For Egypt’s Coptic Christians, cross tattoos emblazoned on the inside of a wrist are another form of ID. In an overwhelmingly Muslim society, these tattoos create a sense of belonging for Copts at a very young age – some children are taken to the tattoo artist at just a few months old.
Copts have been getting cross tattoos for centuries. Historically, Coptic parents had their children’s wrists tattooed very early, so that if they were killed, their children could be identified as Christians, especially when no other form of ID was available.
They still have a practical function today: cross tattoos can now secure Copts entry to a church, while those without must show ID cards to security personnel. Tattoo artists often check the ID cards of their customers beforehand to avoid any potential abuse.
But having such a tattoo also comes with an element of risk, as a clear display of Christian identity can expose Copts to harassment.
The Christian charity Open Doors International recently visited Egypt and has shared with World Watch Monitor a set of photographs of Coptic Christians with cross tattoos, along with the Copts’ reflections on the significance of their tattoos and, on some occasions, the harassment they have faced because of them.