Among the regulations imposed by Islamic governments on their minority citizens, one that is particularly characteristic of pre-modern states is regulation on the construction and repair of religious buildings. As the expanding Islamic empire encompassed masses of non-Muslims, mostly Christians, their right to remain unconverted in their own religion was explicitly recognised. The dhimmis, or non-Muslim subjects, were guaranteed secure possession of their churches, but they were forbidden to repair them and they were forbidden to build new ones.
From the Muslim historical sources as well as the few Christian sources, notably Severus’ History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church and the history of Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Antaki, we learn that the regulations forbidding the repair and new building of churches and monasteries were often allowed to slide in Fatimid Egypt (AH 358/969-567/1171 CE) caliphs and other Muslim government officials, in fact, frequently themselves undertook building projects and lavished them with gifts. Regulations banning construction and restoration of religious buildings, visual reminders of an alien presence in Muslim society, were enforced by the Fatimid government only when a special need was felt to reconfirm the supremacy of Islam in a striking and decisive way. Such enforcement, when it did occur, typically resulted in the eradication of offending buildings. Yet the churches, by their very presence, were always available as a means of retaliation against their builders, and were typically the first target of mob action whenever public anger had been aroused at anything related to anything or anyone Christian.