Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article was first published by the Gatestone Institute.
Christian elementary school students in an Egyptian school were recently “beaten up by teachers and fellow students after the headmaster ordered all Christian students to remove any jewelry bearing a cross [and they refused],” to quote from a Nov. 21, 2021 report. In one incident, a female teacher “attacked a Christian student, then encouraged other students to do the same, take his cross pendant from him and destroy the cross.”
At least these latest bouts of anti-cross rage were not fatal, as others in Egypt were. In 2011, 17-year-old Ayman, a Christian student, was strangled and beaten to death by his Muslim teacher and fellow students for refusing to obey the teacher’s demand that he cover his cross. When the school’s principal was informed of the attack, he ignored it and “continued to sip his tea.”
That same year a Muslim off-duty policeman boarded a train and, while crying “Allahu Akbar,” opened fire on those passengers who had cross tattoos on their wrists (an ancient practice upheld by many Copts). One elderly Christian man was killed and four others seriously wounded.
Furthermore, the Maspero massacre, in which the Egyptian military massacred dozens of Christians—including by running them over with armored-vehicles—was a byproduct of Muslims insisting that a Coptic church be stripped of its domed cross, so it would not resemble a church, because the cross “provokes us,” to quote a Muslim elder. When Christians refused to comply, Muslims destroyed the church. This is what Christians were protesting when the Egyptian military mowed them down.
What is it about the crucifix that makes some Muslims react violently? For starters, not only is it the symbol of Christianity for all denominations; it also symbolizes the fundamental disagreement between Christians and Muslims. As Historian Sidney Griffith explains, “[t]he cross … publicly declared those very points of Christian faith which the Koran, in the Muslim view, explicitly denied: that Christ was the Son of God and that he died on the cross.” Accordingly, the cross “often aroused the disdain of Muslims,” so that from the start of the seventh century Muslim conquests of Christian lands there was an ongoing “campaign to erase the public symbols of Christianity, especially the previously ubiquitous sign of the cross” (Griffin, Sidney, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam, 2010, pp. 14, 144–145).
This “campaign” traces back to the Muslim prophet Muhammad. He reportedly “had such a repugnance to the form of the cross that he broke everything brought into his house with its figure upon it,” wrote one historian (Muir, William, The Life of Mohammad from Original Sources, 1923, p. 200). Muhammad also claimed that at the end times, Jesus (the Muslim “Isa”) himself would make it a point to “break the cross” (Sahih Bukhari 4:55:657).
When asked about Islam’s ruling on whether any person — in this case, Christians — is permitted to wear a cross, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Tarifi, a Saudi expert on Islamic law, reconfirmed the above: “Under no circumstances is a human permitted to wear the cross.” Why? “Because the prophet — peace and blessings on him — commanded the breaking of it [the cross].”
Sheikh al-Tarifi also explained that if it is too difficult to break the cross — for example, a large concrete statue — Muslims should at least try to disfigure one of its four arms “so that it no longer resembles a cross.” Historic and numismatic evidence confirms that, after the Umayyad caliphate seized the Byzantine treasury in the late seventh century, that is precisely what it did: the caliph ordered that one or two arms of the cross on the coins be effaced so that the image no longer resemble a crucifix.
Testimonies, moreover, abound from the very earliest invasions into Christian Syria and Egypt of Muslims systematically breaking every crucifix they encountered. According to Anastasius of Sinai, who lived during the seventh century Arab conquests, “the demons name the Saracens [Arabs/Muslims] as their companions. And it is with reason. The latter are perhaps even worse than the demons,” for whereas “the demons are frequently much afraid of the mysteries of Christ,” among which he mentions the cross, “these demons of flesh trample all that under their feet, mock it, set fire to it, destroy it” (Hoyland, Robert G. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam, 1997, p. 100-101).
In 1147 in Portugal, Muslims displayed “with much derision the symbol of the cross. They spat upon it and wiped the feces from their posteriors with it” (Allen, S. J., ed. 2010. The Crusades: A Reader, 2010, p. 306). Decades earlier in Jerusalem, Muslims “spat on them [crucifixes] and did not even refrain from urinating on them in the sight of all” (Rubenstein, Jay, ed., The First Crusade: A Brief History with Documents, 2015, pp. 143-144). Even that supposedly “magnanimous” sultan, Saladin, commanded “whoever saw that the outside of a church was white, to cover it with black dirt” and ordered “the removal of every cross from atop the dome of every church in the provinces of Egypt” (Guindy, Adel, Hikayat al-Ihtilal: wa-Tashih ba‘d al-mafahim, 2009, p. 88).
Needless to say, Muslim opinion appears to have little changed. After referring to the cross as “an element of the devil,” Indonesian cleric Sheikh Abdul Somad continued his videotaped response to the question why Muslims “felt a chill whenever they saw a crucifix,” by saying, “Because of Satan!” Similarly, Kuwaiti cleric Othman al-Khamis issued a fatwa comparing the Christian crucifix to Satan, adding that crosses can only be publicly displayed in order to mock them, for example by depicting them “in an insulting place such as socks.” (In 2014, one Pakistani shoe-seller did something similar: he placed the image of the cross on the soles of his shoes, so that the crucifix might be trodden with every footstep.)
Lest these views and behavior seem aberrant, below are a plethora of other accounts from nations other than Egypt that show how the crucifix continues to “provoke” and “arouse the disdain” of Muslims and worse, not infrequently leading to murders. We begin with two case studies on nations that racially, linguistically, and culturally have little to do one another—Pakistan and Turkey—except for the fact that they are both Islamic. Next we look at a few more examples from all around the Islamic world. Finally we turn to those Western nations that have large Muslim populations, and also witness how appeasement only encourages such anti-cross outbursts.
The relevance of this topic is such that, while attacks on real, living religious minorities are obviously worse, attacks prompted by or on inanimate religious symbols truly underscore the reason behind the hate.
2019: Three Muslim men — Muhammad Naveed, Muhammad Amjad, and Abdul Majeed — participated in the murder of two Christian brothers, Javaid and Suleman Masih. Javaid’s family explained the motive:
The Muslim neighbors did not like our van, which carries a holy cross inside, to be parked next to their door. They often criticized it…. Naveed, one of the Muslim family members, was trying to put some scratches on the wind-screen of [the] van on the incident day. When I tried to stop him, he reacted in anger stating “whenever I step out of my house, I see this hanging stuff (holy cross) in the van – which I don’t want to see.” He pointed out the cross in an insulting way. “Therefore, you must remove it,” he ordered.
2012: When a Muslim man saw Julie Aftab, a Christian woman, wearing a cross around her neck, he attacked her, forced battery acid down her throat, and splashed it on her face — permanently damaging her esophagus, blinding her in one eye, and causing her to lose both eyelids and most of her teeth.
2020: Muslims ransacked and beat the employees of a Christian barbershop for displaying a cross and other Christian symbols. Earlier, the Muslims entered the store and began to abuse the owners for hanging a cross on the front wall. The Muslims “told us to remove the Christian symbols from the shop because Muslim customers did not feel comfortable,” a co-owner explained. The next day, more than a dozen men wielding iron rods attacked the store, and damaged its glass door, mirrors, shelves, cupboards, and other equipment. “They also beat staff and looted cash and other expensive stuff from the shop.” Police responded by arresting one of the owners on the accusation that by hanging a cross he was evangelizing to Muslims.
2020: After receiving complaints and threats from local Muslims, a church congregation, “With broken hearts,” to quote its pastor, agreed to take down the cross from their church: “We took this decision for the safety and protection of Christians in the village…. Muslims threatened that if we don’t remove the cross, they will ban the prayer services and take the church property.”
2020: An armed Muslim mob shouting “anti-Christian slogans” attacked and tried to set fire to the Trinity Pentecostal Church in Hakeem Pura. Although they ultimately failed, they managed to sate their ire on one aspect of the church: “Not only was the cross broken, but our hearts were crushed too,” said a Christian eyewitness.
2019: Several crosses fixed to the tombstones of thirty-eight Christian graves at a cemetery were barbarously desecrated and defaced.
2012: A 12-year-old boy wearing a silver cross necklace in class was spit on and beaten regularly by Muslim classmates and teachers.
2019: Two Muslim men beat a Christian teenager in the street after they noticed he was wearing a crucifix around his neck. They initially stopped him and pulled on his cross-necklace while asking if he “knows what this means?” When the youth responded, “Yes, I know. I’m a Christian,” they beat him and fled.
2020: After locals interrupted the burial of a Christian woman—in part by shouting, “Allahu Akbar!”—at the cemetery of the Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon, her grave was later found desecrated by her husband who came to mourn: its wooden cross was broken off and burned. The priest of the church which the deceased woman was a member of, Father Andrea Santoro, was himself murdered in 2006 when a 16-year-old, also shouting “Allahu Akbar,” shot the priest in the back of the head while he was kneeling in prayer inside the church.
2019: “A local municipality in Trabzon (northern Turkey) has ruled that architectural elements of houses which resemble crosses will not be tolerated.” The report continues:
This decision follows an investigation which opened last December following complaints that the balconies of certain villas in the village resembled crosses. Photos show that houses had two levels and a cross shape divided the houses into four quadrants. Multiple complaints from primarily local Arab families led the houses to be destroyed on the basis of their architecture incorporating the cross…. [T]he situation is not unusual. In other locations, such as Gaziantep and Ankara, buildings have been renovated so that the cross shaped architecture is no longer visible.
2020: In broad daylight, a man climbed the fence of a historic Armenian church in Istanbul and proceeded to yank off its metal cross and hurl it to the ground, as captured on surveillance footage. The man, who looks more like a Westernized “hipster” than an ardent Islamist, walks up to and stares at the cross for a while — he even looks at and strikes a pose for the security camera — before attacking the crucifix.
2020: Because it is visible in Turkey’s city of Edirne (originally Adrianople, a conquered Greek city), a 50-foot high cross erected at neighboring Greece’s Holy Monastery of Agia Skepi provoked President Erdoğan enough to complain about it to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
2019: Before and during a Europa League soccer match against a German team from Mönchengladbach, Istanbul police removed the flags and banners of soccer fans because they had the symbol of a cross, which is part of the German team’s logo (a coat of arms with a black cross on a yellow background). The German team and its fans also reported general harassment from the Muslim authorities for carrying their customary Christian symbols during their stay in Turkey.
Other Muslim Nations Around the World
Burkina Faso 2019: Muslim terrorists identified and killed Christians wearing crucifixes. According to the report,
unidentified armed individuals entered the village of Bani (about six miles from the town of Bourzanga), looking for Christians… [T]he militants told everyone to lie down and proceeded to look for Christians by asking for first names or looking for anyone wearing Christian insignia (like crosses). The deadly search yielded four men…. They were all wearing crosses…. [W]hen they saw crosses, the assailants singled them out. All four were taken aside and executed.
Maldives 2010: Authorities had to rescue a female Christian teacher after Muslim “parents threatened to tie and drag her off of the island” for “preaching Christianity.” Her actual crime was to draw a compass — which was mistakenly taken for a cross — as part of a geography lesson in class.
Sudan 2021: After a ninth church was torched in Sudan, “They targeted the church,” said the Rev. Kuwa Shamal of the Sudanese Church of Christ, “because they do not want to see any sign of the cross in the area.”
Syria 2020: To cries of “Allahu Akbar,” a cross was ripped down from a Greek orthodox church in a region “controlled by U.S.-backed militants.”
Armenia 2020: A soldier — unclear whether an Azeri or a jihadist mercenary from Syria or Iraq — was videotaped triumphantly shouting “Allahu Akbar!” while standing atop an Armenian church chapel where the cross had been broken off.
2021: Ten Muslim schoolchildren, between the ages of 5 and 12, vandalized and desecrated a Christian cemetery by breaking the crosses off a dozen gravestones. The mayor of Solo laid the blame on the Islamic madrasa the children attend, and its teachers, “because they are teaching intolerance to their students.”
2019: Several crosses in the Bethesda Christian cemetery were vandalized, broken and burned, to the point that the cemetery keeper who had worked there for ten years said he had “never seen such vandalism.”
2018: Local Muslims sawed off the top of a cross from a deceased Christian’s tomb and prevented mourners from meeting and saying prayers in the same dead man’s home.
2014: A Christian cemetery was attacked and desecrated in the middle of the night by unknown persons in the Muslim-majority nation. Several crosses were destroyed, including by the use of “a heavy tool to do the damage.”
2015: A Muslim mob rioted against a small Protestant church due to the visible cross atop the building of worship. It was removed.
As Islam’s presence continues to grow in the West, especially Europe, it should come as no surprise that attacks on crosses and related Christian symbols (3,000 in 2019) are also on the rise. Although the identity of the vandals are often unknown (or intentionally omitted), European nations that have large Muslim migrant populations—especially France and Germany, which have the largest—are especially experiencing a disproportionate rise in this form of anti-Christian violence.
2019: While cursing his “pig god,” Muslim migrants beat and repeatedly stabbed a homeless man in Berlin for displaying a Christian symbol, believed to be a cross. According to the report,
Arabic-speaking youths were caught on video assaulting and stabbing a homeless Berlin man is speculated in the German press to be an anti-Christian motivated attack…. After physically attacking the victim, one of the men then drew a knife and stabbed him several times, leaving him with severe injuries to the buttocks, thigh, and arm, according to investigators.
The Arabic words they yelled were translated as “We f*ck your sister, we’ll finish you!” and “we f *ck your pig-God!” The report adds that this “incident is not the first in which a migrant-background Christian has been physically attacked by Arabic-speaking young men for displaying Christian symbols in public in the German capital. Recently, a 39-year-old had been beaten for wearing a necklace with a cross on it.”
2014: A Muslim man who checked himself into a hospital for treatment went into a sudden frenzy because there were “too many crosses on the wall.” He called the nurse a “fascist b*tch” and became physically aggressive.
2014: After Muslims were granted their own section at a cemetery, and after being allowed to conduct distinctly Islamic ceremonies, they began to complain that Christian symbols and crosses in the cemetery were offensive and demanded that they be removed or at least covered up during Islamic funerals.
2016: Following the arrival of another million Muslim migrants to Dülmen, a local newspaper said “not a day goes by” without attacks on crosses and other Christian symbols.
2016: Before Christmas, in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, where more than a million Muslim migrants reside, some 50 public statues of Jesus and other Christian figures were beheaded and crucifixes broken.
2017: In the Alps and in Bavaria alone, countless crosses on some 200 churches were attacked and broken: “Police are currently dealing with church desecrations again and again… The perpetrators are often youthful rioters with a migration background.”
2014: An enraged Muslim man physically twisted a massive bronze cross with his bare hands while committing major acts of vandalism in two churches. He also overturned and broke two altars, destroyed Christian statues, tore down a tabernacle, smashed in a sacristy door, and broke some stained-glass windows.
2015: Christian crosses and gravestones in a cemetery were damaged and desecrated by a Muslim man. After being apprehended, he was described as follows: “The man repeats Muslim prayers over and over, he drools and cannot be communicated with: his condition has been declared incompatible with preliminary detention.” He was hospitalized as “mentally unbalanced.”
2019: More “unknown vandals” desecrated and smashed crosses and statues at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur; they mangled the arms of a crucified Christ in a mocking manner.
2020: Unknown persons cut down an iconic iron cross that had stood on the summit of Pic Saint-Loup since 1911 and was visible for miles around.
2019: A Muslim migrant in Rome stabbed a Christian man in the throat for wearing a crucifix around his neck. The assailant, a 37-year-old Moroccan, was accused of attempted homicide; “religious hate” was cited as an “aggravating factor” in the crime.
2015: A Muslim schoolboy of African origin beat a 12-year-old Italian girl at a school because she was wearing a crucifix around her neck. The boy “punched the girl violently in the back at the entrance to a middle school.” He later confessed that he “attacked the girl because she was wearing a crucifix.” The boy, who had only started to attend the school approximately three weeks earlier, began to bully the Christian girl—“insulting her and picking on her in other ways all because she was wearing the crucifix”—before he finally assaulted her.
2016: A Muslim migrant invaded an old church in Venice and attacked its large, 300-year-old cross, breaking off one of its arms, while shouting, “All that is in a church is false!”
2015: After a crucifix was destroyed in close proximity to a populated mosque, Cinisello Balsamo’s mayor alluded to the identity of the culprit(s) by saying: “Before we put a show of unity with Muslims, let’s have them begin by respecting our civilization and our culture.”
While Germany and France have the lion’s share of such attacks (because they have the lion’s share of Europe’s Muslims), Muslim attacks on or provoked by the cross occur all throughout Europe, and have even reached the United States:
Sweden 2020: A little Swedish boy, 11, was called a “pig bastard” and beaten by a Muslim migrant gang for wearing a cross. The incident occurred in Malmö, which has a large Muslim population and is known as the “rape capital” of Sweden.
USA 2021: Ali Alaheri, a 29-year-old Muslim man, knocked down and destroyed a large crucifix that had stood for eleven years outside of St. Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, N.Y. “It was a terrible morning,” reflected Monsignor David Cassato. “It was probably the saddest day in my life, to see this desecration of a cross of Jesus.”
Finally, it’s worth noting that some Western nations encourage this behavior through appeasement. In Italy, for example, right around when the aforementioned Muslim stabbed a Christian in the throat for wearing a crucifix, a report noted that “crosses on graves in an Italian cemetery in Pieve di Cento have been covered with black cloth so as not to offend those who may come from another religion,” a reference to Muslims, some of whom, as seen, desecrate Christian graves or at least demand that Western authorities cover up their crosses.
Most recently, in United Kingdom, a 61-year-old Christian woman who escaped her Nigerian homeland to Britain in 1988 in order to worship freely was pressured and finally “bullied” out of her London job as a nurse since 2002, for refusing to remove her small cross necklace. As she explained in an October 8, 2021 interview:
This has always been an attack on my faith. My cross has been with me for 40 years. It is part of me, and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm…. At this hospital there are members of staff who go to a mosque four times a day and no one says anything to them. Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs in theatre. Yet my small cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job.
As for those Western institutions that stand their ground, they are liable to be sued. That’s what Muslim students at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., did—sue it, because it reportedly failed to provide them with a special place to pray, without seeing the cross. In the words of their lawyer, the Muslims are unable to “pray without having to stare up and be looked down upon by a cross of Jesus…. They do have to pray five times a day and to be sitting there trying to do Muslim prayers with a big cross looking down … is not very conductive to their religion.”