed on land owned by non-Muslims and land formerly owned by non-Muslims.  Centuries ago, Persia waged a tax revolt against the kharaj that forced tax reforms by the caliph.  If only Egypt had been able to also, the Copts might not be staring down the barrel of their own oblivion today.