Daniel H. Stewart and Dr. William Hamblin, History
My Attempt, with this research project, was to analyze the relationship of a small minority Christian group called the Copts, with the larger more powerful ruling body of Muslims called the Mamluks, during the Middle-Ages. Much of what I discovered was found as I was researching these topics in two separate classes, History 302 and English 315, that I took this year. The Mamluks had come to power in the Thirteenth Century after they defeated of the European Christians in the Crusades. This set up a fertile soil for religious persecution by the Mamluks, since Christianity had been their vehement enemy for so long. However, Islam has had a history of being relatively tolerant of the minority religious groups they ruled. My initial attempt was to highlight Islam’s success in keeping their traditions of religious tolerance even during such volatile years as the crusades.
The preliminary research I did pointed to a society that was tolerant. The Mamluks allowed Coptic Christians to hold high positions in their government. They were usually placed in positions regulating finances, even to the point of being the chief voice over financial issues in the whole of the empire. Many Copts were also given the commission to be advisors and scribes. The Copts also held a monopoly over being employed as tax collectors. They would continue to educate their youth in this practice so that only the Copts would have the necessary skills to function in this job. Employment in these fields brought them vast amounts of wealth, thus allowing this small religious body a great sphere of influence. All of these practices were permitted and supported by the Mamluk Sultan and his ruling body.
From the outside in may have looked like their rulers treated the Copts justly. However, as I dug deeper into the research I found that the Copts were far from being treated with complete tolerance. The Muslim public did not love Copts, instead they were viewed with suspicion and malice. Their wealth and religion combined to create a raging hatred in many people’s hearts. Many Copts were force to convert or they would be put to death. Riots frequently broke out in the street often leading to the Copts churches being destroyed. There is documentation that the Copts had their religious festivals violently interrupted, and some of their holy relics destroyed. At times the Copts were even required to wear distinctive clothing so that their identity could not be hidden behind a closed mouth. The Copts were truly a people in a dangerous circumstance.
There were great amounts of sources even within our own library to research this idea as it seems to have been a well-documented period of history. Dr. Hamblin was also helpful in directing me to some important source. If space permitted it there would be much more I could discuss. This was a topic I felt was very important to study even today. Human beings still have a problem in dealing with issues of minority verses majority. Different religious groups continue to struggle to tolerate and accept one another. The Mamluk-Coptic relationship may be deemed a failure in hindsight, but this little known aspect of history may offer advice to help us succeed in the future.
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