After some fourteen centuries of church attacks and other persecution-punctuated by a brief Christian Golden Age-Egypt's Copts began the new year in 2011 once again under assault, at one of their largest churches: during midnight Mass in the early hours of January 1, 2011, the Two Saints Coptic Church in Alexandria, crowded with hundreds of Christian worshippers, was bombed, leaving at least twenty-three dead and approximately a hundred injured. According to eyewitnesses, "body parts were strewn all over the street outside the church. The body parts were covered with newspapers until they were brought inside the church after some Muslims started stepping on them and chanting Jihadi chants," including "Allahu Akbar!" Witnesses further attest that "security forces withdrew one hour before the church blast." And a year earlier, Muslims shot and killed six Christians as they were leaving church after celebrating the Coptic Christmas Eve midnight Mass in Nag Hammadi.
December 25, 2011, was called Nigeria's "blackest Christmas ever." In a number of coordinated jihadi operations, Reuters reported, Islamic terrorists bombed several churches during Christmas liturgies, killing at least thirty-eight people, "the majority dying on the steps of a Catholic church after celebrating Christmas Mass as blood pooled in dust from a massive explosion." Charred bodies and dismembered limbs lay scattered around the destroyed church. This attack was simply a reenactment of Christmas Eve one year earlier, in 2010, when several other churches were set ablaze and Christians were attacked, also leaving nearly thirty-eight dead. There was no reprieve for Nigeria's Christians when the next religious holiday came; some fifty Christians were killed "when explosives concealed in two cars went off near the Assemblies of God's Church during Easter Sunday services" in April 2012 in a predominantly Muslim region. According to the pastor, "We were in the Holy Communion service and I was exhorting my people and all of a sudden, we heard a loud noise that shattered all our windows and doors." December 25, 2012, saw a repeat of the last few Christmases: in two separate attacks, Islamic gunmen shot and killed twelve Christian worshippers who had gathered for Christmas Eve church services, including one church's pastor.
The violence in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, was not so bloody, but Muslims' hostility was equally clear. In December 2012, more than two hundred Muslims threw rotten eggs at nearly one hundred Christians desiring to hold a Christmas Mass in empty land outside Jakarta, since their church, the Philadelphia Batak Protestant Church, had been illegally closed. A photographer saw angered Muslims-men, women wearing the hijab (the Muslim headscarf), and children-blocking the road and hurling rotten eggs at those attempting to worship. According to the Reverend Palti Panjaitan, the incident followed a Christmas Eve attack when "intolerant people" threw not only rotten eggs but also "plastic bags filled with urine and cow dung" at the Christians. "Everything had happened while police were there. They were just watching without doing anything to stop them from harming us."
The attack was a repeat of what had happened several months earlier, during an Ascension Day church service in May 2012. Then some six hundred Muslims threw bags of urine, stones, and rotten eggs at the same congregation. The mob also threatened to kill the pastor. No arrests were made. The church had applied for a permit to construct its house of worship five years ago. But pressured by local Muslims, the local administration ordered the church to shut down in December 2009-though the Supreme Court recently overruled its decision, saying the church was eligible for the permit. Regardless, local Muslims and officials demand the church cease to exist.
In the Philippines, during Mass on Christmas Day 2010, a bomb exploded inside a packed Catholic church in the "Muslim-dominated" island of Jolo, injuring six worshippers including the priest. The bomb was planted by the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which according to the Daily Mail "has been blamed for several bomb attacks on the Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo since the early 2000s and for kidnapping priests and nuns."
While many more examples of church attacks on Christian holidays could be given, the four examples above demonstrate an important point. Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines have very little in common. These countries do not share the same language, race, or culture. What, then, do they have in common that explains this similar pattern of church attacks during Christian holy days? The answer is Islam. All four countries have large Muslim populations.
If Islamic jihadis target churches during Christian holidays, Islamic governments exploit the law to oppress Christian worship during those same holidays. For example, in December 2011 in Iran, several reports appeared indicating "a sharp increase of activities against Christians prior to Christmas by the State Security centers of the Islamic Republic." Local churches were "ordered to cancel Christmas and New Year's celebrations as a show of their compliance and support" for "the two-month-long mourning activities of the Shia' Moslems" (activities which culminate with a bloody exhibition of self-mutilation and flagellation during Ashura). Two days before Christmas 2011, state security raided an Assemblies of God's church. Most of those present, including Sunday school children, were arrested and interrogated. Hundreds of Christian books were seized. As one reporter put it, "Raids and detentions during the Christmas season are not uncommon in Iran, a Shi'a-majority country that is seen as one of the worst persecutors of religious minorities."
Indeed, such oppression of Christians during Christmas is not uncommon throughout much of the Islamic world. In Iraq, some Muslim school teachers in Mosul's elementary and high schools scheduled exams on December 25, 2012, forcing Christian students to attend school on Christmas Day and miss Christmas Mass, "even though authorities had identified the 25th of December as an official holiday for Christians." In December 2011 in supposedly moderate Malaysia, priests and church youth leaders were required to obtain "caroling permits" by submitting their full names and identity card numbers at police stations-always a harrowing experience-simply to visit their fellow church members and sing carols like "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night." In Pakistan in 2011, Christians lamented that "extreme power outages have become routine during Christmas and Easter seasons." In Indonesia, December 2011, after "vandals" decapitated the statue of the Virgin Mary in a small grotto days before Christmas, the "embattled" church of GKI Bogor, another Christian church that local Muslims want eliminated, was forced to move its Christmas prayers to a member's house after Islamic groups warned Christians not to meet at the site of the church.