A 37-year-old Muslim migrant in Rome was recently arrested for attempted homicide after he stabbed a Christian man in the throat for wearing a crucifix around his neck. “Religious hate” is cited as an “aggravating factor” in the crime.
This is hardly the first “religious hate” crime to occur in the context of the cross in Italy. Among others,
A Muslim boy of African origin picked on, insulted, and eventually beat a 12-year-old girl during school because she too was wearing a crucifix.
A Muslim migrant invaded an old church in Venice and attacked its large, 300-year-old cross, breaking off one of its arms, while shouting, “All that is in a church is false!”
After a crucifix was destroyed in close proximity to a populated mosque, the area’s mayor said 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.”
The fact is, Islamic hostility to the cross is an unwavering phenomenon—one that crosses continents and centuries; one that is very much indicative of Islam’s innate hostility to Christianity.
For starters, not only is the cross the quintessential symbol of Christianity—for all denominations, including most forms of otherwise iconoclastic Protestantism—but it symbolizes the fundamental disagreement between Christians and Muslims. As Professor Sidney Griffith explains, “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.” Accordingly, “the Christian practice of venerating the cross … often aroused the disdain of Muslims,” so that from the start of the 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 (Sword and Scimitar, p. 10). Muhammad also claimed that at the end times Jesus (the Muslim ‘Isa) himself would make it a point to “break the cross.”
Modern day Muslim clerics confirm this. When asked about Islam’s ruling on whether any person—in this case, Christians—is permitted to wear or pray before the cross, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Tarifi, a Saudi expert on Islamic law, said, “Under no circumstances is a human permitted to wear the cross” nor “is anyone permitted to pray to the cross.” Why? “Because the prophet—peace and blessings on him—commanded the breaking of it [the cross].”
Islamic history is a reflection of these sentiments. For instance, the aforementioned Sheikh al-Tarifi also explained that if it is too difficult to break the cross—for instance, a large concrete statue—Muslims should at least try to disfigure one of its four arms “so that it no longer resembles a cross.” Historic and numismatic evidence confirms that, after the Umayyad caliphate seized the Byzantine treasury in the late seventh century, it ordered that one or two arms of the cross on the coins be effaced so that the image no longer resembled a crucifix (Sword and Scimitar, p. 54).
Testimonies from the very earliest invasions into Christian Syria and Egypt of Muslims systematically breaking every crucifix they encountered abound. According to Anastasius of Sinai, who lived during the seventh century Arab conquests, “the demons name the Saracens [Arabs/Muslims] as their companions. And it is with reason. The latter are perhaps even worse than the demons,” for whereas “the demons are frequently much afraid of the mysteries of Christ,” among which he mentions the cross, “these demons of flesh trample all that under their feet, mock it, set fire to it, destroy it” (Sword and Scimitar, p. 27).
Reminiscent of the recent drawing of a cross in fecal matter on a French church, in 1147 in Portugal, Muslims displayed “with much derision the symbol of the cross. They spat upon it and wiped the feces from their posteriors with it.” Decades earlier in Jerusalem, Muslims “spat on them [crucifixes] and did not even refrain from urinating on them in the sight of all.” Even that supposedly “magnanimous” sultan, Saladin, commanded “whoever saw that the outside of a church was white, to cover it with black dirt,” and ordered “the removal of every cross from atop the dome of every church in the provinces of Egypt” (Sword and Scimitar, pp. 171, 145, 162).
Lest Muslim hostility to the cross still seem aberrant—limited to some obscure saying of Muhammad or “ancient history”—below is a very partial list of examples of how the crucifix continues to throw even “everyday” Muslims into paroxysms:
Egypt: A young Coptic Christian woman named Mary was mauled to death when her cross identified her as a Christian to Muslim Brotherhood rioters. Similarly, 17-year-old Ayman, a Coptic student, was strangled and beaten to death by his Muslim teacher and fellow students for refusing to obey the teacher’s orders to cover his cross.
Pakistan: When a Muslim man saw Julie Aftab, a Christian woman, wearing a cross around her neck, he attacked her, forced battery acid down her throat, and splashed it on her face—permanently damaging her esophagus, blinding her in one eye, and causing her to lose both eyelids and most of her teeth.
Turkey: A 12-year-old boy in Turkey wearing a silver cross necklace in class was spit on and beaten regularly by Muslim classmates and teachers.
Malaysia: 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.” Separately, a Muslim mob rioted against a small Protestant church due to the visible cross atop the building of worship. It was quickly removed.
Maldives: Authorities had to rescue a female Christian teacher after Muslim “parents threatened to tie and drag her off of the island” for “preaching Christianity.” Her crime was to draw a compass—which was mistakenly taken for a cross—as part of a geography lesson in class.
As Islam’s presence continues to grow in Europe, it should come as no surprise that attacks on crosses are also on the rise. Aside from the aforementioned attacks in Italy, the following occurred either in France and Germany, where attacks on churches and crosses have become endemic:
A Muslim man committed major acts of vandalism at two churches, including by twisting a massive bronze cross. (Click for images.)
Christian crosses and gravestones in a cemetery were damaged and desecrated by a Muslim (see his handiwork).
A Muslim 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.
After Muslims were granted their own section at a cemetery, 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.
A German language report from notes that in the Alps and in Bavaria alone, some 200 churches have been attacked and many crosses broken: “The perpetrators are often youthful rioters with a migration background.”
In light of the above, it should come as no surprise that groups such as the Islamic State also make hostile references to the cross in their communiqués to the West: “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-worshipers[.]” The Islamic State even once disseminated a video showing its members smashing crosses in and atop several churches in territories under its sway (since taken down by YouTube); it beheaded and stabbed a man with his own crucifix; and it published pictures of its members destroying Christian crosses and tombstones in cemeteries under its jurisdiction.
Similarly, in post “Arab Spring” Libya, 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!” Toward 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 Libya have suffered similarly.
In Iraq, pictures emerged from a Christian cemetery that was vandalized by the Islamic State. Broken and scattered crosses appear. In one picture, the jihadis broke into a coffin, snapped off the head of the withered corpse, and threw the crucifixes surrounding it on the ground.
Such is the history and continuity of Islamic hate for the cross—that symbol which represents the heart of the Christian faith, namely the death and resurrection of Christ, two events Islam vehemently denies.
The jihad on the cross began with Muhammad, was carried out by early caliphs, and continues to this day by the jihadis of the world, not to mention the occasional “everyday” Muslim.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum.