Shedding light on Christian persecution around the world.

The Life of Christian Dhimmi

By Jonathan Racho
The word “dhimmi” is an Islamic term for non-Muslims, in particular, members of the Christian and Jewish faith who are living on “Islamic land.” This prejudicial phrase demotes Christians to second-class citizenship, and they are subject to humiliation and mistreatment. Millions of Christians in Northern Nigeria are forced to live as dhimmis.

When I met retired Pastor David,* I came face to face with a dhimmi. Pastor David lives among Muslims, and his church was among the many that have been attacked. He said that he knew the attackers by name; they were his neighbors.

However, as a Christian dhimmi, he has no right to bring charges against his oppressors. Because of the violence his church as endured, half of the congregation has flocked to safer regions, leaving 150 believers left in the area.

Sadly, the Muslim attacks succeeded in not only dwindling the congregation down, but also in silencing those who remain. The Christians who were brave enough to stay put no longer evangelize to their unsaved neighbors. Pastor David explained that in the past, Christians were able to preach the Gospel, but they are forbidden to do so now. The consequences are too much to risk.

Pastor David explained that Christians live in constant fear: will there be an attack today? The next day? The next day? “If the opportunity arises, the Muslims could attack us,” Pastor David said. “No matter what happens, we will continue worshipping the Lord.”

Pastor David requested that we pray specifically for the Lord to strengthen the faith of the Christians left behind in Nigeria.

*name changed for security

In this video, a radical Islamist mob, known as Salafists, storm into Virgin Mary Church in Cairo before setting the building on fire. The video captures the mob breaking windows and destroying furniture. Notice that one person is clearly holding a pistol before heading upstairs where Coptic Christians are hiding. At least 12 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded in the May 7th attack. In all, two churches and surrounding Coptic-owned homes were targeted by the extremists.

Virgin Mary Church was set ablaze on May 7 by a radical mob. At least 12 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded in attacks that day that targeted two churches and a number of Coptic owned apartments.

“We don’t talk — the church screams for itself,” Rev. Mittias Ilias, head priest of the Virgin Mary Church in Imbaba, told Compass Direct News. “The church has five floors, and there is no space where the fire didn’t reach. The floors, the ceiling, the pillars, the church box, the chairs, the icons, all of it — everything was burned. Just give me one reason for all that. There is no reason for all that, nothing.”

A Bible found in Virgin Mary Church just after the fire was put out

More burned Christian literature found in Virgin Mary Church

On May 7, twelve people were killed and more than 200 were wounded when radical Islamists attacked two churches in the poor Cairo district of Imbaba.

Muslim protestors had gathered outside of St. Mina Church to demand the release of two women who had allegedly converted to Islam and were being detained against their will. As the protest ensued, Copts barricaded the church from the inside with pews and other furniture. Reportedly, the Islamists were armed and threw Molotov cocktails at the church.

Unable to push through the barricade, Islamists broke into Virgin Mary Church, a ten minute walk from St. Mina, and lit it on fire. “Islamists killed one guy in the church by slitting his throat. Most of the people killed were inside, and then they torched the church,” an eyewitness told ICC.

A week prior to the attack, 2,000 Islamists protested outside of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo demanding the release of the same two women. At that time, ICC began receiving reports that a larger and more violent demonstration was being plotted. Despite having ample warning, the Egyptian military neglected to increase security at Coptic churches. During the attack on May 7, security forces were unprepared, raising concerns that they may be influenced by or allied with radical Islamists. “Many are voicing sharp criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its transitional cabinet, accusing them of failing to apply the law so far as radicals are concerned,” the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reported.

Coptic Christians believe that Salafis, also known as Wahhabis, were responsible for the attack. Last weekend, 50,000 Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood members held a joint rally in Giza, chanting slogans of unity and support for an Islamic state. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is the most organized and financed contender in Egypt’s September elections. Many predict that Islamists will win the majority seat in parliament, including presidential candidate and nationalist Amr Moussa. “Mr. Moussa… described a political landscape in which the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed under Mr. Mubarak, is dominant. It is inevitable, he said, that parliamentary elections in September will usher in a legislature led by a bloc of Islamists, with the Brotherhood at the forefront,” reported The Wall Street Journal.

There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are allied,” said Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic human rights activist. “The Brotherhood plays politics and the Salafis are causing chaos so they can empty Egypt of Christians and make it an Islamic state. Lots of Egyptian people, including moderate Muslims, are worried. If Egypt becomes an Islamic state, it may mean civil war. We won’t get protection from the military council or the police forces. Our homes will be attacked at any minute, any time. Lots of people are scared. How will we protect ourselves? There will be bloodshed.”

Click here to read a detailed account by Compass Direct News

These nine young men were killed in Mokattam on March 8. All nine were under the age of 30.

Since the revolution, tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians have been running high, reaching a breaking point on March 5. A Muslim mob in the village of Sol, 30 km south of Cairo, attacked a church building and burned it to the ground, almost killing the parish priest after an imam issued a call to “Kill all the Christians,” according to local sources. The attack perpetrated by Muslims against the Coptic community was reportedly the result of tensions surrounding an interfaith love affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman. See full report by Compass Direct News here.

As a result, thousands of Coptic Christians organized a sit-in outside Cairo’s radio and television building demanding that those responsible be brought to justice, and for the government to publicly pledge to improve the condition of Copts by giving them equal rights.

According to Dr. Monir Dawoud, President of the American Coptic Association, “the Egyptian media has been largely ignoring the Christians protests, refusing to air them on television or radio while also ignoring other incidents of violence perpetrated against Christians.”

Days later, the protests against the burning of the church persisted, this time in the working-class district of Mokattam. Christians again demanded an end to what they describe as “discrimination and inaction by the State”.

On March 8, fighting broke out in Manshier Nasr, a garbage district of Mokattam, as both Christians and Muslims began throwing rocks at each other. Witnesses said the military, which came to disperse the protestors, fired shots into the air and then opened fire on the crowds of people. Once the conflict finally ended in the early morning hours of March 9, at least nine Coptic Christians had been killed and more than a hundred others from both sides were injured.

We were at one side and the Muslim on the other, we have hundreds of injured at the Coptic side,” an eyewitness told Assyrian International News Agency. “The Muslims were shooting from behind the army tanks.”

Since the revolution, many Copts have wondered about their future in Egypt. Will there be religious tolerance for Christians in the new Egypt? Will all citizens, specifically Christians, be treated equally? Will there be transparency and accountability in the future Egyptian government?

A view of the Mokattam district where the young men lived.

When asked these questions in an interview with ICC, Dr. Dawoud answered by saying, “the future outlook for Christians in Egypt is very bad. Christians fear the instability and increased hate that has followed the revolution. The revolutionaries claimed to be starting a new democratic nation that would establish equality and freedom, but that has not happened. Christians are being persecuted worse than you can imagine.”

Dr. Dawoud went on to explain, “Muslim blood and Christian blood, in Egypt, is not equal. If a Muslim kills a Muslim he is punished by capital punishment. But if a Muslim kills a Christian, Shari’a law is applied and a Muslims life cannot be taken for killing an infidel.”

The negative stance of the army has encouraged Muslims,” Dr. Dawoud continued. “Christians are now living in terror as Muslims rob, murder, and loot from them with impunity.” With no centralized government, “Christians have nobody to turn to for recourse because it changes every day.”

One monk and six church workers were shot and wounded on February 23 when the Egyptian Army attacked a Coptic Orthodox monastery in order to destroy a wall monks had built to defend their property from raiders. Click here to view the full article by Compass Direct News.

Assist News Service reported: The Egyptian uprising has left Coptic Orthodox monasteries exceedingly vulnerable, as the police who normally guard the monasteries have either deserted their posts or been redeployed to the cities. Exploiting the security vacuum, Arab raiders, jihadists and prison escapees have attacked and raided several monasteries. When the monks requested protection at the 5th Century Monastery of St Bishoy in Wadi al-Natroun, some 110km north of Cairo, they were told they would have to fend for themselves. So they built a surrounding security wall, inside their boundary. However, Islamic law mandates that Christians may neither build nor repair churches. (See last week’s RLPB 096 for some examples of consequences.)

On 21 February soldiers arrived at the monastery of St Bishoy in tanks and bulldozers. They had not come to protect the community, but to demolish the security wall. After arguing with the monks and workers, the soldiers opened fire with live ammunition, including rocket-propelled grenades. Father Feltaows was shot in the leg and Father Barnabas in the abdomen. Six monastery workers were also wounded, one critically. The wounded are being treated in the Anglo-Egyptian Hospital in Cairo. The army also attacked the Monastery of St Makarios of Alexandria in Wady el-Rayan, Fayoum, some 130km south-east of Cairo. This monastery likewise had erected a security wall after an attack by armed thugs and Arabs left six monks wounded, one critically. Not only did the military demolish the security wall, they ‘confiscated’ the monastery’s building materials. [View full article here]

Watch the confrontation and the demolition of the wall below.

A child waits in the hospital for treatment after receiving severe burns from the Alexandria church bombing

One of twenty-three Christians killed in the News Years Eve bombing outside Two Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt

Home videos capture the carnage and panic in the streets outside of Two Saints Church in Alexandria just hours after a bomb was detonated at the church’s entrance that killed twenty-three worshippers.

Minutes after the bombing

On New Year’s Day, a bomb was detonated outside the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria as worshippers were leaving midnight mass. Twenty-three Christians were killed and at least ninety were wounded in the worst attack against the country’s Christians in recent memory. The explosion ripped through the crowd leaving the church’s entrance-way covered with blood, bodies and severed limbs.

Days after the bombing, Coptic Christians took to the streets in protests which some believe helped ignite the fervor of Egypt’s January 25 revolution. “This was the most powerful protest that Christian Copts ever held in recent history,” said Coptic human rights activist Wagih Yacoub. “It went three days and inspired the 25th youth movement. We wanted to end a life under dictatorship, and we were not alone in our aspirations.”

However, details on how the attack was carried out remained disputed. Immediately after the bombing, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that it was the work of the Army of Islam, an Al-Qaeda affiliated Palestinian network. Mubarak’s accusations ignited further Coptic frustration from those who believed that the attack was executed by Egyptians and that Mubarak was trying to avoid confrontation with internal Islamic terrorism targeting Christians.

The injured cover the streets outside Two Saints Church in Alexandria

Mubarak’s disregard was nothing new for Copts who had experienced considerable persecution the past year. Murders have been accompanied by anti-Christian propaganda in Egyptian media, acquittals of Muslim offenders who initiated anti-Christian attacks, the inability of Christians to build churches without special government authorization, and the lack of basic freedoms for Christian converts from Islam. Marginalized by the government, Christians were left helplessly exposed. It came as no surprise that Christian frustrations boiled over in January.

We have suffered a lot as Christians,” said Yacoub. “We’ve seen churches being bombed, innocent people being killed, girls being kidnapped, and the spread of Islamization against our will. We want to get rid of the dictatorship that we have been living under for over thirty years.”

The New Years Eve bombing led many Christians to participate in Egypt’s revolution to demand the end of oppression under Mubarak’s dictatorship and the beginning of religious freedom. However, there is grave concern among Egypt’s Christians that persecution could potentially increase if free elections give power to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Chaos after the bombing

If the Muslim Brotherhood were to take over, it would not only be dangerous for the Christians in Egypt, but for the whole world,” said Magdi Khalil, Director of the Middle East Freedom Forum. “It means the entire Middle East will be an Islamic Middle East. Egypt is the key state. We must support the secular approach and rewrite the constitution to be a secular constitution.”

While Egypt and its Christians sit on the brim of uncertainty, Christians around the world ought to be careful in fully embracing revolutions that could lead to greater influence for radical Islam. Yet, who can blame Egyptian Christians for demanding the end of tyranny and hoping for a better future?

We are seeking freedom, we are seeking democracy,” said Yacoub. ”No one can live without freedom. Freedom is life.”

Coptic home burning in el-Nowahed

On November 15, just nine days before the protests in Talbiya, a Muslim mob torched Coptic homes in the Upper Egyptian village of el-Nowahed, in Abu-Tesht, in the Qena Province. The attack was in response to rumors that had circulated three days earlier about an affair between 19-year-old Copt Hossam Noel Attallah and a 17-year-old Muslim girl, Rasha Mohamed Hussein.

Rumors like these are often the reasons for mob attacks against Christian communities in Egypt, as was seen more recently when a Muslim mob burned down a church in Sool, a village 35 kilometers south of Cairo, in early March. Villagers accused a married Muslim woman and a married Coptic man of having an affair. On March 2, Muslim and Christian village leaders agreed that the man should leave the village in order to avoid sectarian violence. The next day, the woman’s cousin killed the woman’s father to ‘save’ family honor. Al-Dahab, the local imam, had blamed the entire incident on Christians in the village and called on all Muslims in Sool to kill them. Click here to view full story by Compass Direct News.

The attack in el-Nowahed last November resulted in the burning of twenty-two Coptic-owned homes, two commercial shops, a bakery, as well as livestock. During the attack the Muslim mob threw fireballs, gasoline and stones at the homes and detonated Butane Gas cylinders. The videos below show the homes in flames.