BAGHAM IBN BAQURAH AL-SAWWAF
An eleventh-century Copt from Old Cairo/Babylon and the nephew of Anba Jirja, bishop of Misarah. His father had connections with one of the influential personalities in the court of the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir (1035-1094). For some time he was contemporary with Pope CHRISTODOULOS (1047-1077).
After his conversion to Islam at age twenty-two, he was rejected and disowned by both his parents. It happened thereafter that he decided to be rebaptized. Because Islamic law prohibits apostasy and inflicts the penalty of death on the apostate, some of the monks of the Monastery of Abu Maqar—whom he had met during his solitude in the Church of Mikha’il al-Mukhtarah for a few days— advised him to accompany them to that monastery to join it. Bagham rejected the offer, for he yearned to confess Christ on the same spot where he denied Him.
He then departed from the monks and girded his waist with a girdle, which distinguished him as a submissive Copt in accordance with the pledge of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. He walked in this fashion throughout the markets of Old Cairo. When the Muslims noticed the girdle round his waist, they seized him and led him to the police, who arrested him.
When his father received the news, he immediately offered a large sum of money to a friend, a Muslim who worked in the caliph’s court, and entreated him to save his son from death. But the Muslim friend refused to interfere in this delicate matter unless the father convinced his son to feign madness, so that when witnesses were brought to him in prison to examine his case, they would confirm his insanity. Thus, he would not be considered responsible for what he had done, his life would be spared, and he would be set free, despite the fact that he was a Copt.
By coincidence, there was in prison a Syrian monk who undertook to counsel him and explain to him that he was proceeding toward martyrdom. Bagham, however, considered death in Christ’s name as “sweeter than honey.” In this way, he started to yearn for martyrdom and to prefer it to life. When the Muslim prosecutors went to Bagham in prison, they started to interrogate him to verify his case. It became evident to them that he was thoroughly sane. In addition, he declared before them that Coptic Christianity was the only true faith.
According to formalities, the governor of Egypt sent the prosecutors to the minister to whom they submitted the case, and explained to him the conclusions they reached concerning Bagham.
In conformity with the terms of Islamic law, whether Sunnite or Shi‘ite, and in the light of Bagham’s confession, there was no way to avoid sentencing him to death. The minister gave orders for his execution.
The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS by SAWIRUS IBN AL-MUQAFFA‘ records in full the details of the story of the martyrdom of this young Copt until his decapitation. The Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir had ordered his body to be handed over to his family to bury it wherever they wanted. Bagham’s father carried the body to the Church of Mikha’il al-Mukhtarah and buried his son outside its door. When on the third day Anba Christodoulus came from Dayr al-Sham‘ to the church, he objected to Bagham’s burial outside the church, saying that the martyr should be interred within the church. When he opened the coffin to kiss the martyr, he found that his blood had not dried. He dipped his finger into it and signed the cross with it on his garment. Afterward, the body was interred in the sanctuary, which was dedicated to his name.