“Burnt Beyond Recognition”: Muslim Persecution of Christians, August 2018

Christians Burned Alive and Churches Torched

Ethiopia:  Approximately 15 Christian priests were killed—at least four burned alive—and 19 churches torched during Muslim uprisings in the east, where most of the nation’s 33 percent Muslim population is centered.  “Similar tensions are bubbling under the surface in other parts of Oromia,” which is approximately 50 percent Muslim, said a local source. “We have even heard of places where Muslims had asked Christians to vacate the area. And though this call is veiled as ethnic rivalry by some media and observers, it is at its very core a religious matter.”

Nigeria: During one of eight raids on Christian villages on August 28, Muslim Fulani herdsmen burned alive a Christian pastor, his wife, and three young children in their home; two other non-relatives were also killed in the raids. Armed with machetes and AK47 rifles, the Islamic raiders also looted and destroyed 95 houses and three churches.  Gyang Adamu, one of the pastor’s surviving children who was away at the University of Jos at the time, “got to know about the attack when I saw a post on Facebook that Abonong village [his home], was under attack,” he said.  When he finally got through to someone local, “the report I received was very devastating; I couldn’t believe that all my family members have been engulfed in the pogrom. On reaching home, I saw my daddy and younger ones burnt beyond recognition. The sight of the gory incident broke me down.”

Also in Nigeria, armed Muslims stormed a Baptist church around 1 am, shot its pastor dead, and kidnapped his wife.  “The abductors said we need to pay them N5 million [equivalent to about $15,000 USD] before they can release her to us,” said one local source. “You can imagine that they now have the gut to walk into people’s home, kill and abduct and also have an effrontery to demand for ransom. Where and how can we get that money?”

Jihad on Christian Churches in Egypt

At attempted suicide attack against a Christian church just outside of Cairo was foiled on August 11, near the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday.   Only the bomber died on detonating an explosive belt near the church after police denied him entry; two others were injured.  The church was targeted on that day because it was packed with hundreds of worshippers celebrating an annual holiday.  It was later discovered that the jihadi cell responsible for the attack, which included two women, “had laced nails with poison to ensure that the blast would cause fatal injuries.”   According to a local Christian teacher, “We are accustomed to this; that became the normal behavior at every feast or celebration, one terrorist trying to blow up a church or conduct violence like as an Eid gift.” Mina, a 22-year-old engineer, said, “Currently, I am no longer very interested in incidents, and all the talks are nothing, I look for chances to leave this state… I don’t belong here.”

Another eight churches were closed in one Egyptian province alone, Luxor, all of them “following attacks by Muslim villagers protesting against the church[es] being legally recognized,” said an August 29 report.

In one instance on August 22, while Christians were celebrating a feast day at the Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox church, “A great deal of Muslim young men, aged 16-26, from our village and nearby gathered in front of our church building, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [Allah is greater] and chanting hostile slogans against Copts and the Church, such as ‘We don’t want a church in our Islamic village,’” recalled one church member. “They tried to break the front door … but we locked [it] from the inside. We immediately called the police who arrived and dispersed the demonstrators but they didn’t arrest anyone. They then closed the church building, sealed it and placed security guards with it.”

On August 25, in the village of Beni Suef, a Muslim “policeman tasked with guarding the church from extremists instead aggressively entered the church and hurled insults at the congregation, calling them infidels,” says another report. “The other policemen reportedly remained outside of the church during the incident…” Ibrahim, a member of the church, said, “The Christian villagers are very distressed and want a strong stand from official persons.”

In another incident on Friday, August 31, Muslims assaulted Christians in al-Minya because they “objected to the presence of a church in the area”; three Christians were hospitalized.

Discussing these violent Muslim protests followed by illegal church closures, Gamil Ayed, a local Coptic lawyer, said what many Egyptian Christians think: “We haven’t heard that a mosque was closed down, or that prayer was stopped in it because it was unlicensed. Is that justice? Where is the equality? Where is the religious freedom? Where is the law? Where are the state institutions?”  “The gathering of Muslims causing a shutdown of churches in the process of legalization is bullying—not only of the Copts but also of the state,” said another human rights activist. “The non-implementation of the law has brought us a gang of hardliners who have become above the law.”

Jihad on Christians in Pakistan

Vicky Masih, a 35-year-old Christian man, was murdered when he met with Muslim acquaintances and asked them to repay a debt owed him on August 6, the day of his wedding anniversary.  According to the report, “The claim for compensation triggered a discussion that soon degenerated into a violent clash. During the quarrel Muhammad Abbas, one of those present, opened fire. With his stomach pierced by bullets, Vicky begged for mercy, but the group continued to beat him ignoring his cries of pain. Eventually the Christian was abandoned agonizing on the street and the guilty parties fled.” According to the victim’s brother, “the police are conniving with the perpetrators, who are part of rich criminal families….  We want justice.  We are poor and we do not have the strength to fight these thugs. We call upon all the people of God to help us and pray for the wife of Vicky and her three little children: now they are the most vulnerable and defenseless.”

Separately, a young Christian university student lost sight in one of his eyes during an armed attack by Muslims on his Christian household.  For months earlier, neighborhood Muslims had been pressuring the Christian family—the only one on the street—to leave, including by teasing and mocking the young children for being Christian.  According to Alvin John, the family head, “Soon after the Muslims started harassing us, I had made up my mind that I would not let my children suffer in this environment.  I was waiting for the 12-month rental agreement to finish so that we could relocate … and start afresh. I wish I had the financial means to leave that neighborhood earlier.”  Then, on the night of August 28, Muslims surrounded and pelted their home with stones and broke windows.  “After the attackers left the scene, I told some neighbors who had gathered there that we were going to launch legal action and sought their assistance in the matter.  However, around 11 p.m., some 30 armed Muslims attacked our house again, this time forcing their way into our home. Someone had informed them about our intention to approach the police, so they had come to ‘teach us a lesson.’”  They beat the father and his two sons—blinding one in his left eye—as his wife and daughter “screamed in panic.” The “attackers also broke the furniture and ransacked our other belongings.”

In another incident, Muslim mobs attacked and ransacked Christian homes after a 19 year-old Muslim woman went missing and her father, Muhammad Hanif, accused Waheed, the 22-year-old son of one of the Christian households, of eloping with her. “All the Muslim residents flared up and shouted at us, saying they would burn our houses and cut us into pieces,” said Waheed’s brother, Nasir.  The “imam announced more than once on the loudspeaker that all Muslims should gather at the centre of the village, and ‘Don’t let even a single Christian live in the village.’ Following this, a large number of Muslims gathered and then attacked the houses of the Christians.”  Despite insisting that they did not know where the Muslim woman went, “The mob took my mother and beat her publicly,” said Nasir, adding that most of the men, bonded laborers, were at work at the time. “Someone alerted the police, who rescued her from the mob but then took her into custody to pressure us to produce Waheed at the police station,” which Nasir did.   According to the report, eventually “Nabeela [the missing Muslim daughter] appeared in the magistrate’s court and requested to record a statement in which she submitted that she had run away to marry Muhammad Nazir Kashif—of her own freewill…. At this, the police released Waheed and his mother.  But the police have not yet filed charges against the theft, ransacking and incitement to hate from the mosque loudspeaker…”  Later, Nabeela filed an appeal saying that she was in fact abducted by Waheed and his brother, was repeatedly raped, but managed to escape.  “These new charges are being used to pressurize Christians to withdraw their application seeking legal action against misuse of the mosque loudspeaker, and the theft and ransacking of our houses,” Nasir said.  Even one police official admitted that “Nabeela has changed her statement so we are asking what statement she’s sticking to.”

In yet another incident, a group of Muslims thrashed Vishal Masih, an 18-year-old Christian, after he repeatedly defeated a Muslim teen at arm-wrestling on August 2.  Angered for losing, the Muslim youth verbally abused Vishal and Christians as a whole: “How could a man of a dirty community defeat me?  A Choora (Untouchable) defeats a Muslim is unbearable, I will teach him a lesson.”  After the match, “while Vishal was on his way home, a gang of over a dozen young Muslims followed him and attacked. The gang brutally beat Vishal, attacked his family’s house, and beat his family members,” says the report.  Then another Muslim gang attacked him.  “[A]lthough Vishal survived the attack, it was as if they left him for dead.  The gang then kidnapped the severely injured Vishal, locked him in a room at their residence, where they repeatedly beat him for the third time.  After the assaults, Vishal was reportedly admitted to a hospital. His family is being pressured by influential Muslims to withdraw the case, otherwise they could be in more danger.”

Finally, “a charged mob of over 50 Muslim men … attacked” a group of Christians, including children, for trying to defend their church property.   According to Bashir Masih, one of the victims,

Ahmad, a local landlord carries a dispute with the local Christians over a piece of land for years…The lower court of Kasur has already issued ‘stay-order’ for the piece of land for both the parties … However, the Muslim family wanted to grab the church property using their social and religious pressure….  On August 2, 2018, Ahmad tried to cultivate a piece of land with a tractor which belongs to the church. The local Christians requested him not to violate court orders, however, Ahmad abused the Christians and passed derogatory remarks against [the] church, stating, “Building a church is nonsense.”… Within no time, Ahmad’s armed companions attacked the Christian men, women, and children with arms and sticks. They left two seriously injured and other with minor injuries. The mob stoned the under-construction church as well.

The church, St. Matthews, which serves about 40 Catholic families, was built by the impoverished community’s own money.   “When the Christians complained [to] the police about the attack, the police officials ordered them to keep quiet and avoid mentioning it as a religious issue… The police were unfair in the matter,” one of the locals said.

More Church Attacks

Uganda: After months of being pelted by stones hurled by local Muslims, a church finally shut its doors on Sunday, August 4.  Then, a stone hurled through a window of Greater Love Church struck the pastor in the forehead and rendered her unconscious.  Pastor Moreen Sanyu was delivering a sermon when the projectile broke through the window.  “I fell down and became unconscious,” she said. “When I woke up, there were only a few members who surrounded me—the rest of the church members had fled in different directions.”  No one came to the following Sunday worship service.  Just outside Kampala, the nation’s capital, the church was in a predominantly Muslim area.  Because some Muslims began to attend the church, other Muslims began to hurl stones at it: “We cannot watch our children joining infidels’ church,” explained a local sheikh. “The throwing of stones broke glass windows and destroyed a solar panel, and as well there was the uttering of abusive and threatening words to me and my church members,” the pastor said.  Two months after its opening in May 2017, and due to the constant stoning, the congregation went from 400 to 150, until the August 4 incident, when membership dropped to zero. “I am not ready to lose my life by attending the church,” admitted one anonymous church member. “I need prayers and material support to relocate to another area at this trying moment,” said the pastor.

Nigeria:  Christians are denied places of worship all throughout the Muslim-majority northern regions, even near and in supposedly progressive universities, said Catholic Bishop Matthew Kukah during a speech:

As I’m talking here now, … Christians don’t have a place to worship after over 40 years of the existence of these universities and these are the areas where the intellectuals, those who are going to govern Nigeria, this is where they are….  Up till today, as I’m talking to you, you can’t find a single governor in northern Nigeria that will effortlessly sign a certificate of occupancy for the building of a church.  Nowhere…  Northern Nigeria is literally a closed book. And our inability to understand northern Nigeria collectively as a nation accounts for most of the crisis we still face in this country.

Meanwhile, the education Muslim children receive in northern Nigeria perpetuates the animosity for Christian houses of worship, said the bishop:

I have windows of my churches broken because young children are throwing stones at the cathedral. I had one of my parishioners went blind three years ago. His house was by the roadside. Children coming from Quranic studies threw stones to his house. I’m asking the question, what are these children being taught about the other person? This is a very serious crisis in northern Nigeria.

Attacks on Apostates

Iran:  A court sentenced twelve Christians, most of whom had apostatized from Islam,  to one year in prison on the “charge of propaganda activities against the system and in favor of Zionist Christianity through holding house meetings, evangelism, and invitation to Christianity and inclination to the land of Christianity,” says the August 11 report.  Payam Kharaman, one of the convicted converts, said “the pressure and harassment of the security forces on me began in early 2012, and I was repeatedly summoned … and interrogated about evangelism and communication with abroad, and I always insisted on the belief in Christianity for myself and not for promotion of Christianity.” The accusation that Payam had an “Inclination to the land of Christianity” may be a reference to Israel, where Christianity was born, and its use indicates that court officials “were looking for the accused’s confession to communication with abroad, especially America, Britain and Israel, and this term has originated from this matter.”  Another report adds that, “based on the cases we have been tracking, this is the first time this year that we’ve seen a jail sentence being given based on the charge of ‘inclination to the land of Christianity.’ This could be interpreted as a reference to Israel, the birthplace of Christianity and also a country that Iran has adopted a very aggressive stance towards.”

Separately, another convert to Christianity, Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh, inquired about the charge he was convicted for: “Action against national security through the establishment of house churches.”  In an August, 2018, open letter to the Iranian court that sentenced him to ten years in prison, he asked, “is the fellowship of a few Christian brothers and sisters in someone’s home, singing worship songs, reading the Bible and worshiping God acting against national security?  Isn’t it a clear violation of civil and human rights, and an absolute injustice to receive a ten-year prison sentence just for organizing ‘house churches…’”  Iran is widely considered one of the top ten worst nations where Christians experience “extreme persecution.”

Central Asia:  A Christian mother in Central Asia (name of exact country withheld for security reasons) was kicked out of her home by her Muslim husband for refusing to renounce Christ and return to Islam.   Sameda, 23, converted to Christianity three years ago.  Due to the lack of Christians in her area, she married Rashid, a moderate Muslim who was seemingly indifferent to her faith. “I married Rashid because he seemed to me to be a good man,” she explained.  Initially, we were very happy until he became more interested in my faith. Certainly, I did not hide the fact that I am a Christian and told him that God touched my life one day. After these words, my husband seemed to change.”  He eventually began pressuring her to return to Islam and beat her several times—including when she was five months pregnant.  After giving birth to a baby girl, Rashid told her return to the fold of Islam or else. “My beloved husband, who always seemed so kind and caring; he kicked me out of his house with a month-old baby without any means of subsistence!  People say that I am born as a Muslim [for being Asian] and should be this all my life. Now they call me a betrayer of the ‘pure religion and true prophet Muhammed,’ but how can I betray something or somebody I never knew and understood? Yes, I am a Christian, but also still an Asian woman.”   Although Sameda and her baby moved in with her mother in a tight room— “authorities refused to give them a new flat with good conditions because they are Christians” says the report—her problems are not over. She could still lose her child in a divorce, as many Muslim nations give fathers custody of children—all the more so when the mother is infidel.

Indonesia:  The Muslim children of an elderly and destitute widow kicked her out of their home for converting to Christianity.  After losing her husband, Nurul, 68, went to live in a missionary home for widows and orphans; there she eventually embraced Christianity. Then, according to an August 3 report, “Nurul later received news that one of her children decided to take her in their home. At first she was happy to be reunited with her family members, but then her Muslim relatives found out about her Christian faith, and allowed her to stay with them for only three months.”  “Because she became a Christian, no one cared for her and she had to go out from the community,” explained the director of the home for widows and orphans, which took Nurul back in.

Discrimination for and Abuse of Christians

Chad: “Christians in Chad are being intimidated and forced from public life, under new rules prioritizing Islam in violation of the North African country’s secular foundations,” said a report. Among these laws is an Islamic “oath [that] is exclusive and reductive in its vision of the state and appears to be another way of excluding Christians from public responsibilities,” elaborated one senior church source, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.  Priority is now being given to officials who take the oath “in the name of Allah the all-powerful,” while several top Christian officials have been dismissed for refusing it.  “What will now become of the many Chadians who are neither Muslims nor Christians, and what will be the purpose of our institutions of justice and regulation?” asked a local source, before adding that the situation has become “critical, as the great powers show complicity by turning a blind eye to violations of basic human rights …” The source also said that “Catholic leaders fear for their lives after criticizing constitutional changes.”

Comoros: Sunni Islam was formally declared “the religion of the state,” said an August 3 report.  “The state draws from this religion the principles and rules of Sunnite observance,” the nation’s amended constitution now reads.  As Christians amount to about 2 percent of population—which is 95 percent Sunni Muslim —this development bodes ill, say local Christians: “Things have been very hard on indigenous Christians before, and this kind of specification is expected to make things even harder for them,” predicted one local source.  According to the report,

Over the years, the rise [of] radical Islamic thought among the population, government officials, religious leaders and Muslim youth groups have caused anxiety among Christians…  Converts to Christianity from Islam can be prosecuted, and the converts that exist face severe discrimination from the Muslim majority…  The state also denies worshipping space for Christians in general. An ultra-conservative group of radical scholars … are pushing the country to a more extreme view of Islamic law (sharia) in the country and are against Christians.

Turkey: A declaration signed by non-Muslim religious leaders saying that, contrary to growing reports, they are experiencing no persecution, was signed under duress, say reports and rights activists.  The statement, signed by 16 Christian and two Jewish community leaders, said that religious minorities were allowed to practice their faiths freely, that “statements alleging and/or alluding to oppression are completely untrue,” and that “many grievances experienced in the past have been resolved.”  In an August 4 statement, however, Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, the head of an organization comprised of the leading Orthodox churchmen in the United States, said:

The Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, regrets the pressure that the Turkish government has clearly placed upon that nation’s religious minorities in obtaining a statement on religious freedom from them.….  In light of … the plight of religious minorities in Turkey, it is clear that Erdogan is acting as a dictator, going to religious minorities asking them to sign a paper that belies reality when they are in no position to refuse, for fear that their situation will deteriorate even more…..  [W]e fervently pray for our suffering Christian brothers and sisters and all those who are persecuted simply for professing their faith in Turkey and elsewhere.

Another report says that “Leading the signatory list was Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, whose community has been waiting for 47 years now to have its theological school [Halki Seminary] reopened.”   Around the same time that this “religious freedom” statement was being signed, and apparently to add insult to injury, Turkish authorities declared that a major Islamic Education Center will be built right next to the closed Christian building.  According to the architect, Korhan Gümüş, this move appears as a form of “religious antagonism….  A halki seminary was built there in the past. Building Islamic Education Center right next to it gives the feeling of revenge.  This is like old fears haunting us again in Turkey.”

Reprinted with author’s permission from Raymond Ibrahim

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