Egypt's Scum of the EarthChristians—Muslims call them kaffir – unbelievers and infidels. They are "worthless refuse who do not deserve to live."
Although Muhammad's followers conquered a weakened church in North Africa in the 7th century, today the courageous faith of the saints is manifested in unusual ways even in the midst of persecution. In Egypt, Fakiha Zakhary Atta tearfully recalled the incident on Easter 2006 that claimed the life of her husband. The Friday morning service at Alexandria's Al-Quidissin Church had just ended. She and 78-year-old Noshi Attam Girgis inched their way through the sanctuary to the church entrance. It took Fakiha a bit longer to arrive at the door; her legs were swollen and it was much more difficult for her to walk now than when they were first married more than 50 years earlier. Noshi asked his wife Fakiha to head home without him—he needed to use the bathroom and would catch up with her in a few minutes.
|Fakiha, Noshi's wife with his portrait.|
She left the church building and waited a bloc down the street.
"That's when I looked back and noticed a crowd of people shouting," Fakiha recently told us. "I thought there had been some disturbance, or maybe a fight."
Thinking her husband was still in the church talking to some friends, she began the five-minute walk home without him. A few minutes later, she became worried about her absent husband. Fakiha sent her youngest son, 44-year-old Maher, back to the church to fetch him.
When Maher arrived at the church, he noticed a pool of blood at the entrance, "There was a trail of blood leading from the church up the hospital steps next door."
No one would tell Maher what had happened. He ran to the hospital emergency room where he saw doctors and nurses treating a number of church members in blood-soaked clothes. When Maher called out for his father, a doctor approached Maher who identified himself as Noshi's son. The doctor told Maher his father had been stabbed at the church and did not survive the attack. Maher says he was shocked after the doctor led him to his deceased father's bedside.
"No one can possibly know how I felt after seeing my dead father's wounds," explained Maher. "I suffered a mix of emotions: astonishment, pain, sorrow and I couldn't talk."
Maher wept uncontrollably and wondered how anyone could have murdered his father. His father had no enemies. He was loved by everyone.
The Atta Girgis family later learned a Muslim radical wielding two long knives stormed into the entrance of the church and stabbed several people while shouting, "Allah is great," and "Death to infidels." He escaped in a car occupied by two accomplices. Christians at two other Alexandria churches were also attacked that morning. In all, 12 people were injured in the attacks. Noshi Girgis was the only fatality.
Egyptian authorities arrested 25-year-old university student, Mahmoud Salahedin Abdul-Razik, the same day. They said he was the lone assailant responsible for the attacks. He was declared mentally ill and sent to a mental hospital.
As tears streamed down her cheeks, the widow Fakiha told us she is not bitter toward Razik. She does not believe he acted alone. She believes other Muslims planned the attacks and brainwashed Razik to hate and attack Christians.
|Noshi's son followed a trail of blood to the hospital emergency room.|
How did her husband's murder affect her faith? "It hasn't hurt my faith," she explained. "But it has affected my life. I feel lonely all the time without my husband and that's the most difficult part."
We prayed with the Atta Girgis family and asked God to turn the widow Fakiha's tears of sorrow into tears of joy. They were encouraged to know that Christians around the world are praying for them. Family members said Noshi's Christian love and witness shone to all who knew him. That's because Noshi knew as a follower of Jesus, he was "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).
But Noshi's murderer had a different view. To him, Christians were inferior to Muslims; they were like worthless refuse, infidels who did not deserve to live. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul told the Christians they would be reviled and would suffer persecution. He said, "Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world" (1 Corinthians 4:13).
God's precious possessions in garbage city
A visit to Egypt's Mokattam district is an unforgettable experience. The ever-present odor of spoiled garbage lingers in the memories of visitors long after they leave. This is one of four Cairo neighbourhoods known as "Garbage City." In Arabic, each neighbourhood is called Zebbaleen: the place where the garbage collectors (Zebbaleen) live. Nearly 50,000 people—most of them Christians—reside in the four Zebbaleen ghettos.
|The Zebbaleen of Garbage City.|
Poor, uneducated and treated as second-class citizens in a society dominated by Muslims, these Egyptians live and work in the stench and squalor of the trash societies. Trash is piled everywhere along the dusty, narrow, rat-infested streets. Each day the garbage men awaken at dawn, collect trash throughout Cairo and dump it in the Zebbaleen neighbourhoods. The hands and arms of women and children are blackened as they help the men eek out a living by sorting and picking through trash for recyclables.
Soon the Zebbaleen Christians in Garbage City may lose the one trade they know. Egypt's government has plans to stop renewing Zebbaleens' licenses, awarding the task of garbage collection to foreign contractors.
These Christians belong to one of the oldest church bodies in the world today. The Apostle Mark brought the Gospel to this North African country between 41 and 44 A.D., less than a decade after the ascension of Jesus. He was tied to a horse's tail and dragged through the streets of Alexandria until his body was ripped to shreds. For the first four centuries, Egyptian Christians suffered similar martyrdom and persecution; even longer than the church in the West!
Little has changed in 2,000 years. Today in Egypt, Christians are considered the "scum," the outcasts of their nation. Yet, a growing number of North Africans are coming to Christ due to more accessible Internet, increased Christian radio and television programming, Christian literature and audio and video CDs.
Responding with grace to treatment as trash
Egyptian Kahlid Aziz (not his real name) traded his Muslim status to join the "refuse of the world." As a child, he knew several Christians and occasionally attended Sunday school. He learned more about Christianity by listening to radio broadcasts.
|Kahlid—captured by love.|
Kahlid explained that when he attended the university, he noticed a close-knit, caring group of students that helped one another. He said he approached them, but they were afraid of him. "But, I wondered about them. Why were they so close and why did they have so much love for others?"
After he finished the university, Kahlid was named headmaster of a public school. He says a science teacher at the school was teaching Islam to his students rather than science. Two Christian girls complained about the teacher's conduct. Kahlid warned the teacher, "If you want to be an imam, go and be an imam, but not here. We are secular at this school and must respect other faiths." The teacher stopped teaching Islam and the Christian girls came and thanked Kahlid.
Kahlid says the two high school students gave him the same close-knit feeling as the students he saw at his university. "I knew there was something about them that was different." He decided to learn more about Christianity from the Christians themselves. The girls gave him notes from a Christian radio program. He found them easy to understand.
Kahlid was baptized one year later. He eventually left his job as headmaster and entered mandatory service in the Egyptian military. There he started a small Bible study group in his army unit. A military spy was planted in his discipleship group. Kahlid was arrested and sent to a prison where he was assaulted three times per day. He says guards tied his hands and beat him with their fists and leather belts—often three guards at a time. They swore at him and called him a dirty kaffir (insulting, derogatory term for non-Muslims meaning unbeliever or heathen).
Kahlid says on another occasion he suffered third degree burns on his right leg when inmates attacked him with fire. The burns were untreated and Kahlid was later forced to clean a sewer pit, exposing his leg to the refuse. The burned leg became swollen and infected and the pain was excruciating. Kahlid said he sobbed horribly for the first time in prison. "I cried out to God, asking why!"
Eventually he was treated at a military hospital and discharged from the army. He says the release surprised him because he expected to die by firing squad. Instead, he learned God wanted him to experience a different death.
|Burn scars remain on Kahlid's leg. He forgives his persecutors.|
"God allowed me to reach the end and hit rock bottom," explained Kahlid. "I learned the Lord wanted me to die to myself. Because of my prison experience, I learned to be totally dependent on God. I surrendered to Him and will never think about myself again."
Though prison guards treated him as "the scum of the world," after much prayer Kahlid says he learned to forgive his persecutors. He knew Jesus commands us to love our enemies and bless those that persecute us (see Matthew 5:44).
Today he writes Christian books for Muslims. He can "speak" through his writing to those who would not risk association with him as an apostate of Islam.
Just as in the early Church, it is the people who are "refuse" to the world whom God has chosen to fulfill His purpose of bringing the Gospel to the spiritually lost. Join our brothers and sisters disguised as "the scum of the earth," who are shaking the power of Islam. Join them in bringing the truth of God and the light of Christ to Egypt and other restricted nations in North Africa.
Originally published in Voice of the Martyrs, January 2007.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2007 Christianity.ca.