By all accounts, it’s all because of a DVD that was shown in a Coptic church which Muslims think insults Islam. And the play depicted on that DVD, by the way, was performed once, two years ago.
How exactly does it insult Islam?
According to this CNN story (thanks to Special Guest):
The riot was sparked by the distribution of a DVD of a play that was performed at the church two years ago. The play, “I Was Blind But Now I Can See,” tells the story of a young Christian who converts to Islam and becomes disillusioned.
So a film depiction of someone converting to Islam and then becoming disillusioned is enough to bring more than 5,000 protestors to the church and injure many, including a nun who was stabbed and three people who were killed? You can see from this how deeply Egyptian Muslims have internalized the Islamic law mandating death for anyone who leaves Islam, and the old dhimmi laws forbidding Christians to proselytize.
An earlier report from Al-Jazeera gives more details that reinforce this point:
The production features a poor Christian university student who converts to Islam when a group of Muslim men promise him much-needed money.
When he becomes disenchanted with his decision, the men threaten him with physical violence to prevent him from returning to his original faith.
So perhaps the Egyptian Muslims are offended that the student originally converted only for money, and that he was threatened by the Muslims when he wanted to return to Christianity. But this, of course, is like CAIR being offended by a book that depicts Muhammad as a warrior: both are taking offense at the truth. There are numerous reports of Copts converting to Islam under pressure, and certainly many Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere take very seriously the command in Islamic law that anyone who leaves Islam should be killed (which is based, of course, on a statement of Muhammad himself: see Bukhari, vol. 9, bk. 84, no. 57).
What offends the rioters, evidently, is that attention be drawn to all this. As the Coptic Bishop Armia said, “Copts would never tolerate anyone insulting Islam.” In other words, they know what they have to do to get along. As so many Middle Eastern priests and lay Christians have told me, Christians in the Middle East well know that as a matter of survival, they must say one thing in public and another in private. The Copts who showed this video violated that rule, or at least found themselves in violation of it when news of the showing became known.
It is a pity that Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere don’t heed the words of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (from “Mockery is good for the faithful, says Carey,” in the Telegraph):
“They were very offended by Satanic Verses but I said you are living in a country and civilisation where we are quite used to this,” he said.
“They say: ‘Why as a Christian don’t you condemn the Life of Brian?’ I said: ‘I love the film and I think it is good for religion to be knocked, to be criticised, to be challenged because we have done a lot of damage in the past’.
“We know religion is a force for good but I don’t want to control a writer not to criticise me, because I may need that criticism.
“The Church of England is a broad church, we are used to being mocked. I do believe passionately in this. I wanted to assure Salman Rushdie that although many of his statements may have been in bad taste he had the right to say it as a lapsed Muslim.”
If anyone needs the criticism that is apparently contained in the Copts’ DVD, it is the very Muslims who are rioting because of it. If they noted and began to work against the intimidation of Copts and the threats against those who leave Islam, life would be better in Egypt for both Christians and Muslims.