Islamic law forbids the construction of new churches, or the repair of old ones. It also forbids the display of crosses or the ringing of church bells. Umdat al-Salik, or The Reliance of the Traveler, a manual of Islamic jurisprudence certified as “reliable” by Egypt’s very own Al-Azhar University, explains that non-Muslims are:
… “forbidden to ring church bells or display crosses, recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals and feastdays, and are forbidden to build new churches” – o.11.5 (6,7)
When we post stories like this, one response we sometimes get from enterprising apologists in the comments section is that they’ve never heard of this Umdat al-Salik and so we must be pulling it out of the ether to defame Islam. Did we infiltrate Al-Azhar to certify it, too? Al-Azhar should probably know a “misunderstanding” of Islam when they see it. Or was someone asleep at the switch that day?
The other is that this must be a random incident by thugs, because Sharia could never, ever be so intolerant. But the evidence does not lie: similar cases keep cropping up in places far removed from each other. Problems with building churches, ringing bells or singing hymns, or displaying Christian symbols have been reported in Russia, Bosnia, Somalia, Gaza, the Philippines, Indonesia, and even Britain, to name a few.
Funny how that keeps happening. “Muslims Blockade Christian Village in Egypt, Demand Demolition of Church,” by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News Agency, September 8:
(AINA) — Christians in the Upper Egyptian village of Elmarinab in Edfu, Aswan province, have been forbidden to leave their homes or buy food until they remove the dome of St. George’s Church, which was rebuilt in its previous location. Village Muslims, backed by Muslim Salafists from neighboring villages, have threatened to demolish the church on Friday September 9 after prayers and use it as a mosque.
Despite the presence of security forces, Muslims have blocked the roads to the village, refusing passage of any Christians under any circumstance.
Yesterday the military governor in Aswan was contacted as Christians were starving in their homes. Security officers were sent and accompanied two Christian youths to buy food for the villagers. Muslims at the entrance of the village tried to stop the two security cars. “Failing that they threatened that this would be the last time,” said one villager. “It was heart-breaking to see the elderly running with the children to get a loaf of bread.”
Another farcical “reconciliation meeting”:
On Friday September 2, a “reconciliation” meeting was held under the auspices of security between Muslims and Christians in which the Christians were forced to give in to the Muslim demands of the new church being stripped of crosses, bells and outside microphones (which churches never have).
“For the sake of peace we agreed to their demands,” said Father Makarios Boulos, “although the approved permit included crosses, bells and domes.”
On Tuesday evening, the same Muslims who attended the reconciliation meeting started to congregate near the church demanding the removal of the six small domes, which would, according to the church’s priest, make the whole church collapse if removed.
Muslims also demanded removal of any signs of it being a church. “It has to be called a ‘hospitality home,'” Father Makarios said.
Confronted with escalating Muslim demands, the Bishop of Aswan, Anba Hedra, refused and warned those who incite sectarian violence, pointing to the fact that the church was rebuilt legally, and any concessions on the part of the church was done for the love for the country, which is passing through a difficult phase. The military council was asked to send troops to protect the village against Muslim violence
Early this morning two army tanks arrived at the village, manned by officers. The military governor paid a visit to the village today together with area heads of security to solve this crisis.
They listened to the Muslims, who insisted the previous church was not a church, but a hospitality home. The Coptic side was represented by Father Makarious Boulos, Father Salib Elias of the Aswan Coptic Diocese and lawyers representing the church, who presented all valid documents.
According to Mr. Mikhail, a worker at St. George’s Church, who was interviewed by Coptic TV, the Muslims were not represented by any official. “They said they are people who have control over the Muslim youths.”
Muslims chanted “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest) and said they want the church razed. Mikhail said Security tried to calm them down but fearing the situation would turn for the worse, the meeting was recessed with the promise that “the army and security representatives will come to a solution acceptable to both parties before they leave the village.”
The authorities demanded that no construction be carried out or services held in the church, and Muslims to refrain from violence.
Muslims have been spreading news that the new church was never a church but a hospitality home. Father Makarios said that the church was always a church and has been protected by the police for twelve years and they already have a hospitality home one block away.
The church of St. George, built a century ago with soft bricks and palm tree branches, was so dilapidated the local council said it would be unsafe to carry out services there. The church was given permission by the Aswan Governor in June 2010 to rebuild, and the authorities had approved the design. In June 2011 the building of the church began and services were held.
Father Makarious said the village Muslims never showed any bad feelings when permission for the rebuilding the old church was issued. “The church was nearly complete when Muslims started to complain.”….
Therein lies an opportunity for psychological abuse: wait until the church is nearly finished and the Christians think they are on the homestretch, and there is an investment to threaten with destruction.