The purge of ancient Christian communities throughout Iraq that started in June culminated in great intolerance in July.
Among other Islamic attacks, a Christian church that had stood Iraq for 1,800 years -- a church that was erected less than 200 years after Christ -- was reportedly torched by the Islamic State, according to countless news agencies, including Al Arabiya.
Islamic State jihadis also stormed and took over an ancient monastery in northern Iraq. St. Behnam monastery had stood since the fourth century and was one of Iraq's best-known Christian landmarks. It was built by an Assyrian king as a penance for executing his children Behnam and Sarah for converting to Christianity.
The jihadis expelled its few monks; they said, "You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately." The monks pled to be allowed to save some of the monastery's ancient relics, but the jihadis refused and ordered them to walk miles along a deserted road with nothing but their clothes.
The Islamic State issued a July 19 deadline for Mosul's Christians either to convert to Islam or face execution. Islamic State members also singled out Christian homes by placing the Arabic letter for "N" -- based on the Arabic word Nasara, or "Nazarenes," the Koran's pejorative for Christians -- on the sides of their homes. The result, in the words of Patriarch Louis Sako, is that, "For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians."
In response to the Islamic State's latest atrocities against Iraq's Christian minorities, the Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Mount Lebanon and Tripoli, George Saliba, denounced not just the Islamic State but Muslims in general for their long "history of violence and oppression against Christians":
What is happening in Iraq is a strange thing, but it is normal for Muslims, because they have never treated Christians well, and they have always held an offensive and defaming stand against Christians.... We used to live and coexist with Muslims, but then they revealed their canines [teeth].... [They don't] have the right to storm houses, steal and attack the honor of Christians. Most Muslims do this; the Ottomans killed us and after that the ruling nation-states understood the circumstances but always gave advantage to the Muslims. Islam has never changed...
Islamic organizations responded by denouncing the Syriac bishop's words as "hateful" and Islamophobic, demanding an apology.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also made some telling remarks concerning the plight of Christians, especially in those Mideast countries the U.S. is involved in. When asked if he was "troubled" by the Presbyterian Church USA's decision to withdraw $21 million worth of investments from Israel on behalf of the Palestinian people, the prime minister said:
You know I would suggest to these Presbyterian organizations to fly to the Middle East, come and see Israel for the embattled democracy that it is, and then take a bus tour, go to Libya, go to Syria, go to Iraq, and see the difference. And I would give them two pieces of advice; one is, make sure it's an armor plated bus, and second, don't say that you're Christians.
The rest of July's roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country in alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity.
Muslim Attacks on Churches and Carnage
Afghanistan: According to BosNewsLife, the central Asian nation's "tiny Christian community was left in shock Friday, July 25, after two Finnish Christian aid workers were shot dead." The attack "underscored the dangers faced by Christian aid workers." The two women were slain by motorcycle riding gunmen in the western city of Herat, "the latest in a series of attacks targeting Westerners, including Christian believers. The Christians, who represented International Assistance Mission (IAM), had been working in Afghanistan since the 1990s... They both spoke Dari well and knew and respected the culture of Afghanistan." Among those the aid workers were helping were people with mental disabilities and illiterate women.
Central African Republic: At least 27 Christians were slaughtered during a July 7 attack on the St. Joseph's Cathedral compound in Bambari, where thousands of people, mostly Christian, were receiving sanctuary. The attackers were fighters from the Islamic Seleka rebel movement and Muslim civilians. The armed attackers entered the grounds at around 3pm and began shooting indiscriminately. Women and children were among those killed; over 20 people were injured. The Islamic attackers burned down 20 buildings within the church compound, set fire to three cars, and stole two others as well as a number of motorbikes. Weeks earlier, on May 28, another attack on a church compound in Bangui, the capital, left around 20 people dead.
Kenya: On July 5, Muslims attacked the Covenant Church, three kilometers north of Hindi, just as Bible study was closing. As the Bible study participants fled, two men chose to hide inside the church building -- and were burned alive after the Islamic attackers set the building on fire. On the same night, a Catholic church building in the village of Gamba, in neighboring Tana River County, was also destroyed by attackers. Two days earlier, 15-20 assailants armed with guns and knives attacked Gamba and the village of Hindi. The assailants killed at least 13 people, including a 12-year-old student and a 30-year-old man, "who was found in a pool of blood with a Bible on his back," according to Morning Star News. One survivor of the attacks said the invaders were heard "saying non-Muslims should get out, and if not they should convert to Islam." Another survivor said, "I was removed with my daughter from the house while the attackers tied my husband to the bedside before setting the house on fire. The attackers, who spoke mainly in Somali, targeted non-Muslims, whom they tied with ropes before slitting their throats." (Gamba is about 28 miles from Mpeketoni, another Christian town where gunmen killed at least 57 people in a June 15 attack.)
Lebanon: A shadowy group known as the Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade, which had only recently pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State, announced on its twitter account that a "specialized group of free jihadists were tasked with cleansing the Islamic state of Bekaa in particular and in Lebanon in general from the churches. We will target crusaders in the state and in Lebanon to silence the ringing of the bells." (According to Islamic Sharia law, churches under Islamic authority are forbidden from ringing their bells.) The Brigade has claimed responsibility for several rocket and bomb attacks inside Lebanon, the last of which were the suicide blasts in Dahr al-Baydar and Raouche's Duroy Hotel.
Nigeria: A bomb blast inside the Saint Charles Catholic Church left five people dead and eight injured. The attack came shortly after Sunday mass ended, when an improvised explosive device was thrown in the city of Kano, which has a strong presence of Boko Haram, the local Islamic terrorist organization. On the same Sunday, also in Kano, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up outside a university after police prevented her from carrying out an attack. Five officers were injured. According to a police spokesman, "A female suicide bomber was isolated (by police) as she was walking towards the gate of the university." She had hidden the bomb under her "long black hijab" and was singled out for behaving strangely, said the spokesman. Police were about to ask a female colleague to frisk the woman when she detonated the bomb, killing herself and injuring the police officers. Also in July, Nicholas Okoh, primate of the Church of Nigeria, said in an interview that, despite Boko Haram's nonstop attacks on Christians and their churches, for long "the United States did not come out to say anything about Boko Haram. They kept talking about economic problems, [saying] that Boko Haram is fighting because of economic problems. That is not true ... The United States deliberately ignored the fundamental issues of religious ideology."
Sudan: In adherence to Islamic law, the east African nation formally announced a ban on the construction of any new Christian churches in the country. This move came after the authorities bulldozed several churches to the ground. Some had been in existence for decades. The most recent one destroyed was the Sudanese Christ Church at El Izba residential area in Khartoum North, on July 1. According to Pravoslavie, "The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Religious Endowments Shalil Abdullah announced that the government will henceforth not issue permits for the building of churches in the country. Minister Shalil Abdullah told the press on Saturday [July 12] that the existing churches are enough for the Christian population remaining in Sudan after the secession of South Sudan in 2011." Since 1989, Sudan has been governed by an Islamic regime that enforces Sharia law. Reverend Kori El Ramli, the Secretary-General of Sudan Council of Churches, criticized this move as contradicting the nation's Constitution, adding, "Yes, we are a minority, but we have freedom of worship and belief just like the rest of the Sudanese as long as we are Sudanese nationals like them."
Turkey: A band of Muslims attacked the Saint Stephanos Church in Istanbul during a baptismal service held on July 15. Yelling obscenities, and with one waving a knife and threatening to stab a parishioner, they pushed their way into the baptismal service. The attack occurred during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which often sees a rise of intolerance in Muslim majority areas. Two months earlier, men in their late teens and 20s had entered the church at night, ripped out most of its audio equipment and destroyed what they could not carry away. They also took some of the ceremonial candles, lit them and started setting items in the back of the building on fire. They stacked all remaining candles into a pile, lit them and left.
Uganda: A gang of Muslims armed with machetes stormed a church during services. They hacked one 18-year-old woman to death and left three others, including a one-year-old baby, injured. A group of approximately 20 Christians had gathered at Chali Born Victory Church in Kyegegwa district for their regular Friday night prayer session when armed Muslims burst into the building around 2 am. Pastor Jackson Turyamureba was preaching when he saw somebody looking through a window. According to the pastor,
I thought he was a drunkard and told him to either enter or go away. Shortly after that I heard doors being banged and men shouting 'Allahu Akhbar' ('Allah is Greater') as they stormed the church brandishing pangas (machetes) and beating worshippers.... One of the attackers followed me and threw a panga which went over my head. I ran through a garden and the man who was pursuing me fell down and gave up the chase.
The Muslim attackers then fled to a nearby mosque. Police surrounded the mosque; one officer was killed when the attackers opened fire. Two suspects were arrested. According to the pastor, the church has had problems in the area with a group of Muslims who had unsuccessfully tried to convert its members to Islam. Church member Polly Tashobya added that members of the group had said they wanted to transform Uganda into an Islamic nation and would kill anyone who refused to convert.
Muslim Attacks on Christian Freedom and 'Dhimmitude'
Iran: Authorities detained a pastor and two other members of the Church of Iran, one of the country's largest house-churches. Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, Mohammad Roghangir, and Suroush Saraie were arrested on July 5 by security forces at the pastor's home in the city of Bandar-Anzali. According to BosNewsLife, "Their detention comes amid an ongoing government campaign to halt the spread of Christianity in the Islamic country. Especially converts from Islam, many of whom visit the Church of Iran, have been targeted." Security forces reportedly confiscated the pastor's belongings, including his Bible, and several other books. That loss would be just the latest setback for Pastor Matthias, who was jailed for his faith on three other occasions between 2006 and 2011.
Separately, a judge sentenced a Christian man to have his lips burnt with a cigarette for eating during the day in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink during daylight. The punishment was carried out in public in a square in the city of Kermanshah. Five Muslim men were also flogged in public with 70 lashes for not fasting during Ramadan. A spokesperson from The National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political coalition which opposes the government, denounced the treatment as 'savage' and called on Western countries to respond: "The silence of the world community, especially of western countries, vis-à-vis these medieval punishments under the excuse of having nuclear talks with Iran has intensified the brutal and systematic violation of human rights in Iran."
Somalia: Muslim converts to Christianity who fled Somalia and reside in Kenyan refugee camps remain in mortal danger. One convert, known only as "Abubakr," and his wife reportedly held each other under their bed in their refugee camp as gunmen suspected to be from the Islamic terrorist organization Al Shabaab pounded on their door. They ordered the man to come out and called him an "infidel" (in both the Arabic and Somali languages), saying, "We need your head." When the apostate refused, they opened fire through the spaces of the poles of the couple's hut, striking their legs. Then they heard the attackers say, "We have killed the infidels" as they shot into the air while leaving. The Christian couple was found two days later lying in their own pool of blood. According to Abubakr, far from providing security for the hiding apostates, Muslim guards at the refugee camp actually help Al Shabaab militants locate them. Another Somali convert from Islam, Abdikadir, saw Muslim relatives and other Somalis burn down his home in one of the Dadaab refugee camps in April. In the course of destroying his home, they took away his wife and four children. He fled the camp and is now living elsewhere.
United Kingdom: According to the Telegraph, "Children were taught that all Christians are liars and attempts were made to introduce Sharia law in classrooms as part of an alleged 'Trojan Horse' takeover plot of Birmingham schools, an inquiry has found." Commissioned by Birmingham City Council, the inquiry found "evidence of religious extremism in 13 schools as school governors and teachers tried to promote and enforce radical Islamic values." Among other anti-Christian and pro-Islamic measures, schools canceled Christmas festivities, put up posters warning children that they would "go to hell" if they did not pray, and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be "punished" by angels "from dusk to dawn." The report found that the extremism went unchecked because the council "disastrously" prioritized community cohesion over "doing what is right."
About this Series
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians is expanding. "Muslim Persecution of Christians" was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month.
It documents what the mainstream media often fails to report.
It posits that such persecution is not random but systematic, and takes place in all languages, ethnicities and locations.
Raymond Ibrahim is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).
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