For the first time I am in an Arab country with a indigenous Christian population that does not live in secrecy.
I am still trying to make sense of the nature of Christian-Muslim relations, but today I wan to talk about a phenomenon among the Copts. Relations between the two groups are not always the best (but that is another blog post). I personally don’t want to offend anyone so I make it a point of duty to try and learn how to navigate the Muslim and Christian world here. And in Egypt that means even little things like greetings.
It’s no surprise that although I have studied Arabic for too many years to count, I don’t have much knowledge about Arab Christians. Most of my teachers were either from 99.9% Muslim countries or clearly never interacted with Christian, so I have zero Arab-Christian experience. I am trying to make up for that by attending Arabic-language church services (and that also is a whole other blog entry) let me tell you, it is plenty different).
At any rate, a key part of navigating the Muslim-Christian world is knowing how to tell which religion a person is. This is certainly not something that I am used to doing so it was a little hard at first. Someone’s religion is just not the most important aspect of a person’s identity for me, at least not when you first meet them.But it certainly is here.. like much of the Arab world it’s question number 2 or 3 right after “what is your name?”
Needless to say, it’s my experience that Christians have taken offense to my greeting them “in Muslim way” i.e. saying assalamu alaikum. So I want to avoid such moments of awkwardness from now on.
Back to the main point this post. As about 95% of the women here wear scarves, figuring out their religion is not hard. However, there are some Muslim women who do not cover their hair and so, I can not just assume that a person is not Muslim based on this alone.
Copts, the majority of Christians here are making this weeding out/classification process a lot easier because so many of them have Tatoos!!!!!!!!!!!
yup that’s right a lot of them get a cross tattoed to their wrist! I asked one of my classmates about this and apparently they get them when they are pretty young, although she got hers when she was much older. I googled the topic as I didn’t realize it was something that people had done in infancy and I found this article with video that was pretty interesting.
A tattoo is certainly the ultimate demonstration of fealty to your confession, but I don’t know what I think about little kids undergoing this procedure. Tatoos hurt, like a lot. Then again, so does circumcision.
For now, I guess thic Coptic-tattoo thing will just be fascinating to me! Unfortunately it’s not the sort of thing that has ever come up in a single Arabic class. I am even toying with the idea of getting one. But who am I kidding, I am a total wuss… it looks painful.