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(World Watch Monitor) Seven years after their previous church was closed by local authorities because of “security reasons”, the Coptic community in the Egyptian village of Kom El-Loufy, 250km south of Cairo, held a first mass in their new church yesterday, 22 July.
The 1,600 Copts from the village in Minya governorate were marking the completion of the first stage of building of their church, the Church of the Virgin Mary and Martyr Abanoub Al Nahisi, with a mass led by Fr. Feltaws Ibrahim, as the Coptic villagers sat on the floor.
The priest of the Saint Abu Sefein Coptic Orthodox Church, in the nearby village of Ezzbet Rafla, had hosted the Copts in his church while they were without a building.
Since the closure of their previous church, the Copts had experienced fierce opposition from their Muslim neighbours. Two years ago angry Muslims set fire to four Coptic homes in the village, suspecting a house would be turned into a church.
It wasn’t until the very end of 2017 when the Copts finally withdrew their complaint against the arson in exchange for permission to build a new church.
With the charges dropped, in January the community started the building process on a piece of land 700 metres outside the village.
As World Watch Monitor has reported, Copts in several other villages have faced similar troubles.
In recent years it has been almost impossible for Coptic Christians to obtain a license to build a church, though in theory this changed in August 2016 when the Egyptian parliament passed a new law on the construction of Christian buildings of worship.
However, by March this year there were still more than 3,500 pending applications from churches that needed to be examined by a government commission set up to verify whether they met legal requirements.
The building of new churches remains a contentious issue, with a number of churches that have applied for licenses being attacked by Muslim extremists.
Earlier this month World Watch Monitor reported how a mob recently attacked a church in another Minya village in protest against the church having received approval. Police failed to intervene, while one of the officers apparently promised the protesters that no church would be allowed in the village.
A 16-year-old Coptic Christian girl kidnapped on 28 June to be “converted to Islam, then married off or sold”, was released and returned to her family on 30 September after police found her and arrested her kidnappers in a city just outside Cairo.
Marilyn was recovered from a city named 10th of Ramadan, but she is from a village several hundred kilometres south, in the governorate of Minya.
Her village priest, Father Boutros Khalaf, told World Watch Monitor: “Recently we found out that Marilyn was held in a place in 10th of Ramadan city…. We went to the local police station and they really did their best to reach her and managed to arrest her kidnapper, Taha, and his brother, Gaber, and release Marilyn. She returned back to her family on Saturday, 30 September, after 92 days”.
Fr. Khalaf said she had “not been treated well” by Taha and his friends, but she is just “very happy to be back with her family”.
“We thank God for answering our prayers and the prayers of many other people,” he added. “And we thank all the policemen in the police station that helped us so much in releasing our daughter, Marilyn. We appreciate their great efforts.”
One of many
Her kidnapping was part of a series of disappearances in which Coptic girls were targeted by Islamist networks, who kidnap and force them to convert to Islam and then either marry them off or sell them for large amounts of money, as World Watch Monitor reported last month.
According to ‘G’, a former kidnapper who said he actively targeted Coptic girls before he left Islam, the group he was part of “rented apartments in different areas of Egypt to hide kidnapped Coptic girls. There, they put them under pressure and threaten them to convert to Islam. And once they reach the legal age, a specially arranged Islamic representative comes in to make the conversion official, issue a certificate and accordingly they change their ID”.
‘G’ said one of the strategies they used to gain the girls’ trust was for the kidnapper, a Muslim man, to tell the Christian girl he loved her and wanted to convert to Christianity for her.
“They start a romantic relationship until, one day, they decide to ‘escape’ together,” ‘G’ explained. “What the girls don’t know is that they are actually being kidnapped. Most of the time they will not marry their kidnapper, but someone else.”
Marilyn was kidnapped in this way as well. And although the name of her ‘boyfriend’ at the time was known, a young man named Taha, no arrests were made. Meanwhile, videos of Marilyn, in which she said she had converted to Islam, appeared online. In one, she held a Quran; in the other, veiled, she seemingly repeated what was dictated to her through an earpiece.
Her mother, Hanaa Aziz Shukralla Farag, seeing the video said her daughter was being forced. “She was holding the Quran as if she was holding a medal,” she said. “I see she is under pressure.”
In their desperate attempts to retrieve their daughter, Marilyn’s family wrote letters to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the interior minister, and many other high-ranking figures, though it is unknown whether these helped to secure her release.
(World Watch Monitor) The images were horrific. Father Samaan Shehata, a 45-year-old Coptic Orthodox priest, lay dead on the ground, stabbed and beaten by a young man wielding a meat cleaver.
Blood dripped down his face into his long, black beard. Dirt discoloured his flowing black robe. His cross pendant rested peacefully on his chest, eerily imitated in the cross-like stabbing etched into his forehead.
Many details remain unknown, but early indications point to extremism. Fr. Shehata was from Beni Suef, visiting a family in Cairo 150 kilometres north in a lower-class, urban suburb of Cairo.
It may well be he was targeted only for the clothes he was wearing – in Egypt, a clear indication of his religious profession.
He was left a public spectacle. So far, no claim of responsibility, no message of intention. There are possible hints circulating of mental instability on the part of the attacker.
Perhaps. Murder is rare in Egypt. Despite the increased terrorism suffered by Copts in recent years, this killing is unusual. There is a chance it was random. But few think so. Coptic social media immediately proclaimed Fr. Shehata a martyr, adding him to the growing scroll.
The image, however, may have lasting effect, reinforcing a decades-old message: the streets are not the place for priests.
Bishop Angaelos of the United Kingdom held the requisite forgiveness to the end of his statement, pouring out instead his frustration and anger.
“Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street?” he demanded. “Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”
Samuel Tadros, a Coptic-American analyst, took to Twitter to highlight the social reality.
“This may be a horrific crime but it does not happen in a vacuum,” he wrote. “Coptic priests are insulted and harassed daily as they walk in Egy[ptian] streets.”
Respect. Dignity. Insult. Harassment. What is the way forward? The answer may lie partially in the clothes that sparked the assault.
Better law enforcement is necessary. Education must be reformed. These are the standard answers offered, and there is logic to them. But if they are not going to change anytime soon, what are Copts to do in the meantime?
Years ago I met my first Coptic priest in America, and I asked him about his beard and robe. They are tradition, he explained, but they are so much more.
To a degree, they are public spectacle.
Protestant pastors often blend into society. Catholic priests sometimes take off their vestments. But the Coptic Orthodox clergyman must look distinctive at all times. He is a sign of the church, a message to the people that God’s kingdom is near.
But in recent decades in Egypt, that kingdom has become less and less visible.
Let no one think that the nation is aflame. Muslims and Christians are neighbours and friends. Sectarianism is an ever-latent virus poisoning many, but for the most part life goes on amid patterns of discrimination and identity groupings.
But facing a growing Muslim – often Islamist – domination of the public square, especially before the revolution, Copts have increasingly withdrawn into their churches.
Who can blame them? Spitting is real. Priests travel for visitation in cars with tinted windows. Why not, if the money is there? Egypt drives everywhere these days, just look at the traffic.
But money is also a demarcating line. A priest can shop comfortably in the hypermarkets of upper-class Cairo. Will he buy vegetables off a donkey cart in poor Upper Egypt?
Perhaps this murder is a reminder that he must. Otherwise he cedes the public square completely.
“Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street? Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”
Courage is necessary. Conviction. A certainty his service is not only for Christians, but ‘salt and light’ in the stability of his nation. Kingdom of God or not, Egypt, as every society, is only as strong as its minority members.
So let Coptic priests go and find friends. Invite the local imam for a stroll. Have a tea in the corner coffee shop. Circulate together. Purposefully.
Much in Egypt is centralised, and institutions can be nervous. But who can oppose it? National unity is state discourse. The Azhar would esteem. But why wait for official endorsement? Just go and ask the imam already visited on holidays. Can he refuse?
Let this not be naïve. National unity is often perceived as a grudging obligation for public perception. Many hearts – on both sides – are not pure.
And there is another risk. This must not be about ‘protection’. An interpretation of Islam holds that Muslims must guard over the Christians in their society. It can be a noble intention; it can also be at odds with citizenship. The priest must seek no favours, only partnership in society.
But let them be a public spectacle. This is your neighbourhood. Your country. Your fellow Egyptian. Your friend. Teach together.
It is also your gospel. Christians believe Jesus disarmed the evil spiritual powers of sin and disunity, making a public spectacle of them on the cross.
To preach this message, St. Paul and the apostles became public spectacles on display, as ‘fools’ for Christ condemned to die.
Much like Fr. Shehata.
But this is not a fool’s errand. There is even an institution dedicated to the effort. The Egyptian Family House has walked priests and imams in the streets before. Children crowded around and celebrated. Adults took selfies.
Let the cynicism come; all too often it is justified. But let the heart be pure and fight through it with love and solidarity. And courage. Let no-one pretend there will not be another extremist.
Fr. Shehata died dishonourably in one of the most populated areas of Cairo. Soon his idealised image will circulate with the crown of martyrdom. But which picture will hold in the mind of Copts?
The cross on his chest, or the cross on his forehead?
A priest belongs on the streets, like any Egyptian. May he choose wisely.
(World Watch Monitor) Egyptian police have charged a Coptic mother with the murder of her newborn baby, though she says her baby was killed by intruders who entered her home and took her baby from her arms.
Azza Gamal, 27, was home alone with her two-year-old twin girls Mariam and Martha, and baby daughter Mohrael, on the evening of 7 September. Her husband, Nour Bakhit Khalil, 30, had gone to visit his sister, who lives nearby, when he heard his wife scream.
The Khalil family live in a house on the outskirts of the village of Barba in Egypt’s Asyut governorate. They live in the western part of the village, bordering a cemetery and are surrounded plants. The house is small, with an unfinished upper floor, and a ground floor that contains a hall, kitchen, toilet and two rooms.
Speaking to World Watch Monitor, Azza explained that when her husband left to visit his sister, Azza locked the door. She only opened it again when she heard what she assumed to be her husband knocking on the door. In front of her, however, stood three masked men wearing galabiyas (full-length gowns) and a woman in a black abya (a robe-like dress) and niqab (a face-veil covering all but the eyes) who pushed her inside, grabbing the baby from her arms. They then beat her, shouting “kafirs” (“infidels”) and fled, taking the baby with them.
Upon hearing his wife screaming, Nour ran home to see what had happened and was told that his daughter, Mohrael, had been kidnapped.
“I immediately went to the police station to report the kidnapping of my daughter,” he told World Watch Monitor. “They asked me to fetch my wife and our ID cards and then to come back to file a report. None of them went back with me to investigate the matter or search for my daughter.”
When Nour arrived back at his house, he received the news that his daughter had been found, with her throat slit and her body dumped among the plants just 10 meters from their home. He returned to the police station, this time with his wife, to report on what he had seen. The police started an investigation and promised they would do their best to find and arrest the perpetrators.
However, four days later, on 11 September, the police came back and raided their home.
“The officers slapped my wife in the kitchen and said that she had killed her daughter and arrested her,” Nour explained. “They alleged that my wife suffers from psychological problems because of her desire to have a male rather than a female child, as she [already] has two girls. Allegedly she [also] killed Mohrael because I dislike having girls and wanted a boy instead of this girl.”
“We are simple people, we had no enemies, and there isn’t any trouble between us and anyone in the village,” Nour said.
As for his wife of three years being charged with the murder of his daughter, Nour called that “false, irrational and unreasonable”.
“My wife is a very good woman. She is a religious person who has a strong relationship with God and could not do something like killing her daughter,” he said. “She and I were very happy when God blessed us with this little girl. Mohrael was very beautiful and cute and a great gift from God to us and we loved her so much. Azza stayed up every night to take care of her, playing with and nursing her. How then could she kill her? I also haven’t seen any bad behaviour from [my wife’s] side since we got married. She treats me well, is very humble and loves me and our daughters so much, especially the new baby. As for me, I wasn’t angry because my wife had a girl. On the contrary I love the girls and I was very happy when my wife gave birth to Mohrael. Saint Mary was a girl. Boys and girls are gifts from God and none can object this gift.”
Meanwhile, Nour and Azza’s church has hired a lawyer on their behalf. Since the couple don’t have money to cover the legal fees, the church released a statement asking if “the people of our village will contribute even a small part to pay for these costs”.
Rev. Salib said it is obvious the attackers were familiar with this part of the village, where most of the residents are Christians, living on the outskirts, close to where the vegetation becomes thicker. “They knew what they were doing [and] planned for everything accurately as they chose the suitable time to break into the home,” he said. “It was about 9.30pm, [a time when] most of the villagers in Upper Egypt are asleep.”
It remains unclear who was behind the attack on the Khalil family, but this year Egypt’s Copts have frequently been targeted by Islamic extremists with links to the Islamic State group, which vowed to “wipe them out”. As World Watch Monitor has reported, IS has recently shifted its focus from the Sinai Peninsula towards establishing a foothold in Upper Egypt, an area said to be “marginalised” by politicians, lacking in security and in which many people are poor and uneducated.
(Morning Star News) – One Christian is dead, several others have been wounded and a fire gutted a church building after Muslims across Egypt waged a weekend of violence against Copts.
In Tahana El-Gabal village in Minya Governorate, on Sunday night (July 17) Fam Mary Khalaf, 27, was overpowered by a group of Muslims who stabbed him repeatedly in the chest. One of the knife stabs went directly into his heart, killing him instantly, a statement from the local parish reported.
Three others were seriously injured in the attack: Nagib Hanna, father of the Rev. Metaous, a local Coptic priest; Malak Aziz, brother of the Rev. Boutrous, another local priest; and Azza Jouma, a Christian neighbor of the three victims, was stabbed in the face.
The attack started when four Muslims began harassing Metaous’s primary school-age son as his grandfather was looking after him outside his home. The men threatened to run the boy over, witnesses told human rights activists investigating the incident. Once the stabbing began, the group of four quickly grew into a mob of more than two dozen screaming, “Stand by your Muslim brother!”
The assault was one of numerous cases of violence against Copts in Minya Governorate over the past few months, including an attack in May in which an elderly Coptic woman was stripped, beaten and paraded naked through her village streets because of a rumor, later shown to be false, that her son was having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.
Ishak Ibrahim, a human rights researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said the attacks in Egypt and specifically in Minya continue because no one is being punished for committing them.
“What happened in Minya is nothing but a natural result of not enforcing the law in previous sectarian attacks against the Copts, and forcing the Copts to go through reconciliation meetings and obey illegal solutions that are demeaning,” he said.
The Tahana El-Gabal stabbing death came about a day after a mob of Muslims, enraged over a rumor that a church building was being constructed in the governorate, attacked Copts in their village. Starting shortly after 9 p.m. on Friday (July 15), groups of Muslims set on the Copts in the village of Abu Yacoub, causing minor injuries and torching five homes.
The attack lasted into the early morning hours of Saturday (July 16). Firefighters showed up several hours after the structures had been destroyed.
The bishop of Minya, identified according to tradition only by his consecrated name, Makarious, said in a press statement that the rioting mobs were in complete violation of the law and that there was no excuse for the violence.
“Nobody has the right to attack others and kill and destroy their property, no matter what,” he said.
The Abu Yacoub riot was the second such incident in 15 days to take place in Minya Governorate over a rumor that a church building was being constructed, and the third in the country in 30 days. In a surprisingly similar incident, on June 30 another mob rioted in response to a rumor of the building of a church in Kom El Loofy village in Minya Governorate. The 300-strong mob torched four Coptic-owned homes and otherwise harassed or assaulted Copts.
On June 17 in Amriya, a village south of Alexandria, local Muslims accused area Copts of building a church in a Coptic-owned construction site and began rioting. The mob assaulted Coptic men in the village and then attacked and looted several Christian-owned homes and a Coptic community center.
In the Amriya attack, police later arrested six Muslims and six Copts, including the owner of the construction site. The Muslims were released with no charges, in time to break the Ramadan day-time fast, but the Christians were charged with holding prayers without permission and building without a permit, then released the following morning.
The EIPR’s Ibrahim said the anti-church riots pose a dangerous problem for Copts, because they indicate that even if laws in Egypt change to allow them to freely construct church buildings, certain elements of Egyptian society still wouldn’t allow it.
“The government is not strong enough to protect the Copts from all these attacks,” he said.
Authorities are now trying to force Coptic communities in all the cases into what is known as a reconciliation process. Instead of criminally charging the perpetrators of Christian persecution, the government seemingly does everything it can to force victims into “Reconciliation Committees.”
Reconciliation Committees are based on traditional tribal councils, where two equal entities come together to solve a dispute. The committees are supposed to lead to equitable justice for all parties, but because Copts have significantly less power coming to the table than members of the Muslim majority, they are often victimized a second time instead of receiving justice. In some cases, Copts have been made to pay damages to attackers who destroyed their property in unprovoked incidents.
Bishop Makarious has urged all the victims to stand firm and refuse to participate in such committees because the perpetrators so often escape without punishment.
“We’re going to continue demanding the enforcement of the law and will not give up,” he said. “Every time they are set free, that is just encouraging others to do attacks in the same way, because they feel they are protected by the government.”
While mobs are burning down Coptic homes, churches are destroyed in mysterious fires. On Saturday (July 16) at 2:30 a.m., Copts rushed out into the streets of Al-Madamoud in Luxor Governorate to find flames shooting out of the roof of the Church of the Archangel Michael. An iconographer restoring the church’s religious paintings was stuck inside the building on the top floor in a room for visitors.
He had been allowed to sleep in facilities on the top floor of the church building. He was screaming for help and was about to jump, likely to his death or at least a crippling injury, but the gathered crowd was able to save him with a ladder.
When people pushed open the doors of the church building to go inside and fight the fire, they found the altar engulfed in flames and the blaze spreading everywhere. The men and women began trying to douse the flames with garden hoses and bottles of drinking water. By the time firefighters arrived two and a half hours later, the building was gutted.
The next morning, Safwat Samaan, director of human rights group Nation Without Borders, was able to visit the scene. Members of the congregation crowded into the blackened shell of the build with tears welling up in their eyes.
“It broke my heart to see old men, eyes full of tears and women wailing,” he said.
Now members of the congregation are afraid authorities will claim the fire was accidental, as officials nationwide have in so many other church building fires. Authorities claim the fires are accidental, started by unattended candles or an electrical short, even when no candles are present and electricity is shut off to the building.
That was the ruling in the fire at the Catholic Church of St. George, also located in Luxor Governorate, which caught fire under mysterious circumstances on April 20 at 3 a.m. Authorities claimed the fire was the result of either unattended candles or a short in a wire, but there were no candles, and a church attendant had turned off the main electric line to the building.
Because of the similarities between the fires at the Church of the Archangel Michael and the Church of St. George, many Copts have suspicions that a serial arsonist is targeting churches in Luxor, Samaan said.
“I wonder if this was just an accident, or if this was a planned arson, but the results will be in the hands of the firefighters and the police,” Samaan said. “I am concerned they will come to yet another all too convenient ruling.”
(World Watch Monitor) Today, 16 December, is the date set for the signing of a UN-facilitated agreement on forming a new national unity government in Libya. Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has been engulfed by conflicts between various coalitions of armed groups. The country is split between an internationally recognised government and rival groups contending for power. However, experts see this political development as likely to make little difference to the chaotic situation. The rise of armed groups which have pledged allegiance to Islamic State has further exacerbated the risks. World Watch Monitor has heard in detail about the recent deaths of two Egyptian Coptic Christians caught up in the lawlessness:
For Wasfi and Fahmi Michael, there wasn’t much of a choice.
“My sons had to go to Libya to simply put food on the table,” said Bakhit Michael, father of the two Copts, slain in November.
“There was no way for them to earn a living here at home,” the 60-year-old bereaved father said, noting his sons’ wages in Libya were supporting their own wives, their mother and him in a village off Sohag, 292 miles south of Cairo.
Four brothers, including the murdered Wasfi and Fahmi, their two sisters, their mother and father, all shared one home, with each sibling and spouse in a different room.
o far, the story of this family does not differ from a common narrative of poverty and lack of opportunity lived by many households in Upper Egypt, in the country’s south.
“Back home, they could only hope to get 60 Egyptian pounds [about US$7] a day, hardly enough to buy a sack of flour,” the father told World Watch Monitor. Nor could they count on regular wages.
“They could be working a day, stay idle and unpaid for three more!”
This compares to at least 50 dinars, or about $35, a day in the hitherto oil-rich neighbouring Libya.
For the Christians, the ordeal wouldn’t have differed from that faced by their Muslim compatriots, had it only been a matter of economic and social deprivation. But following an all-too-familiar scenario faced by many Christians in an increasingly assertive Islamic Middle East, the Christian Egyptians were picked precisely for being that: Christians.
The two brothers had been in Libya for the greater part of a decade. They were at different times joined by the other two brothers, Sabri and Tharwat, as well as by two cousins on both sides of the family, Nasser and Ashraf. Their tools of trade were simple handyman tools, and their home in Misrata, in western Libya, was one room shared by all four. Rooms in the same building housed other Egyptians – Muslims and Christians – from Upper Egypt.
Early last month, Wasfi and Fahmi Michael were tricked by a Libyan into going out “to inspect a job”. The 36-year-old builder and his 29-year-old brother, both uneducated, were picked up by the man, while Mohamed Shaaban, a fellow helper, was asked by the Libyan to stay behind.
“There’s no need to bring Mohamed along. You and your brother are good enough to do the job for now,” Mohamed later told Sabri the Libyan man said to them.
Later, the bodies of both Wasfi and Fahmi were recovered with “white gloves on their hands,” a likely sign of their murder as the work of Ansar-ul Sharia, one of many militant Islamic groups now active in lawless Libya.
“The money on Wasfi, a total of 14 thousand Libyan dinars [more than US$10,000] was left untouched. Wasfi used to take all his earnings wherever he went to safeguard against theft, if left at their communal accommodation,” said Nasser Michael.
“Forensics put the likely date of their murder as 12 November, seven days after their kidnap,” he said.
Killed for being Christian
After 20 Egyptian Christians (and one Ghanaian) were killed – and their deaths filmed as a ‘spectacle’- on a Libyan beach by IS in February, the Christians were left in no doubt as to their precarious position after the Egyptian government told them to leave Egypt.
“My three brothers and other Christians tried to go back to Egypt. But they were left stranded,” 25-year-old Tharwat Michael said.
An unknown number of Coptic Christians, including from the Michael brothers’ village and surrounding towns, are still left trapped in Misrata, said Father Soliman Botrous, a priest from the brothers’ church in the village of Awlad Ali.
“The roads are all unsafe. If they take the land route to Egypt, they must pass by Sirte. ISIS is there waiting. If they try to reach Tripoli for the airport, Fajr Libya [Libya Dawn militias] and again ISIS control the area,” Tharwat said.
“Right up to the time of their murder, they could find no safe way through!” the younger brother said.
Either way, being Christian meant a likely death sentence.
“For instance, at Sirte, on the road from Misrata to Egypt, Christians are made to disembark from cars and are taken to their death,” Fr. Botrous added.
“A month ago, Wael Farouq, a Christian from the nearby Egyptian village of Shawawnah, suffered bone fractures in his work in Misrata. He had to go back to Egypt for treatment. A doctor in Libya, an Egyptian, helped issue him identity papers as a Muslim, so he was able to cross the land route. At Sirte, the vehicle was stopped in search of Christians. When they found all to be Muslims, the car was allowed to pass,” he said.
‘They kept the faith’
On 6 November, Wasfi Michael was picked up from home as agreed by the presumed Libyan contractor at 4pm, said Sabri, the brother who shared a room with Wasfi and Fahmi.
“By 6pm, neither Wasfi’s, nor Fahmi’s, phones were answering,” he said.
It was not until 10 days later that the bodies were identified in a hospital in nearby Zleiten. Sabri, and the two cousins Nasser and Ashraf, learnt that the bodies of Wasfi and Fahmi were dumped on 14 November in the desert, 160 km from their Misrata home.
“Their Christian ‘tattoos’ of the Virgin, St. George and of crosses on their arms were cut repeatedly with a penknife,” Nasser said. Their captors had tried to forcibly remove the typical Christian symbols, more common among rural Copts, he said.
The bodies were moved to a hospital in Misrata on 17 Nov. “At the second hospital, they at first resisted stating the cause of death as murder. They wanted to state it as ‘death by natural causes’,” Nasser said.
After a very late intervention by the Egyptian Ambassador, the only help the family recalled being offered by Egyptian authorities, the deaths were stated as due to “gunshots to both heads above the eyebrow line.”
Procedural woes only added to the family’s suffering.
“It took us eight days in Misrata hospital to finish the papers to release the bodies to the aeroplane,” Nasser said.
Once landed at Alexandria on 25 Nov., however, airport authorities kept the family waiting from 5pm until 1am to release the bodies, and the family then had to pay for an ambulance to take them, Tharwat Michael added.
Bakhit Michael recollected the last time he heard from his eldest son: “Often we’d ask them to come back. They said they could only wait till the roads were safe to do so. On 6 November, Wasfi and Fahmi talked to me and to their mother on the phone. They asked me if I needed anything. I said we were missing them. Wasfi said ‘Bye dad for now, a Libyan is at the door coming to pick us up for work.’ That was the last we heard from them.”
Back in the Awlad Ali village church, the funeral was full of mourners.
“For all the pain we feel, we know they are in heaven. They would not renounce their faith, but kept it till the last. This makes us walk with heads up high!” the father said, indicating that his sons must have been pressurised to recant their faith.
And for a Church long acquainted with a sustained history of persecution, Fr. Botrous had this to say: “Wasfi and Fahmi are martyrs for Christ. They kept the faith to their last breath, and are now crowned in heaven.”
For those left behind, a simple plea for comfort and peace is all that is now needed, he added.
An Egyptian teacher of Arabic language whipped a 10-year-old Coptic Christian boy with 40 lashes using an electric wire last week in a Cairo school.
The doctors who later examined the boy’s wounds “could not believe that a teacher could do this,” said the child’s father.
The incident occurred on October 21, during the Coptic student’s last class of the day, Arabic language. Then, the teacher told the pupils to remain silent until they had copied all the Arabic phrases he had written on the board. When Babawi, the Coptic boy, asked the student in front of him to move his head so he could see the board, the teacher proceeded to lock the door and flog the Christian boy 40 times with a large electrical wire all over his body.
According to the father, who spoke with MCN, the boy received a “fatal beating.” He passed out and was drenched in his own blood. After being inspected by doctors, he was also found to have damage to his bones and kidney.
No one from outside seemed to hear the boy’s continuous screams and the other students were too afraid to intervene said the father, who works as a security guard.
Because the Koran is the basis for Arabic language studies in Egypt, it is likely that the Arabic phrases on the board were derived from Islam’s holy book. In this context, perhaps the teacher became especially irate because, of all students, it was the “lowly” Copt who was being “blasphemous” by talking.
Interestingly, a few weeks earlier, Ibrahim Eissa, an Egyptian television personality, made some remarks relevant to this case.
After pointing out that it is good to teach the Koran to Coptic Christians in public schools, as it is essential for mastery of the Arabic language, Eissa said: “But here we come to the real question: Why isn’t Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the Gospel—which is one of the greatest and brightest of statements, full of wisdom and justice—also being taught?”
He then stressed that, if Copts should be taught the Koran, so should Muslims learn from the New Testament: “And if you disagree, then you are unjust, unfair, and unpatriotic.”
Knowledge of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount may have gone a long way in restraining the Arabic language teacher’s violent rage.
The abused Coptic boy’s father has since filed a report with police, spoken to school authorities, but, according to him, “Until now, no legal steps have been taken against the teacher.”
On Sunday, March 15, as Christian churches around the world were celebrating morning mass, two churches in Pakistan—one Catholic, one Protestant—were attacked by Islamic suicide bombers. At least 17 people were killed and over 70 wounded.
The Taliban claimed responsibility. It is believed that the group had hoped for much greater death tolls, as there were almost 2,000 people in both churches at the time of the explosions.
According to eyewitnesses, two suicide bombers approached the gates of the two churches and tried to enter them. When they were stopped—including by a 15-year-old Christian youth who blocked them with his body—the Islamic jihadis self-detonated. Witnesses saw “body parts flying through the air.”
According to an official statement of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan, despite all the threats received by the churches, authorities only provided “minimal” security.
As in other Muslim-majority nations, churches in Pakistan are under attack. On September 22, 2013, in Peshawar, Islamic suicide bombers entered the All Saints Church right after Sunday mass and blew themselves up in the midst of approximately 550 congregants, killing nearly 90 worshippers. Many were Sunday school children, women, and choir members. At least 120 were injured.
In 2001, Islamic gunmen stormed St. Dominic’s Protestant Church, opening fire on the congregants and killing at least 16 worshippers, mostly women and children.
The rest of March’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following accounts, listed by theme and country in alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity.
Muslim Attacks on Christian Churches and Monasteries
Central African Republic: At least eight churches were burned in the northern province of Nana Grebizi, after heavily armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages. Two Christians, including a pastor, were killed in the attack; another Christian was severely tortured. After the carnage, the Islamic herdsmen started fires and looted the local population. The blaze destroyed swathes of farmland, at least eight churches, several other mission centers and an unknown number of Christian homes.
Egypt: During the early morning hours of March 9, the Coptic Catholic Church of Kafr el-Dawar was attacked by armed men who used an explosive device against the place of worship. Two policemen were hospitalized after the attack. Separately, Dr. Yusuf al-Burhami, a leading cleric in Egypt’s Salafi movement, appeared in a video that surfaced in March saying that “Destroying churches is permissible—as long as the destruction does not bring harm to Muslims, such as false claims that Muslims are persecuting Christians, leading to [foreign] occupations.” He further added that “the reason we agree to their [churches] being built, via the article in the constitution dealing with worship, and the reason we do not collect the jizya [tribute] from the Christians, is because the condition of Muslims in the current era is well known to the nations of the world—they are weak and deteriorating among the people.” Burhami explained that when the Arab Muslims first conquered Egypt in the 7th century, the ancient nation was Christian, and because the Muslims were few in number, Coptic Christian churches were allowed to remain—“just as the prophet allowed the Jews to remain in Khaibar after he opened [conquered] it, but once Muslims grew in strength and number, [second caliph] Omar al-Khattab drove them out according to the prophet’s command, ‘Drive out the Jews and Christians from the Peninsula.’”
Germany: A potential jihadi attack on the cathedral and synagogue in Bremen was averted following action by police, a Belgian newspaper reported. Numerous police guarded the cathedral and synagogue and searched a local Muslim cultural center.
Iraq: Islamic State militants blew up a 10th century Chaldean Catholic church north of Mosul and bulldozed a nearby graveyard. According to Nineveh Yakou—an Assyrian Archaeologist and Director of Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Affairs at A Demand for Action—the Saint George monastery was “wiped out” by IS. The building was founded by the Assyrian Church in the 10thcentury but rebuilt as a seminary by the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1846. “The current monastery was built on an archeological site containing ancient Assyrian ruins. It was an important show of continuity from the Assyrian to our culture,” Yakou said. “ISIS is wiping out the cultural heritage of Iraq. The monastery was classified as cultural heritage. It’s a cultural and ethnic cleansing.”
Kenya: On the afternoon of February 28, in Maramande, Hindi, Muslims from neighboring Somaliset a Christian church on fire. This same church was set on fire last July 5, 2014, but was built again in January 2015. According to the pastor of the twice-torched church, “These people do not want Christianity in this area…. They want to finish me so that Christianity will not go on here. But I will continue raising up my eyes to God for help.” According to Morning Star News, “Violence in Kenya’s coastal region has accelerated in the past few years. On Jan. 11 in the Mombasa area, a gunman shot a Christian dead at the gate leading to a church building, apparently after mistaking him for the church pastor. Police reportedly said the assailants could be members of an active Islamic extremist terror cell in Mombasa blamed for past gun and grenade attacks.”
Lebanon: Unidentified persons invaded Mar Elias, an ancient Maronite church in Bekaa. Along with damaging one of the church’s windows, they destroyed a portion of the flooring, as they dug a large hole near the altar. According to Maronite Bishop Joseph Mouwad, much of the church’s sacred items were left intact and not stolen. Instead, “they broke the tiles and dug the ground, apparently looking for something, though we do not know what.” Fingerprints and cigarette butts were found.
Muslim Slaughter of Christian ‘Infidels’
Central African Republic: An argument between a taxi driver and his Muslim passenger led tothe slaughter of at least 16 Christians in Bangui, the nation’s capital. A Muslim man known as Aladji hailed a motorcycle taxi and asked to be taken to a Muslim-dominated district of Bangui. He was carrying a bag of grenades. When the motorcycle broke down, the driver stopped to fix it, but his agitated passenger pulled out a knife and tried to stab him. The driver overpowered Aladji and killed him instead. After his body was found, Muslims marched to the Christian sector of the city where they slaughtered at least 16 Christians—some decapitated. Authorities arrested 10 members of Seleka—the almost entirely Muslim rebel group—following the killings.
Libya: Two months after the Islamic State in Libya released a video of 21 Coptic Christians having their heads carved off for being “infidels” and “worshippers of the cross,” Copts continue to be targeted and killed. A least 35 more Coptic Christians have disappeared in Libya since that video was released in med-February. And, on March 2, the beheaded body of another Egyptian Coptic Christian was discovered on the outskirts of Mechili town in eastern Libya. In related news, an Egyptian professor claimed that IS received its justification to slaughter Christians in Libya from a book titled (in translation) Christians in the Koran. The author of this book is Mahmoud Lutfi ‘Amr—president of Damanhur’s Ansar al-Sunna al-Muhammadiya, that is, “The Supporters of Muhammad’s Example.” The book was being openly sold in Islamic bookstores all throughout Egypt.
Nigeria: Upset that watchmen of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Kaduna state dared set up a road-block as a security measure against jihadi raids, Nigerian soldiers opened fire on and killed five church members during Sunday Mass. According to parish member Christopher Mamman, on Sunday, March 8, “A soldier approached our Cadets who had mounted a blockade during Sunday morning Mass on the road leading to our parish and ordered them to dismantle the blockade. The Cadets told the soldier that Mass was going on, and they would remove the blockade as soon as it was over, but the soldier was dissatisfied with the explanation.” It should be noted that hundreds of Christian churches have been attacked and Christians slaughtered during Sunday services—hence the reason for the church blockade. Regardless, the soldier returned 10 minutes later with other soldiers: “They stormed the parish, shooting at worshipers inside the church,” Mamman said. “Five of our members were shot and killed, while many others were injured. One other Christian from another church was also killed when the incident escalated and engulfed the town.”
Pakistan: A Christian mother accuses police of torturing her son to death in an attempt to extract from her a confession to a theft she did not commit. Zubair Masih was buried on March 9 in a Christian graveyard in Lahore, under a heavy police presence. He was 20. His mutilated body was found on the evening of March 7, outside his house in the Shamsabad sector of Lahore. His mother, Aysha Bibi, worked until February 20 as a servant in the home of Abdul Jabbar. She said her wages had been paid in full when she left Jabbar’s employment. But on March 4, she received a phone call from Jabbar’s wife, asking her to return for some work: “When I went there, Jabbar took me to the Harbanspura Police Station, where I was told that I had stolen things from Jabbar’s house,” Bibi said. “Jabbar beat me in the police station while other policemen called me names and forced me to confess that I had stolen 35,000 rupees (about US $350) and gold ornaments weighing up to 100 grams.” On March 6, she said, “the police detained my son Zubair and tortured him in front of me. When Zubair cried with pain, they told him that he would be released only if I confess the theft…. I repeatedly told the police that I had no connection with the said theft, and then they threw me out of the police station while they still detained Zubair there. The next day we found Zubair’s dead body outside our house.” Rights activist say that the allegation made by her former Muslim employer is suspect because he waited a week to register his complaint with police.
Uganda: A 16-year-old girl who fled from a Muslim uncle who beat her and her sister for converting to Christianity, died under mysterious circumstances on Sunday, March 8, one day after Muslim relatives who had been searching for her found her. Namwase Aisha died at Iganga Hospital where she had been recovering from malaria after being admitted on March 2, as well as receiving further treatment for a head injury suffered on Feb. 1, when her uncle beat her and her sister with a wooden rod and locked them in a room for nearly three days without food. According to a source, “On Saturday [March 7], Muslim relatives discovered her location and visited the hospital after tracing her whereabouts for some weeks…. Aisha then was responding very well to the medication, but on Sunday morning, after receiving morning medication, she became restless, and we wondered what could have happened to her.” Her condition continued to deteriorate until her death, said a pastor caring for her: “We suspect that the death of our sister Aisha could be related to the medication given the morning of Sunday, which has connection with the arrival of the Muslim relatives on Saturday.” Church leaders considered filing a case against the hospital but felt it would lead to more friction with Muslims, they said. Aisha received a Christian burial near the area to which she had fled on Tuesday (March 10). “As we took Aisha to the burial site, her body was swollen and smelling of drugs, which is an indication that her body could have been injected with unknown drug,” said her pastor. Two years earlier, another convert to Christianity in Uganda was attacked by his Muslim family, including an aunt who poisoned his drink with insecticide.
Dhimmitude: Generic Contempt and Hostility
Egypt: “Unknown persons” set fire to the parked car of Fr. Ayub Yusif, the priest of the Saint George Coptic Catholic Church in the village of Dalga, Minya, Upper Egypt. By the time authorities put out the fire, the car was completely charred. Dalga has been the scene of many attacks on Christians. For example, back in September 2013, Muslim Brotherhood supporters forced Coptic households to pay jizya, Islamic “protection money,” to be extorted from Christians and other non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state. Then, Fr. Ayub, the same priest whose car has now been torched, complained of how the Muslim Brotherhood was abusing the Christians of the village.
Kazakhstan: A drug and alcohol rehabilitation center run by Christians in the village of Sychevka, Pavlodar Region, was fined and closed down for three months following a court order that the center was “conducting illegal activities,” including religious worship. This charge, which the center denies, was made after police seized 18 Christian books and other materials in a raid on March 9. The center had housed 14 residents, all of whom had freely chosen to reside there and could leave at any time. Eight of the residents decided to leave after police raided the center last year, scared after being questioned several times.
Kenya: Muslims from Somalia attacked two Christian siblings, a brother and sister, in their home. According to the brother (name withheld): “The attackers made a knock at the door, and my sister decided to go and open the door, only to be hit with a blunt sharp object near the forehead. My sister fell down screaming, and I decided to rush in to help. Just at the door, I was hit on my right hand, and I fell down.” When neighbors rushed to the scene, Somali-speaking assailants fled. While doing so, one of the neighbors heard them saying, “We do not want hard-haired [derogatory for Kenyan] Christians in our region—they should go back to where they came from. We shall soon come back again.” Less than a year earlier, the siblings’ father was slaughtered, also by Somali-speaking Muslims.
Syria: The International Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic organization, reported that some of its members in Syria were kidnapped by the Islamic State and told that if the adults do not deny their Christian faith, they will be decapitated and “their children burned alive in cages.” Accordingto Sister Monique, of the Vincentian Daughters of Charity: “Late Sunday afternoon on 1 March 2015, I received a message from M. Francoise, a delegate of the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul [in Rome], and I managed to reach her by telephone. She was leaving for Paris, and collapsed at the news she had just received: members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Syria were kidnapped, along with their wives and children. The children were isolated and put into cages. Adults who do not deny their faith will be decapitated, and their children burned alive in the cages.” The fate of most of those kidnapped Christians, well over 200, remains unknown.
About this Series
The persecution of Christians in the Islamic world has become endemic. Accordingly, “Muslim Persecution of Christians” was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month. It serves two purposes:
1) To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, persecution of Christians.
2) To show that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Islamic Sharia.
Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; apostasy, blasphemy, and proselytism laws that criminalize and sometimes punish with death those who “offend” Islam; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed dhimmis, or third-class, “tolerated” citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination thereof.
Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the West, to Indonesia in the East—it should be clear that one thing alone binds them: Islam—whether the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, or the supremacist culture born of it.