Leaving Islam




A Coptic Illusion

By Carrie  Devorah 

Most people know New Jersey as Frank Sinatra’s home state or a place one drives through on the Interstate. Long linked to Tony Soprano types and the big “M” the Garden State was overcoming their Family reputation. Then Saturday happened, Sylvia’s birthday.

Police interrupted a private party at 4:00am, not for too much noise but lack of it. A “religious family with no enemies” appears to have had few close friends.  They lay in their own blood for days before being found hog tied, slaughtered ritualistically, their necks slashed top to bottom. Father. Mother. Two daughters. Emad Fahmy, a relative, said "They have no enemies” The sweet 16 birthday girl’s great-uncle Milad Garas identified Sylvia by a tattoo on her wrist, her face battered beyond recognition. Burglary wasn’t the motive for the 1997 emigrants’ murder, relatives said. The blue collar family’s gold was stolen last year.

50 mourners, maybe, attended their funeral.

Outwardly, they were regular people. Their life style wasn’t lavish. You read about their daughters in community bulletins not headlines. 8 year old Monica, the youngest, a third grader at PS 6, sang in the church choir. The mother, 36 year old Amal, a letter carrier for the United States Post office, provided their family’s income stability with government benefits and promise of pensions. Hossam the dad, a catering hall server, achieved America ’s dream. Four years ago, November 2000, he bought a house for $96,500, according to one newspaper. 16 year old Sylvia, cast regularly in Dickenson High School ’s plays shared her father’s platform on the world stage of Islamic politics. They were outspoken.

New Jersey , promoting itself as “the getaway state” with sandy beaches and lighthouses decorating postcards sold at truck stops, had been discovered as a hideaway for runaways from religious persecution in Muslim countries. Like the Hossam Armanious family. Now, the whole world was discovering, through the Armanious massacre, Coptics’ political quest for religious salvation from Muslim hatred. Hossam and his family, active members of the St. George & St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Christian congregation Church, were Egyptian Coptics. Months earlier, Elizabeth Goldhirsh a  New York writer described neighboring New York 's community of Coptics, Egyptian Christians, as vibrant “truly one of its hidden cultural treasures.” Few people knew about the Armanious’, off line that is. Church deacon Fred Ayed knew Hossam thirty years back from Egypt . In the virtual world of the Internet, Hossam was as open with his Coptic Christian beliefs as he was in Egypt before moving to America . “A most outspoken Christian” reputed for fiery dialogue with Muslims on paltalk.com, a Muslim website, Hossam regularly debated religion in the Middle Eastern chat room, espousing his Coptic beliefs. While zipcodes change, rarely do people’s politics. Rumor has it a fatwa, edict for death, was ordered on Hossam before he moved to America . The New York Post reported  Hossam “was threatened for making anti-Muslim remarks online.” Another Middle Easterner reported one online exchange. Hossam was told, "You'd better stop this bull---- or we are going to track you down like a chicken and kill you.” Hossam wrongly interpreted America ’s Freedom of Religion guaranteed his Freedom of _Expression and offline anonymity.

On the record, Jersey City Mayor Jeremiah Healy told reporters." Whoever is responsible for this horror will be brought to justice." Jersey City Police Chief Robert Troy acknowledged "They probably knew their killers." A “former disgruntled tenant is being sought”. Off the record, the FBI was called in. Immediately.

Coptic Reverend Makarious wants Coptic youth growing up American “to know where they came from."  Sylvia’s friend at Dickenson HS, Jessica Cimino, said Sylvia knew. "She was very religious and very opinionated.” Sylvia tattooed a Coptic Cross on her wrist. It, too, was viciously slashed. Coptology began after the Arab conquest of Egypt , 641 AD.  Coptologists, descended from Egyptians, refused to convert to Islam when it first arrived 7th Century, in their country. They were named Gypt” after an Egyptian God, from the Greek word Egyptos , Egypt . Coptic was Egypt ’s native language before Arabic prevailed. Copts and Muslim compatriots banded together in the 19th and 20th century to revolt against British rule, post WWI, to defeat Islam’s Ottoman Empire . Coptics were subject to a Hamayouni decree forbidding Coptology.

The Muslim Brothers, a militant fundamentalist Islamic group, was started in the 1920’s, along with other societies for Muslim Youth, resisting Western influence, and supporting violence against Copts. By the 50’s, Egypt ’s President Nasser promoted the Muslim Brothers teachings. Copts immigrated out of the Middle East to countries such as the USA , Canada , and Australia . So did Coptic hatred.

In the 1980’s, Islamic militants increased violent attacks on Egyptian Copts, western tourists, sacking and burning Coptic churches and businesses. They demanded civil laws be changed to Islam’s Sharia code Copts say deprive non-Muslims of equal rights. In the 90’s, attacks on Copts further escalated along with forced Islamization. By 2000, more Coptic homes, businesses were destroyed. When Islamics demolished a Church in Southern Egypt’s village of Al Kosheh , 21 Copts were murdered and martyred.

Dr. Daniel Pipes, at the first International Coptic conference, said Islam ”the new global enemy of civilization” must be fought by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Pipes says Islamists want it made very clear Christians in countries with a Muslim majority are unwelcome.  He says Copts outside Egypt speak up because Copts inside Egypt, a minority with “dwindling rights, trapped in poverty, uncertainty, despised and distrusted as second class citizens, often victims of brutality, facing discrimination in education, jobs, from police and the courts” do not have that freedom. Pipes says Christian exodus for a better life in the West will continue to places like New Jersey . As did the Hossam Armanious family. And their enemy who slaughtered them like cows.

The US Senate and State Department surveys of worldwide religious and Christians persecutions reveal Copt communities are demanding abolishment of the 19th century Hamayouni decree requiring Copts to seek permission from the President of Egypt to repair even toilets in Churches. Mosques are built in Egypt without restriction. Copts protest government control over their radio and TV broadcasts, Egypt ’s Ministry of Islamic affairs refusal to return their Church trust lands, religious affiliation on their national ID cards, denigrating references to Christians in school curriculums, Government controlled media labeling Christians infidels and propagating attacks against Copts.

Author Oriana Fallaci wrote “Christianity’s ancient stronghold is giving away rapidly to Islam.” Today, Bethlehem and Nazareth , once Christian majority populations, are now majority Muslim towns. The Christian population in Jerusalem is 2% barely. Muslims are targeting Iraqi Copts with terrorist bombing murders similar terrorist attacks targeting Israeli citizens. Pipe projects a dangerous decline in Middle East’s Christian population point “their cultural vitality and political significance” disappearing, raising curiosity over legitimacy of America ’s war in Iraq being a war against terrorism or a war to preserve Christianity. “Die Welt,” Islamic scholar Bernhard Lewis said “ Europe will be Islamic by the end of this century, Europa wird am Ende des Jahrhunderts islamisch sein.”

There are 10.5 million global Copts, 9 million in Egypt , 500,000 concentrated in New Jersey and California , with 10,000 living in New York City .

A 56-year-old doctor who emigrated from   Egypt 25 years ago says Copts bond because they were a small Christian group in Egypt fearing walking down streets risking attack by Muslims for wearing a cross. Coptic Reverend Makarious agrees the bond keeps Copts close. 18-year-old New York college senior Chris Roufaeil says Copts are discriminated against  by their name or when Muslims “come right out and ask whether you're Christian." Roufaeil doesn’t like that people lump everyone from the Middle East together." He says there are differences between Arabs. Copts support Israel 's right to exist as a Jewish State, their own homeland.” Another Copt said, "The only place with any freedom in the Middle East is Israel ."

Grassroots unity organizers for Copt communities regularly exchange ideas on “organizing presence at national and local levels of government” by fundraising to hire lobbyists to promote Coptic issues with US policy makers so they are not “ignored by US policy makers.” Coptic activists encourage holding seminars, publishing materials and starting Coptic sections inside libraries of universities and colleges, the hotbed for pro-Palestinian sentiment in Canada , Europe and the USA . Their goal is to nurture future Coptic communities, political leaders and assist new Copts in America . One Copt website said, “we in DC are considered a friendly city, since we offer free housing for new comers and help them get a bank account, drivers license, rent them an apartment and help them get a job, etc.”

It was early spring when a Middle Eastern Christian Arab drove the sedan taking me to Dulles Airport , en-route to Denver to speak against terrorism. He shared that his fiancé, a Christian, was killed by Muslims in a car bombing in Egypt . Reading about the Armanious family fate, I realized the price of the Armanious family bloodbath is a Coptical illusion things aren’t always what they seem to be.  Even in Jersey .

BIO: Carrie Devorah is an award winning investigative photojournalist based in Washington DC . Her family are the first Canadians to lose a member to a terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem . Devorah is a certified crime information analyst and profiler. January 16, 2005 is the Hebrew first anniversary date of her brother’s murder on Azza Street in Jerusalem .





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