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October 10, 2019


Oriental manuscript 6801 (Or 6801) is kept at the British Library. It is a Coptic parchment manuscript in the Sahidic dialect and is dated to 996-1004. It has the title of: Mercurius the General, Miscellany in honour of St Mercurius (with Festival lessons), and it contains:

  1. St Mercurius’ Martyrdom under Emperor Decius (249 – 251 AD);
  2. The Miracle of St Mercurius and Julian the Emperor (360 – 363);
  3. Lessons for the Feast of St Mercurius.

The manuscript is written by one Aurillios Biktor, and has an illustration on f. 1v which is a portrait of St Mercurius on horseback menacing Emperor Julian. It was most probably made by the same Biktor.

I publish above this beautiful colourful painting of the equestrian martyr, St. Mercurius, pointing his spear at the Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate.



October 6, 2019

From Aesop’s Fables for Young People, Foulsham’s Boy and Girl Fiction Library (London, c. 1955)

The Copts can translate Aesop’s Fables into Coptic. But they haven’t. What is already available in the stock of Coptic words is sufficient for them to translate the famous fables into Coptic. They will not need to coin new words to do the job. Why haven’t they done then? What goes to Aesop’s Fables go to other interesting books that can be translated readily into Coptic. It is a reflection of how primitive our efforts to revive Coptic still are. Translations from other languages often come before authoring literature in one’s own language. And with translation we must start. This seems to me to be the first stage.

The Copts are of course disadvantaged by having no state of their own which would champion the project of revival of Coptic. And since the 1952 July Revolution – an Arab revolution- the wealthy land-owning Coptic class has been decimated. And the new rich Copts that are present today – such as the Saweris family – is not much interested in Coptic cultural activities as they are in promoting Arab activities, such as Arab poetry, novels and cinema. They set huge rewards for these activities, and they spend millions of pounds for that. But none to reward any work in Coptic. This is shameful.

But the Copts, as a collective, are to blame. They are more interested in religious matters than anything else, and they seem to be happy using Arabic rather than Coptic. Almost all Copts would say they would like Coptic revived, but they do little to make sure that that happens. Fear from the Arab oppressive state grips them.

But the day will come when Copts will form an authoritative body that would direct, encourage and supervise the revival of Coptic. And the translation of world’s finest literature will form part of its job.


September 25, 2019


September 22, 2019


Figure 1: The Theotokos, is never depicted with a face-veil

The English writer, S. H. Leeder, – an apologist for Islam – wrote in 1918 The Modern Sons of the Pharaohs, a book that is neither pro- nor anti-Copt but is lukewarm and littered with inaccuracies and wrong opinions. One of such inaccuracies is his assertion that the Copts before the Muslims invaded Egypt in the seventh century secluded their women, prevented them from travelling alone and veiled them, as Arab and Muslim Egyptians do. I have written four parts in response to Leeder so far:

In Part 1I published the observation by the English writer, S. H. Leeder, that the Coptic women in his days veiled their faces and were secluded at homes, though many abandoned these traditions after the British occupation in 1882, and I also published his opinion that these traditions were not introduced by Islam into Egypt but that they originated in ancient Egypt and supported by Christianity.  

In Part 2, I responded to Leeder’s allegation that veiling and segregation of women predated to ancient Egypt, and showed that women in ancient Egypt enjoyed a high status never enjoyed by Muslim societies.

In Part 3, I showed that Leeder’s use of the story of Saint Arsenius and Hilaria of Scilla to prove that Coptic Desert Fathers  admonished women for travelling, and therefore wanted to confine them to their homes as Muslims seclude their womenfolk, was out of place and baseless.

In Part 4, I disproved Leeder’s last point even further, using the voyage story of the female Coptic saint and martyr from the early fourth century, St. Thecla of Antinopolis, to prove the opposite.

Now, in this article, Part 5, I would like to address Leeder’s assertion that the Copts veiled their women. He, of course, means that Coptic women veiled themselves as Muslim women do. The veil he speaks of is the face-veil (نقاب‎ niqāb) that covers the face of the woman allowing only a small aperture for her see, and preventing her face from being seen and her person identified by onlookers. This system, whatever he and others say, is religiously sanctioned by Islam, or a significant part of it, and is enforced by Sharia law, and is punishable in Islamic societies that are ruled by Sharia.

Did this system exist in Coptic Egypt before the advent of Islam? Did the Copts veil the faces of their women so as not to snare men? Was there any legal system behind it? The answer to all these is in the negative. I use here the story of the Coptic married couple, Dorotheos and Theopisthe. The beautiful story exists in a Sahidic manuscript, which was published by E. A. Wallis Budge in 1915 in his Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt with English translation.[1] The story was told by the Coptic Patriarch Theodosius of Alexandria (535 – 567); and we can date the story to the sixth century. The story is very Egyptian, and located to the town of Senhour, in the Nile Delta.[2]

Dorotheos and Theopisthe were both young and their parents left them goodly inheritance; and “they were very rich, and had many possessions and much wealth, and sheep and oxen and cattle, and other worldly gear of all kinds.”[3] They were also very devout and charitable; and they loved the Archangel Michael very much, feeding and serving the poor on the twelfth of each Coptic month, the recurring commemoration day of Michael in the Coptic calendar.

During the eleventh day [of each month] they slew sheep, and prepared meat and drink for the festival, and in the evening they went to the Church of St. Michael and gave offerings of all kinds lavishly and with right good will. After they had received the Mysteries they collected the maimed, the halt and the blind, the deaf and dumb, the orphans and widows, the strangers and sojourners, and gave them meat and drink to their hearts’ desire. And they ministered to all their wants with joy of the heart and mind, and they gave them wine to drink, as much as they desired, and they anointed their heads with fine oil, and dismissed them saying: “Go in peace, brethren and sisters, ye have honoured us this day by letting your feet enter our house.”[4]

This they did for many years, but things changed: as often happened in Egypt, a time came in which rain did not fall for a period and the Nile failed to flow with water from its sources. The land of Egypt, stricken by drought, did not grow plants and famine ensued, leading to widespread starvation, disease and death of both man and animal.

Nevertheless, Dorotheos and his wife continued to celebrate the festival of the Archangel each month, and they prayed to God to give them the means to do so. But ill luck fell upon them, and multitudes of their beasts and cattle died through starvation and the drought; and when the third year of the famine drew nigh, the remainder of their flocks and herds perished, and they had nothing left but one sheep.[5]

Thinking not of their own future, for they said, “If we die we belong to God, and if we live we are His also,”[6] they slaughtered the sheep, and cooked for the poor using the last of oil and corn they had. And as time went by, they sold their few remaining possessions, including all their garments, except those in which they received the Mysteries (the Holy Communion).

And on the approach of the twelfth day of Hathur, the couple were unsure what to do. This day is not similar to the monthly commemoration days on the twelfth of each month – it is different, for it is, in Coptic tradition Archangel Michael’s Feast Day, celebrating the Investiture of St. Michael, when God raised Michael above all angels following the casting away of Satan from heaven to earth, and made him the intercessor and protector of mankind.[7] It is a great day in the Coptic calendar; and as it approached, Dorotheos and Theopisthe were sad that they would not be able to make charity as they used to do on the day in previous years. And Dorotheos said to Theopisthe:

“Though it is true that we have no sheep to kill, yet it is better for us to give a little than nothing at all. Behold, we have still our festal apparel left. I will take mine first and go and sell it, and with the money I will buy grain and flour for the offerings. Tomorrow I will take thy garments and sell them, and we will buy a sheep if we can. If we can get one we will eat him, and if we cannot, we will glorify God.”[8]

And Theopisthe, not less devout and charitable than her husband, said to him: “My brother, take not only thy apparel and mine, but my veil also for I would give my soul as a gift to God.”[9]

And [so] on the day before the festival Dorotheos took his apparel and sold it and bought corn with the money which he received for it, and he thanked God. On the following day, which was the day of the feast, Theopisthe said to her husband: “Take my apparel, sell it, and see if you canst find a sheep.” Then Dorotheos, wishing to test her, said to her: “What wilt thou do without thy veil if thou wishest to receive the Mysteries this day? I am a man and can go uncovered everywhere without shame to myself, but a woman cannot be uncovered, especially in church.” When Theopisthe heard these words she wept and said to him: “Woe is me, O beloved brother, what is this which thou hast said to me this day? Are we separated this day? Have we become twain? Am I not one body with thee? Have I no part with thee in the offering? Dost thou refuse to accept my share in the festival of the Archangel Michael? Nay, my brother, think not in thy heart that I shall be uncovered, for in church in Christ we are neither male nor female, but we are as the Angels and Archangels, and the Cherubim and Seraphim with the Saviour in their midst.”[10]

Selling or pawning their festal apparels, including Theopisthe’s veil, they were able to buy corn and a sheep to feed the poor on that day. St. Michael then comes into the story and it ends in a happy mood.

The festal apparels, including a veil for a woman, were special apparels worn in church and at the partaking of the Holy Communion. It was a Christian tradition through St. Paul (1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Corinthians 11:15): women should cover their hair when praying and “prophesying”. This head covering is what is called Christian veiling in contrast with Muslim veiling where veiling means that the face is covered. Christian art attests to that, and women, including the Virgin Mary, are represented hair covered but face exposed. Theopisthe’s veil was in line with St. Paul’s teaching; and must have been worn as a sign of respect. But it was never worn in any fundamental way: a woman would not see herself as naked if she didn’t, and others wouldn’t too. In the interesting conversation between Dorotheos and Theopisthe, we see Dorotheos trying to save his beloved wife’s apparel; and he tests her wish to sell her apparel:  “What wilt thou do without thy veil if thou wishest to receive the Mysteries this day? I am a man and can go uncovered everywhere without shame to myself, but a woman cannot be uncovered, especially in church.” Theopisthe was not happy as she sees it as an attempt to persuade her not to share her husband the festival of the Archangel Michael; and she admonishes him for the use of the word “uncovered”: “Nay, my brother, think not in thy heart that I shall be uncovered, for in church in Christ we are neither male nor female, but we are as the Angels and Archangels, and the Cherubim and Seraphim with the Saviour in their midst.” She uses the fundamental Christian belief in gender equality: In Christ there is neither man nor woman.[11] Charity is more important that covering her head at church and at Holy Communion. Dorotheos does not shout at her or accuse her of kuffr (disbelief). The fact that the veil is spoken of as part of the special festal apparel is prove that Theopisthe probably did not cover her head outside church. But whether she did or didn’t, it is evident that the veil we are speaking of here is the Christian head-cover not the Muslim face-veil, or niqāb, which Leeder was taking about. Leeder was obviously wrong: The face-veil, as in niqāb, was introduced to Egypt by Islam, and was made compulsory and punishable under Sharia law when a woman went in public with her face exposed. The whole thing is alien to the Copts. It was never a Coptic thing: it cannot be traced to ancient Egypt or to Christianity as Leeder alleges.


[1] The Encomium of Theodosius, Archbishop of Alexandria, on St. Michael the Archangel in Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, edited and translated into English by E. A. Wallis Budge (London, 1915). The Coptic text is given in pp. 321-431, and the English translation in pp. 893-947. Budge gives a summary in pp. cxxxv-cxliv. The story has recently been published in a shortened form in Egyptian Tales of Christian or Coptic Origin by E. A. Wallis Budge (Kissinger Legacy Reprints, no date) under the heading: The Story of Dorotheos and Theopisthe as told by Theodosius, Patriarch of Alexandria, about AD 536, pp. 218-225. It was taken from Budge’s Egyptian Tales and Romances: Pagan, Christian and Muslim (London, Butterworth Ltd, 1931), pp. 218-225. The translation in Budge’s 1931 publication is a bit different than that in his 1915 publication. I have depended on his 1932 publication.

[2] In the story there is no mention of Senhour being in the Nile Delta. There are three towns known by the same known in Egypt, one in Fayum and two in the Nile Delta (See: E. Amelineau, la géographie de l egypte à l époque copte). The story talks about the agriculture being dependent on rain water, and therefore I take it that the relevant town was in the Nile Delta.

[3] The Story of Dorotheos and Theopisthe, p. 218.

[4] Ibid, pp. 218-219.

[5] Ibid, p. 219.

[6] Ibid. This is a verse from Romans (14:8).

[7] For this, read: The Investiture of the Archangel Michael in Sahidic available at Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, M593, fols. 1r–30v (892/893). The text has recently been translated by Anthony Alcock. You will also find it in the first part of The Encomium of Theodosius.

[8] The Story of Dorotheos and Theopisthe, p. 220.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Galatians 3:28.


September 21, 2019

In Part 1I published the observation by the English writer, S. H. Leeder, that the Coptic women in his days veiled their faces and were secluded at homes, though many abandoned these traditions after the British occupation in 1882, and I also published his opinion that these traditions were not introduced by Islam into Egypt but that they originated in ancient Egypt and supported by Christianity.  In Part 2, I responded to Leeder’s allegation that veiling and segregation of women predated to ancient Egypt, and showed that women in ancient Egypt enjoyed a high status never enjoyed by Muslim societies. In Part 3, I showed that Leeder’s use of the story of Saint Arsenius and Hilaria of Scilla to prove that Coptic Desert Fathers  admonished women for travelling, and therefore wanted to confine them to their homes as Muslims seclude their womenfolk, was out of place and baseless. Now, in Part 4, I would like to disprove the last point even further. Since Leeder has used a saint’s story to try to prove his erroneous assertion, I shall use in this article the voyage story of a female Coptic saint and martyr, St. Thecla of Antinopolis,[1] to prove the opposite.

Thecla of our story was a Coptic widow from the great city of Antinopolis (Antinoou; also known as Antinoë)[2] on the eastern bank of the Nile, opposite Hermopolis Magna and capital of the nome of the Thebaid. On 8 Koyahk 20 AM (17 December 303 AD), she was executed for her religion outside Tepot, a town on the western Canopic branch of the Nile, after several tortures in Alexandria by Armenius the duke of the city working for Emperor Diocletian (284 – 305). Martyred with her was her only brother, Paēse, a wealthy farmer who lived in the village of Pousire not far away from the city of Hermopolis Magna (today’s al-Ashmunain), on the west bank of the Nile, north-west of present day Mallawi. Thecla, who was described as beautiful woman, had a son, Apollonius, from her late husband, who died when they were both young. She and her brother, Paēse, were very close and saw each other on weakly basis though they lived in two different locations. Paēse remained single, and dedicated his life to looking after his sister and nephew. He, like his sister, was also very charitable distributing much of his wealth to the poor, orphans and widows; and when the Great Persecution was launched by Diocletian’s Decree on 24 February 303 AD,[3] he visited Christian prisoners in prisons wherever he happened to be and attended to their needs.

Sometime in the first half of April, as it seems, Paēse went to Alexandria to visit his close friend Paul, a wealthy trader from Hermopolis Magna who bought the flax fibre of the whole nome, who had fallen ill there shortly after having visited the city for business. Paul had sent to Paēse wishing to see him for the last time before he was dead; therefore, Paēse, after first visiting his sister Thecla in Antinopolis, went to Alexandria. On his arrival, he found that Paul had already recovered. On being reassured about the health of his friend, Paēse wanted to return to his village, but Paul asked him to stay with him for some more time.

Those days in Alexandria were days of heightened terror for and persecution of the Christians; and while many overcame their fears and went out defying the Roman authorities and simply proclaiming that they were Christian for which they were sentenced to horrible tortures and execution, others preferred to stay quiet and out of view. When Paēse arrived in Alexandria the city was full of talk about a certain young army officer, Victor, son of Romanus, the general of the army, who had refused to offer up sacrifice to the pagan gods, and was therefore banished to Alexandria to be tortured into offering sacrifice, and if he still refused to be executed. The Alexandrians however feared revenge by Romanus if his son was to be executed in their city, and therefore urged Armenius to banish him to the Thebaid, to the authority of Eutychianus, duke of the Thebaid, in Upper Egypt. Victor, the great St. Victor, was therefore banished again on 15 April, paraded on the streets of Alexandria from the prison to the quay, flanked by soldiers. “There was a collar of iron about his neck, and there were chains on his hands, and ankle-fetters on his legs, and the torturings had made him weak and helpless.”[4] All Alexandrians, Pagan, Jews and Christian, went out to see him as he was paraded; and the Christians were impressed by the demeanour and courage of St. Victor who did not care much about his rank or wealth or privileged life and was ready to die for Christ; and the conscious of many pricked them for not showing similar courage and for their care to avoid being identified as Christian by the authorities. Paēse, who was watching the parade of St. Victor, was one of the latter, and condemning himself for his fear, he went and confessed he was Christian, for which he was arrested, locked and exposed to multiple tortures.

Six weeks had passed since Paēse had left his sister Thecla; and she hasn’t heard of him since then. Towards the end of May, Thecla, very worried about Paēse, decided to go to Alexandria to look for him. She had visited first the incarcerated Christians in the prison of Antinopolis to receive the blessing of the saints:

It befell after all this that Thecla was very sore at heart for her brother Paēse. She said, “Perhaps my brother is no more. It is now a full month and a half since he went, and he has not returned, neither has he sent me news of himself. I will arise and go to the saints in the prison and enquire about him from them.” The God-loving Thecla arose, and went to the prison to receive blessing from the saints. One of the saints said to her, “Thecla!” She said, “Bless me, my father.” He said to her, “Why hast thou not gone to the wedding feast of thy brother Paēse? For behold, the wedding feast is celebrated with great rejoicing. For it is an angel of the Lord who has said to me: ‘Say to thee: Go to the wedding feast of thy brother.’” And Thecla said to him, “Perhaps my brother has died, my father. If so, tell us, that I may go and bring his body home; for I have no brother or sister, but only him, and my little son.” The holy man said to her, “As the Lord lives, he has not died, but is alive; and now today he is in great joy. And lo, a multitude of people have assembled for his wedding. Arise, then, and go in peace; and if it is the will of God, then we too will come to the rejoicing of thy brother, for he is our friend.”[5]

The story of St. Thecla’s Voyage from Antiopolis to Alexandria continues:

The God-loving Thecla did not understand the import of his speech; but she arose and came out upon the quay of Antinoou. She found a little ship with the angel Raphael standing upon it, and Gabriel sitting (there), and Saint Mary, the Holy Virgin, and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist sitting in the prow of the ship. Now, she thought that the angels were sailors, and the ladies were gentlewomen. And she said, “My brethren, whither are you thus bound?” they answered, “With God’s will we are bound for the city of Alexandria.” Thecla said to them, “Can you please take me on board with you, that I may seek my brother?” they said to her, “Go and bring thy baggage quickly; come let us sail with this southerly wind.” And Thecla said to them, “My brethren, let one of you see to my baggage.” And they said to her, “Go, bring it; we will settle with thee; lo, these other gentlewomen are embarked with us; do thou pay the fare thyself as they will.” And Thecla loaded the baggage upon her servants, and she brought about the amount of a pound of gold, saying, “I will spend a little upon the saints, and will give a little beside as a gift to my brother.”[6]

After saying goodbye to her son, Apollonius and providing him with advice, she gave him salutation, and came away from him, her servants following her and giving her farewell.

And the angels [those who Thecla thought were sailors] put all her baggage on board, and she embarked with one serving-woman of hers only. The angels put the ship out, and set sail northwards, for the south wind was blowing.[7]

Thus commenced Thecla’s Nile voyage on boat from Antinopolis to Alexandria, a distance of nearly 550 km (342 miles), on her own, accompanied only by one serving-woman of hers, and on board a sailing boat (most probably felucca-like)[8] with two male “sailors” and two “gentle women” whom she had never met before.

To travel the Nile between Antinopolis and Alexandria by boat it took several days. These days Thecla spent with the heavenly figures thinking they were ordinary human beings, and the encounter and conversations between Thecla and them that are described in the manuscript are ones of the most beautiful writings in Coptic literature. Eventually, the boat moored at the city of Alexandria, and all arose and came to the shore. There, the Virgin Mary reveals her identity, and the identities of Elizabeth, Raphael and Gabriel to Thecla, and tells her that she will die a martyr, encouraging her to be strong and not to fear. Saint Mary then takes Thecla to the prison where Paēse was incarcerated before she went up to heaven with Elizabeth.

When she went into the prison, she made a great banquet for the saints, and sought after her brother. She found him fettered with the saints, with great grace in his countenance like an Angel of God. She approached him, and kissed him, “My Lord and my brother, dist thou wish to go to the Kingdom of Heaven and leave thy wretched sister in the torments? Why first thou not send for me and my little son? If it were I that found distinction, I should tell thee first.” Paēse answered and said, “By thy health, O my sister I went to send for thee; (but) the angel of the Lord would not allow me; for he said to me, ‘It is I who will bring her here to thee.’ And he appeared to me this night, saying that thou comedy here today.” When he had said this, she came away from him, and put up her baggage, and took it to the prison; and she made a great banquet <for the> saints that day. And she told them everything she had seen in the ship, and what the Holy Virgin Mary had said to her; and the saints of God all wondered, and gave glory to Christ Jesus.[9]

The rest of the story is about the frequent torturing of the saints in Alexandria before they were taken by the governor of the Thebaid, Eutychianus, with other Christians, to continue their torture in the Thebaid.  However, on reaching Tepot, just before Memphis (Babylon), near present Cairo, Eutychianus set up his tribunal and commanded their execution. Thecla and Paēse, together with 137 more Christians, were beheaded on 17 December 303 AD, some ten months after Diocletian’s Decree had been promulgated, thus completing their contest.


This voyage by Saint Thecla from Antinopolis to Alexandria on a sailing boat is illuminating. It tells us that there were no restrictions in women’s travel in Egypt when Egypt was Christian. She was accompanied in her voyage by only one of her female servants; and the sailors were men she did not know. There is no evidence in the story that her travel, unaccompanied by a man, was admonished by those in her life, whether her brother Paēse or the many incarcerated Christians in the prisons in Antinopolis and Alexandria. S. H. Leeder’s assertion that Coptic women before Islam were not allowed the freedom of travel alone, and that they were secluded at home, as Muslims do to their women, is clearly wrong and baseless. He came up with that myth for the sole reason: to defend Islam of which he was an apologist.

I have taken the story from Four Martyrdoms from the Pierpont Morgan Coptic Codices, which was edited, with an English translation, by E.A.E. Reymond and J. W. B. Barns (1973). The relevant Coptic manuscripts were in Sahidic, representing copies of older manuscripts, and expressly dated in the middle of the ninth century. If it is right to say that women free and independent travel in the early fourth century in Egypt was considered a normal activity by the Copts, and was not banned as in Islam, it may also be right to say that later Copts, after the occupation of Egypt by the Arabs and the rule of Islam, saw nothing wrong in the travel of women alone otherwise they would not have continued the transmission of stories of such travel as in the Martyrdom of Saints Paēse and Thecla.


[1] There are a few saints by the name of Thecla in Church history, some Copts and some non-Copts. The most famous is Thecla the Disciple of St. Paul, who was martyred in the first century.

[2] Today, nothing much remains of Antinopolis. A small insignificant Arab village called al-Sheikh Ibada has replaced it.

[3] 30 Emchir 19 AM.

[4] The Third Martyrdom of Saint Apa Victor in Coptic Martyrdoms, etc., in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, edited with English translation by E. A. Budge (London, 1914) , p. 279.

[5] SS. Paese and Thecla in Four Martyrdoms from the Pierpont Morgan Coptic Codices, edited with English translation by E. A. E. Reymond and J. W. B. Barns (The Clarendon Press. Oxford, 1998), p. 166.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 167.

[8] The felucca is a traditional wooden Nile sailing boat that was known in Roman times by its Greek name, epholkion. The Coptic Sahidic manuscript, however, uses the generic name for boat.

[9] SS. Paese and Thecla, p. 170.


September 20, 2019

I would like to draw the attention of my readers to this important article: A Brief History of Coptic Personal Law by Ryan Rowberry and John Khalil, which was published in 1910 in Berkeley Journal of Middle Eastern & Islamic Law (Volume 3). It is not the ultimate article on the subject but it does help a lot in tracing the history of Coptic personal status law.

The article succeeded in its concluding paragraphs to point to the fundamental Coptic principle of divine marriage as a “principle central to unique Coptic identity”.

At the heart of Coptic personal status law is the principle of divine marriage: marriage is a divine sacrament instituted by God consisting of the union of one man and one woman, which may be dissolved only in limited circumstances. This powerful unifying doctrine, its effect on Coptic familial relations, and ultimately Coptic world view, cannot be overestimated. [1]


[1] Ryan Rowberry and John Khalil, A Brief History of Coptic Personal Law, 3 Berkeley J. of Middle E. & Islamic L. 81 (2010), p. 138.


September 16, 2019


Figure 1: Free Spirit by the British artist, Josie Appleby

One must not be under any illusion: the struggle to revive Coptic – that is the struggle that you, your family and friends speak Coptic as a mother’s tongue – is a liberation struggle. We, the Copts, know that; and they, the Arabs of Egypt who hold political power exclusively in their hands, know it. Learning, speaking and writing Coptic as first language is about liberating us from Arab and Muslim culture. This is a matter one can safely say most Copt would support. This is also why the Arabs and Muslims of Egypt will try to fight attempts to revive Coptic, for they perceive, like all other oppressors, that their political dominion over us will not be complete without cultural domination.

But they cannot prevent us from working to revive Coptic. Our work, as a nation, on this matter can be said to be unstoppable despite its humble start. If the cataracts could block the flow of the Nile towards its final destination, or Apip, lurking in the labyrinths of the underworld, could prevent the sun from rising up again, let the Arabs and Muslims of Egypt try to block our natural aspiration to revive Coptic. It may take decades, or even a century, but the day will surely come. The matter of Coptic revival really depends on us not on others; and in this we are encouraged.

Every one of us is called to join this sacred struggle for the revival of Coptic – to learn and speak Coptic fluently, and write in it. Once we do that we liberate ourselves culturally; and our culture, thus retained and protected by our language, will stand strong against the onslaught of foreign cultures brought into our families and homes. It will mean the end of the Arabization and Islamisation of our people.

This is a great matter, and once each of us manages to reach a satisfactory level in Coptic he should celebrate the occasion. With that he will be initiated into a new kind of coming of age – into cultural liberty, liberation from the bondage of Arabic, and reversal of the processes that brought about our subjugation to a foreign culture.


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