The year 2013 began with reports indicating that wherever Christians live side by side with large numbers of Muslims, the Christians are under attack. As one report said, "Africa, where Christianity spread fastest during the past century, now is the region where oppression of Christians is spreading fastest." Whether in Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, or Tanzania—attacks on Christians are as frequent as they are graphic.
As for the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, a new study by the Pew Forum finds that "just 0.6 percent of the world's 2.2 billion Christians now live in the Middle East and North Africa. Christians make up only 4% of the region's inhabitants, drastically down from 20% a century ago, and marking the smallest regional Christian minority in the world. Fully 93% of the region is Muslim and 1.6% is Jewish."
How Christianity has been all but eradicated from the region where it was born is made clear in yet another report on the Middle East's largest Christian minority, Egypt's Christian Copts. Due to a "climate of fear and uncertainty," Christian families are leaving Egypt in large numbers. Along with regular church attacks, the situation has gotten to the point that, according to one Coptic priest, "Salafis meet Christian girls in the street and order them to cover their hair. Sometimes they hit them when they refuse." Another congregation leader said "With the new [Sharia-heavy] constitution, the new laws that are expected, and the majority in parliament I don't believe we can be treated on an equal basis."
Elsewhere, Christians are not allowed to flee. In eastern Syria, for example, 25,000 Christians, including Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics, Chaldeans and Armenians, were prevented from fleeing due to a number of roadblocks set up by armed Islamic militia groups, who deliberately target Christians for robbery and kidnapping-for-ransom—then often slaughtering their victims.
Categorized by theme, January's batch of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and in country alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity:
Egypt: Reminiscent of the 2011 New Year's Eve church bombing in Alexandria, which left over 23 Christians dead, a car packed with explosives was discovered by a Coptic church celebrating Christmas [which is in January] and was neutralized before it could detonate. As patrols seized the explosives-packed car, another car with masked men in it sped away. Separately, hundreds of Muslims chanting Islamic slogans in the village of Fanous destroyed a social services building belonging to a Coptic Church. Security forces arrived only after the building had been completely destroyed. According to the AINA report, the social services building "had all the necessary government permits; it had a reception hall on the first floor and a kindergarten on the second. But the Muslims insisted that it would become a church. Mosques in surrounding areas had earlier called on Muslims, through their megaphones, to go and help their Muslim brethren in Fanous, because Christians were "building a church." Hundreds of other Muslim protesters rioted outside yet another church in Upper Egypt; on claims that a Christian man had sexually assaulted a 6-year-old girl, they threw stones at the building. Four stores owned by Copts were torched. Police are investigating the accusations against the merchant.
Nigeria: A total of 30 Christians were slaughtered in two separate attacks carried out by armed men ahead of the New Year, in the Muslim-majority north: on Sunday December 30, 15 people were killed when armed jihadis stormed a church and opened fire on worshippers. The night before, Muslim terrorists broke into targeted homes and slaughtered 15 other Christians in their sleep. "The victims were selected because they were all Christians, some of whom had moved into the neighbourhood from other parts of the city hit by Boko Haram attacks," said a relief worker. Meanwhile, Nigerian president Jonathan revealed that Boko Haram has enablers even within his own government: "The saboteurs in government condoning terrorism by Boko Haram, you do not love this nation," he said. "Those of you who leak secrets to Boko Haram do not love this nation."
Pakistan: On Christmas day, "when Christian worshipers were coming out of different Churches after performing Christmas prayers, more than one hundred Muslim extremists equipped with automatic rifles, pistols and sticks attacked the Christian women, children and men," according to a Pakistan Christian Post report. Several were shot or beaten relentlessly. Much of this appears to have been exacerbated by a fatwa, or an Islamic edict, that came out right before Christmas, saying that, "Christmas cannot be celebrated by Muslims because it is against the concept of monotheism in Islam." Due to the subsequent chaos, Christians "were under siege from Christmas day and running out of food supplies and milk for children on fear of safety and security of life from further attacks of Muslim mob…. The news of this attack on Christians on Christmas Day was intentionally blocked by media and administration of capital city Islamabad."
Russia: Security forces in a North Caucasus province on Sunday killed three Islamic militants suspected of planning attacks on church services during the Russian Orthodox Christmas holiday in January. Security forces tried to stop a van in a Muslim-majority province but its occupants opened fire and, in the ensuing battle, were killed. Guns and ammunition were subsequently discovered in the van, indicating that the men could have been planning attacks on churches during the services that marked the Russian Orthodox Christmas. "Deadly exchanges of gunfire between police and suspected militants at road checkpoints are common in Russia's North Caucasus, a string of provinces hit by an Islamist insurgency rooted in two separatist wars in Chechnya," the report added.
Murders and Plots of Murder
Algeria: According to a local man who escaped an Islamic raid in the Sahara, the Islamic gunmen, who seized hundreds of gas plant workers, told the staff they would not harm Muslims but would kill Western hostages to whom they referred as "Christians and infidels": "The terrorists told us at the very start that they would not hurt Muslims but were only interested in the Christians and infidels. 'We will kill them,' they said."
Egypt: Two bearded men, apparently Salafis —those Muslims who most try to pattern themselves after Islam's prophet—in what appears to have been a random act of violence, stabbed a Christian woman in Alexandria. The two men were riding a motorcycle when they intercepted Mary and, as she was crossing the street, stabbed her in her abdomen, causing a serious wound in her peritoneal membrane. Mary, a Copt, was transported to the hospital, where she underwent surgery. Although her family filed a complaint with the police, the head detective, as usual, refused to go out and inspect the assault scene. An activist confirmed that this is not the first attack on Coptic women in Alexandria; there were several such cases reported in January, all with no response from authorities.
Iraq: The nation's ever dwindling Christian minority continues to suffer atrocities. A Christian university medical student was killed by a car bomb a day after the body of a 54-year-old female Christian teacher was found with her throat cut. She had been discovered in the same area where attacks have been perpetrated in the past against members of the city's Christian minority -- some abducted then murdered.
Turkey: An assassination plot against a Protestant pastor was thwarted when police arrested 14 suspects, two of whom had been part of his congregation for more than a year, pretending to be interested in Christianity; one went so far as to be baptized. "These people had infiltrated our church and collected information about me, my family and the church and were preparing an attack against us," said the pastor, a native Turk who had converted to Christianity. "Two of them attended our church for over a year and they were like family."
Also, an 85-year-old Christian Armenian woman was stabbed to death in her apartment. A crucifix was carved onto her naked corpse. Another elderly Christian Armenian woman was punched in the head, and, after collapsing to the floor, was repeatedly kicked by a masked man. According to the report, "the attack marks the fifth in the past two months against elderly Armenian women, one of whom has has lost an eye…. Opinion remains divided as to whether these are organised hate crimes targeting non-Muslims or just random theft." According to Turkey's Human Rights Association, however, "The attacks were carried out with racist motives," the victims intentionally targeted for being Christian Armenians.
Apostasy, Blasphemy, Proselytism
Egypt: A court sentenced an entire family—Nadia Mohamed Ali and her seven children—to fifteen years in prison for converting to Christianity. Seven other people were sentenced to five years in prison, mainly for facilitating the formal conversion of the family. Born a Christian, Nadia had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man; when she attempted to convert back to Christianity after the death of her husband, and reflect this change formally on her and her children's identity card, the request created suspicions among security personnel, who arrested the family. The fifteen year prison sentence followed.
Iran: Saeed Abedini, an American-Iranian Christian pastor was arrested and, in a sham trial, sentenced "to eight years in prison for threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches. He will serve the time in Iran's notorious Evin Prison, known as one of the most brutal." "This is a real travesty—a mockery of justice," said the American pastor's attorney. "From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights." This is not be the first time Tehran has behaved in such a manner.
Malaysia: Threats to burn Bibles in the Malay language were just the latest assaults on Christianity in a Muslim nation regularly touted in the Western press as "moderate." A note written in Malay saying a Bible-burning festival would soon take place was sent to a Christian priest; it ended with a warning in English: "Let's teach 'em a lesson." This latest threat "has had the desired effect of adding to the despair of Malaysian Christians. A fortnight ago the Sultan of the State of Selangor, defying the conventional practice and in the country, forbade Christians from using the word 'Allah.' The Arabic term for God, in usage in religious and cultural contexts before the dawn of Islam, has been used in Bibles in the Malay language and litany for more than 400 years."
[General Abuse and Suppression of Non-Muslims as "Tolerated" Citizens]
Egypt: A Muslim preacher, Hisham al-Ashri, appeared on prime-time television saying that women not wearing the hijab [headscarf] in public, are asking to get raped. He framed his discussion around Christians, who in Egypt are most likely not to wear veils: "I was once asked: If I came to power, would I let Christian women remain unveiled? And I said: If they want to get raped on the streets, then they can." He further said that, "In order for Egypt to become fully Islamic, alcohol must be banned and all women must be covered," a remark that pointedly does not take Egypt's large Christian minority—whose own religious beliefs do not mandate veils or ban alcohol—into consideration.
Indonesia: After being threatened with closure, six Catholic schools in the nation that has the largest Muslim population in the world, finally agreed to hire Islamic teachers and offer Islamic lessons to Muslim students. Muslim public schools, however, habitually refuse to offer Christian lessons to Christian students, and teach Islam to all students. As one Indonesian commentator put it, "If the regulation is upheld, will Islamic schools, which are more exclusive than Catholic schools when it comes to accepting students of different faiths, also be required to provide Buddhist, Christian or Hindu lessons for their non-Muslim students?" Separately, the Indonesia Ulema Council's East Java chapter urged other regions in the province to issue similar decrees so that all schools, whether state-run or managed by Christian foundations, provide Islamic lessons for their Muslim students.
Pakistan: A powerful government official's Muslim aide, running a prostitution ring abducted a 15-year-old Christian girl from her home, then forced her to convert to Islam and marry him. As a tenant of the Christian family, the aide was evicted after police exposed his prostitution ring. After his departure, the girl disappeared. When, according to the mother, the aide called the girl's family, "He also claimed that Asma had converted to Islam and asked us not to look for her, as she won't be returning home. I could not believe my ears, because Asma is hardly 15 and Ghaji [the Muslim aide] is thrice her age," she said. "I told him that I wanted to speak to Asma for the last time, so he handed over the phone to her. 'What have you done my child, my child?' I asked as Asma burst into tears. [Asma said:] 'They are not going to let me return home, mother—do something.'" The police, as usual, refused to register a case, telling the devastated parents, "Do you know Ghaji works for Siraj Durrani [a governmental official]? I'd suggest that you forget your daughter and stop creating problems for your other children."
Tanzania: During a Friday mosque sermon, a cleric called on Muslims "not to cooperate with Christians because they were infidels. He insisted that Muslims should not take part in Christian festivals like Christmas, Easter and other celebrations, including baptism and confirmation." He also called on Muslims not to go to Christian funeral services, because infidel Christians are to be buried as dogs: "Let me tell you if you came from a Christian father or mother, but you got assimilated [converted to Islam], consider yourself you are lucky. But if one of your parents is deceased, you shouldn't burry [sic] him or her, but just put him/her in the grave as if you [were] doing it to a dead dog." The report further adds that, "Since the founding of the Saad bin Mwazi mosque in Makorora half a decade ago [where the above sermon took place], most residents of the area, including Christians and Muslims have been listening to hate sermons uttered in the mosque."
Uzbekistan: Police detained 80 church leaders in a raid on a gathering to train people for the ministry. In the process, they insulted the Christians and confiscated their Bibles and Christian books, later destroyed by a court order. According to the report, "Four leaders were charged with offences under the country's harsh laws regarding religious practice, including violating the procedure for holding religious meetings, carrying out unauthorised religious activity and teaching religious beliefs without permission. They were each fined more than a year's salary in Uzbekistan and are appealing against the ruling. On 24 December, a court ordered that Bibles confiscated during the raid must be destroyed, despite the fact that the Committee on the Religious Affairs of Uzbekistan officially recognises the Bible as a legitimate text."
About this Series
Because the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching pandemic proportions, "Muslim Persecution of Christians" was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month. It serves two purposes:
1) To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, Muslim persecution of Christians.
2) To show that such persecution is not "random," but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Sharia.
Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; apostasy and blasphemy laws that criminalize and punish with death those who "offend" Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like dhimmis, or second-class, "tolerated" citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination.
Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the West, to India in the East, and throughout the West wherever there are Muslims—it should be clear that one thing alone binds them: Islam—whether the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, or the supremacist culture born of it.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.