The endemic rise of Christian persecution in the Middle East was noted in November when Pope Francis declared “We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians” and stressed the importance of “the universal right to lead a dignified life and freely practice one’s own faith” after he met with patriarchs from Syria, Iran, and Iraq, all countries where Christian minorities are under attack.
On the other hand, powers best placed to do something about the plight of Mideast Christians—namely, the U.S. Obama administration—made it clear that they would do nothing, even when well leveraged to do so.
In November, the wife of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran for over a year for practicing Christianity, said she and her family were devastated after learning that the Obama administration did not try to secure the release of her husband as part of the newly signed deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
“The talks over Iran’s nuclear program were seen by his [Abedini’s] family and those representing them as one of the most promising avenues yet for securing his release,” said Fox News. “But the White House confirmed over the weekend that Abedini’s status was not on the table during those talks.”
“I don’t think we have any more leverage,” said Abedini’s wife. “We now have to consider other avenues and having other countries speak out because our country when we could have used our leverage chose to stay silent.”
The rest of November’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:
Islamic Attacks on Christian Places of Worship
Lebanon: An unidentified attacker firebombed the reception area of the newly built Christian cathedral of the town’s patron Saint, Mar Zakhya. Despite the loud boom heard in the town’s main square, there was limited damage; some building material used for the building process of the cathedral was destroyed. Although Lebanon was Christian-majority in the mid-20th century, today it is roughly 60% Muslim, 40% Christian.
Sudan: Police and security forces used a truck and two land cruisers to batter down the fence around Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church, before breaking into the church and beating and arresting the Christians present as Muslim onlookers shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is greater”). The government, which has been destroying or taking over church buildings in retaliation to the secession of the mainly Christian South Sudan in July 2011, is believed to be behind the move, on the pretext that parts of the church’s property actually belong to a Muslim business investor.
Syria: Nine children were killed and 27 people wounded after Islamic rebels targeted and fired mortar rounds at the St. John of Damascus Christian School and the school bus. Also, the aftermath of the rebel invasion and occupation of the city of Qamishli in the northeast near the Turkish border revealed and included—among other atrocities such as killing and beheading Christians and their clergy—the destruction of all Christian icons in the local church and theft of the church’s most prized possession, a reportedly two-thousand year-old icon of the face of Christ.
Turkey: Historically the oldest Christian place of worship in Istanbul, the ancient monastery of San Giovanni in Studion founded in 462, currently classified as a museum, is now going to serve as a mosque. This would be the third ancient Christian building and heritage site to be set to be transformed into a mosque. Earlier it was announced that the ancient churches of Hagia Sophia (St. Sophia) in Trabzon and in Iznik would also be turned into mosques.
Islamic Attacks on Christian Freedom: Apostasy, Blasphemy, Proselytism
India: TJ Joseph, a Christian college professor, was finally acquitted of all blasphemy charges, though he is still missing an arm. Back in 2010 he had his right hand and part of his arm cut off by a group of men, following accusations that some of his exams contained offensive questions about Islam’s prophet Muhammad. Although he had apologized, after he was mutilated, he was also fired by his college. According to one source: the most serious aspects of this episode “was the attitude of the police, who registered the complaint against him and also arrested him, and of the institution, which has suspended him from duty. Fortunately, the Mahatma Gandhi University, to which Newman College is affiliated, revoked the decision of the school authorities and has offered him his job back.”
Iran: The fate of Hossein Saketi Aramsari, a Christian known as “Stephen” among his friends, remained unknown. Iran’s secret police arrested him back in July, 2013, on suspicions that he was engaging in “evangelistic activities.” According to sources, apparently to increase pressure on him, authorities transferred him from one jail to another; he has also been in solitary confinement. Then, in October, a judge of the local Revolutionary Court “officially charged him with doing evangelism.” It is believed that he is currently held in the same prison where Benham Irani, another Christian “prisoner of conscience” is being held, abused, and refused medical treatment, also on the charge of proselytizing. Explaining this rise in crackdowns on evangelizing, Mohabat News said, “Conversion of youth and their families has become a major concern for the Iranian security authorities and Islamic leaders.” Separately, a former Muslim and drug addict who twice attempted to commit suicide before he converted to Christianity at a rehabilitation center at the hands of another former Muslim and ex-drug addict woman who had earlier become Christian, was, according to those close to him, falsely convicted of selling drugs in the facility, severely beaten, and sentenced to prison, after authorities learned that he himself had begun to proselytize in the rehabilitation center. Police also temporarily arrested Armin Davoodi’s parents at their home and confiscated his personal belongings, including the Bibles he used to take to the rehabilitation center. Relatives with strong government connections were able to get him released under numerous conditions, including a requirement that he state in writing that Christians had misled him into the faith and that he would never again go to a church or talk to other Muslims about the Gospel, and that if he did, he would be executed by the state. So he agreed to their proposal and has since fled.
Pakistan: Blasphemy cases against Christians have reached an all-time high. Four such cases were reported in November, which, according to activists, is four times higher than the monthly average recorded over the past two years. Activists and clergy further stressed that the overwhelming majority of blasphemy accusations are being used as “instruments of revenge” against Christians, as a sure way to see them get punished for whatever real or imagined grievance accusing Muslims may have. Separately, Younis Masih, a 35-year-old Christian who had been imprisoned and sentenced to death on blasphemy charges since 2005, was finally released after judges decreed he did not blaspheme Islam. He and his family are still in hiding since some Muslims still seek to kill him despite his being cleared of the blasphemy charge. According to Younis: “I have four children and I have no job, no one is helping me. I live with the fear of being killed.” And in the words of his lawyer: “Christians in Pakistan fear threats, attacks, violence, discrimination and hatred. The law of blasphemy is always a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads: Their life is not safe even after their release from prison.”
Somalia: A Muslim convert to Christianity living in Mogadishu was killed by Islamic gunmen accusing him of spreading the faith. Two men armed with pistols shot Abdikhani Hassan, 35, seven times as he approached his home after closing his pharmacy. He is survived by his wife, who is pregnant, and five children ranging in age from 3 to 12. He and his wife converted to Christianity back in 2000. Before killing him, one of the assailants told a neighbor, “We have information that Hassan is spreading wrong religion to our people, and we are looking for him.” According to a source, “The men who murdered Abdikhani [Hassan] are suspected to be Al Shabaab militia,” the Somali wing of al-Qaeda which has vowed to cleanse the country of any Christian presence.
Turkey: A Christian pastor was reportedly arrested on charges of organizing human trafficking and prostitution. The Christian community of Agape (or “Brotherly Love”) Church, where Orhan Picaklar, 42, is pastor, insists that he is innocent, and that “the allegations are entirely instrumental, as the Pastor was under observation for suspected ‘illegal missionary activity.’” Later, the church where the Agape community meets was damaged by vandals, although the congregation has obtained the formal status of “association” in 2005 (as with other Christian communities in Turkey, the government does not grant official recognition of “church” to new communities).
Central African Republic: 450,000 Christians have fled their homes in the 80% Christian-majority nation since the Islamic takeover in March 2013. Then, Seleka—a coalition of local and foreign Arabic-speaking Islamic militias—seized control of the capital, Bangui, in an orgy of violence, bloodshed, and rape, against Christians. As one analyst put it, “But Seleka does not rape, loot and kill indiscriminately. Rather, Seleka attacks Christians and spares Muslims, causing traditional community trust to evaporate, and creating a sectarian tinderbox.” And in fact, Christians, who make the majority of the African nation, are fighting back, leading to an extremely volatile situation. Christian Bishop Albert Vanbuel stated “a rebellion of religious extremism with evil intentions, characterized by profanation and planned destruction of religious buildings, especially Catholic and Protestant churches” is now in power.
Egypt: Three months after the Egyptian military liberated Delga from Muslim Brotherhood supporters and sympathizers—who were forcing Christians to pay jizya, or tribute, for right of life—they continued to terrorize Christians in other towns across Egypt. Especially throughout regions in Upper Egypt like Minya, extortionists using the threat of kidnap, torture and murder seized money, land and other property from Christians. One Copt was tied by his kidnappers as they repeatedly shot an automatic rifle next to his ear. According to Morning Star News, “Besides the emotional damage he suffered, the shockwaves exiting the rifle combined with the muzzle blast shattered the Christian’s eardrums and burned his face. The Copt begged his family to gather the ransom money, and eventually they paid the kidnappers some 50,000 Egyptian pounds (US$7,260). He returned to his family shattered and unable to speak of the ordeal until recently.” According to the founder of the Maspero Union, targeting Christians in the context of seizing their money and property is seen “as a religious duty.” The director of a human rights organization in Upper Egypt said, “This past month alone, we had nine cases of kidnapping in Minya, and they all paid their ransom, which was between 100,000 and 250,000 Egyptian pounds [US$14,500 to $36,300] for each case.” Separately in Minya, after a Coptic boy was accused of being in a relationship with a Muslim girl, “Muslims burnt down the house of the boy’s father and an adjacent house.”
Nigeria: After kidnapping a teenage Christian girl named Hajja, members of the Boko Haram terrorist organization kept her as a slave, eventually putting a knife to her throat and offering her one of two choices: convert to Islam or die. “If I cried, they beat me. If I spoke, they beat me. They told me I must become a Muslim but I refused again and again… They were about to slaughter me and one of them begged me not to resist and just before I had my throat slit I relented. They put a veil on me and made me read from the Koran.” According to Reuters, “She ceremonially converted to Islam, cooked for the men, carried ammunition during an attack on a police outpost and was about to be married to one of the insurgents before she managed to engineer a dramatic escape. She says she was not raped.” Recounting how her captors used her to lure people into traps, the 19-year-old told Reuters, and “They took them back to a cave and tied them up. They cut their throats, one at a time. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest, because I was the bait.” Among those who did the slaughtering was the Muslim wife of a leader, the only other woman in the band of jihadi terrorists. Separately, a Baptist high school principal and some teachers were beaten to a “pulp” and “state of coma” at the hands of “unknown persons,” who used, among other weapons, axes. The reason was that the school had earlier sent home a female student for wearing a veil, or Islamic hijab, while on school premises. Finally, over 70 Christians were killed by what were described as “Islamic extremists”: Boko Haram terrorists killed 34 Christians in Borno state, while “Muslim herdsmen” slaughtered 37 Christians, injured dozens, and looted and destroyed their homes, in coordinated attacks on four Plateau state villages.
Pakistan: An entire Christian community has been forced to flee a Lyarni neighborhood known as the “Slaughter House,” due to the endemic killings, rapes of young girls, thefts, drug dealing, and extortions. Before surrounding Muslims began their incursions, the residential area was 90% Christian, 10% Hindu, with four churches and three temples. “It is almost empty now,” disclosed a Christian elder of a Christian family. “We all are separated now. We won’t be reunited again.” “A lot of the families have left the compound since 2008, after their daughters were kidnapped and raped,” claimed another community elder. “No one knows where they have gone.” He recalled an incident when a teenage girl, who was dancing at her brother’s wedding, was kidnapped. “Her parents, brother and relatives cried and appealed to the kidnappers but they didn’t listen,” he narrated. “She was dishonoured and was left outside the compound the next morning. That family was never seen in the city again.”
About this Series
While not all, or even most Muslims are involved, the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching pandemic proportions. Accordingly, “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, 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 cowed 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—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.