Written by Raymond Ibrahim
"The songs of praise to God are banned here." — Police officers to Christians, Turkmenistan.
"Meanwhile, an increasing number of people are being incarcerated for crimes of opinion and defense of religious freedom." — Asia News
As happens at Christmas every year throughout the Muslim world, Christians and their churches were especially targeted—from jihadi terror strikes killing worshippers, to measures by Muslim authorities restricting Christmas celebrations. Some incidents follow:
Iraq: “Militants” reported the Associated Press, “targeted Christians in three separate Christmas Day bombings in Baghdad, killing at least 37 people, officials said Wednesday. In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church in the capital’s southern Dora neighborhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38, a police officer said. Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21.”
Iran: Five Muslim converts to Christianity were arrested from a house-church during a Christmas celebration. Plain clothes Iranian security authorities raided a house where, according to Mohabat News, “a group of Christians had gathered to celebrate Christmas on Tuesday, December 24.” Before arresting the five apostates, authorities “insulted and searched those in attendance, and seized all Christian books, CDs, and laptops they found. They also took the Satellite TV receiver.” The original report received by Mohabat stated: “These Christians had gathered to worship and celebrate [the] birth of Jesus.”
Indonesia: Muslims in the Aceh province protested against Christmas and New Year celebrations and called on authorities to ban them. Days earlier, an influential Islamic cleric organization, the Ulema Consultative Assembly, issued a fatwa, or edict, “prohibiting Muslims from offering Christmas wishes or celebrating on New Year’s Eve,” said the Associated Press. Aceh is the “only province in predominantly Muslim Indonesia that is allowed to implement a version of Islamic Shariah law.”
Kenya: “Youths,” reported Reuters, “threw petrol bombs at two Kenyan churches on Christmas day … in the latest bout of violence against Christians on the country’s predominantly Muslim coast.” The attacks occurred “in the early hours of December 25 after churchgoers held services to usher in Christmas.” The churches were located in Muslim-majority regions. One church was “completely destroyed.”
Somalia: The more “moderate” government—as it is often portrayed in comparison to Al Shabaab (“The Youth”) opposition—banned Christmas celebrations. Hours before Christmas Day, the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs released a directive banning any Christian festivities from being held in the east African nation. In the words of one ministry official: “We alert fellow Muslims in Somalia that some festivities to mark Christian Days will take place around the world in this week. It is prohibited to celebrate those days in this country.” All security and law enforcement agencies were instructed to quash any Christian celebrations.
Pakistan: During Christmas Eve services, “Heavy contingents of police were deployed around the churches to thwart any untoward incident.” In some regions, “prayer service at major churches focused on remembering the Pakistani Christians who lost their lives in terror attacks.” For example, three months earlier, Islamic suicide bombers entered the All Saints Church compound in Peshawar following Sunday mass and blew themselves up in the midst of some 550 congregants, killing some 130 worshippers, including many Sunday school children, women, and choir members, and injuring nearly 200 people.
Even in Western nations like Denmark, Christmas Eve witnessed Islamic demonstrations and cries of “Allahu Akbar” (or “Allah is greater”).
Also in December, Syria’s Greek-Catholic Church declared that it had three “true martyrs”—men from the small town of Ma’loula, an ancient Christian site where the inhabitants still spoke the language of Christ. According to Asia News, “When the town fell [in September, to al-Qaeda linked rebels], a climate of fear was imposed… When three men refused to repudiate their religion, they were summarily executed in public, and six more were taken hostage. This was followed by a failed attempt by Syrian government forces to retake the town.” In the words of Patriarch Gregorios III to Pope Francis in a meeting: “Holy Father, they are true martyrs. Ordered to give up their faith, they proudly refused. Three others however gave in and were forced to declare themselves Muslim, but later returned to the faith of their ancestors.” According to the families who fled from Ma’loula, “some of their Muslim neighbors took part in the attack that devastated this historic village where people still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Muslims are approximately one third of the population of the village…”
The rest of December’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.
Egypt: After a Coptic Christian priest from the village of Tarshoub, Upper Egypt, left to service a new location and a new priest was sent to Tarshoub, Muslim Brotherhood supporters rioted and attacked the village Christians, including by throwing stones at their homes, burning property, and calling for the closure of the village church, which has been in existence for 40 years. The church was subsequently closed and the priest prevented from entering the village. The Christian Post reported that Christian villagers were “getting close to the New Year celebrations and Christmas, and yet they are not able to open the church…. security authorities have not arrested the aggressors, while Copts were forced to close the church for fear of more attacks, especially in light of continued incitement by the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Indonesia: Five more churches were closed by authorities, leaving thousands of Christians without a place of worship. First, claiming that the existence of a Protestant church in North Sumatra was illegal, hundreds of Muslims belonging to the Islamic Defenders Front attacked and disrupted its Sunday services, creating so much havoc that police had to escort Christians home. Then, two new churches—one in West Java, the other in South Sulawesi—were sealed off. The Sulawesi church was subsequently demolished by authorities. A few days later, two more churches near Jakarta were forced to stop holding services. According to International Christian Concern, “The reason behind this month’s rash of church closures, especially after seven months of relative quiet, is not exactly clear. It may be that the coming Christmas holiday has ignited always simmering anti-Christian sentiment among radical groups. In 2000, 16 were killed by bomb attacks on churches over the Christmas holiday.”
Russia: In December it was revealed that seven Christian churches were torched in 2013 in a Muslim-majority republic in Russia, according to Asia News: “Churches burned, attacks foiled and increased pressure on Christians to convert to Islam. In Tatarstan—autonomous republic of the Russian Federation, with a Muslim majority—the extremism alarm is increasing.” Although the culprits setting fire to churches are “unidentified extremists,” Father Dmitri Sizov, pastor of Pestrechinsky, said that “the whole community knows that it is the work of the Wahhabis [Islamic literalists]” who “roam, inviting the faithful to convert to Islam.” But “the priests remain silent because they are afraid of being accused of incitement to religious hatred,” added Fr. Dmitri.
Syria: Islamic rebel forces fired multiple mortar shells on a church in the southern province of Daraa, killing 12 people and injuring many others, including church volunteers who were there distributing charity aid to the locals. Separately, five young children were killed when rebels fired two rockets at a Christian school. According to the Patriarch of the Church of Antioch, more than 450,000 Christian Syrians have been displaced from the conflict, and more than a thousand have been killed.
Islamic Attacks on Christian Freedom: Apostasy, Proselytism, and Dhimmitude
Cameroon: David Dina Mataware, a Christian missionary, was slaughtered by neighboring Nigeria’s Islamic group Boko Haram. On the same day and in the same area that the missionary’s murder took place, a French priest, Father Georges Vandenbeusch, was also kidnapped. The slain missionary, whose throat was slit, had worked in a Nigeria-based mission agency in Cameroon for some fourteen years, bringing the Gospel to remote tribes.
Egypt: “The nation’s most well-known convert from Islam” to Christianity was arrested, including for allegedly inciting “sectarian strife,” and “is likely being tortured,” reported Morning News. Bishoy Armia Boulous, 31—popularly known by his former Muslim name, Muhammad Hegazy—was arrested while in a café. Authorities claim that he was working with a Coptic satellite station to create a “false image” of violence against Christians in Minya, Upper Egypt, where attack on Copts are most common. However, human rights activists close to Bishoy say “his arrest had nothing to do with any reporting work but constituted retaliation for becoming a Christian” and possibly for evangelizing to Muslims.
Iran: While raiding their home, the Islamic republic’s feared secret police assaulted the wife and children of jailed evangelical Pastor Behnam Irani. According to a source assisting the family with advocacy, “They confiscated her laptop computer and Christian materials… While the secret police were in her home they were yelling at her and doing their best to scare her. This really frightened the children, Rebekah and Adriel” and was apparently meant to create enough “fear to silence them.” The raid came after the imprisoned evangelical leader—and former Muslim—was told by a court to remain behind bars because he “did not change.”
Syria: The anti-Christian strictures of Sharia, or Islamic law, continued to be applied onto Christians by Islamic rebels. According to Agenzia Fides, “Kanaye [a Christian region] has been invaded by Islamist militants that terrorize the population, threaten a massacre and have imposed the Islamic law… This has become a pattern that repeats itself and that in recent weeks has focused on a number of Christian villages: armed guerrillas penetrate into the village, terrorize civilians, commit kidnappings, kill, sow destruction.” Father George Louis of the village of Qara, which has been devastated and burned, explained: Maalula [the aforementioned Ma’loula], Sednaya, Sadad, Qara and Deir Atieh, Nebek: armed jihadists target a village, they invade it, kill people, burn and devastate it.”
Turkmenistan: Police and Secret Service agents in Dashoguz, a northern city, raided a group of believers of the Church of the Light of the East, a Protestant community. Forces raided two houses of prayer, seizing religious materials, including Bibles. An official of the Department of Religious Affairs, who is also an imam at the local mosque, went on to inform the pastor that his faith “is wrong” and warned him to convert to Islam, adding “Christianity is a mistake … it’s not a religion, but a myth.” Moreover, Christians practicing hymns for Sunday service were told by officers that “the songs of praise to God are banned here.” Adds Asia News: “Meanwhile, an increasing number of people are being incarcerated for crimes of opinion and defense of religious freedom.”
Central African Republic: In just two days of violence, at least 1,000 people were killed in Bangui, CAR’s capital, following the chaos that has engulfed the nation after Seleka, a coalition of Muslim militia, whose members include many foreigners, ousted the Christian president—the nation is Christian-majority with a significant Muslim-minority—and installed a Muslim ruler. Because some Christians tried to resist with violence, killing some 60 Muslim males in combat, the Islamic group “retaliated on a larger scale against Christians in the wake of the attack, killing nearly 1,000 men over a two-day period and systematically looting civilian homes. A small number of women and children were also killed,” reported Amnesty. Tens of thousands of Christians fled from machete-wielding Muslims, many now living in desperate conditions around churches and bishoprics.
“They are slaughtering us like chickens,” said one Christian. “We have had enough of Seleka killing, raping and stealing,” said another, adding that he was not sure whether he could ever go back and live among Muslims. “We are angry,” he said. “The Muslims should go back where they came from.”
Nigeria: Islamic Fulani herdsmen killed at least 205 Christian farmers in the latter half of 2013, while ten thousand more Christians were displaced and many of their churches destroyed or closed. As for motive, Christian leaders, “had no doubt the Muslim assailants aimed to demoralize and destroy Christians,” said Morning Star News. Several of the attackers appear to be mercenaries from outside the area, explaining how the Fulani farmers became so heavily armed. “Life has become unbearable for our church members who have survived these attacks, and they are making worship services impossible,” said a Roman Catholic bishop. Another area Christian leader said that “Many of our Christian brethren have been killed. The Muslim gunmen that are attacking our Christian communities are numerous; they are so many that we can’t count them. They are spread across all the communities and unleashing terror on our people without any security resistance.”
About this Series
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.
Raymond Ibrahim is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).