In Trabzon, Turkey, locals interrupted the burial of a Christian woman — in part by shouting, "Allahu Akbar!" — at the cemetery of the Santa Maria Catholic Church on January 18, 2020. On February 14, her grave was found desecrated, its wooden cross broken and burned. Pictured: The funeral of 60-year-old Italian Catholic priest Andrea Santoro at Santa Maria on February 6, 2006. Santoro was shot and murdered at the church by a 16-year-old. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
The Slaughter of Christians
Burkina Faso: On Sunday, February 16, Islamic gunmen raided a church during service and slaughtered 24 worshippers, including their pastor; 18 other congregants were injured and several others kidnapped. The terrorists torched the church building before leaving.
"Jihadists, claiming to be killing 'in the name of Allah,' returned to the scene of a previous atrocity ... and murdered at least ten Christian men in a village market place; some estimates have put the death toll as high as 50."
The attack took place in the same small town "where Boko Haram extremists began their murderous rampage last year on 28 April 2019, shooting the pastor, his son and four members of the congregation." Then, as in other instances, the Islamic gunmen "threatened to kill anyone who would not convert to Islam."
"Christians say they are in a fight for survival," another report declared:
"Dozens of Catholic priests have been killed; Protestant pastors and their families have been killed or kidnapped by violent Islamic militants. Villagers wearing Christian symbols are singled out and killed on the spot. Jihadists replace schools with what locals call 'Arab' schools; churches, shops and health centers are burned down."
Democratic Republic of Congo: During several orchestrated raids, militant Muslims slaughtered a 60-year-old pastor "after he refused their demands to convert to Islam." According to a February 6 report:
"Ngulongo Year Batsemire, the Archdeacon of Eringeti, was walking to his fields with his wife when they were surrounded by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist militant group that has been active in the north-east region of DRC for more than two decades and repeatedly targets Christians. The militants demanded Pastor Ngulongo tell them where they could find other pastors. They then attempted to force him to convert to Islam. When the father-of-ten refused to renounce Jesus Christ, the jihadists martyred him. His wife's life was spared. She recalls that the militants had uttered a local phrase known to be used when they are looking to kill Christians but spare Muslims."
According to another report, around the same day that the pastor was murdered and over the ensuing 48 hours, jihadists slaughtered "at least 74 civilians, many of them women and children, with knives and guns" in ten different villages in the Christian-majority nation in early February.
Kenya: On February 19, Muslims linked with the Islamic terror group Al Shabaab ("the youth"), raided another bus in search of Christians and killed at least three people (one report said four); two others were injured. At least two Christian men, Kevin Onyango and Peter Kilonzo, were executed because they could not or would not proclaim the Islamic statement of faith, the shahada, which instantly converts its reciter into a Muslim. One man of Muslim background was also killed for heroically trying to defend the Christians (and therefore, in the eyes of the terrorists, apostatizing). Discussing this incident, a local evangelist said:
"We are seeing a return of planned violent attacks against Christians... Hostility against Christians has been escalating in Mandera at an alarming rate and is being carried out by al-Shabaab members. They target public service vehicles, where they separate Christians from Muslims and execute them. If not vehicles, they attack residential places and kill non-local Christian people. We are, however, proud of the few courageous Muslims who stand up and defend Christians. In this bus attack, one of them was killed for trying to stop the gunmen from shooting the Christians who were not able to say the Islamic prayer."
Two months before this attack, 11 Christians were also executed in a similar fashion: jihadists raided their bus and ordered them to recite the shahada.
Mozambique: In the Christian-majority nation (where Muslims amount for less than 20% of the population), "Continuing Islamist attacks," a February 14 report documented, "have already claimed 500 lives and left thousands displaced," since October 2017, and "shows no signs of coming to an end." Between just January 29 and 30, there were six separate attacks "causing a general exodus of the population and leaving behind a broad swath of destruction in villages." Local Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa decried the attacks as "a tragedy" and acknowledged his own vulnerability. He added:
"I am not afraid. I'm simply trying to fulfil my own role, which is to support the missionaries who are there, in the direct line of fire. They are extremely brave. They are the oasis that the people need, [trusted figures] to whom they can cry out and ask for help. They have not abandoned their posts and so I have no right to be afraid."
Pakistan: Saleem Masih, a 22-year-old Christian farmhand, was tortured and killed for using his Muslim employer's water well. Once the employer saw what Masih was doing, he accused him of being a "filthy Christian" who "had polluted the water." A number of equally scandalized Muslims gathered; "vow[ing] to teach him a lesson," they "dragged him to their cattle farm, where they tied his hands, chained his feet and continued to torture him with sticks and iron rods."
Before he died from his wounds on February 28, Masih told his family that he had been "tortured just for being a Christian." The employer later insisted that he had committed no crime; it was the murdered Christian who had "committed a crime by dirtying" their water, his murderer insisted, and therefore his punishment—torture and death—was "justified."
Masih's father also confirmed that his son was murdered "for nothing but for being Christian." Violent and murderous outbursts by Muslims whenever "filthy Christians" drink or use "their" water is not uncommon.
In 2004, Javed Anjum, another young Christian, was trapped and tortured for five full days, before being killed for having the audacity to drink water from a madrassa. Even the most notorious case of Christian persecution in Pakistan, that of Asia Bibi — who was beaten, falsely accused of blasphemy, and imprisoned for nearly a decade — began after she, then a farm laborer, also drank from a well, prompting outrage from her Muslim coworkers.
The Massacre of Nigeria's Christians
Still more Christians were killed and churches torched at the hands of militant Muslims (Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, generic terrorists).
On February 21, well over a hundred heavily armed Boko Haram jihadists raided Garkida in Gombi of Adamawa State, a predominantly Christian village. According to one report, they "opened fire sporadically and indiscriminately and set churches and houses on fire, killing many people..."
"At least five churches were destroyed, including two houses of worship belonging to the Church of the Brethren denomination, an Anglican Communion church, and a church and a separate office of Living Faith Church."
Possible abductions were reported. The raiders had suddenly emerged out of a neighboring forest after Friday prayers riding atop 60 motorbikes; each vehicle carried two terrorists armed with AK47s and RPGs, followed by about 20 mounted gun trucks. "Garkida is currently on fire," one local reported; "many people have been killed and their houses covered with smoke."
According to a February 18 report, the Fulani Muslim herdsmen that slaughtered 32 Christians during late January raids on three Christian villages (reported here), also torched four Christian churches:
"These churches include the Kauna Baptist Church and Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) in Rubio village, and the COCIN Church and Anglican Church in Marish. Although other structures were also destroyed, the destruction of these churches demonstrates a particular hatred toward Christianity. Despite this, the Nigerian government insists that there is no religious motivation in Fulani militant attacks throughout Nigeria's Middle Belt region."
On February 1, Michael Nnadi, an 18-year-old theology student at the Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, was found killed. Along with three other seminarians who had since gained their freedom, he was earlier abducted by unknown but suspected militant Muslims. "Michael was a young and gifted seminarian," said one of the teachers at the seminary.
"He was an orphan who had been brought up by his grandmother. Just a few weeks ago, after a year of spiritual preparation, he had been clothed in the soutane. It seems that his only crime was his desire to serve God. The security forces and the government have failed him."
During a homily at Michael's funeral, Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, said: "We have no evidence of what transpired between Michael and his killers. However, for us Christians, this death is a metaphor for the fate of all Christians in Nigeria but especially northern Nigeria," where Muslims make the majority, and where "destroying Christianity is seen as one of their key missions," he said of Boko Haram and its many sympathizers in the north. "Are we to deny the evidence before us, of kidnappers separating Muslims from infidels or compelling Christians to convert or die?" The bishop continued:
"The persecution of Christians in northern Nigeria is as old as the modern Nigerian state. Their experiences and fears of northern, Islamic domination are documented in the Willinks Commission Report way back in 1956. It was also the reason why they formed a political platform called, the Non-Muslim League. All of us must confess in all honesty that in the years that have passed, the northern Muslim elite has not developed a moral basis for adequate power sharing with their Christian co-regionalists. We deny at our own expense. By denying Christians lands for places of worship across most of the northern states, ignoring the systematic destruction of churches all these years, denying Christians adequate recruitment, representation and promotions in the State civil services, denying their indigenous children scholarships, marrying Christian women or converting Christians while threatening Muslim women and prospective converts with death, they make building a harmonious community impossible.... Are we to deny the evidence before us, of kidnappers separating Muslims from infidels or compelling Christians to convert or die?"
For his part, Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria's former Minister of Culture and Tourism, accused the "evil Barack Obama" and his administration for being behind the persecution of Christians and general chaos plaguing Nigeria. On February 12, the former government official asserted:
"What Obama, John Kerry and Hilary Clinton did to Nigeria by funding and supporting [current president Muhammadu] Buhari in the 2015 presidential election and helping Boko Haram in 2014/2015 was sheer wickedness and the blood of all those killed by the Buhari administration, his Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram over the last 5 years are on their hands."... I just thank God for Donald Trump. Had he been President of America in 2015 things would have been very different, Jonathan [Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, was Nigeria's president 2010-2015] would have won, Boko Haram would have been history and the Fulani herdsmen would never have seen the light of day."
Hate Crimes against Christians and Churches
Pakistan: On February 2, local Muslims, led by Muhammad Akram and Muhammad Liaqat, opened fire on a group of Christians because they were building a small church on their own land in the village, which has nearly 150 Christians in need of a church. The armed Muslims first came and tried forcefully to seize the Christian-owned land, including by demolishing the church's boundary wall. According to the report:
"When Gulzar Masih [the Christian owner] heard of this he and his sons rushed to the plot to stop the wall from being demolished, the Muslim attackers opened fire and three people (Christians) were severely injured. Azeem, son of Gulzar, was shot in the head, Sajjad was shot in his arm and Razaq was attacked with an axe.... The other suspects fired their guns into the air and escaped the scene."
Egypt: On February 3, a Christian priest traveling to his church in Alexandria was ambushed and "nearly murdered" by a Muslim parolee. According to the report, the man "blocked the priest's car and began attacking him with stones. Fortunately, only the car was damaged. The parolee, nicknamed Kareem Madi, has a history of attacking Christians—especially women and girls."
Two weeks earlier, two other Christians were also randomly targeted in two separate incidents by Muslim men with known hatred for Christians. The woman had her throat slit and the man had his ear sliced off. The report adds that
"These incidents are a reminder that while Egypt may be experiencing less Christian fatalities than previous years, the mindset which encourages the targeting of Christians still exist [sic]. It is a mindset that is encouraged by the government[,] by its policies which view Christians as second-class citizens and Islam as the official religion of the country."
Turkey: After locals interrupted the burial of a Christian woman— in part by shouting, "Allahu Akbar!" ["Allah is the greatest!"] — at the cemetery of the Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon on January 18, her grave was later found desecrated, its wooden cross broken and burned, when her husband came to visit it on February 14. The priest of the church which the deceased woman was a member of, Father Andrea Santoro, was himself martyred in 2006 when a 16-year-old, also shouting "Allahu Akbar," shot the priest in the back of the head while he was kneeling in prayer inside the church.
"Christians are losing everything they own without an actual legal basis," said Fr. Slavomir Dadas in a February 6 report on the deteriorating situation for Christians in Turkey. "They are losing everything Christians have worked for over the course of history." Although the priest's discussion was focused on the hilly region of Tur Abdin — an ancient religious and cultural center for Christians where harassment and persecution has become the norm — his discourse had relevance for the entire nation:
"The Christians do not feel welcome in their own homeland and have to endure frequent harassment.... The biggest problem, particularly in Tur Abdin, is that people can no longer envision a future for themselves in the region. It is said that there were almost 50,000 Christians living there about 50 years ago. When I recently visited the area, they were talking about only 2,500 Christians.... [T]hey seem to be regarded as a problem because the area itself is considered a Christian region. This is not acceptable in a Muslim country... The villages were once inhabited by 200 to 300 families, most of them Christians. Today, two or three Christian families live in a village... They are guardians of the cultural heritage and the faith there."
Pakistan: In order to justify marriage to a 14-year-old Christian girl who was previously abducted, forced to convert to Islam, and wed to a Muslim man, on February 3, during a hearing on the case of Huma Younus, the Sindh high court in Karachi ruled that men may marry underage girls once they have their period, in direct compliance with sharia, or Islamic law. "Our daughters are insecure and abused in this country," Huma's mother remarked earlier. "They are not safe anywhere. We leave them at schools or home but they are kidnapped, raped, humiliated, and forced to convert to Islam."
Marriage to underage girls is illegal due to the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, which the high court ignored to side with Muslims against Christians. Discussing this incident, Napoleon Qayyum, executive director of the Pakistan Center of Law of Justice, said:
"Another Christian girl aged 14 was recently abducted and gang-raped by some Muslim youths... The victim is a student of grade nine and was abducted by four or five boys on her way to a local tuition center on Jan. 16, 2020. The abductors not only raped her but also obtained her signatures and thumb impressions on some papers."
Although police recovered her, the rights activist "fears the suspects will use her signed documents to produce a fake marriage certificate and religion conversion letter in a bid to escape abduction and rape charges," which, he said, "is common modus operandi of Muslims to confuse the court and avoid justice. Moreover, the girls are also forced to give false statements in court that they have changed their religion of free will and had married of their own choice," Qayyum added. "Girls belonging to minority communities often succumb to pressure and consideration for their family's security, which has further emboldened the men belonging to the majority faith."
Uganda: "On Feb. 20, I received some threatening messages that my church is going to be destroyed because of converting Muslims to Christians," a pastor reported.
"Some of my members have stopped attending the church for fear of their lives in a possible attack by the Muslims. Sending away the helpless family is not a good idea, but losing church members is also not good. We as a church are in a dilemma."
Earlier, the wife and mother of the family had converted to Christianity and began to share the Gospel with a few of her children, who in turn shared it with their older siblings. Within a year, all nine children, aged between 5 and 20, also turned to Christianity. But then, "When I shared Christ's love to my husband," the woman explained, "he was so furious at me and responded by slapping and kicking, which injured my rib on the left side."
"I was taken for medication. But I continued praying and sharing Jesus with him. After two months Jesus appeared to my husband in a vision, which led to his conversion to the Christian faith. He then stopped attending the prayers at mosque."
However, when one of their youngest children innocently told her paternal grandfather that the family had been attending church, her father's "angry father summoned him to a meeting where mosque elders and clan leaders would determine his punishment for leaving Islam. Under sharia (Islamic law), apostasy is often punishable by death," the report adds. Instead, the family fled to and "sought refuge at the church," his wife explained, "where we have been residing since December 2019."
Jihad on St. Valentine
As happens every year, several Muslim nations made it a point to issue proclamations and threats of punishment for anyone who celebrates Valentine's Day, which Islamic leaders widely condemn as a Western holiday with Christian roots. This was the case, for example, in various regions of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation: In Aceh, "Those who are [caught] celebrating Valentine's Day violate Islamic Sharia law applied in Aceh, and they can be caned," warned the regent of West Aceh. Similarly, the "Indonesian Ulema [Islamic Scholars] Council in West Java and the mayor of Bandung sought to ban Valentine's Day celebrations in all secondary and senior high schools," while their counterparts in Tarakan, declared Valentine's Day "illegal."
Similarly, in Iran, "On February 11 this year the Center for Reduction and Control of Social Harms of the Prosecutor's Office in Qom warned businesses that promote 'anti-cultural symbols such as Valentine's symbols' threatening to shut them down from one to six months if they do not comply. The statement issued by Prosecutor's Office has also provided a number for the public to call to report 'transgressions.'"
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the recent 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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