The decline in the Coptic population and changing demography of the Copts since the Arab Conquest in the 7th century has been a matter for discussion and controversy for a considerable time; and many of the statements on it have been conjectural. I am speaking in particular about the age in which the Copts stopped being majority and were finally reduced to a minority status in Egypt. There is a wrong impression that the Egypt became Muslim in its majority in the 9th century, largely the result of some of the writings of al-Maqrizi (1364 – 1442), the famous Muslim scholar and historian, which focused on the settlement of Arab tribes to the east of the Nile Delta following the Bashmuric Revolt of the Copts in 831/832.
But the truth is that the Copts remained the majority in Egypt for centuries after in both Lower and Upper Egypt, though the decline in Coptic numbers started in Lower Egypt first. There is plenty of evidence for that historical truth but it’s scattered in so many books, Coptic and Islamic. It’s the job of the blog to collect all evidence and present it to the reader under the thread, “Coptic Census”. This evidence may be in respect of all Egypt, part of it, or even a town or village.
This time, I use evidence from the manuscript of ‘Iqd al-Jūman fī Ta’rikh Ahl al-Zamán (عقد الجمان في تاريخ أهل الزمان), a history book on the Bahri (Circassian) Mamluk Dynasty (1381 – 1517). The book was written by Badr al-Din al-’Ayni بدر الدين العيني (1360 – 1453), who was an Islamic scholar and historian of the period. He was born in Turkey and later his destiny took him to Egypt, where he became closely connected to the sultans, Barqūq, al-Nasir Faraj, Mu’ayyad Shaykh and al-Ashraf Barsbāy, taking several important religious, social and political roles under them, competing with the other historian, al-Maqrizi.
Under the events of 799 AH (1396/7 AD) he tells us about an Arab by the name of Abu Bakr ibn al-Ahdab al-Araki, emir of the Araki Arabs of the area of Asyut. On 15 August 1397, he crossed the Nile to its eastern bank, and there he was murdered by another Arab, together with eleven others. His body was “buried in a village in the east (meaning on the eastern bank of the Nile), called Abnub, where most residents are Nasara (Christians).”
Abnub, which is in Upper Egypt and is now a large town, was then just a village; but the evidence on its Coptic population, taken with other evidence, helps to correct the erroneous view that the Copts, particularly in Upper Egypt, lost their majority status by the 9th or 10th century.
 Al-sultan Baquq, mo’a’sis dawlat al-mamalik al-jarakisa min khilal makhtut ‘Iqd al-Jūman fī Ta’rikh Ahl al-Zamán li Badr al-Din al-’Ayni; edited by Iman Omar Shukri (Cairo, 2002), p. 414.
THE COPTIC CHURCH: FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IS UNCHRISTIAN AND CONTRADICTORY TO GOD’S WILL
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IS STILL PRACTICED BY SOME COPTS IN CONSEQUENCE OF SOCIETAL PRESSURE FROM THE DOMINANT MUSLIM SOCIETY
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION WITHIN THE COPTS MUST STOP. IT’S FOREIGN, BARBARIAN PRACTICE
THE COPTS, CLERGY AND LAITY, NEED TO DO MORE TO ERADICATE FGM
H.G. BISHOP YOUSSEF MUST BE COMMENDED FOR HIS BRAVE POSITION
THE COPTIC CHURCH OPINION ON FGM IS NOT ONLY RELEVANT TO CHRISTIANS BUT TO ALL EGYPTIAN WOMEN
Female genital mutilation (FGM) has no religious textual backing in Christianity (as it has in Islam), or any support by the Coptic Church. In fact, the Coptic Church clearly and openly opposes the practice of female genital mutilation and finds it contradictory to divine values.
One of the largest bishoprics of the Coptic Church is the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, which was established by the late Pope Shenouda III (1971 – 2012) in 1993. The Diocese covers the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. It includes 26 Coptic communities with 37 churches that are currently served by 44 priests. His Grace Bishop Youssef, one of the most learned and dynamic bishops of the Coptic Church, oversees it.
In the official site of the Diocese, Bishop Youssef asks the important question: What is the Christian perspective on Female Genital Mutilation? And he unambiguously answers that female genital mutilation is “contrary to divinely revealed principles.” Very clearly, he states that female genital mutilation destroys human life and disfigures God’s creation – the female body is part of that creation, which was seen by God as very good; and it shouldn’t be interfered with. Further, female genital mutilation is “detrimental to health, threatening to life, and harmful to sexual function,” and, therefore, it “contradicts the will of God.” Adding to the opposition to this practice is the fact that it threatens healthy childbirth. Furthermore, God has blessed marriage as the Bible says, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your use.” Female genital mutilation, therefore, Bishop Youssef says, is a violation of God’s blessing of, and defying of His intention for, marriage – that is, as the lay reader will understand, the rejoicing and enjoying, wife and husband together, of each other’s body and life.
Female Genital Mutilation is practiced by some Copts in Egypt, particularly in Upper Egypt, as a matter of assimilation to the Muslim majority. This must stop. There is no doubt that Bishop Youssef’s answer to the question about the Christian perspective of female genital mutilation is that of the Coptic Church; however, to be more effective in stopping the barbarian practice, other bishops of the Coptic Church must speak out against it more strongly. One is optimistic that, in the near future, Pope Tawadros II will condemn this very unchristian practice at the highest level, and lead the Coptic Church Holy Synod to issue an ecclesiastical canon banning it as contrary to God’s will. Meanwhile, Coptic organisations must work harder to educate the Copts on this issue: practices that have been followed by centuries die hard, but we can present female genital mutilation not just as unchristian, risky and unhealthy, but, also, as barbarian and foreign to us.
COPTIC CENSUS: THE COPTS FORMED THE MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION OF UPPER EGYPT IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY
Kitab zubdat kashf al-mamalik wa-bayan al-turuq wa-al-masalik (زبدة كشف الممالك في بيان الطرق والمسالك) is an important book from the 15th century that was written by Ghars al-Din Khalil ibn Shahin al-Zahiri (خليل بن شاهين الظاهري غرس الدين المصري), who was born in 1410 and died in 1468 AD. He was a historian and writer in the Burji, Circassian Mamluk Sultanate (1382 – 1517) that had its base in Cairo; and he, himself a Mamluk, was governor of Alexandria and then, in 1435/1436, he was appointed vizier by Sultan Al-Ashraf Barsbay (1422 – 1438). He must have been, therefore, very knowledgeable of Egypt and other countries, like Syria, which were under Mamluk control. A few books he had written attest to this fact, and one of these is Kitab zubdat kashf al-mamalik wa-bayan al-turuq wa-al-masalik (The Cream of Exposition of Kingdoms and Explanation of Routes and Roads).
Part of the book is devoted to the different regions of Egypt (Part 1, Chapter: Fi zikr al-diyar al-masriya في ذكر الديار المصرية). Ibn Shahin al-Zahiri lists fourteen provinces (أقاليم) in Egypt: seven in Upper Egypt and seven in Lower Egypt. He says Upper Egypt extends from Masr (Old Cairo) and Giza in the north to the Nile cataracts (الجنادل) of the Nile in the south – a distance that took two months to travel. The seven provinces of Upper Egypt were: Giza, Atfih, Fayum, Bahnasa, Ashmunein, Asyut, and Qus. Then he tells us the following, which is the purpose for me writing this article, “The majority of its population (Upper Egypt الصعيد) are Christians (nasara نصارى) [وغالب أهله نصارى]”. Interesting, too, is his mentioning that in Upper Egypt there were around one thousand churches and monasteries.
This is evidence that until the first half of the 15th century, most Upper Egypt was Christian. The Copts still formed the majority of the population in Upper Egypt despite the severe persecutions and natural disasters.
 My translation! It’s awkward to translate Arab books’ titles.
 كتاب زبدة كشف الممالك في بيان الطرق والمسالك تأليف غرس الدين خليل بن شاهين الظاهري٠ قد إعتنى بتصحيحه بولس راويس٠ باريس، ٠١٨٩٣ص ٣٣
I a previous article, The Coptic Church and Politics, we defended the right of the Coptic Church getting involved in politics; indeed, we said the involvement of the Coptic Church is unavoidable in a Muslim dominated society. As we said, “The Church of Egypt cannot be but political – an apolitical role for the Church cannot and will not be possible, even if it wants to. The presence of the Church in a predominantly Muslim society, that is backward and oppressive, necessitates that the Church takes a political role – and we want it to use that role for the good of the nation.”
But, even though we encouraged the participation of the Coptic Church in politics, we were thinking of the sort of participation that would enhance the legitimate interests of the Church and nation – those interests which are consistent with Christian teachings and are reflection of the principles of human dignity, liberty and justice.
In a previous article, When Even Diocletian Could Be Tolerant – The Trouble With Some Of Our Bishops: In Praise Of Islamism, we spoke about the sort of politics which Bishop Mousa, Bishop of Youth, was responsible for. Today, I would like to present you with another clergy – this time a priest, Boulos Ewida:
This is not just wrong, cheap and unwise politics, it’s unchristian too.
I have not come across any Copt who does not feel embarrassed and ashamed of such utterances.
El Mawlaweya by George Bahgory, 2008 (160 x 150 cm; mixed media on canvass). There is nothing Coptic really in this painting. George Bahgory’s work, though brilliant, qualifies as Coptic only at a basic level.
In a previous article, I tried to answer the question: What is Coptic art? I limited myself to visual art, and used the examples of Isaacc Fanous, Guirguis Loutfi, and Sobhy Guiguis to divide modern Coptic visual art into three categories. By Coptic art, I meant art produced by Copts – any piece of art produced by an individual who identifies himself or herself as Copt is Coptic art, but only at a basic level. I then tried to evaluate the work of these three groups, and see what constitute Coptic rate at a higher level; and said, in a way, that only pieces of art that use Coptic subjects deserve to be given the title of proper Coptic art. Coptic artists may draw beautiful non-Coptic subjects, and some may use in that Coptic neo-iconographic style as a work signature, but that will not be reflecting or expressive of Coptic life and reality – it’s an art that does not belong to the Copts as a people or nation.
Sobhy Guirguis (1929 – 2013), to my knowledge, never used Coptic subjects or style; most of Guirguis Lotfi’s (b. 1955) work has non-Coptic subjects even though he uses the neo-iconography style in his work; and Isaac Fanous (1919 – 2007) always uses Coptic subjects and style but only religious subjects and iconographic style. With all due respect to all these great Coptic artists, particularly the giant Isaac Fanous, their work needs to be developed to encompass and reflect all Coptic reality, religious and non-religious; and while not reject the iconographic style (which is important), free itself from any restrictions or limitations, and use all styles.
An argument may be put that a Copt does not necessarily need to use Coptic subjects but general Egyptian subjects; but I say: If a Copt produces Egyptian scenes and omit the Coptic in them, he cannot expect to be described as Coptic artist. Take, for instance, George Bahgory (b. 1932) who is a prolific cartoonist: I have not seen in his work – and I have not seen all of it – any Coptic subjects or symbols, while it abounds with Muslim symbols such as mosques, crescent, camels, praying folks, etc. His work is undoubtedly beautiful and dear, but I find the omission of Coptic themes striking. Bahgory is undoubtedly Coptic artist, but only at the basic level. What we need is an artist who focuses on the Coptic and reflects it but tackles, if he wants, also the wider Egyptian and universal. That would be better.
The German Klaus Wessel in his book Koptische Kunst: Die Spätantike in Ägypten (1963) and the French Pierre Du Bourguet in his book L’Art Copte (1964) may argue what Coptic art is, but they fight on Coptic work in the past. It remains for us to decide what Coptic art is now.
The minimum requirement in my opinion for a definition of a Coptic art is that it is produced by a Copt – somebody who sees himself as a Copt and defines himself or herself as a Copt; i.e. Christian of Egyptian origin. But is that sufficient? Can any artistic work produced by a Copt qualify for being Coptic? Aren’t the subject and style of visual art important? Here, I use ‘subject’ to mean a representation or reflection of Coptic reality in its various manifestations, either directly, as in a mirror, or filtered through the feelings and emotions of the artist. By ‘style’, I mean the neo-Coptic iconographic style, which we seem to have adopted as the Coptic style.
If we survey the works of modern Coptic artists we can classify them into three broad groups:
1. Work produced by a Copt with Coptic subject and style: the great Coptic iconographer, Professor Isaac Fanous Yossef (1919 – 2007), is the most famous artist in this category. He works on religious subjects, and he defined for us the neo-iconographic style, which is followed by his disciples. One example is his Last Supper icon.
The Last Supper by Isaac Fanous
3. Work produced by a Copt but with no Coptic subject or style: work by Sobhy Guirguis (1929 – 2013) is perhaps the best representative of this group. An example is reproduced below.
To my knowledge, work produced by Copts, using Coptic subjects but no neo-iconographic style, are mostly undertaken by amateurs.
I have observations on the three categories above, which I share with my reader, but with due respect to the brilliance of the Coptic artists mentioned above (whose work is beautiful at any case). Nothing in the work of Sobhy Guirguis can tell the viewer or critic that it is Coptic: the subjects and style are all “foreign”. But even when Guirguis Lotfi uses the neo-Coptic iconographic style in his work, he rarely depicts Coptic life or reality – his Coptic style is used as a stamp only, as a signiture. Ishak Fanous’ work seems to be the more accomplished from a Coptic point of view – he, however, restrict himself in the straitjacket of the neo-Coptic iconographic style and confines himself to the religious only.
I must say, after having recognised the great artistic talent of all modern Coptic artists, that I do believe that Coptic art in Late Antiquity and the Middle-Ages was much freer, more vibrant, colourful, richer and full of vitality, life and colour. Even its subject matter was more encompassing: there were not just religious figures, but portraits of laity, warriors, dancers, animals, birds, plants, etc. The style was particularly freer – what made it Coptic was not any stiff style which often does not relate to reality but the intensity by which it reflects the reality of Coptic men, women and environment.
Coptic art must be produced by a Copt – that is, as we have discussed, the minimum requirement. But for an artwork to qualify even more, in my opinion, for the appendage ‘Coptic art’, it must reflect Coptic reality and life, directly or indirectly, in all its manifestations, and must not restrict itself to the religious subject matter or to the neo-iconography style.
Coptic art, like Coptic literature, must not rebel against the religious and sacrosanct, as these are important and essential parts of Coptic reality; however, it must widen its horizons and scope, to include the earthly and mundane. It must reflect all aspects of Coptic life, at church, monastery, convent, home, factory, farm, school, university, play, pastime, relationships, and the Coptic environment. Further, it must experiment with all forms of artistic styles.
In conclusion, I think Coptic art should be defined, at a basic level, as art produced by Copts, and, at a higher level, as art reflecting Coptic reality. The style must not be restricted to the neo-iconographic.
See also, Again: What is Coptic Art? here.
 Coptic Art by Klaus Wessel; translated by Jean Carroll and Sheila Hatton (London, Thames and Hudson, 1965).
 Pierre Du Bourguet (1910-1988) was a French Jesuit archaeologist, Egyptologist and historian of early Christian, Byzantine and Coptic art. He was chief curator at the Louvre (Musée du Louvre).
 I must emphasise that this does not mean criticism of Guirguis Lutfi, a wonderful, innovative artist. It must be borne in mind, too, that some of his work has Coptic subject, such as the brilliant, La Sainte Famille, 2012, and Palm Sunday (2008).
Abbas is an Iranian-French photographer who has dedicated himself to documenting the political and social life of societies in conflict. In his major work since 1970 he has covered wars and revolutions in Biafra, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the Middle East, Chile, Cuba, and South Africa during apartheid. In 1981 he joined Magnum Photos, an international photographic cooperative owned by its photographer-members, with offices located in New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, and in 1985 he became a member.
One of his photographic projects is “Egypt, Christianity”, which he executed in 1997, and is now available in the Magnum Photos website. It contains some beautiful and interesting photos of various aspects of Coptic life in Old Cairo, the Red Sea Monasteries, and from Minya in Upper Egypt (mainly from the Monastery of the Pulley). The reader can view the photos here (three pages). Some photos are non-Coptic but the majority are of Copts.
I consider the photograph reproduced above as one of the best of Abbas’ collection, “Egypt, Christianity”. It shows poor but happy and lovely Coptic children. On the wall is a drawing of Jesus Christ and a writing, “God is love”. It seems to have been drawing by an amateur Copt by the name of Baulis Guirguis. There are palm marks and a cross made of blood of a slaughtered animal, which is often done to feed the poor in Coptic “mulids”. The village, near the Convent of the Pulley, is mostly inhabited by Copts.