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December 12, 2017

In the middle of the seventh century, the coastal Coptic town of Hrinokorura (or Rhinocolura) in Sinai, known to Arabs as al-‘Arish (العَرِيْش), represented the first town on the north-eastern borders between Egypt and Palestine; and its border was marked by the little valley of al-‘Arish that was reached from the east by crossing a torrent-bed that marked the frontier.[1]

As we are told in Arab sources, ‘Amr ibn al-‘Asi, the emir at the head of the invading Arabs, was not supported by his Caliph, Omar ibn al-Khattab, in his endeavour to invade Egypt. While ‘Amr was enthusiastic, Omar was hesitant and lacked confidence in ‘Amr. In a meeting at al-Jabyah, near Damascus, the two leaders met in the autumn of AD 639, while the siege of Caesarea by the Arabs was still on-going. There, ‘Amr succeeding in convincing Omar of the ease with which Egypt could be occupied. However, it seems that Omar’s doubts and his lack of confidence in ‘Amr intensified afterwards; and after ‘Amr had marched his troops towards the Egyptian border,  Omar sent him a letter that reached him while he, and his troops, were still at Rafah inside Palestinian land, over 45 km away from al-‘Arish. The letter ordered ‘Amr to return back if by the time the letter had reached him he was still within Palestinian borders; however, if he had already crossed the Egyptian frontiers, he should proceed. But ‘Amr, cunning and designing, knew the content of the letter; and, therefore, he did not open the letter and read it to his troops until they had arrived in ‘Arish. He, therefore, took the appearance of not being disobedient to the Caliph.

We don’t know when that exactly happened, but we know from the ninth century Arab historian, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, in his Futuh Misr (Conquests of Egypt), that ‘Amr and his troops celebrated Eid al-Adha (Muslim Day of Sacrifice) in al-‘Arish on 10 Zhu al-Hijja 18 AH, which corresponds to 12 December 639 AD.[2] This, Alfred Butler finds as a credible, settled date that fits so well with other known dates.[3]

Arab feet might have touched the land of Egypt first time, marking the beginning of their invasion of Egypt, a day or two before that Eid al-Adha; however, the 12th of December in the year 639 AD is the only date we can strongly associate with the presence of the invading Arabs in Hrinokorura; and, therefore, it is appropriate to take as the date in which the Arabs entered our sacred land to occupy. That 12th of December was our Black Day.


[1] Today, al-‘Arish borders the Gaza Strip and Israel.

[2] For more on this, read: Alfred J. Butler, The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Domain, first published in 190; Special edition for Sandpiper Books Ltd., 1998; pp. 195-198.

[3] Ibid; n. 2; p. 198.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Egiziani permalink
    December 12, 2017 11:00 pm

    What a sad ending to our ancestral language and culture and hence national identity

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