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September 14th, 2012
12:05 PM ET

Controversy over anti-Islamic film shines light on Coptic Christianity

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) –Violence in the Muslim world over an anti-Islamic film that appears to have been produced by a Coptic Christian is bringing uncomfortable focus on the religious tradition.

A staffer on the film, which has provoked anti-American protests and violence across the Muslim world, said he believed that the filmmaker is a Coptic Christian, information that has sent shock waves through the Coptic community.

The staffer said the filmmaker told him he'd been to Alexandria, Egypt, to raise money for the film, suggesting that Copts were helping finance it. Media in Egypt, where Copt-Muslim relations are tense, jumped on the news.

"Islamists' use of this idea that Copts were behind it was apparently effective in drumming up support for those attacks," said Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement Wednesday condemning the film, its funding and its production. The film's "release at this specific time is part of a malicious campaign targeting defamation of religions, aiming to divide the people, most notably the Egyptian people," the statement said.

"The defamation of religion, its symbols and teachings is incompatible with Christian values, the teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles as is demonstrated in the Bible," the statement continued, "so those who participate in such a production, display or promotion of such a films should be held fully accountable for operating outside of Christian principles and church laws."

Coptic Christians are part of the Orthodox Christian tradition, one of three main traditions under the Christian umbrella, alongside Catholicism and Protestantism. Copts split from other Christians in the fifth century over the definition of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Copts trace their history to the Apostle Mark, the New Testament figure who they say introduced Christianity to Egypt in A.D. 43. Egypt holds a special place for Coptic Christians because, according to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus' family fled there shortly after his birth to escape King Herod, who was calling for the execution of all Jewish boys under the age of 2.

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The largest group of Copts in the world is still in Egypt, where they make up between 8% and 11% of the nation's 80 million citizens, most of whom are Sunni Muslims.

In the United States, there are approximately 90,000 Copts organized under 170 parishes, according to Alexei Krindatch, research coordinator for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States. Many Copts came to the U.S. from Egypt, Kridatch said.

"Most of them came here as highly professional people, so you've got a lot of medical doctors and electrical engineers," he said. "So basically, the Coptic community in the United States is very well-educated and, you could also say, a very prosperous community."

Coptic churches tend to be ornately decorated, and members often stay at the church all day on Sunday for worship services and communal meals, Kridatch said.

The American Coptic community is close-knit: The tradition's churches tend to be social hubs as well as religious centers.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been target of recent violence.

A Coptic church was bombed in Alexandria in January, killing 21 people. Last fall, during clashes with Egyptian security forces, two dozen Coptic Christians and their supporters were killed.

Sectarian violence in Egypt is nothing new. Maha Azzam, associate fellow of the Middle East and North African Program at the Chatham House think tank in London, says the sources of tension have focused on religious conversions, attacks on places of worship and Coptic resentment that they are not being given licenses to build new churches.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bipartisan federal agency, added Egypt this year to a list of the worst violators of religious freedom.

– CNN's Dave Gilbert and Brian Todd contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Coptic Church

soundoff (350 Responses)
  1. I like cornflakes

    and carpet bombing.

    September 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  2. learn russian accent

    Hello my friend! I want to say that this post is awesome, great written and come with almost all significant infos. I'd like to look extra posts like this .

    September 17, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  3. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and lets them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago. (Yes, charlatan folklore and spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think they hadn't?) And they need to be taught that other things, like God, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Many religious folk have the best intentions. But too often, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). And too often, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Although there are many religious folk with good intentions – some selflessly helping others, religions and religious organizations are, as a whole, just big old clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division (often disguised as love) along the way. The problem is that people too easily buy into religion and don't realize how unfounded it all is. And when they buy into it, they buy into a lot of really old, really weird tenets that are nothing but harmful for the human species.

    Of course Islam is a crazy religion. But look at Christianity. Just look at all the things that Christians argue about amongst themselves today – abortion, men's and women's roles in the church, celibacy, contraception, acceptance of gays, etc. Most of these issues have their roots in the conflicted, unfounded tenets of early Christianity. Non-Mormons harp on Joseph Smith these days. But we really don't have any more proof at all to believe that Paul, the self-proclaimed "apostle" was anything more than an ordinary man who needed to make up religious "sales literature" to survive and spread his own personal beliefs. And yet a good chunk of the NT is attributed to Paul and accepted by many Christians. And a lot of what he wrote about has to do with many of the issues I mentioned above that have Christians fighting amongst themselves hundreds of years later. I don't buy any of it.

    Get a good cup of tea, and sit down and collect your thoughts. If you find it helpful to pray to a god (something you know nothing about), fine. But it is really healthier for the mind to leave behind all the characters that people over the centuries have invented or given powers to, for which there is little or no foundation. Because with those invented characters and powers – that's where division and hate join the little party in your mind. That's where, in your mind, you are inheriting the division and hate from ordinary politicians, lobbyists and salesmen from long ago.

    mama kindless

    September 17, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  4. ronvan

    WOW, we are really "getting it on" here! God, no God, ALL religions are false! I, however, do not see, or missed, ONE word in these posts. FAITH!! For ME, Faith drives us ALL, no matter what is said! It is your Faith that you commit to one religion or another. It is your Faith that says there is no God or savior. It is your Faith in what you are doing will improve your decisions in life. YES, there has been killings, abuse, torture, all in the name of religion, and it continues today! The
    move, " The Divinci Code" was for me, BRAIN FOOD! I can understand why catholics didn't like it! HOWEVER, our Faith tells us, though the bible, just how Jesus did things! OR DOES IT? I readily accept the fact that the bible was written by "Humans", who can embellish, change, omit, things as they see it over time. WHO can say that the bible is 100% accurate? Faith is what tells us! Muslims & the Qu'ran. Saw an article that said the Qu'ran is the ONLY religious book that has NOT been rewritten!? HOW do we know this? I wonder what changes, whether minor or major, have been made throughout time? I wonder, now that it has been translated into other languages, what changes have been made due to changes in language? Some words do not exsist in other languages, and phrases can change meaning due to a lack of translation. WHY is it that muslims, islam and their religion, DEMAND, the killing of all (US) INFIDELS? Why is it that the MANY muslims are letting the FEW radicals, terrorists, etc., represent thier religion?

    September 17, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  5. PAUL

    Whats Coptic About Christians? See For Yourself!!

    September 17, 2012 at 7:18 am |
  6. Religion is not healthy for children and ALL LIVING THINGS

    Prayer is a complete waste of time.
    God (pick your favorite) is a myth.
    The faithful are only faithful because of fear.
    Religion is man-made.
    Religion is a virus.

    September 16, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  7. Drink my Kool-aid

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/

    September 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  8. Jim Guinnessey

    This whole worldwide male Islamic rioting (a famous Muslim male hobby) will allow the real hateful Islamists who hate Christians (especially the Copts), Jews and even other Muslims to agitate lazy Muslim males (most who do not work but enjoy rioting) to create more killings of Coptic Christians (especially in Egypt) and surviving Christians in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Imans on a worldwide daily basis call for the extermination of non-Muslims but are allowed to get away with their hateful fatwas on the basis of free speech which of course they deny to any group other than themselves.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Proven
    Powerful

    September 16, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      Life is short and hard like a bodybuilding elf, so save the planet and kill yourself.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is: "TOTAL FAIL, DUDE".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 16, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  10. ruckrover

    Someone once said "Love thy enemies"...

    September 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • swohio

      Yes, that's very very true. And as a Christian, I agree 100%. But it's too bad Muslims, who supposedly revere Jesus as a prophet, don't seem to understand that themselves.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • swohio

      Or some of the militant ones, anyway.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  11. Pete

    Why don't they just take this pretend film producer and drop him military style by rope into Libya,they definitly deserve each other,tear him up,so some more bloodshed is on your hands!!And yes there should be some type of sanctions,penalties on companies like You Tube for letting this extremist movie out without prior approval or viewing by a non partisan film board,this is murder,they might as well have killed them themselves..

    September 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      So you're blaming murder on a person who made art? That's pretty stupid, don't you think?

      September 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Damocles

      @Pete

      If I'm reading your post right, are you also ok with holding all Muslims responsible for murder because of the actions of a few?

      September 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Stephen

      I think I speak for most of America when I say that I'm very glad you arent' in charge. What an absurd response. Freedom of expression doesn't end when what is being expressed is in poor taste. A "film board" pre-screening YouTube uploads? Are you serious?

      September 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Stephen

      Though a re-read of the post is telling me you might be speaking sarcastically. I hope so, at any rate!

      September 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      Then american free speech would be the same as in the arab cesspool. He didn't break the law. The rioting terrorists did. Stop the islamic apology.

      September 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Oh-For-Petes-Sake

      Really, Pete? Maybe you should take some time to study the founders of this nation and the reasons they gave us the 1st Amendment. We can never allow a violent hate filled cult of death force us to restrict our liberties.

      September 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  12. Hitchslapinator

    The parties of god are making headlines yet again.

    September 15, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  13. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and lets them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago**; and that other things, like god, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Sometimes, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). Sometimes, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Religions are just big old evil clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division along the way (disguised as love).

    So instead of praying to make-believe people, get a good cup of tea and go on and sit down and collect your damn thoughts. My goodness.

    ** (yes, charlatan spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think it hadn't?)

    mama kindless

    September 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  14. Reality

    Just more evidence that all religions are absurd and need to be piled on the garbage heaps of the illogical thinking !!!!

    September 15, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  15. 200 TON HAMMER

    What would king david do???????

    September 15, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  16. Kang Tut

    Yes, shine a light on these religions and see how they are festering nests of filthy cockroaches all geared towards driving people insane.

    September 15, 2012 at 5:45 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 15, 2012 at 5:10 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer erodes sanity. Proven. By me.

      Must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat must repeat

      September 15, 2012 at 5:26 am |
    • truth be told

      A stolen name bearing a wonderful Truth followed by atheistic drivel. Sad.

      September 15, 2012 at 5:47 am |
    • hal 9000

      I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but many of your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I do see that by saying "Prayer erodes sanity", you are making some progress toward identifying some of the falsehoods from previous assertions. I am confident the following book will help you recover more quickly:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 15, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  18. atheists are bunch of cowards and gutless jerks

    The man behind it is a closet atheist and the movie was secretly funded by atheists' cult. Its real intent was more than plain ridicule and insult of Mohammed and Islam but rather not less than creating war and chaos between all religions. And they are now starting on of the 3 Major religions(Christianity, Islam, Jewish).

    It's their long-time obsession to topple down and end religions of all sorts. But they don't have enough numbers to do it. They are just a drop in a bucket even in the non-believers segment.

    It's now their design to stir-up one or a couple of the major religious group to anger to make them (all religions) anihilate each other that they (atheists) will prevail in the end.

    I just hope that all our muslim brothers will be enlightened that they may discern things in a brighter perspective that they will not be used by atheists to further their evil agenda.

    September 15, 2012 at 4:47 am |
    • atheists are bunch of cowards and gutless jerks

      I wish I hadn't run out of my meds. The withdrawal always causes these episodes.

      Can someone tell me if that rhinoceros over there is real? The one singing Strawberry Fields Forever, not the one making peanut butter sandwiches. I'm pretty sure the sandwich one is real, but the singing one looks more like Frank Sinatra than John Lennon, so I have my doubts.

      September 15, 2012 at 5:23 am |
    • crush

      One thing we agree upon; religions will be the cause of the next great war when they try to annilate each other. And all over some imaginary guy in the clouds. Athiests aren't cowards. In a country where 90% of the people believe in religion, to say you don't buy it takes some balls. They've just evolved past the point where some ancient fairy tale book rules over their lives.

      September 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      There needs to be a total war on the big 3, they are all sociopaths and sycophants.

      September 16, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Cowards? I believe it is you religious zealots who tremble in fear and get down on your knees to kiss the buttocks of your
      invisible idiot god so he doesn't cast you down to my neighborhood for eternity. Ain't that right. Religion is a lie. Grow up and get over it.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  19. youstina27socar

    it was not a controversy about the divinity of christ but the nature of christ. whether he was a man with two nature or one nature made up of two natures. the first is the chalcedonian churches belief (Catholics and protestants) the later is the Coptic orthodox church's belief.

    September 15, 2012 at 4:22 am |
    • squirrelyone

      Yes, but the crux of the question of his nature was whether he was divine, human, or simultaneously both human and divine. It was a question of both divinity and nature, so you and the article are both correct. :)

      September 15, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Christ never existed. God never existed. I never existed.

      September 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  20. Concerned

    The author of this article has presented poorly organized information. By placing at the very end of the article a statement that says, "The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bipartisan federal agency, added Egypt this year to a list of the worst violators of religious freedom," the author has made it seem as if Coptic Christians are the cause of the issue. However, about 8 "paragraphs" earlier (enough time for most to forget) the author informed the reader that only 8% – 11% of Egypt's 80 Million citizens are Coptic Christians. This means that 89% – 92% of Egypt's 80 Million citizens are Muslim. Logically, if Egypt is a violator of religious freedom then it is NOT a Coptic problem ONLY, as the reader is falsely lead to believe. Sloppy Journalism.

    September 15, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • Joel

      Um, there was no confusion, just your reading comprehension sucks. Lets look at the line right before that: ". . . Coptic resentment that they are not being given licenses to build new churches."

      September 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Oh-For-Petes-Sake

      A greater injustice is the fact that the authors only mention a couple of violent acts by Egyptian Muslims against the Copts that happened in January and the Fall of last year. The truth is that Egyptian Muslims are on a campaign of genocide against Coptic Christians and CNN does not want to report on that.

      September 16, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.