Koum Al Farag, Egypt (ANS) – Congregants stood outside their church gate in the Egyptian village of Koum Al Farag recently, watching the local authorities order that the church building be demolished. According to Open Doors the 15-year-old church, which served 3000 Christians in the village, was the place where these believers got married, where their children were baptised, and where they said their last goodbyes to loved ones.
Why were the authorities demanding the destruction of a completely legal church?
The congregation had just built a Sunday school room alongside the main church building. With such a large congregation, the simple church hall had become too small.
“We decided to build an extra two storeys on the church hall for church activities such as Sunday school classes, which was legal for us to do,” explains church member and deacon Bishoy over the phone. “But as soon as we started the building work, extremist Muslims attacked us. Luckily, this first attack was stopped by moderate Muslims in our village.”
Open Doors reports the extremists didn’t give up: they started to build a mosque on the agricultural land next to the church – which they say was illegal. “We believe they built it out of protest,” Bishoy says. “Our village already has four mosques and another one wasn’t really needed. On top of that, they build it without the use of a foundation.”
The local authorities’ ‘solution’ was to demolish not only the illegal mosque, but the legal church building as well.
“The church lawyer made an official appeal against this order, but the mayor ignored it – despite being informed – and sent 200 policemen without warning,” says Bishoy.
The congregation resisted fiercely. They stood in front of the church and pleaded for it not to be taken down. They also showed their official papers to the police. It didn’t help. On the contrary, shares Bishoy: “The police, and some Muslim extremist from our village that came along with them, insulted our priest and hit him in the face and chest so bad that he fainted. Then they fired tear gas at us church members and attacked us physically; they even hurt women and children. They arrested 14 church members, including some women and a man whose arm was broken by the attackers. The church members were only released the next day. The man with the broken arm was given no medical treatment.”
The other church members watched as their beloved church building was torn down. “They demolished all the concrete columns of the three storeys of the church building,” recalls Bishoy. “They demolished the altar, Christian sanctuaries, and destroyed Christian books.”
The demolition of the church took six long hours. Then the bulldozer continued to the mosque – the actual illegal building – and knocked down just one wall.
The Christians of Koum Al Farag are unsure about what to do. “It was the only church in our village,” says Bishoy. “The nearest church now is 15km away. It is too far if you consider that we Copts go to church multiple times a week and most of us don’t have the means to travel out of our village. Please pray for us.”
Churches in Egypt (which is number 16 on Open Doors World Watch List) are attacked regularly. The charity says it is also very difficult to legally build new churches; thousands of churches in Egypt are still awaiting official recognition.