On October 13, 2019, a fire "completely destroyed" St. George Church in Cairo, Egypt, which was considered "one of the greatest and oldest churches belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church." (Image source: Diego Delso/Wikimedia Commons)
The Slaughter of Christians
Uganda: A Muslim mob set fire to the home of former Muslim, Ali Nakabale, 36, for converting to Christianity. Four of his family members—including his two children, a six-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter—were burned to death in the blaze. His wife, apparently enraged to learn that Ali had become a Christian, reportedly prompted the arson attack. "I had just visited my aunt only to receive sad news of the burning of our house," Nakabale said. "Upon arriving home, I found the house destroyed by fire that burned my four family members, including my two children." His mother and stepfather were also killed in the blaze. "On reaching the mortuary, I found their bodies burned beyond recognition."
"We saw fire emanating from the house of Hamidah with loud chants from Muslims saying, 'Allah Akbar [Allah is greater],'" reported a neighbor. Earlier, when his wife learned that his son and he had become Christian, she had beated the boy. On "[t]he same day my wife walked out of the marriage and left the home," said Ali. "We got scared because we knew that our lives were in danger."
Egypt: Two Christian men were killed by Muslim men in two separate incidents. First, according to one report,
"Friends of a 40 year-old Egyptian who converted from Islam to Christianity believe that his premature death on 4th October is linked to numerous threats he received from his family that they would kill him for his change of faith. Before Amr Hussein Mohamed El-Sayeh died, apparently by electrocution at his home, he told several friends that his uncle had, in July, reported him twice to the Alexandria police security directorate for his 'apostasy'. He also told his friends that when he tried to talk to his wife about his new-found faith, she told their family, prompting them to constantly taunt and insult him."
Amr was an Al Azhar graduate and had taught Islamic studies before being baptized and taking the name "George" in April of 2019, a fact that apparently aggrieved his kin: "his family began to resist him and insult him, they wondered that Amr was an al-Azhar student and a graduate of the Faculty of Islamic Studies, and yet he converted to Christianity," said a friend. After his uncle reported him to the authorities, Amr/George, "made a cross tattoo on his right wrist, which triggered his family against him."
A number of suspicious circumstances further still surround his case: a hospital source saw bruises around his face and neck deemed inconsistent with the official cause of death (electrocution); he was not given a ritual washing—customary for both Muslims and Christians—reportedly because "the body washers were told that he should be treated as an 'apostate'"; nor did his Muslim family hold a funeral for him, choosing instead to bury him in a charity cemetery for the destitute. His friend's concluding thoughts were:
"[He] was a very brave man.... He challenged his family for his faith in Jesus Christ. He was knowing that his family were going to kill him anytime but he didn't fear death. He kept faith till his last breath and refused to renounce his new faith. He was martyred in the name of Jesus Christ."
"Maged's son was carrying dead chickens, and one fell beside the (Muslim) house. The Muslim man hit the boy on his face with the dead chicken. Maged heard his son crying loudly and got out of the house quickly. He tried to defend his son, but the killer [and five other Muslim accomplices] hit Maged on his head with a cudgel, and injured him with a knife too."
Nigeria: Among the Christians killed by Muslim Fulani herdsmen in October — including 13 in the Plateau State alone — was Bartholomew David, 23. According to Enoch Barde, a local, "As he was coming back [from dropping off his sister at the train station] he gave a lady a lift to Akilbu, and on their way the kidnappers stopped them, took them inside the bush and shot him to death, and the girl ran. The girl said the herdsmen kidnapped them because they were Christians. She told the police the same thing." The kidnapping of Christians in the region has become rampant, added Enoch: "In most cases, only a few women or girls who are lucky usually escape from the rampaging kidnappers. And at times, the kidnappers will rape the women and girls before letting them go."
Separately, on October 3, Muslim Fulani herdsmen kidnapped six Christian female students and two teachers from a Christian-run high school. At last report, the eight women remained in captivity. A week later, "another attack in the same county led to the killing of a Baptist woman and the kidnapping of four others from the same church."
In another incident, Fulani herdsmen intentionally maimed, a Christian woman, by cutting her hand off. She was alone on her farmstead when the terrorists invaded the village. According to a source close to Grace, "her attackers told her to place her hand on a log of wood before cutting it off." The source added that there were machete wounds on her head as well.
Cameroon: During a raid on Sunday, October 20, suspected radicalized Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed Benjamin Tem, 48, who worked as a Bible translator in the Aghem language spoken in north Cameroon. Two months earlier, Muslim Fulani killed Angus Fung, also a Bible translator. Tem, murdered in his home, leaves behind five children.
Persecution of Apostates and Blasphemers
Iran: During a brief court hearing, nine Christians were sentenced to five years imprisonment "for leaving Islam," according to a October 21 report. Christian Solidarity Worldwide was also quoted as condemning "in the strongest terms," the sentences handed to the Christians:
"Once again, it is clear from the brevity of the trial and reported lack of interest of the presiding judge that due process was not observed. And the judge was not impartial. The charges against these Christians are excessive, completely unfounded and constitute a criminalization of a religion which the Iranian constitution purportedly recognizes."
Kenya: An October 22 report summarized the sufferings experienced by a former Muslim family with eight children, after they embraced Christianity. Area Muslims began to monitor their movements soon after the family stopped attending the mosque. Then, one night, "[a]t around midnight I heard noise close to the homestead," Ibrahim Juma, the father, said. "Peeping through the window, I saw more than six people wearing masks approaching my house, and I knew that we were not safe at all. I quickly woke up my children, and we fled out the rear door."
The house was apparently doused with gasoline before being set ablaze. "The children's schoolbooks and their uniforms were all destroyed. Our four-bedroom house was completed destroyed; beddings and other valuables worth a huge amount of money were all destroyed by the fire." According to the mother:
"My two primary-school children are always asking what was the wrongdoing committed by the family that caused the burning of the house, as well as about moving from one place to another. I always keep quiet or only tell them that soon things will get better, and that God is the provider. Sometimes I weep the whole night when I think back upon the trail of destruction left behind."
The family has since moved three times, sometimes living in wretched conditions. "It has been very difficult for my children's schooling—we are constantly on the move, which has adversely affected the education of my five children in school," continued the mother. "We have started receiving short phone messages from our Muslim relatives demanding that we return to Islam if life is to go on well with us." As of the last report, they were still receiving threats for leaving Islam.
Indonesia: Despite being diagnosed with schizophrenia, a Christian woman was tried for "blaspheming" against Islam—the penalty for which is a maximum of five years imprisonment. According to the October 11 report:
"[W]itnesses testified in court that defendant Suzethe Margaret, a Christian woman living in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb, brought a small dog into a neighborhood mosque, looking for her husband. Margaret accused the mosque of converting him to Islam to marry another woman. She was wearing her shoes and kicked a mosque guard when asked to leave. Judges ordered the trial closed to the public because the defendant has a psychosocial disability. Margaret has paranoid schizophrenia, according to a psychiatric examination at two hospitals in Jakarta in 2013."
Indonesia's criminal code (Article 44) states that anyone committing a criminal act by reason of a mental health condition cannot be held liable, but rather is to "be placed in a lunatic asylum" for one year maximum. Regardless, even Indonesia's Vice President Jusuf Kalla — who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council — said Margaret's act of "bringing a dog into a mosque was obviously blasphemous."
Attacks on Churches
Algeria: Authorities sealed down three more churches, two of which were among the nation's largest. First, on October 14, authorities notified the Church of Makouda that it would be shut down on the following day. When October 15 came, worshippers of the 500 plus congregation filled the church in peaceful protest, prompting the authorities to beat and forcefully drag them out and seal off the church.
Hours later authorities went to seal off not only Algeria's largest church, but the largest church west of the Nile River in Egypt: the Protestant Church of the Full Gospel of Tizi-Ozou, which served approximately one-thousand members. On learning of the plans to shut it down, a few hundred Christian worshippers again filled the church in protest. According to the report:
"Some of those praying for God's intervention were in tears as police arrived who would beat and drag some Christians from the worship hall.... Police forced them out, dragging some women by the hair, and when Pastor Chalah and other Christian men tried to intervene, officers kicked them and struck them with batons, the pastor said. He sustained minor injuries."
Prior to this, the church had existed and been legal since 1996. "It's been 23 years that we exist in plain view," said Pastor Chalah: "why wait until today to do so? May everyone know that we have been beaten and abused, including our sisters too, in our own premises for one reason only — our Christian faith. And because that's the cause of our pain, we're proud of it." He also explained the situation in a brief video:
"... I am sharing with you our worries, and the challenges that we are facing on a daily basis. I would like to bring to your attention that fact that eleven churches have been closed by the Algerian authorities. We are concerned about the situation, because we do not know how far this will go, and what are the intentions of our authorities... [T]he situation is critical. Please share this message as much as you can."
On the next day, October 16, authorities sealed off the Church Tafath, which served about 150 worshippers. It was the twelfth church to be closed down in as many months in Algeria; eight churches were sealed off in September and October alone.
Discussing these ongoing closures, Pastor Benzid, another Christian leader in Algeria, said:
"I never thought that one day places of worship could be invaded by the elements of security services with their weapons in front of children, women, old people and young people.... It is unimaginable and unacceptable in the 21st century to see such a scene occur in a place of worship and in front of pacifist people."
Egypt: On Sunday, October 13, "a massive fire swept through a major Coptic church in a Cairo suburb causing heavy damage, but no casualties." Online images and video of the St. George Church in Helwan — considered one of the greatest and oldest churches belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church — confirm that, to quote Bishop Bishara, it "had been completely destroyed." Fr. Andrew, who personally served at the church for three decades, said:
"The old wooden building burned down very fast and the fire destroyed everything inside, even before the firefighters arrived.... Our loss is great. We have lost a great historical building and we can't rebuild anything like it."
Three days after the fire, on October 16, another blaze broke out in another St. George Church, this time in Mansoura (images here and here). "The fire completely ate up the wooden chapel," the report stated. Five people — two of whom were firefighters — were injured.
Preliminary reports from Egyptian authorities indicated that both fires appeared to be accidents related to electrical or circuit failures, not arson. No concluding report for any of the fires has since been issued. General opinion among Christians, however, is that the fires were "not a coincidence." According to Fr. Samuel of the Mansoura church, "The fire started from the wooden ceiling of the adjacent hall." Video footage, he added, indicated that something from the market behind the church was hurled onto its roof. Another clergyman, who is also a professional engineer, at the same church, said:
"When we built the church, we designed the electrical circuits in the best possible way and we make sure to switch everything off when we are not around. Also, the electricity distribution panel is equipped with devices to protect against overcurrent and high voltage rise."
A local source speaking on condition of anonymity added that shortly before the fires, the security services had contacted several churches and said to make sure their surveillance cameras were in working order: "This indicates," he postulated, "that the national security had information suggesting that some churches in Egypt would be attacked."
In a separate but possibly connected incident, two weeks before the first fire, Ali Batehk, a leader of the Egyptian-founded Muslim Brotherhood, who is currently exiled in Turkey, released an audio recording which stated, "we will get the presidency of Egypt again. Also we will prepare something for targeting the churches and monasteries. ... We are preparing something that will get the Christians on fire."
Bans on Bibles and Crosses
Turkey: On October 3, before and during a Europa League soccer match against a German team from Mönchengladbach, Istanbul police removed the flags and banners of soccer fans because they had the symbol of a cross, which is part of the German team's logo (a coat of arms with a black cross on a yellow background). The German team and its fans also reported general harassment from the Muslim authorities for carrying their customary Christian symbols during their stay in Turkey. Responding, German sports director Max Eberl said,
"It makes me extremely sad that we have conditions in Europe in 2019 that the police can dictate which flags come into the stadium. This rule does not exist... [There was] harassed from the start... For me, these are bizarre and grotesque pictures and scenes that are no longer expected in Europe these days. It has nothing to do with the European Cup. This is a police dictatorship."
"... Christian visitors should [still] be aware that displaying a Bible in public, or taking more than one Bible into the country, could place them at risk of arrest. The new regulations for tourists state that a Bible may be brought into the country provided it is for personal use only. Bibles must not be displayed in public and anyone found bringing a large number of Bibles will face 'severe penalties.'"
The statement continued by explaining that in Saudi Arabia, openly practicing Christianity is forbidden:
"There are hundreds of thousands of Christians from other nations, such as the Philippines, other parts of Asia, or African countries, who are living and working in Saudi Arabia. But they must meet in private homes to worship, and risk harassment, arrest and deportation if they are caught doing so. Saudi citizens who convert to Christianity face risk of execution by the state for apostasy if their conversion becomes known."
General Demonization and Persecution of Christians
Turkey: According to top secret documents obtained by the Nordic Monitor, an NGO, "Turkey's National Security Council (MGK) secretly drew up plans to fabricate a threat supposedly posed by Christian missionaries in order to create fear as part of social engineering." Excerpts of the report follow:
"A study of the top-secret documents reveals how the legal activities of Christian faith groups such as Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants in Turkey were presented as national security threats to the sustainability and viability of the Turkish state. It shows how the powerful institution that helps shape policies in Turkey views the European Union as a Christian project and offers nationwide measures for cracking down on Christians in Turkey.... The documents confirm that the Turkish state profiled dozens of Christian groups in Turkey and abroad, proposed controversial measures to halt their work and instructed all government agencies including the military, police and intelligence to monitor and thwart their projects. What is more, the Turkish judge who reviewed the documents ... of the criminal investigation into suspects who were involved in crafting the secret policy that led to murders and attacks on Christians in Turkey was arbitrarily dismissed and later arrested by the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan."
Pakistan: Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad expounded on the sufferings Christians experience in Pakistan during an interview published on October 4. Excerpts follow:
"Many minorities give their children Islamic names so they will not be singled out as Christians and become potential targets for discrimination in primary or secondary schools or at the college level.... In many cases, minority students do suffer abuse in public schools... The minorities are considered infidels and they are depicted negatively in textbooks, which promote prejudices against minorities. The fundamentalists believe that Islam is the only complete religion—that salvation is only found in the Qur'an as the last holy book.... Most of the minorities, and in particular Christians, are afraid of attacks and persecution.... If the West strikes against Muslims anywhere in the world, enraged fundamentalists in Pakistan often attack the churches.... Muslims believe that converting one person to Islam earns them eternal life. If an initial effort fails, people turn to kidnapping.....Kidnappings and forced marriages are most common in rural areas, where people have little education.
Separately, according to an October 25 report, in just the three months of July, August, and September 2019, there were 43 documented cases of persecution against Christians:
"These cases included kidnappings, rapes, forced conversions to Islam, discrimination, and several religiously motivated murders.... In early September, police tortured to death Amir Masih, a 28-year-old Christian gardener in Lahore."
In another case, a Christian teenager and student at a government girls' primary school was abducted and converted to Islam by the school principal. According to the girl's mother:
"On that day, my two daughters went to school, but only one returned home. When we went to the school in search of Faiza, the principal revealed that Faiza had converted to Islam and therefore, we had no right to meet her. It was heartbreaking for me. Instead of returning our daughter, the principal asked all of us to convert to Islam. She offered us a luxurious life and [said] that she will bear the entire expenses of the family and we will have access to Faiza if we converted."
Among the other 43 documented cases of persecution were the "abductions and forced conversions of seven Christians girls, another seven cases where Christian women were targeted for sexual assault, five cases where Christians were denied their religious freedom rights, seven cases of Christians being physically tortured, six religiously motivated murders, and 11 cases of discrimination."
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
About this Series
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by extremists is growing. The report posits that such persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location.
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