Christian elementary school students in an Egyptian school were recently “beaten up by teachers and fellow students after the headmaster ordered all Christian students to remove any jewelry bearing a cross [and they refused],” to quote from a Nov. 21, 2021 report. In one incident, a female teacher “attacked a Christian student, then encouraged other students to do the same, take his cross pendant from him and destroy the cross.”
At least these latest bouts of anti-cross rage were not fatal, as others in Egypt were. In 2011, 17-year-old Ayman, a Christian student, was strangled and beaten to death by his Muslim teacher and fellow students for refusing to obey the teacher’s demand that he cover his cross. When the school’s principal was informed of the attack, he ignored it and “continued to sip his tea.”
That same year a Muslim off-duty policeman boarded a train and, while crying “Allahu Akbar,” opened fire on those passengers who had cross tattoos on their wrists (an ancient practice upheld by many Copts). One elderly Christian man was killed and four others seriously wounded.
Furthermore, the Maspero massacre, in which the Egyptian military massacred dozens of Christians—including by running them over with armored vehicles—was a byproduct of Muslims insisting that a Coptic church be stripped of its domed cross, so it would not resemble a church, because the cross “provokes us,” to quote a Muslim elder. When Christians refused to comply, Muslims destroyed the church. This is what Christians were protesting when the Egyptian military mowed them down.
What is it about the crucifix that makes some Muslims react violently? For starters, not only is it the symbol of Christianity for all denominations; it also symbolizes the fundamental disagreement between Christians and Muslims. As Historian Sidney Griffith explains, “[t]he cross … 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.” Accordingly, the cross “often aroused the disdain of Muslims,” so that from the start of the seventh-century Muslim conquests of Christian lands there was an ongoing “campaign to erase the public symbols of Christianity, especially the previously ubiquitous sign of the cross.”
This “campaign” traces back to 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,” wrote one historian (Muir, William, The Life of Mohammad from Original Sources, 1923, p. 200). Muhammad also claimed that at the end times, Jesus (the Muslim “Isa”) himself would make it a point to “break the cross.”