Testifying on Behalf of Egypt’s Christians

The following is Raymond Ibrahim’s written testimony submitted for the record at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s December 7 hearing titled “Under Threat: The Worsening Plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians.”

Since the year 641, when Muslims invaded Egypt, the Copts—Egypt’s Christian, indigenous inhabitants—have been subject to persecution, discrimination, and over all subjugation on their homeland (etymologically, the word “Copt” simply means “Egyptian”).  The result is an Egyptian culture and mentality that sees Copts as second-class citizens, or, in Islamic legal terminology, Dhimmis—“infidels” who are tolerated as long as they embrace their inferior status.

Whole books and treatises have been written on the treatment of Dhimmis (for instance, Ibn Qayyim​’s authoritative 8th century Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimma, or “Rulings for Dhimmis”).  The idea of subjugating non-Muslims, aptly coined “Dhimmitude,” comes from Quran 9:29: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor forbid that which Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, nor follow the religion of Truth [Islam], from the People of the Book [Christians and Jews], until they pay the Jizya [tribute] with willing submission, and feel themselves utterly subdued.”

The so-called Pact of Omar, a foundational text for the treatment of Dhimmis, offers an idea of how this Quranic decree manifested itself in reality.  In order to maintain their Christian faith, among other things, conquered Christians had to agree to the following:

We shall not build, in our cities or in their neighborhood, new monasteries, churches, convents, or monks’ cells, nor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims … We shall not manifest our religion publicly nor convert anyone to it. We shall not prevent any of our kin from entering Islam if they wish it. We shall show respect toward the Muslims, and we shall rise from our seats when they wish to sit.  We shall not seek to resemble the Muslims… We shall not display our crosses or our books in the roads or markets of the Muslims. We shall use only clappers in our churches very softly. We shall not raise our voices when following our dead… We shall not bury our dead near the Muslims. We shall not build houses overtopping the houses of the Muslims.

During the colonial era and into the mid 20th century, as Egypt experimented with westernization and nationalism, Christian persecution was markedly subdued.  Today, however, as Egypt all but spearheads Islam’s resurgence—giving the world key figures and groups such as Sayyid Qutb​, Hassan Bana, the Muslim Brotherhood​, and al-Qaeda’s Aymen Zawahiri in the process—that is, as Egypt reclaims its Islamic identity, the Copts find themselves again under persecution.

Today, popular Muslim preachers on Egyptian TV openly condemn Christians, publicly calling for the return of Dhimmi status; Copts and their churches are almost always attacked on Friday, immediately after the weekly mosque sermons and to cries of “Allahu Akbar!” demonstrating the Islamic pedigree of the attack.
None of this is surprising when one considers that even Egypt’s Grand Mufti himself, often touted in the West as a “moderate,” recently classified all Christians as “infidels,” or kuffar, a term that immediately positions Copts as enemies to be suppressed.


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