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The Islamization of Egypt occurred after the seventh-century Arab conquest of Egypt, in which the Islamic Rashidun Caliphate seized control of Egypt from the Christian Byzantine Empire. Egypt and other conquered territories in the Middle East gradually underwent a large-scale conversion from Christianity to Islam, motivated in part by a jizya tax for those who refused to convert.[1] Islam became the faith of the majority of the population at some point between the 10th and 12th centuries, and Arabic became the main language, replacing Coptic and Greek, which had served as the vernacular and governmental languages, respectively.[2]


See also: Arab conquest of Egypt

Islamic links to Coptic Egypt predate Muslim rule. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad married a concubine Copt, Maria al-Qibtiyya.[citation needed]

The Hanging Church in Old Cairo was founded in the third century, making it one of the oldest churches in Egypt.

In the mid 7th century, the Rashidun Caliphate successfully conquered Egypt from the Byzantine Empire. This ended seven centuries of mostly uninterrupted Roman rule over Egypt.[note 1] However, local resistance by the Egyptians occurred during the Umayyad Caliphate that lasted until at least the ninth century.[3][4] One contributing factor to this resistance was taxation. Under the Rashidun Caliphate and its successors, non-Muslims were required to pay a special tax called jizya and were given status as dhimmis. The taxation was argued[by whom?] as being justified as local Christians were never drafted to serve in the army. This resistance escalated to armed rebellions against the Umayyads and Abbasids in a number of instances, such as during the Bashmurian revolts in the Nile Delta.[citation needed]

The Amr ibn al-As Mosque was the first mosque built in both Egypt and Africa. It was built in Fustat (now Old Cairo), the newly founded capital of Rashidun Egypt.

Arab rulers generally preferred not to share the rule with Coptic Christians in their towns and established new colonies, like Fustat.[citation needed] From the Muslim conquest of Egypt onwards, the Coptic Christians were persecuted by different Muslims regimes.[5][6][7]

The Arabs in the 7th century seldom used the term Agyptos, and used instead an Arabic language version of the term Al Qibt, which was then adopted into English as Copt, to describe the locals in Egypt. They continued to use the term to refer to all Muslim and Christian Egyptians up until the Mamluk rule that legally banned the term on Muslims and associated the native language with paganism. [citation needed] Thus, only Christian Egyptians became known as Copts or Orthodox Copts, and also the non-Chalcedonian Egyptian Church became known as the Coptic Church. The Chalcedonian Church remained known as the Melkite Church. Coptic Egyptians referred to themselves as ⲛⲓⲣⲉⲙⲛ̀ⲭⲏⲙⲓ (/ni-rem-en-kēmi/).[citation needed]

Religious life remained largely undisturbed following the establishment of Arab rule, as evidence by the rich output of Coptic Orthodox Christian arts in monastic centers in Old Cairo (Fustat) and throughout Egypt. Conditions, however, worsened shortly after that, and in the eighth and ninth centuries when Muslim rulers banned the use of human forms in art (taking advantage of an iconoclastic conflict in the European-ruled Byzantium) and consequently destroyed many Coptic Christian paintings mainly of Jesus and frescoes in churches.[8]

Under the Fatimid Caliphate, Egypt experienced a period of relative tolerance. The Fatimid rulers employed Copts in the government and participated in Coptic and local Egyptian feasts.[citation needed] Major renovation and reconstruction of churches and monasteries were also undertaken. Coptic arts flourished, reaching new heights in Middle and Upper Egypt.[8] Despite this, by this time, Coptic Christians had lost their majority status[2][9] as a result of the intermittent persecution and the destruction of the Christian churches[10] and forced conversions to Islam.[11] This is attested to by John of Nikiû, a Coptic bishop who wrote about the conquest, and who was a near contemporary of the events he described.[citation needed]

However, the subsequent Mamluk Sultanate returned to previous practices of levying jizya and forcing conversions.[10][12][13][14][15][1]

The Coptic decline in Egypt occurred under the Bahri sultans and accelerated further under the Burji regime.[16] There were several instances of Egyptian Muslim protests against the wealth of Copts and their employment with the state, and both Muslim and Christian rioters burned down each other's houses of worship during intercommunal clashes.[17] As a result of popular pressure, Copts had their employment in the bureaucracy terminated at least nine times between the late 13th and mid-15th centuries, and on one occasion, in 1301, the government ordered the closure of all churches.[17] Coptic bureaucrats were often restored to their positions after tensions passed. Many Copts were forced to convert to Islam or at least adopted outward expressions of Muslim faith to protect their employment and avoid the jizya and official measures against them.[18] A large wave of Coptic conversions to Islam occurred in the 14th century,[18] as a result of persecution, destruction of churches,[17] and to retain employment.[18] By the end of the Mamluk period, the ratio of Muslims to Christians in Egypt may have risen to 10:1.[17]

See also


  1. ^ The Sasanian Empire, which generally followed Zoroastrianism, held Egypt for around a decade in the early 7th century.


  1. ^ a b Conversion, Exemption, and Manipulation: Social Benefits and Conversion to Islam in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Forcing taxes on those who refuse to convert (PDF), ʿUmar is depicted as having ordered that "the poll-tax should be taken from all men who would not become Muslims"
  2. ^ a b Clive Holes, Modern Arabic: structures, functions, and varieties, Georgetown University Press, 2004, ISBN 978-1-58901-022-2, M1 Google Print, p. 29.
  3. ^ Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-'athar (2 vols., Bulaq, 1854), by Al-Maqrizi
  4. ^ Chronicles, by John of Nikiû
  5. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Refworld | World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – Egypt : Copts of Egypt". Refworld. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  6. ^ Goddard, Hugh (2000). A History of Christian–Muslim Relations. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 1566633400.
  7. ^ Marina Rustow (3 October 2014). Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate. Cornell University Press. pp. 219–. ISBN 978-0-8014-5529-2.
  8. ^ a b Kamil 1990, p. 41.
  9. ^ Shea, Nina (June 2017). "Do Copts have a future in Egypt". Foreign Affairs. Archived from the original on 2017-06-20.
  10. ^ a b Etheredge, Laura S. (2011). Middle East, Region in Transition: Egypt. Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 161. ISBN 9789774160936.
  11. ^ N. Swanson, Mark (2010). The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt (641-1517). American Univ in Cairo Press. p. 54. ISBN 9789774160936.
  12. ^ Katō, Hiroshi (2011). Islam in the Middle Eastern Studies: Muslims and Minorities. University of California Press. p. 133. ISBN 9784901838023. The Mamluk era, in which many Dhimmīs were forced to convert to Islam, was a time of great turbulence in society.
  13. ^ Naiem, Girgis (2018). Egypt's Identities in Conflict: The Political and Religious Landscape of Copts and Muslims. McFarland. p. 69. ISBN 9781476671208.
  14. ^ Morgan, Robert (2016). History of the Coptic Orthodox People and the Church of Egypt. FriesenPress. p. 342. ISBN 9781460280270.
  15. ^ Documentation Center, Middle East (2006). Mamlūk Studies Review. University of Chicago. p. 73. ISBN 9781460280270.
  16. ^ Teule 2013, p. 10.
  17. ^ a b c d Etheredge, p. 16.
  18. ^ a b c Stilt 2011, p. 120.