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By Raymond Ibrahim – Coptic Solidarity –

Once again, Muslim fanatics have risen up in violence and hate—burning the homes and even livestock of Christians to the cries of Islam’s war cry, “Allahu akbar”—simply because the Copts, Egypt’s most indigenous inhabitants, sought to build themselves a place of worship.

The incident began on December 16, 2023, and continued into the evening of December 18, in the village of al-‘Azib (in Samalout, Minya Governorate).

For many years prior, the Copts of the village, who numbered some 3,000 souls, did not have a church to pray in, and many of them had to travel great distances to worship in the churches of other regions. 

They had, of course, applied for a license to build a church and, after years, authorities finally approved it. 

However, on Saturday, December 16, when the Copts began to dig the church’s foundation, Muslims began to harass them—to the point of torching the home, and some of the cattle, of one of the Christians involved in the digging.  Security forces were sent to resume calm, and church building was temporarily halted.

On Monday evening, however, the Christians were, according to a Coptic eyewitness,

shocked by the emergence of dozens of extremists, despite the presence of security.  They attacked Coptic homes to takbirat [cries of “Allahu akbar”] and chants rejecting the construction of the church—“Long and wide, we will bring the church to the ground” [which rhymes in Arabic].  They hurled rocks at some Coptic homes, and set fire to others…. Police forces present in the village were also attacked, and additional security reinforcements were sent to control the situation, with back-and-forths with the demonstrators.

After mentioning the names of Christian homeowners rendered homeless due to the torching of their properties, including with Molotov cocktails, the eyewitness revealed that the violence began a month earlier, once local Muslims learned that the Copts had actually obtained a license to build a church. As a result, another Christian home was torched then.  

According to one Arabic language report,

The Coptic witness revealed that the Copts are now living in a state of panic.  All of them are [hiding] inside their homes following these attacks, which have created great chaos, even as police forces chase the extremists, with some of the recruits getting injured as a result of the stones hurled at them.

This scenario has played out countless times in Egypt: whenever there is even a rumor that a Coptic church is being built or repaired—local Muslim mobs riot and attack Christians. Authorities frequently respond by appeasing the rioters and permanently sealing up the “offending” churches on the charge that they are “security risks.” 

Time will tell if this will also be the fate of the still-to-be-built church of al-‘Azib village—or if the authorities will stand firm behind their decision to allow the Christians to have a church.

For example, an ominous precedent occurred almost one year ago to the day, on December 24, 2022. Then, Muslims savagely attacked a church and its Christians simply because the authorities had given them permission to fix their church’s collapsed roof, which had fallen on and hurt several worshippers. On the following day, the Muslim governor responded to the violence by rescinding the church’s permit to fix its crumbling roof, telling the Copts to “pray in the rain.”

So much hostility for churches can be traced back to Article 2 of Egypt’s Constitution: “Islam is the religion of the State … The principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.” As it happens, Islamic Sharia is decidedly hostile to non-Muslim places of worship. Strictly interpreted, Sharia forbids the building or renovating of churches in Egypt. 

Although that law is not strictly enforced, its “spirit”—which breeds hostility for churches amongst Egypt’s rank and file—is clearly alive and well.

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