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Coptic Egyptian Men

Copt is a general term for Christians in Egypt. Some Muslims are also being referred as Coptic. Today, more than 95% of the Copts belong to the Latin community of the Coptic Catholic Church, and other of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. They used the Coptic calendar and speak the Coptic language. Baptism and male Circumcision is commonly practiced.[1] Mark the Evangelist is believed to be the founder of Christianity in Egypt, and is thus regarded as their spiritual predecessor.[2]

History[change | change source]

Tracing its root back to the introduction of Christianity into Alexandria in around 42 AD,[3] according to the Church's tradition, by Saint Mark the Evangelist, Copts is one of the oldest and long lasting Christian communities in Egypt. Because Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great as his capital in Egypt, the city was destined to be a metropolis connecting Egypt with the rest of the Hellenic world. Connecting the Nile River, Red Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria was, as still is, one of the largest port cities in Egypt where local produces such as grains were exported to other parts of the word. Founded in such a well-connected location, Christianity soon got spread into the heartlands of Egypt in the following centuries. Later in the Council of Nicaea organized by Emperor Constantine I in 325 C.E., the Church of Alexandria was elevated to the rank of Patriarchate alongside Rome and Jerusalem.[4]

The Spread of Monastic Christianity[change | change source]

Rooted in the crossroad between East and West, the Church of Alexandria consequently had a profound impact on spreading the faith to its surrounding areas. One greatest achievement of the Church of Alexandria was the spread of monasticism. The spread of monasticism can be traced back to Saint Anthony the Great. Having lived an ascetic life for twenty years in a cave in a dessert mountain called Mt. Pispir, only eating bread, salt, and water, Anthony’s action soon attracted followers who voluntarily vowed as his disciple. His disciples then carried his monastic style of teachings and approaches to all directions, including places like Palestine, Marseille, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria, Ethiopia, and even Ireland.[5]

Era of the Martyrs—Religious Persecution Under the Romans[change | change source]

Schisms[change | change source]

Despite the elevation of the Church of Alexandria, religious persecutions were still wide spread due to multiple theological controversies throughout the entire Christian world.

Arian Controversy[change | change source]

Before the concept of Holy Trinity was publicly announced and accepted by most Christian schools in the council of Nicaea, most churches enjoyed freedom of interpretation to the Bible and religious doctrines. Consequently, as a hot topic among theologians, discussions over the essence of God and the Christ prevailed throughout the debates. In either year 318 or 320 AD, Arius, a former presbyter (priest who preaches) in Alexandria publicly announced that the Holy Father and the Christ are different by nature. Arius's idea, known as Nontrinitarianism, holds that the Christ is distinct from the Holy Father himself and is therefore God's creation. Arius's opponent Athanasius of Alexandria and Saint Alexander on the other hand, believed that God the Father, the Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit are consubstantial, or same in their essences.

In the Council of Nicaea, Holy Trinity theory was publicly acclaimed; as a result, Arius was expelled from the council and condemned as heresy. Despite Arianism was denounced as heresy, a substantial group of followers in Egypt still believed in Arius's theory, and their influence in Alexandria was still prevalent. Therefore, dispute was inevitable. For instance, Athanasios of Alexandria, although being acclaimed as a great priest by later theologians, had a bad reputation for brutally suppressing his theological opponents in Alexandria while he was the Patriarch of Alexandria.[6] Nevertheless, as Emperor Constantine, the main supporter of the Nicene Creed, died in 337, Arianist theologians in Alexandria led by Gregory of Cappadocia organized an uprising with the support of street mobs. They soon took over the city and charged Athanasios for being an outlawed priest. As a result, Athanasios was forced to expelled.[7]

Chalcedonian Controversy[change | change source]

Copts Under Islamic Rule[change | change source]

Islamic Conquest of Egypt 639-646 AD[change | change source]

The death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD marked the start of the Rashidun Caliphate era in the Middle East. The term Rashidun literally means rightly guided; it refers to the first four Islamic caliphs who were considered rightfully elected by the ummah. Under the rule of Caliph Uthman, Rashidun armies started to invade Syria, Mesopotamia, and Fars regions, the former territories of the Byzantine Empire, and the Sassanian Persia.

A drastic change happened to the Egyptian religious milieux when Egypt was taken over by Muslim general Amr ibn al-As in 639. Initially, Christianity was tolerated because they were redeemed as the Ahl al-Kitab, or the People of the Book. In return for tolerance, Christians had to pay the Gizya tax and were forbidden from entering the army. Although tolerated by the system in theory, in practice, Copts in Egypt suffered economically, and several uprisings against their Muslim overlords happened occasionally as well.[8] Meanwhile to suppress the uprisings, the muslim governments from time to time also confiscated church properties and imprisoned some important members of the Church.[8] As a result, a lot of them converted to Islam to avoid the heavy tax, and eventually by the Ninth century, Muslims gained the majority in Egypt.[8]

Under the Abbasid, theTulunids, and the Ikhshidids[change | change source]

Under the Fatimids[change | change source]

Under the Ayyubids[change | change source]

Under the Mamluks[change | change source]

European Intervention, Enlightenment, and Nationalism[change | change source]

The French Invasion of Egypt[change | change source]

When Napoleon Bonaparte launched his expedition to Egypt in 1798 starting with Alexandria, several local Copts sought this as an opportunity. A formal tax collector of the Upper Egypt under the Ottoman-mamluk rule Mu'allam Ya'qub Tadrus, for instance, became a joint commander alongside general Desiax during his conquest of Upper Egypt. After Napoleon's retreat, Ya'qub was even in charge of a Coptic legion under the French army system.[9] Another former tax collector Mu'allim Girgis al-Gawhari served as the minister of finance under Napoleon's expedition. During his term, he donated some lands to the Coptic Church.[9]

Although individual Copts seek opportunities in the French occupation, the Coptic community as a whole remained the same as under the Ottoman rule. They were still marginalized and lack much political power outside their communities. There were only a few individual who could serve as tax collectors or government advisors occasionally, seeking for opportunities both for themselves and for their communities.

Under Muhammad Ali[change | change source]

Since the departure of Napoleon from Egypt, the Ottoman forces soon regain control over Egypt. Many Christian Egyptians were accused of cooperating with the French army, and many of them got sentenced to death.[10] As Muhammad Ali took control of Egypt however, Copts, alongside Armenians and Jew enjoyed an unprecedented freedom and promotion in Muhammad Ali's government. Contrary to the Millet system under the Ottomans, Muhammad Ali promoted officers based on their merit and connection to local communities. Consequently as a power broker between the government and the regional population, former tax collectors, religious figures, and military officers got promoted to Ali's government as bureaucrats. Under Ali's reform, Copts such as al-Mu'allim Ghali got promoted to Ali's financial advisor.[10]

Coptic Church and its Community[change | change source]

As a continuation of the Ottoman Millet System, Coptic clergy continued to hold a great influence on its community. They were not only in charge of religious services but was also in control of meddling day-to-day activities such as legal disputes.[11] However, since Sharia court also coexisted alongside the Coptic Jurisdiction, and Copts often switched between different courts when the law serves their interests better.[12] In a societal sense, this can be seen as a competition between Islam and Coptic Christianity. Although to individuals, they were only opportunists who tried to maximize their rights and profits. Similar trend continues when the Ottoman Tanzimat Reforms got adopted by the Egyptian government. In this case, Copts continued to switch between affirming Coptic laws and State Laws when the terms suits their interests.[13]

References[change | change source]

  1. "CIRCLIST - Circumcision in Christianity".
  2. "Copt | Definition, Religion, History, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  3. Meinardus, Otto F. A. (2010-10-15). Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity. American University in Cairo Press. p. 28. doi:10.5743/cairo/9789774247576.001.0001. ISBN 978-977-424-757-6.
  4. "First Council of Nicaea". First Council of Nicaea. Apr 28, 2023. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  5. Meinardus, Otto F.A. (2002). Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity. Egypt: The American UNiversity in Cairo Press. pp. 35–37. ISBN 978-9774167454.
  6. Haas, Christopher (1993). "The Arians of Alexandria". Vigiliae Christianae. 47 (3): 235. doi:10.2307/1583805. JSTOR 1583805 – via JSTOR.
  7. Haas, Christopher (1993). "The Arians in Alexandria". Vigiliae Christianae. 47 (3): 236. doi:10.2307/1583805. JSTOR 1583805 – via JSTOR.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Meinardus, Otto F.A. (2002). Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity. Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press. p. 64. ISBN 9774247574.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Meinardus, Otto F.A. (2002). Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity. Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press. p. 67. ISBN 9774247574.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Meinardus, Otto F.A. (2002). Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity. Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press. p. 68. ISBN 9774247574.
  11. Afifi, Muhammad (1999). "The State and the Church in Nineteenth-Century Egypt". Die Welt des Islams. 39 (3): 279. doi:10.1163/1570060991570659. JSTOR 1571250 – via JSTOR.
  12. Afifi, Muhammad (1999). "State, Law and Society in Nineteenth-Century Egypt". Die Welt des Islams. 39: 280. doi:10.1163/1570060991570659. JSTOR 1571250 – via JSTOR.
  13. Afifi, Muhammad (1999). "The State and the Church in Nineteenth-Century Egypt". Die Welt des Islams. 39 (3): 284. doi:10.1163/1570060991570659. JSTOR 1571250 – via JSTOR.

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