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February 2, 2014

Hrald Professor Harald Suermann, University of Bonn

The Encounter of Eastern Christianity with Early Islam (Brill, 2006)[1] has a very interesting and important article in it written by Prof. Dr. Harald Suermann, of the Institute of Oriental and Asian Studies, Bonn University: Copts and the Islam of the Seventh Century.[2]

I have today finished rereading Suermann’s article. He talks about early sources on Coptic reaction to the Islamic conquest. The question he wanted to answer is: Did the Copts regard the Islamic conquest as a liberation from the Byzantine yoke? He surveys the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria and what C. Detlef G. Müller found in it about the Coptic-Muslim relations in the 7th century. He also uses The Romance of Cambyses, The Legend of Eudoxia and the Holy Sepulchre, The Dialogue of the Patriarch John, and The Life of Patriarch Isaac. But the source that settles the question strongly for him is The Panegyric of the Three Holy Children of Babylon. The author of the homily is anonymous but it’s believed by scholars that the original writing was in Sahidic, and that it was most probably composed shortly after the Arab invasion of Egypt. The writer of the Panegyric describes the Saracens (Arabs) as “oppressors who follow after prostitution and massacre.”[3]

The Panegyric of the Three Holy Children of Babylon is not the only source from the 7th century that demonstrates what the Copts felt about the invading Arabs: The Chronicle by John of Nikiu is well known and gives even a stronger evidence of the way in which the Copts saw the Arabs. The Panegyric, however, is the earliest record of the Coptic sentiment that the Muslims were not liberators but oppressors.

Suermann concludes: “The Panegyric of the Three Holy Children of Babylon does date from the early period of Islamic rule in Egypt, and provides an important witness to Egyptian Christian attitudes towards this rule… [T]he Panegyric calls the Muslims ‘oppressors’. This evidence suggests that the idea that the Copts received the Muslims as liberators is no longer tenable.”[4]

The evidence is overwhelming.

[1] Edited by Emmanouela Grypeou, Mark N. Swanson and David Thomas.

[2] The Encounter of Eastern Christianity with Early Islam, pp. 95-109.

[3] Ibid; p. 108.

[4] Ibid; p. 109.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2014 9:08 pm

    I’m so glad some historians see it that way. It’s sickening when Islamists justify the oppression of Copts by claiming that they owe Muslims for liberating them.

  2. nmichaelross permalink
    February 3, 2014 12:36 am

    Victors are sometimes well received by a hopeful populace, until the ‘liberators’ turn into new and more devious masters and reality sinks in.

    N Michael Ross Ex IPhone


    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      February 3, 2014 8:30 am

      Not even this with the Arab invasion! Even before their arrival in Egypt, their bloody reputation of what they did in Palestine reached Egypt. When they were in Egypt, massacres, enslavement and destruction came along with them.
      From the start it was clear: these were just a new bloody occupiers – and worse on many levels.
      This is how the Egyptians saw the Arabs – but, don’t expect the majority of the Egyptian Muslims of today to admit that!

  3. hammyal permalink
    February 9, 2014 12:06 am

    If the Arabs had been successful in their invasion of northern Europe and did not lose the Battle of Tours in 732AD, the UK would now be a Muslim country. Podcast

  4. mindthehat permalink
    February 17, 2014 3:05 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful piece.

    The most successful thing the Arabs did after invading Egypt was promoting their own version of “opening Egypt”. As a result, they transferred accountability to the Copts.

    On a different note, although The Chronicle by John of Nikiu is terribly important, it is difficult to follow.


  1. German professor: The idea that the Copts welcomed the Muslims as liberators is no longer tenable : Jihad Watch
  2. German professor: The idea that the Copts welcomed the Muslims as liberators is no longer tenable » Choosing Life - God's Gift To The Unborn
  3. Professor Harald Suermann: The Idea That the Copts Received the Muslims As Liberators is No Longer Tenabl | Atlas Shrugs

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