Light for the Last Days

Persecution of Christians

Written in 2011

Jesus said that in the days before His coming His followers will be persecuted worldwide:  

‘Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.’       (Matthew 24.9)

For several years now North Korea has topped the Open Doors World Watch List of countries that persecute Christians. It is estimated that there are up to 400,000 to 500,000 believers secretly practising their faith in North Korea. At least a quarter of the Christians are imprisoned for their faith in political prison camps, from which people rarely get out alive, according to an Open Doors local source. Open Doors ranks eight Muslim countries among the 10 worst persecutors of Christians. The other two, North Korea (which tops the list) and Laos, are communist states. Of the 50 countries on the list, 35 are majority Muslim.

Iran ranks as the world’s second-worst persecutor of Christians. Open Doors reports that in 2009 the Islamic Republic arrested 85 Christians, many of whom were also mistreated in prison. In 2008, some 50 Christians were arrested and one Christian couple was beaten to death by security officials. At least part of the reason for the mistreatment appears to be the result of Muslim conversions to Christianity: Apostasy carries a mandatory death sentence in Iran.

In Saudi Arabia, all non-Muslim public worship is forbidden. The state forbids the building of any type of non-Muslim house of worship, and Christian expatriates in the kingdom must practise their faith in private. The same goes in the Maldives, where the report notes that all citizens must be Muslim; ‘the handful of indigenous Christians are forced to believe in complete secrecy.’ Similarly in Mauritania, conversion to Christianity or any other religion is formally punishable by death.

Reports of severe persecution come in regularly from all around the world. Although the situation for Christians in China has improved greatly since the Maoist time, the official government policy is that Christians should worship in the government registered churches of the Three Self Patriotic Movement which places them under regulations as to what is acceptable to the Communist state and what is not.  Those who do not want to submit to these regulations belong to unregistered ‘house churches’ which are liable to be closed down at any time.  

One of the largest of such house churches is the Linfen Fushan Church in the northern province of Shanxi, with some 50,000 members. In September 2009 police raided the premises where a service was being held and arrested the church’s pastor, Wang Xiaoguang. Another ten people were arrested over the following days.  Mr Wang and his wife were given the maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The other three people arrested were given sentences of between three and four years. Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, said, “This case clearly shows the seriously deteriorating situation of religious persecution in China.”

With the fall of Communism, a new day of freedom came for Russia’s evangelical Christians.  Reports indicate that religious freedom is being squashed again as the government endorses the Russian Orthodox Church as the official state religion and discriminates against other Christian denominations.  Protestant churches are required by law to register with the government but, even when the churches register, the government usually finds fault with their paperwork and rejects their applications to be legal bodies of worshippers. There are restrictions on evangelising, and harassment of non-Orthodox worshippers is meant to discourage adherents. In Uzbekistan religions are required to be registered with the government.  Christian missionaries are denounced by Islamic theologians as being ‘as dangerous as the terrorist activities or the illegal drug trade’.  Uzbekistan bans missionary activity and printing of faith-based literature without State consent.

Bibles were confiscated in a raid on Christian homes.  Denis Absattarov was meeting with three other friends who had gathered together to drink tea and were about to pray together, when the police invaded their home, uncovering an Uzbek Bible, a personal prayer diary and a religious video cassette.  The men were arrested, their belongings confiscated.  Denis was fined about $2,400, which is 55 times the minimum monthly salary.  The punishments were given for ‘carrying out unauthorized religious activity.’

In Azerbaijan two churches were ordered to liquidate after their application to register was rejected by the courts.  In Azerbaijan any religious group that is not registered with the state risks police raids, confiscation of religious literature, fines and criminal prosecution.  

In Orissa province of India, a brutal and horrifying persecution in 2008 left many dead and an estimated 50,000 homeless.  Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the assassination of anti-Christian Hindu leader Swami Laxamanananda Saraswat, then went on the rampage, torching churches and homes, brutalizing Christians and burning the bodies of those they killed.  

In Pakistan, Christians face constant harassment by Muslims. Seven Pakistani Christians were burnt alive in the town of Gojra in the Punjab, including three women and two children, when their houses were set on fire during attacks by Muslim demonstrators. Homes were looted and at least 50 houses were burned down, as a Muslim mob threw petrol bombs and fired indiscriminately. The attack was allegedly sparked by rumours that a copy of the Koran had been burned during a Christian wedding. According to eyewitnesses, more than 800 Muslims carrying a variety of weapons raided a Christian settlement. Incited by broadcasts from local mosques, they looted, vandalised and set fire to houses.

Elishba Bibi, a 28 year old Pakistani Christian mother was beaten and stripped by two Muslim brothers who employed her as a maid.  She was left unconscious and suffered a miscarriage as a result.  She was attacked because of her faith after her employers made many attempts to convert her to Islam.  Those who filed charges against the brothers were then threatened with violence and ‘blasphemy’ accusations.  Any perceived insult to Mohamed or the Quran is protected by Pakistan’s blasphemy law which carries the death sentence.  

There have now been reports of Islamic militants in Pakistan demanding money from non-Muslims in payment of the jizya tax. According to Sharia, this tax is to be imposed on Christians and Jews living in an Islamic state and must be paid as a sign of their submission and lowly status.  In Lahore, a letter, addressed to a local Christian organisation, was handed to a Christian woman by two masked men. The letter said:

We know you are Christian. We warn you to leave this area, embrace Islam, pay 1,500,000 rupees (£10,235) as jizya or be ready to die in a suicide attack.

Coordinated attacks by Islamic militants in four states of Northern Nigeria left an estimated 80 people dead, including two pastors. At least seven churches are reported destroyed, with other targets, including four police stations, a prison and a customs post.  The violence began in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, on 26 July 2009 when a police station, a prison and five church buildings were set on fire.

In the Middle East, Christians who once played a vital role in their countries are fleeing in droves from persecution and harassment at the hands of Muslims.  Political violence and the rise of radical Islam are forcing Christians out of Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt.  In the Palestinian Authority-controlled area anti-Christian riots have been reported in Ramallah and surrounding villages as well as in towns in Gaza.   Christians have been targeted in scores of attacks, some ending in death. In Bethlehem, local Christians have long complained of anti-Christian violence. The city’s Christian population, once 90%, declined drastically since the PA took control in December 1995. Christians now make up less than 25% of Bethlehem, according to Israeli surveys.

A Bible store in the Gaza Strip, the only Christian bookstore in the territory, was attacked by Islamists several times. The store’s owner, Rami Ayyad, was found shot dead in 2007, his body riddled with bullets.  He was publicly tortured a few blocks from his store before he was killed. The witnesses said they saw three armed men, two of whom were wearing masks, beat Ayyad repeatedly with clubs and the butts of their guns while they accused him of attempting to spread Christianity in Gaza.  Sheik Abu Saqer, leader of Jihadia Salafiya, said that Christians could continue living safely in the Gaza Strip only if they accepted Islamic law.  He said, “Christian schools and institutions must show publicly what they are teaching to be sure they are not carrying out missionary activity.”  Abu Saqer accused the leadership of the Gaza Christian community of “proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims with funding from American evangelicals.”

The tiny number of ethnic Somali Christians practise their faith in secret under extremely dangerous conditions. At least ten Christians, including four teachers, were killed for their faith in 2008 and several others were kidnapped and raped.  Two masked members of the al-Shabaab Muslim militia shot and killed a Christian pastor in Somalia as he drove home from a worship service. An Algerian woman is facing jail for converting from Islam to Christianity and for carrying 10 copies of the Bible on a bus.

These are just a handful of examples of the persecution of Christians which takes place across the Muslim world.    Above all, the Muslims want to outlaw any attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity and any negative statements about Mohammed.

The issue of Christian persecution, especially in Muslim lands, is rarely if ever reported in the mainstream news.  The BBC falls over itself to highlight any mistreatment of Muslims that may take place, but studiously ignores the massive number of Christians persecuted on a daily basis by Muslims around the world.  Tony Blair has called Islam a peaceful religion and President Obama said in his speech in Cairo in June 2009:  “Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”   Neither Tony Blair nor Barrack Obama produced evidence to back these claims.

Tony Pearce

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