Magazine article The Christian Century

Continued Killing of Copts Heightens Debate over Meaning of Martyrdom

Magazine article The Christian Century

Continued Killing of Copts Heightens Debate over Meaning of Martyrdom

Article excerpt

As a boy in Sunday school, Bassem al-Janoubie was fascinated by the illustrated stories about the martyrs of Egypt's Coptic Church.

"Even more than cartoon comic books, the dramatic events and details of the ordeal of each saint held my attention," remembers al-Janoubie, now a 40-year-old graphic designer. "They were like superheroes--not accepting attempts to change their beliefs or efforts to get them to deny their Christianity despite torture and even death."

The 2,000-year-old Coptic Church of Egypt has a long tradition of hallowing those who died affirming their faith in the face of violence. But the group that calls itself the Islamic State has launched attacks on the Coptic community in recent years--killing at least 70 and wounding scores of others--an assault that has opened a debate in the community about martyrdom.

In October, a Coptic priest in a poor Cairo neighborhood was stabbed to death. A suspect was arrested, but his motive is still unknown.

Boules George, a well-known Coptic priest from the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, expressed gratitude to the Islamic State terrorists for the Palm Sunday church bombings, saying they provided "a rocket" that delivered the 45 victims straight to heaven.

"Thank you very, very, very much," George told the viewers of his program on Egypt's Coptic TV channel just hours after the terror attacks. "You have given us the death of Christ himself, and this is the greatest honor that of any of us can attain."

Many Copts rejected that assertion.

"Father Boules's doctrine is insidious," said Jacqueline Ezzat, 21. "Jesus died for a cause and a purpose. Those who die in violence are lost to us for no reason."

The Islamic State intensified its insurgency on the Sinai Peninsula and targeted Coptic Christians, police, and military facilities in Egypt after the 2013 ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Glorifying a particularly bloody December attack on a Cairo church, the militants in February released a video declaring that Christians in Egypt were their new "favorite prey" and pledging to wage a jihad similar to those in Iraq and Syria.

Comprising an estimated 10 percent of Egypt's 90 million people, the Coptic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East and North Africa. …

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