Churches Under Attack in Muslim Lands as Mosques Flourish in the West

On March 12, 2010, a group of some 2,000 Muslims, whipped up by a local Imam in Mersa Matruh, a Mediterranean port city in Egypt, attacked a group of some 400 Coptic Christians.

The supposed reason for swarming the oft-persecuted Copts was a rumor that they were building a church. The sad thing was that they were only building a hospice. Worse was that Egyptian Security authorities, according to reports, arrested 13 Copts, including four minors between 13 and 17. Only a dozen of the 2,000 Muslims rioters were arrested.

The Imam preached against the Copts, calling for Jihad against the Coptic “Infidels.” Soon, Muslims swarmed around the Copts, forcing them into the building to protect themselves only to see some twenty-three wounded, two of them seriously. Following their escape into the hospice, the crowd proceeded to vandalize and burn their cars, Coptic shops, and even private homes, causing untold damage to that persecuted community’s lives.

The Coptic Church has existed in Egypt for 1900 years. According to the website,, “Today, Copts form almost 13 to 15 percent of Egypt’s population, though they are not ethnically distinct from other Egyptians as they are fully integrated into the body of the modern Egyptian nation.” If being “fully integrated” means enduring constant persecution by the authorities and harassment and sectarian murders by their Muslim neighbors, then perhaps the meaning of the term has changed.

Rumors of churches being built in Egypt, much less anywhere else in the Muslim world, seem to be enough then to touch off riots. In Saudi Arabia churches are forbidden. So are synagogues. In the UAE, a Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested that when there was a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, perhaps then one could open. The connection however, seems confusing, suggesting that it is collectively the Jews’ fault for such a lack of peace.

Yet, ironically while it was a perfectly reasonable for 2,000 Muslims to riot over the mere rumor of the construction of a Coptic church in Egypt, it seems without concern for greater numbers to rally for the construction of thousands of mosques in Europe. According to Stefano Allievi in Conflicts of Mosques in Europe, Policy Issues and Trends, as of 2009, there were thousands of mosques dotting the landscape of Europe: 454 in Spain; 661 in Italy; 2,100 in France; 2,600 in Germany; and between 850 and 1,500 in the United Kingdom.

The website’s editors suggest that these numbers are considered an entitlement, comparing the total number of Muslim inhabitants in the examined countries (18 million Muslims) with the number of mosques, (10,869 mosques), the result is roughly equivalent to one mosque for every 1,660 inhabitants—a significant number, roughly comparable to that obtaining in many Muslim countries. In Europe, this number is also comparable to places of worship of the dominant Christian religion in the respective countries, according to the Allievi’s work cited above.

In Israel, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a protected site, patrolled by Israeli troops, as are the churches in the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem. The patrols pass by routinely.

The treatment of churches—and for that matter even the right to operate them as well as synagogues—in the Muslim world is a subjective matter. What’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

It would be interesting to see the Obama Administration make an issue of the presence of churches and synagogues in the Muslim world with the same vigor that it argues against the expansion of housing units in Jerusalem. The passion exhibited there mounted to an attack of historic proportions on a true ally. Yet, even the rumored expansion of a Coptic church in Egypt much less the outright discrimination against every religious institution other than a mosque in a Muslim country barely merits a whisper.

Cutting Edge contributor Gregg J. Rickman served as the first U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism from 2006–2009. He is a Senior Fellow for the Study and Combat of Anti-Semitism at the Institute on Religion and Policy in Washington, DC; a Visiting Fellow at The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; and a Research Scholar at the Initiative on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.