Why does God let these people kill innocent people?” Mariam is only 11 years old, but her question was long expected by her parents. Her family belongs to Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. Like other Egyptian Christians, they live in a perpetual state of forced marginalization and targeted violence. In Upper Egypt, the violence is especially potent. Attacks against Christians are, sadly, a normal part of life.
“The curriculum of Al-Azhar and the education system still have a lot of glorification of hatred and violence, and the hate preachers are allowed on the pulpits and are familiar faces and voices in the mass media, poisoning and corrupting the minds of the masses,” explained Halim Meawad, cofounder of Coptic Solidarity.
Mariam’s parents have tried to shield her from this violence. But when, on November 2, gunmen attacked a bus of Christians traveling to St. Samuel Monastery, her parents could not shield Mariam from the news. Two children, along with five adults, were killed in the attack. Suddenly, Mariam was confronted with the reality that even children are not safe from persecution.
Her father, Emad, told ICC how they had tried “not to open the TV on the news, so we don’t put her in a situation which is difficult for her to understand. [But] last week she came [home] very angry from school because she found that all her friends are talking about the St. Samuel attack.”
Frustrated, Mariam told her father, “I didn’t know anything, why do you treat me as a child!?”
Emad found himself confronted with the same challenge that all Christian parents in Egypt face: explaining to your child that they could be killed because of their faith.
For Kirlos, his 8-year-old son Milad found out about the St. Samuel attack before they were able to discuss it as a family. Milad found him and said, “I am afraid to go to church because I am afraid that they will kill us. Dad, why do they want to kill us? Where did the kids go after they died?”
Explaining the hardline Islamic extremism to Milad was challenging. Kirlos told him, “They believe that this pleases God, but they are wrong. Jesus told us that this will happen. God is just and we pray for the people who lost their kids for comfort and we also have to pray for the bad people to be good.”
“Christ did not promise us with an ideal world, but that sorrow will exist in the world. [However, we must] trust that Jesus has defeated the world.”
“We don’t have to be afraid,” continued Kirlos. “The bad people want us to be afraid and not go to church, so do you want the bad people to win and let us be afraid?”
Many parents are telling their children not to be afraid of the violence which they might experience as Christians. One mother told her children shortly after the St. Samuel attack how “Christ did not promise us with an ideal world, but that sorrow will exist in the world. [However, we must] trust that Jesus has defeated the world.”
Even as parents attempt to spiritually strengthen their children for the persecution which they will inevitably face in Egypt, they also share practical advice for lessening their exposure to potential acts of violence.
One mother told her daughter to stay away from Upper Egypt, where the violence against Christians is the most severe. “El-Minya is a cursed governorate. Please do not go there, its residents are extremists and terrorists. [Just] look and see what is happening there. Please… stay here,” she begged her daughter.
For Karem, he has tried to use the situation to motivate his children to find a way towards a better life. He said, “This [Egypt] is a failed government. Work hard and study well. Try to get a better way to live or leave here and [and go to] another country.”
Many parents are encouraging their children to stay as far away from potential trouble spots as possible. “God save my sons,” one mother told ICC. “Please don’t get into conflicts with anyone! When you leave the church, walk quickly and do not let them draft you into trouble with them. Stay away from them!”
Another mother echoed this sentiment. “My son, please keep yourself away from them. You are the only one for me. God please help them to see the truth and believe in you.”
But the challenge of staying away from potential troubles is difficult. One teenage boy remarked to ICC how it is impossible to melt into society. “We are counted as very few in numbers. The Muslim colleagues are always staring at us, as we look very strange to them. We are something to be outcast.”
Emad constantly worries about how these challenges will impact his daughter. “As parents, there is a dilemma between exposing children to what is happening in the world around us and letting them be aware, and how to deal with their Muslim friends, since not all of the Muslims are persecuting the Christians,” he said.
“I want my daughter to be aware, but not to be scared of the Muslims in our community,” he continued. “Sometimes it can be difficult to create a balance between the mind and what it should be and our feelings, when attacks like this happen and innocent people die.”