The Modern Era
The sort of Muslim attacks on Christian churches described by the historian Maqrizi and conforming to the Conditions of Omar are reoccurring with increased frequency. Again, while the patterns described above are occurring all around the Muslim world—sometimes even in the West—modern day Egypt alone, with its significant Christian population, offers an abundance of recent examples.
After some 14 centuries of persecution and church attacks,E gypt’s Copts ushered in the 2011 new year by having one of their largest churches attacked: during midnight mass in the early hours of January 1, 2011, the Two Saints Coptic Church in Alexandria, crowded with hundreds of Christian worshipers praying for the new year, was bombed, leaving at least 23 dead and approximately 100 injured. According to eyewitnesses, “body parts were strewn all over the street outside the church. The body parts were covered with newspapers until they were brought inside the church after some Muslims started stepping on them and chanting jihadi chants,” including “Allahu Akbar!” Islam’s victory cry since the days of Muhammad. Eyewitnesses further attest that “security forces withdrew one hour before the church blast.” One year earlier, “drive-by Muslims shot to death six Christians as they were leaving church after celebrating Christmas mass in 2010” in Nag Hammadi.
No Church Bells, Crosses, or Renovations
The story of St. George Coptic Church in Edfu is especially instructive of the plight of churches in Egypt. Built nearly a century ago, during the Christian “Golden Age,” St. George was so dilapidated that the local council and governor approved its renovation and signed off on the design. Soon local Muslims began complaining, making various demands, including that the church be devoid of crosses and bells—as stipulated by the Conditions of Omar—because they were “irritating Muslims and their children.” Leaders later insisted that the very dome of the church be removed. Arguing that removal of the dome would likely collapse the church, the bishop refused. The foreboding cries of “Allahu Akbar!” began; Muslims threatened to raze the church and build a mosque in its place; Copts were “forbidden to leave their homes or buy food until they remove the dome of St. George’s Church”; many starved for weeks.
Then, after Friday prayers on September 30, 2011, some 3,000 Muslims rampaged the church, torched it, and demolished the dome; flames from the wreckage burned nearby Christian homes, which were further ransacked by rioting Muslims. Security, which was present, just “stood there watching,” according to Christian eyewitnesses. Edfu’s Intelligence Unit chief was seen directing the mob destroying the church. Even the governor of Aswan appeared on State TV and “denied any church being torched,” calling it a “guest home.” He even justified the incident by arguing that the church contractor made the building three meters higher than he had permitted: “Copts made a mistake and had to be punished, and Muslims did nothing but set things right, end of story,” he proclaimed on TV.
It was this incident which caused Egypt’s Christians to protest in October 2011, leading to the Maspero Massacre, when the Egyptian military intentionally targeted and killed dozens of Christian protesters, including by running them over with armored vehicles—even as state media lied by portraying the Christians as the aggressors and the military as the victim, a narrative which the Western mainstream media gullibly disseminated.
In July 2011, a Muslim mob went on a violent spree, attacking, among others a 5-month pregnant Christian woman and other Christians who were “beaten with iron rods and pipes.” According to Fr. Estephanos of the region, “The real reason behind this assault was the church bell, which has greatly angered the Muslims in the village. This is the first time such an incident has taken place in this village which is 60-75% Christian, and the reason is definitely the presence of the church bell.” As seen in the Conditions of Omar, church bells are forbidden in Islam.
Similarly, in October 2011, in the Upper Egyptian village of Elmadmar which only has two churches to serve 15,000 Christians, Muslim mobs surrounded one of these two churches, St. Mary’s Church, hurling bricks at it and trying to demolish it, while chanting “No to the church.” Although it has had state security approval to operate, its license was still pending. According to the priest, “Muslims claim that we hold a mass every day at 4 PM, and we ring the church bell, which the church does not have, besides singing hymns, which they claim disturbs them.”
Many attacks on Coptic churches occur in the context of “collective punishment,” which also has echoes tracing back to the Conditions of Omar. After naming any number of other conditions—including not displaying crosses, not ringing bells, not singing loudly—the Conditions of Omar concludes by having Christians agree that “if we change or contradict these conditions imposed upon ourselves . . . we forfeit our dhimma [covenant], and we become liable to the same treatment you inflict upon the people who resist and cause sedition.”
Accordingly, throughout Islamic history to the present moment, anytime any Christian anywhere has been accused of breaking Sharia’s dhimmi laws, churches—at once the most obvious and vulnerable representation of Christianity—are first to be attacked in retribution by the Muslim mob, often in the context of collective punishment.
This has centuries of historical precedents. While discussing the status of churches in the Middle East after the Islamic invasions, Bat Ye’or writes “they were often burned or demolished in the course of reprisals against infidels found guilty of overstepping their rights.” Collective punishment is even doctrinally approved: the Yemeni jurist al-Murtada wrote, “The agreement will be canceled if all or some of them break it.” At the other end of the Arab world, the Moroccan jurist al-Maghili taught that “the fact that one individual (or one group) among them has broken the statute is enough to invalidate it for all of them.”
Thus, for some 14 centuries churches have been treated as hostages to guarantee good (that is, submissive) Christian behavior. For example, in March 2011, a Muslim mob attacked the local Church of the Two Martyrs in Sool, south of Cairo, burning it down, even as a Muslim prayer leader called on Muslims to “kill all the Christians.” Adding insult to injury, the attackers played “soccer” with the ancient relic-remains of the church’s saints and martyrs. Afterwards, throngs of Muslims gathered around the scorched building where they spent some 20 hours pounding its walls down with sledgehammers to cries of “Allahu Akbar.”
Even minor details like desecrating the relics of Coptic saints have immense continuity. Discussing the Muslim attack on the Church of Shubra, Maqriz writes: “after it had been demolished, the fingers of a [Christian] martyr which were kept in a casket…. Were then burnt in presence of the Sultan…”
Neither the military nor state security appeared—and this was happening near Cairo, Egypt’s capital, not some inaccessible village. After demolishing it, a group of Muslims held prayers at the site and began making plans to build a mosque atop the destroyed church—a live example of history, almost identical to the examples recorded a millennium earlier by the Egyptian historian Maqrizi and others. Because of the attack, Copts in Sool fled to adjacent villages. Women who remained in the village were sexually assaulted.
Less violently, in January, 2012, before a bishop was going to celebrate Epiphany Mass in the Abu Makka church, several Muslims, mostly Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood members, entered the building, saying that the church had no permit and no Christian can pray in it. One Muslim was heard to remark that the building would be suitable for a Muslim mosque.
In May 2011, throngs of Muslims, estimated at 3,000, fired guns and rifles and hurled Molotov cocktails at Coptic churches, homes, and businesses in the Imbaba region near Cairo: twelve Christians were killed—some shot by snipers atop rooftops—232 injured; three churches were set aflame to cries of “Allahu Akbar,” while Coptic homes were looted and torched. As usual, Egyptian leadership did little to stop this rampage, showing up nearly five hours after it began, providing ample time to terrorize the Copts. One priest said “I called everyone, but no one bothered to come. I mourn all those young people who died.” The pretext for this particular attack was that a Christian girl had converted to Islam and the Coptic Church had supposedly responded by abducting and torturing her into renouncing Islam. Muslims found this argument persuasive, of course, because that is precisely what Islam requires Muslims to do to female apostates who convert to Christianity.
In February 2012, thousands of Muslims attacked a Coptic church, demanding the death of its pastor, who, along with “nearly 100 terrorized Copts sought refuge inside the church, while Muslim rioters were pelting the church with stones in an effort to break into the church, assault the Copts and torch the building.” They did this because a Christian girl who, according to Islamic law, automatically became a Muslim when her father converted to Islam, fled her father and was rumored to be hiding in the church. Again, one is reminded that the Conditions of Omar stipulate that Christians shall not prevent any of their family members from converting to Islam—or in this case, aid a hapless Christian who, because of Sharia law, found herself Muslim one day.
No to Churches, Period
In June 2011, hundreds of Muslims surrounded another St. George Church, south of Minya, vowing to kill its priest—who was locked inside serving morning mass to several parishioners. The Muslims cried “We will kill the priest, we will kill him and no one will prevent us,” adding that they would “cut him to pieces.” As usual, police and security forces gave the terrorists ample time to terrorize—appearing a full five hours after the incident began; and when they escorted the priest out, it “looked as if he was the criminal, leaving his church in a police car.” Several reasons were given for this attack, from claims that the priest had earlier tried to make renovations to the 100-year old church, to claims that the priest refused demands from local Muslims that the Christians in the region must pay jizya.
In May 2011, hundreds of Muslims, angered by the prospect of a government-closed church re-opening in their neighborhood, protested and rioted in front of the church, causing the provisional military authority to back away from its promise to reopen it. Before its scheduled reopening, the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Abraam in Ain Shams, a poor section of northeastern Cairo, was surrounded by Muslims preventing anyone from getting in and trapping the priests who were inside. Fights ensued between Copts and Muslims, leading to the injury and arrest of the former. Muslims besieged the church and threatened to kill the head priest of the congregation, trapping those inside.
Other times, the mere rumor of a church being built or renovated prompts Muslim violence and chaos. On January 16, 2013, hundreds of Muslims in the village of Fanous destroyed a social services building belonging to a Coptic Church while chanting Islamic slogans. Security forces arrived only after the building was completely destroyed. “The social services building had all the necessary government permits; it had a reception hall on the first floor and a kindergarten on the second. But the Muslims insisted that it would become a church.” Even so, surrounding mosques began called on Muslims through their megaphones to go and help their Muslim brethren in Fanous, because Christians were “building a church.”
Earlier, in March 2012, some 1,500 Muslims—several armed with swords and knives and shouting Islamic slogans—terrorized the Notre Dame Language School in Upper Egypt, in response to calls from local mosques which falsely claimed that the private school was building a church: “Two nuns were besieged in the school’s guesthouse for some eight hours by a murderous mob threatening to burn them alive”; one nun suffered a “major nervous breakdown requiring hospitalization… The entire property was ransacked and looted. The next day the Muslims returned and terrorized the children. Consequently, school attendance has dropped by at least one third.”
In fact, attacks on convents in Egypt—often followed by mass rapes—have a long history. Maqrizi recounts several, including one at the hands of a caliph, Marwan II (r.744–50). During one of his raids ordered on churches and monasteries, Marwan “made captive a number of women from among the nuns of several convents. And he tried to seduce one of them.” The account describes how the enslaved nun deceived him into killing him, by telling him she had a magic oil that make skin impenetrable: “She then took some oil and anointed herself with it; then stretched out her neck, which he smote with the sword, and made her head fly. He then understood that she preferred death to defilement.”
Other attacks are simple byproducts of the culture of Islamic supremacism, and the hate and contempt it engenders for Christians and their “houses of infidelity.” On Friday, February 15, Muslims in the village of Sarsena attacked and set fire to the church of St. George and hurled stones at it. This latest assault was prompted by Salafi Muslims instigating the villagers to attack the church because it is “an unlawful neighbor to the Muslims who live adjacent to it and must therefore be moved.” According to the report, “The mob climbed to the church dome and started demolishing it and setting it on fire. The dome collapsed into the burning church and caused great damage. Muslims used bricks from the dome and the holy cross and hurled it at the altar inside the church, causing part of it to be demolished; all the icons of saints were destroyed.” Security was present throughout this entire attack but did nothing.
In October 2012, another group of Muslims, led by Mostafa Kamel, a prosecutor at the Alexandria Criminal Court, broke into the Church of St. Mary in Rashid near Alexandria and proceeded to destroy its altar, under claims that he bought the 9th century church, which, in fact, was earlier sold to the Copts by the Greeks due to the latter’s dwindling numbers in Egypt. Two priests, Fr. Maximos and Fr. Luke, rushed to the police station for aid. Kamel and his two sons also came to the police station where they openly threatened to kill the two priests and their lawyer. Said Fr. Maximos: “We stayed at the police station for over six hours with the police begging prosecutor Kamel and his two sons not to demolish the church”; Fr. Luke said that the prosecutor had earlier lost all the cases he brought against the church, “So when this route failed, he tried taking the matter into his own hands.”
In June 2012, because many visiting Christians came to attend service, Muslims surrounded St. Lyons Coptic Church during Divine Liturgy “demanding that the visiting Copts leave the church before the completion of prayers, and threatening to burn down the church if their demand was not met.” The priest contacted police asking for aid only to be told to comply with Muslim demands, “and do not let buses with visitors to come to the church anymore.” Christian worshippers exited halfway through Mass to jeers outside. As they drove away, Muslims hurled stones at the buses.
The same story repeated itself in October 2012, when a Muslim mob consisting mostly of Salafis surrounded the St. George Church in the Beni Suef Governorate. Armed with batons, they assaulted Christians as they exited the church after Sunday mass, leaving five hospitalized with broken limbs. The Salafi grievance was that Christians from neighboring villages—who have no churches to serve them—were traveling and attending St. George. The priest could not go out of church for hours after mass, even though he contacted police, who only came after a prominent Coptic lawyer complained to the Ministry of Interior concerning the lack of response from police, saying “I want the whole world to know that a priest and his congregation are presently held captives in their church, afraid of the Salafi Muslims surrounding the church.”
This desire to make things complicated for Christians by not allowing them to enter churches out of their jurisdiction is echoed by Muslim prophet Muhammad’s command to Muslims: “Do not initiate the Salam [peace greeting] to the Jews and Christians, and if you meet any of them in a road, force them to its narrowest alley,” which has always been interpreted to mean that Muslims should make things hard on dhimmis.
Amazingly, even when Copts quit their homeland in hopes to practice their Christian faith in peace, Muslim persecution follows them. Most recently, in New Jersey, two Coptic Christian youth were found buried, decapitated and with their hands cut off. Police say they have not been able to unearth the motive of their murderer, a Muslim. Yet one cannot but remember the haunting words of the Koran: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve, so strike [them] upon the necks [decapitate them] and strike from them every fingertip.” [Koran 8:12]
Coptic churches are under attack outside Egypt. In Libya, for example, where, thanks to U.S. support, “freedom fighters” took over the nation, on Sunday, December 30, 2012, an explosion rocked a Coptic Christian church near the western city of Misrata, where a group of U.S. backed rebels hold a major checkpoint, killing two. Two months later, on February 28, another Coptic Christian church located in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by armed Muslim militants, resulting in serious injuries for the priest and an assistant. This is to say nothing of the approximately 100 Coptic Christians who were arrested and tortured—including with acid and by having their heads shaven, concentration camp style—on the accusation that they were trying to “proselytize” to Libyans. One Christian man, Ezzat Atallah, died under torture.
The attacks on Christian churches have now even reached North America. In Canada in late October 2012, just as happens regularly in Egypt, a Molotov cocktail was hurled through the window of a newly opened Coptic church near Toronto. Unlike in Egypt, however, firefighters came quickly, even as “Police have no suspects or motive in the incident.” Needless to say, for centuries, Copts have only been all too familiar with the suspects and motives. Thus as Egypt’s Christians flee their indigenous homeland searching to worship in peace, the jihad of hate follows.
While the above anecdotes, both past and present, have almost exclusively dealt with Egypt, the fact is that churches throughout the entire Islamic world have experienced, and continue to experience, a similar pattern of abuse at the hands of Muslims. The key to understanding why Egypt is especially paradigmatic has to do with numbers. How many Christians and Muslims there are in any given country—especially their ratio to one another—is the primary factor behind which countries see the most and least attacks on Christian churches. For example, Saudi Arabia, which is vehemently more anti-Christian than Egypt, also sees much less accounts of persecution of Christians. The reason for this conundrum is simple: Saudi Arabia has nipped the problem in the bud by banning Christianity altogether; there are no churches to bomb or burn. Similarly, the ravages of the historic jihad have seen the decimation of Christianity in Muslim lands not traditionally deemed “radical.” For instance, the whole of north Africa—which, prior to the Islamic conquests, was Christian, giving the world giants like St. Augustine who played a major role in articulating Western Christianity—sees much less Christian persecution than Egypt, simply because there are virtually no Christians left to persecute (less than 1% of the entire population, from Morocco to Libya).
On the other hand, the very large numbers of Christians in Egypt—according to the baptismal records of the Coptic Orthodox Church, there are some 16 million Christian Copts in Egypt—prompt regular attacks on Christian churches. Thus, due to the large number of Christians in modern day Egypt, that nation offers a live glimpse of history—a live glimpse of the fate of Christians and their churches under centuries of Islam, and the true reason millions of Christians ended up converting to Islam: to evade oppression as Christians.
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