Islamists in Egypt Use Rumors to Attack Christians
Tensions were high and rumors flying in the midst of the February 12 attack on a Coptic church by Muslim rioters. In the Egyptian village as many as 5,000 Muslims went on a rampage, stirred up by a father’s mistaken report that his daughter, 14, had converted to Islam and that Christians had kidnapped her to force her to return to Christianity.
Dismissing media reports of 20,000 rioting Muslims, sources told Compass Direct News that between 2,000 and 5,000 hard-line Muslims last month harassed Christians in Meet Bahsar in the Nile Delta and attacked the Church of the Virgin Mary building in a misguided effort to “save” the girl. They then damaged the home of the priest, the Rev. Gerges Gamil, and destroyed his car. Some media reported that the rioters knocked down a wall surrounding the church, but priests speaking on behalf of the parish said the wall was already being demolished.
The girl was not, as it turned out, in the church building. It was unclear if her father was merely mistaken about her location or intentionally misled villagers. Skirmishes lasted for two days, with Muslim villagers threatening to kidnap Coptic girls in retaliation for the alleged kidnapping. The February 12 attack was mainly by Salafists, an extremist movement that patterns its belief and practices on the first three generations of Muslims and is known for its vitriolic rhetoric and attacks against churches in Egypt.
The events that led to the attack involved a family dispute. The girl’s father, Khalil Ibrahiem Mouhamed Abd Allah, converted to Islam in 2009, and then divorced his Christian wife and married a Muslim woman. Abd Allah claimed that his daughter converted to Islam in October of last year. In February, the girl became engaged to a Muslim man in her father’s village, but shortly after the engagement she ran away.
“She got engaged to a Muslim man called Ahmed Abdallah, but she was still in touch with some Christians, and after the engagement she disappeared,” Abd Allah told local media. “So, I immediately thought that the Christians kidnapped her.”
By contrast, the girl reportedly said her father treated her poorly and that she never converted to Islam. She confirmed the engagement, but said that ultimately she couldn’t continue with it because the groom-to-be was Muslim. She attempted to flee to Cairo, purportedly to stay with an uncle, but after finding out about the attacks and the reports that she was being held against her will, she contacted police. Her location was not publicly known at press time, but she has reportedly asked not to be returned to her father or mother. Egyptian newspapers have reported that she was either in state care or the custody of the uncle.
“Things are partly calmer now, and parishioners still go to church, but they are a bit hesitant” said Rev. Gamil. “Some things got broken in my house because they threw rocks and stones, and my car was destroyed, but thankfully no one in my family was hurt.”
The Salafi use of false rumors is not new. In January Salafists terrorized Christians of a village in northern Egypt after an unsubstantiated rumor spread about a video recording of a Coptic man having sex with a Muslim woman. The Muslims in Sharbat, near Alexandria, rioted and then forced numerous Christians to abandon their property in informal but binding “reconciliation councils.” A parliamentary commission overturned the council decision last month, and most of the evicted Christian families have returned home. Human rights activists say such councils are unjust and are often a guise to force members of the Coptic minority to relinquish their rights.
Father, You have said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12) We pray Your overwhelming blessing on the church in Egypt as it is unjustly accused in order to incite attacks upon it. Keep them safe and pure as they face opposition. Build them up in the midst of persecution. Cause them to be a witness to Your strength and compassion in the face of the enemy. We pray for Ahmed Abdallah that You would draw him to Yourself and for his daughter that You would protect her from harm and from fear and unbelief. In the name of Jesus our strength, Amen.