By Imam Tawhidi
Growing up as a young Muslim boy in Australia, our family doctor was a Coptic Christian. Today, my personal doctor is also a Coptic, and while being greatly involved in interfaith diplomacy, I have met hundreds of Copts.
This article isn’t about shedding light on their peacefulness as a community, and the enrichment they instill within every country they reside in. Rather, it’s about a reality which world leaders cannot continue to ignore: The ongoing persecution of Coptic Christians.
Naturally as humans, we express interest and concern in what we have already heard of or know about. This could be the very reason as to why many public figures are not raising awareness regarding the situation of Coptic Christians.
Coptic Christianity in 10 points:
1. The word 'Copt' comes from the Greek word 'Aigyptos', meaning Egyptian.
2. The Coptic Church is among the oldest and most ancient churches of Christianity.
3. Coptic Christians have a Coptic Pope. The current Coptic Pope is His Holiness Tawadros II, and He is known as the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
4. The Coptic Pope is not regarded as an infallible human being.
5. When St Mark arrived on a missionary journey to Egypt, His message was welcomed by the Pharaohs and the Coptic People. This led to the formation of the Coptic Church.
6. Copts don't believe that God actually wrote the Bible, but that God and the Holy Spirit inspired the men who wrote down the words.
7. During the last 40-50 years, the Coptic Church has expanded outside Egypt, and now has over a million members outside Egypt. There are over 100 Coptic Churches in the United States alone.
8. Coptic Christians also have Churches in Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, Iraq, Ireland, Jerusalem as well as Black Africa.
9. The Coptic Church is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, part of the fourth largest communion of Christian churches. It includes the Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Jacobite Church, the Syrian Church of India, and the Armenian Church.
10. It is safe to say that Coptic Christians are currently the most persecuted Christians in the world, and the most persecuted minority in Muslim majority nations.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II leads prayers during the Easter Eve service at St. Mark's Cathedral /AFP
1380 Years of Ongoing Persecution
Well, it’s actually more than just 1380 years.
As a result of their solid faith in Jesus Christ and refusal to worship Roman Emperors, the Coptics suffered severe persecution and death under the rule of the Roman Empire.
In 641 A.D, the Islamic Conquest of Africa took place, resulting in the defeat of the Roman Empire. Coptic Christians have been suffering from persecutions ever since, alongside the forced conversions into Islam as well as the major language and culture change.
Recent times have been very harsh on Coptics within Egypt, with little to no support from both the international and diplomatic community. This violence is escalating on a monthly, if not weekly basis, and it’s seriously time for people of influence to unite in order to end violence against Copts.
Aftermath following a bomb blast which struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, north of Cairo, on April 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Stringer)
Elephant in the Room
Now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Militant Islamists, Jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Tahrir Institute, a Washington DC-based think tank has tallied over 400 incidents of violence against Coptic Christians since 2013. While other international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been critical of the Egyptian government, as it is clearly the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens and prosecute the murderers.
Dr. Bob Bowker, former Ambassador to Syria and a Fellow here at the Australian National University said that “There is a long history of Islamic extremists in Egypt targeting Coptic communities”, which also means these Islamic terrorists have been getting away with murder for a very long time.
In April 2017, ISIS targeted two main Coptic Churches on Palm Sunday, killing at least 44 people, and injuring hundreds; including Priest Danial Maher, who lost his 23-year-old Deacon son in the explosion.
On Palm sunday in the Egyptian city of Tanta, Father Danial Maher was injured and his son, a deacon, was murdered. The suidice bomber killed 27 people. (image history of copts facebook page).
Another 26 Copts were massacred during May the following month after masked Jihadists attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christians headed to a monastery south of Cairo in Minya province.
Once again, mainstream media has failed to cover the atrocities which took place within the last three weeks. During the Muslim Celebration of Eid al-Adha, Jihadists carried out four attacks on Coptic Christians, making them “Pay the Cost” during the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’.
Here, I am reminded by the wise words of Coptic Orthodox Bishop Anba Macarius, who said “We do not blame our Muslim brothers [for these attacks]. Instead, we blame the instigators and executors, along with those who failed to prevent and deter them. I also blame the misguided people who are celebrating the tragedy which has taken place, as well as those who are smiling in silence. [I blame] those who praise the aggressors and encourage them to continue in their violence and abuse.”
Coptic Bishop Anba Makarios Escaped an assination attempt in 2013.
Thoughts and Solutions:
If we’re going to discuss an end to the ongoing atrocities against Coptic Christians, our proposals need to be realistic.
Firstly, Egypt receives an average of $1.6 billion in aid from the United States alone each year. Although the US has cut tens of millions in aid last August due to Egypt’s failure to make progress on human rights, it is still one of the greatest beneficiaries of foreign aid. Egypt should address its domestic terrorism threat and take appropriate measures in order to avoid more cuts in foreign aid, as was the case with Pakistan after its failure to counter its terrorism problem.
Secondly, laws to protect religious minorities should be introduced into Egypt’s legal system, the same way other religious minorities are being protected in the West; such as the M103 in protection of Muslims in Canada, and the UK’s Public Order Offence Laws which can lead to an imprisonment of up to seven years for all racial hatred against persons on religious grounds.
In the beginning of this month, the Hungarian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, The Hon. Mr Szalay-Bobrovniczky, met with the Coptic Archbishop of London to discuss supporting Christian Minorities in the Middle East. The Hungarian government is currently taking the lead in working towards the protection of Christian minorities.
If these solutions do not prove beneficial due to the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups within Egyptian society, then it would be reasonable for the Coptic Church to call for Egypt’s government to be formally investigated for neglecting the Coptic minority; a matter which could eventually lead to a Coptic State.
Imam Tawhidi is a Muslim Faith leader the Imam of the Islamic Association of South Australia.
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