Islam’s age-old hatred for the Christian cross is not a product of ISIS, but of Islam itself.
Last May in Italy, a Muslim boy of African origin beat a 12-year-old girl during school because she was wearing a crucifix around her neck. The African schoolboy, who had only started to attend the school approximately three weeks earlier, began to bully the Christian girl — “insulting her and picking on her in other ways all because she was wearing the crucifix” — before he finally “punched the girl violently in the back.”
What is it about the Christian cross that makes some Muslims react this way?
The fact is, Islamic hostility to the cross is an unwavering fact of life — one that crosses continents and centuries; one that is very much indicative of Islam’s innate hostility to Christianity.
Doctrine and History
Because the Christian cross is the quintessential symbol of Christianity — for all denominations, including most forms of otherwise iconoclastic Protestantism — it has been a despised symbol in Islam.
According to the Conditions of Omar — a medieval text which lays out the many humiliating stipulations conquered Christians must embrace to preserve their lives and which Islamic history attributes to the second “righteous caliph,” Omar al-Khattab — Christians are “not to display a cross [on churches]… and “not to produce a cross or [Christian] book in the markets of the Muslims.”
The reason for this animosity is that the cross symbolizes the fundamental disagreement between Christians and Muslims.
According to Dr. Sidney Griffith, author of The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, “The cross and the icons publicly declared those very points of Christian faith which the Koran, in the Muslim view, explicitly denied: that Christ was the Son of God and that he died on the cross.” Thus “the Christian practice of venerating the cross and the icons of Christ and the saints often aroused the disdain of Muslims,” so that there was an ongoing “campaign to erase the public symbols of Christianity, especially the previously ubiquitous sign of the cross.”
Islam’s hostility to the cross, like all of Islam’s hostilities, begins with the Muslim prophet Muhammad. He reportedly “had such a repugnance to the form of the cross that he broke everything brought into his house with its figure upon it” and once ordered someone wearing a cross to “take off that piece of idolatry.” Moreover, Muhammad claimed that at the end times Jesus himself would make it a point to “break the cross” — an assertion the Islamic State regularly makes.
Islamic history ever since Muhammad is riddled with anecdotes of Muslims cursing and breaking crosses. Prior to the Battle of Yarmuk in 636, which pitted the earliest invading Muslim armies against the Byzantine Empire, Khalid bin al-Walid, the savage “Sword of Allah,” told the Christians that if they wanted peace they must “break the cross” and embrace Islam, or pay jizya and live in subjugation — just as his Islamic State successors are doing today in direct emulation. The Byzantines opted for war.
In Egypt, Saladin (d. 1193) — regularly touted in the West for his “magnanimity” — ordered “the removal of every cross from atop the dome of every church in the provinces of Egypt,” in the words of The History of the Patriarchate of the Egyptian Church.
Centuries later, not much has changed concerning Islam’s position towards the cross, though much has changed in Western perceptions.
Europe: Growing Violence against the Cross
In other words, an African boy punching a Christian girl in Italy for her crucifix is part of a long continuum of Islamic hostility for the cross. Perhaps he learned this hatred in mosque — the same European mosques where Islamic State representatives call Muslims to jihad?
After all, earlier this year in Italy, another crucifix was destroyed in close proximity to a populated mosque. The municipality’s councilor, Giuseppe Berlin, did not mince words concerning the identity of the culprit(s):
Before we put a show of unity with Muslims, let’s have them begin by respecting our civilization and our culture. We shouldn’t minimize the importance of certain signals; we must wake up now or our children will suffer the consequences of this dangerous and uncontrolled Islamic invasion.
Nor is Italy the only European nation experiencing this phenomenon. In neighboring France, a “young Muslim” committed major acts of vandalism at two churches. Along with twisting a massive bronze cross, he overturned and broke two altars, the candelabras and lecterns, destroyed statues, tore down a tabernacle, smashed in a sacristy door and even broke some stained-glass windows. (Click for images.)
And in Germany, a Turkish man who checked himself into a hospital for treatment went into a sudden frenzy because there were “too many crosses on the wall.” He called the nurse a “bitch” and “fascist” and became physically aggressive.
Of course, other times Europeans willingly capitulate to Islamic hostility for the cross. Real Madrid, a professional football (soccer) team in Spain, stripped the traditional Christian cross from its club crest as part of a deal with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi — “so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities in the United Arab Emirates.” And in the United Kingdom, offensive crucifixes are being removed from prisons in order not to offend Muslim inmates (who are further provided with food baths for Islamic rituals).
Muslim World: Christians Killed for the Cross
If this is how some Muslims react to the Christian cross in Europe — where Muslims are aware of their outnumbered, minority status — how do other Muslims react to the cross in the Islamic world, where vastly outnumbered and ostracized Christian “infidels” are easy prey?
The answer is murderous — literally, Christians are being murdered by Muslims provoked at the sight of the cross.
Last year in Egypt, a young Coptic Christian woman named Mary was mauled to death — simply because her cross identified her as a Christian to Muslim Brotherhood rioters. According to an eyewitness who discussed the episode, Mary Sameh George was parking her car by the church to deliver medicine to an elderly woman:
Once they [Brotherhood rioters] saw that she was a Christian [because of the cross hanging on her rearview mirror], they jumped on top of the car, to the point that the vehicle was no longer visible. The roof of the car collapsed in. When they realized that she was starting to die, they pulled her out of the car and started pounding on her and pulling her hair — to the point that portions of her hair and scalp came off. They kept beating her, kicking her, stabbing her with any object or weapon they could find…. Throughout [her ordeal] she tried to protect her face, giving her back to the attackers, till one of them came and stabbed her right in the back, near the heart, finishing her off. Then another came and grabbed her by the hair, shaking her head, and with the other hand slit her throat. Another pulled her pants off, to the point that she was totally naked.
In response, the Coptic Christian Church issued the following statement: “Oh how lucky you are, Mary, you who are beloved of Christ. They tore your body because of the Cross. Yet they offered you the greatest service and gave you a name of honor as one who attained the crown of martyrdom.” The statement also quoted Christ’s warning to believers: “Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (John 16:2).
In October 2011, seventeen-year-old Ayman Nabil Labib, a Coptic student, was strangled and beaten to death by his Muslim teacher and some fellow students — simply for refusing to obey the teacher’s orders to remove his cross. Student eyewitnesses present during the assault said that while Ayman was in the classroom he was told to cover up his tattooed wrist cross, which many Copts wear. Not only did he refuse, but he defiantly produced the pectoral cross he wore under his shirt, which prompted the enraged Muslim teacher and students to beat the Christian youth to death.
Before that, an off-duty Muslim police officer on a train from Asyut to Cairo shouted “Allahu Akbar!” and opened fire on six Christians, killing a seventy-one-year-old man and critically wounding the rest. Before opening fire he had checked for passengers with the traditional Coptic cross tattooed on their wrists. (Days ago, another Coptic woman was shot dead by an Egyptian police officer. Although officially an “accident,” the Muslim officer is notorious for hating Christians.)
In Pakistan, when a Muslim man saw Julie Aftab, a Christian woman, wearing a cross around her neck:
The man became abusive, shouting at her that she was living in the gutter and would go to hell for shunning Islam. He left and returned half an hour later, clutching a bottle of battery acid which he savagely chucked over her head. As she ran screaming for the door a second man grabbed her by the hair and forced more of the liquid down her throat, searing her esophagus. Teeth fell from her mouth as she desperately called for help, stumbling down the street. A woman heard her cries and took her to her home, pouring water over her head and taking her to hospital. At first the doctors refused to treat her, because she was a Christian. ‘They all turned against me . . . even the people who took me to the hospital. They told the doctor they were going to set the hospital on fire if they treated me’. . . . 67 percent of her esophagus was burned and she was missing an eye and both eyelids. What remained of her teeth could be seen through a gaping hole where her cheek had been. The doctors predicted she would die any day. Despite the odds she pulled through.
All this because she was wearing a cross.
Even in Muslim nations deemed “moderate,” violence provoked by the cross is not uncommon. In 2012, a 12-year-old boy in Turkey who converted to Christianity and decided to profess his new faith by wearing a silver cross necklace in class was spit on and beat regularly by Muslim classmates and teachers.
In the Maldives, October 2010, authorities had to rescue Geethamma George, a Christian teacher from India, after Muslim “parents threatened to tie and drag her off of the island” for “preaching Christianity.” Her crime was simply to draw a compass in class as part of a geography lesson. The compass was mistaken for the Christian cross.
Christians ‘Killed’ Again for the Cross
If some Muslims kill the wearers of the cross, so do they disturb the slumber of those already dead for having the cross on their tombstones. A few of the many examples follow:
- Libya, March 2012: A video of a Muslim mob attacking a commonwealth cemetery near Benghazi appeared on the internet. As the Muslims kicked down and destroyed headstones with crosses on them, the man videotaping them urged them to “Break the cross of the dogs!” while he and others cried “Allahu Akbar!” Towards the end of the video, the mob congregated around the huge Cross of Sacrifice, the cemetery’s cenotaph monument, and started to hammer at it, to more cries of “Allahu Akbar.” Other Christian cemeteries in post-“Arab Spring” Libya have suffered similarly.
- France, April 2015: Christian crosses and gravestones in a cemetery were damaged and desecrated by a Muslim. After being apprehended, he was described as follows: “The man repeats Muslim prayers over and over, he drools and cannot be communicated with: his condition has been declared incompatible with preliminary detention.” He was hospitalized as “mentally unbalanced.” (See his handiwork.)
- Malaysia, February 2014: A Christian cemetery was attacked and desecrated in the middle of the night by unknown persons in the Muslim majority nation. Several crosses were destroyed, including by the use of “a heavy tool to do the damage.”
- Germany, June 2014: After Muslims were granted their own section at a cemetery in Seligenstadt, and after being allowed to conduct distinctly Islamic ceremonies, these same Muslims began demanding that Christian symbols and crosses in the cemetery be removed or covered up during Islamic funerals.
One can go on and on with more recent examples of Islam’s hostility to the cross. On April 19 in “moderate” Malaysia, a Muslim mob rioted against a small Protestant church due to the visible cross atop the building of worship. It was quickly removed.
And in Pakistan, a nation where the mere accusation of offending Islam get Christians burned alive — a Muslim shopkeeper is allowed to sell shoes which depict the Christian cross on their sole: “In Pakistani culture, showing the sole of one’s shoe or foot is offensive because placing anything on the ground is considered to be an insult to the object. Therefore, something on the sole of a shoe is going to be constantly insulted as the person walks.
From an African School Boy in Italy to ISIS
In light of the above, it should come as no surprise that the Islamic State — “ISIS” — also exhibits violence to the Christian cross. In its communiques to the West, hostile reference to the cross is often made: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah…. [We will cast] fear into the hearts of the cross worshippers….
After carving the heads of Coptic Christians off in Libya, the lead executioner waved his dagger at the camera and said, “Oh people, recently you have seen us on the hills of as-Sham and Dabiq’s plain [Syrian regions], chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time. And today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message.” He concluded by declaring: “We will fight you [Christians/Westerners] until Christ descends, breaks the cross and kills the pig” (all eschatological actions ascribed to the Muslim “Christ,” Isa).
Moreover, the Islamic State has committed countless atrocities against and because of the cross: it made and disseminated a video showing its members smashing crosses in and atop churches in territories under its sway; it beheaded and stabbed a man with his own crucifix after it exposed him as a Christian; and it published pictures of its members destroying Christian crosses and tombstones in cemeteries under its jurisdiction – and quoted Islamic scriptures justifying its actions.
Careful readers will note the similar parallels here: destroying crosses in churches and cemeteries and even killing Christian “infidels” for wearing them, as documented above, is not limited to “ISIS” but is happening all around the Muslim world, and even in Europe.
In short, Islam’s age-old hatred for the Christian cross — and what it represents — is not a product of the Islamic State, but of Islam.
Raymond Ibrahim, a Middle East and Islam specialist, is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007).
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