The horrifying beheadings of as many as 21 Coptic Christians by the Islamic State in Libya— as well as the rather remarkable airstrikes launched by Muslim-led Egypt in retaliation on Sunday — had me thinking and reading a lot about Coptic Christianity this morning. Thought others might be interested, too. So here’s a VERY brisk overview.
1. Only Egyptians are Coptic: Coptic Christians are Christians native to Egypt. In other words, if you’re not Egyptian, you’re not a Copt.
2. Copts make up the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Today there are 14 to 16 million Coptic Christians in the world; 12 million of them still live in Egypt.
3. Copts have been Christian for a long damn time. There are lots of different branches of Christianity, and none claims to be older than the Roman Catholic Church — which considers Jesus’ apostle Peter to be its very first pope — and the Eastern Orthodox (Catholic) Church — which was founded by the apostle Paul. But the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is pretty damn close. Coptic Christianity is said to have been founded during a mission by yet another apostle, Mark (of “Gospel of Mark” fame), in 42 CE — just nine years after Peter and Paul began their ministries and 600 years before Islam came along.
4. Belief-wise, Copts are basically Catholics without the Pope. The underlying theology of Coptic Christianity is so similar to Catholicism, the differences really aren’t worth getting into here. But if you’re interested in the details, click here for more information.
5. They may be a minority, but they are a valued minority. Copts constitute 10 percent of the Egyptian population; the other 90 percent of the population is Muslim. And they haven’t always been treated well as a result. But Egypt’s strong reaction to the recent beheadings by extremist jihadists tells me that these Copts are being viewed as Egyptians first and Christians second. It’s also a great reminder — isn’t it? — that just because jihadists revere Muhammad doesn’t mean Muslims revere jihadists.