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. risky

    "Stop attackin muh freedum ov religion w/ yur freedum ov speech!!"

    September 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  2. barbarianofgor

    Come ON, it isn't "Copts" it's JEWS...

    $5 million for THAT film!? That alone it has to be a Jew.

    "Schmendrick! No! For the last time. This ain't a Holocaust film, we are just rattling Islamics. If you write Mohammed is a sissy on a wall, hundereds die as they riot. I read your script, could have been a fantasy movie like DeathStalker or other B rated drek, I know. But this is millions, we got to keep the money..."

    Also, note they put it on TV... After all, who else has the clout to put anything like that on TV... By contrast check out "Adbusters" who get rejected even when they pony up the money for their "Anti-Consumer" bent even though it isn't offensive or violent or dirty.

    So, I don't believe their Copt wash. It's like Mormons screaming the worst offenders among them are "Christians" because that's the default if they don't fit in the church.

    September 14, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  3. Richard

    C'mon Obama; go grovelling for forgiveness to the Muslims, you know you want to.

    September 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  4. Kuff

    What is anti-Islamic about this film?

    September 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  5. ipmutt

    Forget about the film. It has been out for months. This is an attack on the 9/11 aniversery and a demonstration of the weakness of the Obama administration. Vote for a new president.

    September 14, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nope. I like the one we have.

      September 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Leo

      Right on!! Obama called the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi for winning the election in Egypt and then claims the Republicans are at war with women. Lets see how soon the women and Christians rights and\or lives are destroyed, and then Israel will be next on the radar.

      Obama is a foreign policy nightmare! Can you say Jimmy Carter all over again.....

      September 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  6. cyn

    religion is mind control, mormons, christians, muslims,. There is something bigger behind this outrage

    September 14, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • PAUL

      People Need To Laugh More Here Is Jesus's Response!!


      September 14, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  7. Cincinnatus

    Curiously, there is little to no effective protest (within the United States or the wider world) of the religious persecution of the Coptic Christians (and other non-Muslims) BY Muslims (in Egypt and the wider stretches of geography ruled in the name of and / or for Islami). An alleged Coptic Christian in California makes a short film "insulting" Mohammed and Muslims around the world go berserk ... killing people and vandalizing / destroying property. Contrast the alleged actions of this alleged Coptic Christian with that of Muslims killing and maiming Coptic Christians and blowing up their places of worship ... INSULTING Coptic Christians in far worse ways (literally "insulting" them TO DEATH) than is done (or ever could be) in this or any other film. Why is there not an article on CNN (and elsewhere in the non-Muslim media) EVERY day decrying this daily religious persecution of non-Muslims BY Muslims? Where is CNN's (and the rest of the media in the non-Muslim world's) outrage at the "convert or die" philosopy and conduct of people and governments around the globe which profess and adhere to the tenets of Islam?

    September 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • classic135@gmail.com

      Very well said. Couldn't agree more!

      September 14, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • mdfaraone

      Amen to that,..from an atheist. My sentiments EXACTLY , Islam has been getting a free pass for their barbaric actions for too long.

      September 14, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  8. focalist

    My imaginary friend is better than yours. Discuss/Murder as you see fit.

    September 14, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • rosethornne

      The flying spaghetti monster and the great pink unicorn are neck and noodle for best religion ever. And guess what: nobody has ever been tortured or killed in the name of either one, and there are no sacred images or writings to get offended about when someone burns them. Yay for my sky fairy, it's the BEST!

      September 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  9. classic135@gmail.com

    This article contains many inaccuracies. Copts number well over a million in the US. Over 100,000 families left Egypt since the January 25th so-called revolution alone, many coming to the US. Discrimination, if not outright persecution of Copts in Egypt, has been rampant since Islam invaded Egypt in the 7th century. It's time the whole world got educated about the realities of Islam, even if the Saudi influence is becoming too obvious at CNN and MSNBC.

    September 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The Copts were marginalized by the "Romans" (actually Greeks) for not believing in the divinity of Jesus as did the Latin church according to the Council of Chalcedon.

      Reports conflict, but when the Arabs invaded in the 7th century Copts either helped or at least did not much hinder the invaders. In the early Muslim period, so long as they paid the jizya, they were permitted to follow their faith.

      Certainly things changed over time, and yes this article does contain inaccuracies.

      September 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  10. Sam Yaza


    September 14, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • PAUL


      September 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  11. Meki60

    islam is all garbage and the people are trash-pickers

    September 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Meki60

      and I forgot cork soakers

      September 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  12. Lauren

    A lot of people in the world believe that islam is a violent religion, and what do the muslims do? They prove us right by reacting violently just because their feelings are hurt. Then, they go and kill people who had nothing to do with the film

    September 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  13. FreedomOfSpeech

    Excuse me, freedom of speech means we have the right to insult any religion or any religious figure to any degree that we wish, at any time that we wish! Whether it's Jesus, the Pope, Islam, or Muhammad. Muslims prove over and over again they are crazy when they get so worked up over things like this. Remember when they threatened to assassinate the "South Park" guys?

    Does anyone remember the Robert Maplethorpe image showing a Jesus on a cross in a bottle of urine? Did people get offended? Yes. Did they burn down embassies and murder people in response? No! Grow a thicker skin!

    September 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The problem is that many people who live under other systems of government do not understand the concept of "free speech." They as sume that when a film they consider insulting is made in the US, the US government must have approved it. They cannot conceive that the government here simply does not ban even the most hateful, disgusting speech.

      What is needed is education.

      September 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Pppa

      @ FreedomOfSpeech Frame this correctly. This is a film distributed over Internet, produced via VERY shady financing and authorship, which now threatens to start WWIII, and is possibly the justification for restricting free use of the Internet under the guise of "promoting world peace" or "reducing the opportunity to foment unrest among the poor, angry Muslims". YouTube cut access to several Arab countries for the very reason.

      Very convenient method to restrict the Internet and censor freedom of speech, eh?

      September 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • shahed

      if u r ok about jesus being put his pics on a urine bottle is that mean that we accept the same thing??? (altough that jesus is a prophet like muhammad and we dun accept him to get insulted aswell)
      and if like u said free of speech has the right to insult every 1 why ur government offend who deny the holocost? u know in ur country and europe there r laws forcing every 1 that u cant say that the holocost is just over estimated and the all jews in europe has never reached 6 mill pop in that time and the holocost is just jew crap
      why focusing muhammad ? because u just jealous

      September 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      shahed, if you can manage to write something coherent, do so. Your post is crap.

      September 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  14. dd

    How about all of the other hate films produced in California – anti-Christian, anti-Jew, anti-Republican, .... California is the capital of hate crimes and gets away with it because liberals love to hate!

    September 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  15. JennyTX

    Isn't religion great?!?!?

    September 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  16. Loki

    This guy has every right to say whatever he wants about Mohamed. Bill Maher says what he wants ... why is he any different. Obama & Clinton are at fault having unprotected embassy staff in a dangerous country that Obama recently created. Did you know that the embassy was unarmed ? No ammo. Great thinking oh godlike Obama.

    September 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  17. Humanity4All

    WoW the copitc guy turn out to be more toxic than GOP

    September 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  18. DJNAM

    Islam still lives in the 16th Century and would drag the rest of the world back there if it could ... Islam stopped learning after the death of Suleiman and rapidly began its intellectual decline ... oil is now the only thing that makes the religion even remotely relevant ...

    BO is a facilitator and an appeaser … he must be replaced … even Bubba’s wife would do a better job …

    September 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      September 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • s

      Here's what I heard a Coptic priest said ..."This (the film) is inflamatory and is not unacceptable. Christianity is about reaching out and being tolerant. We practice peace and love ..."

      September 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • s

      Typo – ... This (film) ... is unacceptable.

      September 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  19. Humanity4All

    If that nasty man had been to federal prision why not post his picutures evey where...

    September 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  20. Loki

    People who spend their lives disputing the existence of God are just as foolish as those who spend their life saying God does exist. Like the actual world will be and different the next day..... Idiots like Bill Maher should ask themselves why they are so concerned about a big nothing topic. He's psychotic about it.

    September 14, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • umm..

      because he makes money out of talking.. because he makes money out of making fun out of fanatics.. and because it made him rich.. You don't see him stand in the middle of the road and yelling his opinion-thats the missionaries work.

      September 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • mdfaraone

      I'll tell you why... because governments make policy based on it, people are murdered DAILY because of it, Science is delayed and marginalized because if it, and all of humanity is held back from progress,..all because of idiotoc religious beliefs.

      September 14, 2012 at 10:01 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.