“Yes, I Am Christian”—Egyptian Believer Boldly Proclaimed His Faith Twice Before Militants
From early childhood, Bassem Herz Attalhah loved the church and was a man of prayer and worship.
Our persecuted family in Egypt (#17 on the World Watch List) continues to see increased violence and bloodshed. The war on Christianity in Egypt is intensifying. In the last year, more than 200 Christians in Egypt were reportedly killed for their faith. Now, with Ramadan in its second week, Christians in Egypt are facing increased pressure. Because they may not take part in the rituals, such as daytime fasting, their faith stands out in a Muslim culture even more than usual. Adding to the increased cultural pressure is the historical precedent of deadly attacks by Islamic extremists who use Ramadan as an opportunity to call their followers to violence. Extremists targeting Coptic Christians often look for the visible symbol that Bassem Herz Attalhah “wore.”
“Are you Christian?”
The 27-year-old husband and father of five didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Yes, I am Christian,” Bassem Herz Attalhah told his attackers and then immediately proclaimed his faith a second time in a loud voice: “Yes, I am Christian.”
A Visible Reminder and Sign of Faith
Bassem was on his way home from work in El-Arish, where he and his brother, Osama, had opened a mobile phone shop. He was with Osama and their neighbor and friend Mohamed when three men stopped them and asked Bassem to show them the wrist of his right hand. (Coptic Christians “wear” a small black tattoo of a cross on their right wrist–a visible reminder and sign of their faith and also a form of identification since many churches in Egypt station security at their doors to check that those entering are Christians).
When the men saw the tattoo of the cross, they asked Bassem the fatal question.
The men then asked Mohamed his name and made him show his wrist. When they saw he had no tattoo, he was allowed to leave. Then they turned to Osama, a common name, also among Muslims. They didn’t know he was Bassem’s brother.
“Bassem told them that I had children,” Osama recalls. “They asked me to show them the wrist of my right hand and when they didn’t see any cross, they thought that I was Muslim.” (The men didn’t see the cross that Osama has tattooed on the top of his hand because it was hidden under his sleeve.)
“We lost a person dear to our hearts,” Osama said. “My brother Bassem was a very good and kind man. He had a strong relationship with God. He was always reading in the Bible, praying and going to the church. He was loved by all people.”
Militants Warn: There Will Be More
When Bassem’s close friend Milad Wasfi heard he had been killed, he called his friend’s phone in disbelief. His call was answered, but not by the voice he had hoped to hear on the other end of the line.
“The terrorists answered me and said they belong to State of Sinai and promised to kill more Copts before they put down the phone,” he told World Watch Monitor.
After a string of killings in El-Arish last year, scores of Coptic Christian families left for Ismailia and Suez. In March 2017, an estimated 70 percent of the 160 Coptic Christian families living in the city had left.
Bassem, Osama and their parents had been among those who fled the city. Struggling to find work in Ismailia, however, the two brothers left for Cairo, and when things didn’t work out for them there either, they decided to return to El-Arish in September.
Prayers for Comfort and Protection
Bassem’s friend Milad, who is still living in Ismailia, fears for his own future and for the other displaced Christian families of El-Arish.
“The hope and the dream of [one day] returning to our homes in El-Arish has become very difficult, especially after this incident,” he said. Bassem is the second Christian to be killed by extremists after returning to El-Arish.
In February 2017, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ordered his government to “take all necessary measures” to help resettle Christians fleeing North Sinai. But as attacks against Coptic Christians have continued, they have found it more and more difficult to believe their government could protect them.
“Bassem was a very good man,” Milad says. “Honest, quiet, modest, a light-hearted person and close friend to me. From early childhood, he loved the church and he was a man of prayer and worship. He didn’t renounce the faith and didn’t deny his Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t fear death. Actually, he didn’t die but has won the real life in Heaven, enjoying being with Jesus. We pray that God will comfort us [and] thank God for saving the life of Osama, to care for his five children and his parents.”
Father, we pray with Bassem’s family and community for comfort, protection and justice. God, we pray with Christians in Egypt who are being targeted by militants for their faith. We pray for protection and wisdom for responding to these threats. And God, we ask that you would reveal Yourself to these persecutors, just as You did for Saul on the road to Damascus-that they would be touched and transformed by Your unconditional love.
To help you pray for Christians and Muslims throughout the month of Ramadan, we have created a 30-day devotional filled with powerful Scripture and moving stories of how Muslims have met Christ during Ramadan. Each day focuses on a specific country or situation in the Muslim world. You can download it here.
*photo is representative only
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Representative photo shows a tattoo of the small black cross tattoo “worn” boldly by Coptic Christians.