The idea that the Coptic Christians in Egypt welcomed the Arab troops as liberators in the mid-seventh century is a staple of Islamic apologetics today, and (not surprisingly, given the abysmal state of academia today) is generally accepted among historians. However, it has always had weak foundations, and is actually yet another example of a phenomenon we see increasingly often: the revisionist whitewashing of history to remove any hint of wrongdoing on the part of Muslims. In my 2005 book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), I noted that Islamic tradition has the Caliph Umar making a “telling admission in a message to an underling: ‘Do you think,’ he asked, ‘that these vast countries, Syria, Mesopotamia, Kufa, Basra, Misr [Egypt] do not have to be covered with troops who must be well paid?’ Why did these areas have to be ‘covered with’ troops, if the inhabitants welcomed the invaders and lived with them in friendship?”
“Professor Harald Suermann: The Idea That the Copts Received the Muslims As Liberators is No Longer Tenable,” from On Coptic Nationalism, February 2:
Christian-Muslim Relations; A Bibliographical History, Volume 5 (1350-1500) was published by Brill in 2013. One of its most interesting articles is that written by Prof. Dr. Harald Suermann, of the Institute of Oriental and Asian Studies, Bonn University, Copts and the Islam of the Seventh Century.
I have today finished rereading Suermann’s article. He talks about early sources on Coptic reaction to the Islamic conquest. The question he wanted to answer is: Did the Copts regard the Islamic conquest as a liberation from the Byzantine yoke? He surveys the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria and what C. Detlef G. Müller found in it about the Coptic-Muslim relations in the 7th century. He also uses The Romance of Cambyses, The Legend of Eudoxia and the Holy Sepulchre, The Dialogue of the Patriarch John, and The Life of Patriarch Isaac. But the source that settles the question strongly for him is The Panegyric of the Three Holy Children of Babylon. The author of the homily is anonymous but it’s believed by scholars that the original writing was in Sahidic, and that it was most probably composed shortly after the Arab invasion of Egypt. The writer of the Panegyric describes the Saracens (Arabs) as “oppressors who follow after prostitution and massacre.”
The Panegyric of the Three Holy Children of Babylon is not the only source from the 7th century that demonstrates what the Copts felt about the invading Arabs: The Chronicle by John of Nikiu is well known and gives even a stronger evidence of the way in which the Copts saw the Arabs. The Panegyric, however, is the earliest record of the Coptic sentiment that the Muslims were not liberators but oppressors.
Suermann concludes: “The Panegyric of the Three Holy Children of Babylon does date from the early period of Islamic rule in Egypt, and provides an important witness to Egyptian Christian attitudes towards this rule… [T]he Panegyric calls the Muslims ‘oppressors’. This evidence suggests that the idea that the Copts received the Muslims as liberators is no longer tenable.”
The evidence is overwhelming.