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ABNUB WAS MOSTLY COPTIC IN THE 15th CENTURY: COPTIC CENSUS

February 25, 2014

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).”[1]

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.


[1] 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.

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