CONVERSION TO ISLAM
After the Arab conquest of Egypt (640-642), the bulk of the Egyptians remained Christian in the first two centuries of Islamic rule. By the beginning of the third century of Arab occupation, however, the resistance of the Copts was broken and their economic status was dramatically weakened because of the financial burdens imposed on them.
Their social status deteriorated and their religious leaders were humiliated. The Church economy and its institutions had been systematically weakened. Monks were tortured to the point of having their hands amputated and even to death. Bishops and patriarchs were sometimes put in shackles and imprisoned. The Arabization of Egypt played a crucial role in the Islamization of the country.
Arab tribes settled in various regions and took up agriculture, mingling with Copts especially in eastern Delta. They considered themselves sons of the country and no longer its masters. The Arabization of the administration by Umayyad Caliph Abdel-Malik (685-705) tempted Copts to learn Arabic. With the brutal crushing of the last of the Coptic revolts in 832, the conversion of the Copts to Islam increased dramatically. Not long after that year, the Copts had to obey the orders of Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil (847-861) to wear distinctive dress and not to ride horses. Such a measure would not have been implemented were the Copts still a great majority.
Under the Fatimids (969-1171) and the Ayyubids (1171-1250), the Copts were a minority community living in a Muslim society. Their lives and properties were protected by Islamic law that demanded from them segregation and subservience. They and their churches were often vulnerable to the attack and plunder of Muslim mobs, they were dismissed from government offices, and they had to wear distinctive dress.
The arrival of the Crusades in the region brought new problems for the Copts. These wars led to a hostile movement against the Christians in the East, especially the Copts, and left a legacy of hatred between them and the Muslims.
In the Mamluk Period (1250-1517), Muslim masses frequently destroyed churches and plundered Copts, who were the scapegoat for the hard time of that period, especially under the Bahari Mamluks (1250-1390). By that time the Copts were reduced to a small minority that today represents around 10 percent of Egypt’s population.