As Muslims prepare to erect a mega-mosque near the site of the 9/11 atrocities, it is well to reflect that the sort of tolerance, or indifference, that allows them to do so is far from reciprocated to churches in the Muslim world. I speak not of Islamist attacks against churches — such as the New Year’s Eve attack in Egypt that killed 21 Christians; or when jihadists stormed a church in Iraq, butchering over 50 Christians; or Christmas Eve attacks on churches in Nigeria and the Philippines. Nor am I referring to state-sanctioned hostility by Islamist regimes, such as Iran’s recent “round up” of Christians.
Rather, I refer to anti-church policy by Middle East governments deemed “moderate.” Consider: Kuwait just denied, without explanation, a request to build a church; so did Indonesia, forcing Christians to celebrate Christmas in a parking lot — even as a mob of 1,000 Muslims burned down two other churches. If this is the fate of churches in “moderate” Indonesia and Kuwait — the latter’s sovereignty due entirely to U.S. sacrifices in the First Gulf War — what can be expected of the rest of the Islamic world?
The best example of anti-church policy is Egypt, where the Middle East’s largest Christian minority, the Copts, lives. Even before Mubarak stepped down, “more than 1500 assaults on Copts have occurred, without any appropriate punishment given to criminals or compensation to the victims,” according to Coptic Solidarity.
Similarly, Egypt’s state security, which is now in charge, has a curious habit of disappearing right before Coptic churches are attacked — such as in the aforementioned New Year’s Eve attack. They also tend to arrive rather late after churches are attacked: it took security “hours” to appear when six Copts were murdered as they left church last year. Considering that weeks ago an Egyptian policeman identified and opened fire on Christians, killing a 71-year-old — while yelling Islam’s ancient war-cry, “Allah Akbar!” — none of this should be surprising.
As for churches, since Islam invaded and subjugated formerly Christian Egypt, their plight has been tenuous. The very first condition listed for Christians to obey in order not to be molested in the notorious Pact of Omar — which informs sharia law, “the principal source of legislation” in Egypt — says it all: “We shall not build, in our cities or in their neighborhood, new monasteries, Churches, convents, or monks’ cells, nor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims.” Accordingly, in the words of reporter Mary Abdelmassih:
[U]nlike Muslim citizens, who only need a municipal license to build mosques, the Copts require presidential approval for a church … [and] the approval of the neighboring Muslim community. Even after obtaining licenses for a church, Muslims still attack Christians and demolish or burn their churches. A rumor that Christians are meeting to pray is enough reason for Muslim neighbors to carry out acts of violence against them. On various occasions, it only takes Muslims to protest against the building of a church for State Security to stop the works, under the pretext that it is causing “sectarian strife.”