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Growing persecution of Christians in the Islamic world
A pattern of intimidation and persecution is emerging all over the Muslim world.
Iraqi Christians fled their homes after armed Sunni extremists threatened to kill
them if they did not convert to Islam within 24 hours. Six Christian families from
Baghdad’s Dora district have relocated to a church elsewhere in the city. Islamic
militants in Baghdad, Iraq, are also demanding payment by Christians of the traditional
Shari’a tax, jizya. Jizya was a humiliating tax levied on Jews and Christians who
lived in Islamic lands in return for protection. Muslims also claimed it was a payment
for not having to bear arms and fight in defence of the Islamic state – an honour
reserved only for Muslims. Christians in the Dora neighbourhood of Baghdad are being
told to pay the tax – otherwise they face the choice of converting to Islam or leaving
Iraq. Islamic extremists have also been demanding the payment of jizya from Christians
in northern Iraq. Many Christians have taken the decision to leave Iraq, trying to
find safety from the violence. It has led to a sharp decline in the Christian population.
Though Christians comprise only 5% of Iraq’s population, approximately 40% of Iraqi
refugees are Christians. This is stark evidence of the anti-Christian nature of much
of the violence.
Christians are also fleeing Lebanon to escape political and economic crises and signs
that radical Islam is on the rise in the country. A poll revealed that nearly half
of all Maronites, the largest Christian denomination in the country, said they were
considering emigrating. Of these, more than 100,000 have submitted visa applications
to foreign embassies. Their exodus could have a devastating effect on the country,
robbing it of an influential minority which has acted as an important counter-balance
to the forces of Islamic extremism. About 60,000 Christians have already left since
last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah. Many who remain fear that a violent
showdown between rival Sunni and Shia factions is looming.
Christians in Charsadda and Mardan, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, have
received letters threatening that they must close their churches and convert to Islam.
Although some letters did not say what the consequences would be if Christians failed
to comply, others are reported to have threatened bombing or the execution of all
Christians. Around 500 Christians live in Charsadda, where Islamic militants are
using intimidation and violence to try to enforce a strict Islamic life-style, resembling
that advocated by the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan. The militants bomb music shops,
put pressure on barbers not to shave beards, and are trying to have girls’ schools
Amidst much pressure for increasing Islamisation in Pakistan, there is a new threat
to Christians from a Muslim background. Until now such converts have not faced any
legal penalty, though harassment or violence from family and community are commonplace,
and sometimes other legal pretexts are used to put pressure on them. Now, however,
Pakistan’s National Assembly is considering a draft Apostasy Bill, which has been
sent to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for consideration. This would impose
a death penalty for adult men leaving Islam and imprisonment for adult women leaving
Islam, in line with the dictates of Shari’a (Islamic law).
Three Christians were murdered in Turkey. Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel worked at
Zirve Publishing House, which prints Bibles and other Christian literature, while
the third victim, German national Tilman Ekkehart Geske, worked for a translation
company based in Malatya. The three men were found in the publishing house, bound
to chairs by their hands and feet; each of them had been brutally stabbed and had
their throats cut. Ugur was still alive when they were found, but died later in hospital
from his many wounds. Tilman’s widow, Suzanne Geske, was interviewed on Turkish television,
where she explained that she intended to remain in Malatya with her four children.
As Jesus prayed forgiveness for those who crucified him, she said ‘So I am going
to forgive the people who took the life of my husband because, truly, they do not
know what they were doing. They were fed many lies about what and who Christians
are, and I am going to stay here to show them that I forgive them.’ Necati’s widow
has also publicly forgiven the killers.
In Turkey it is not illegal for Christians to share their faith; however, Christians
who are active in evangelism, or are linked to evangelism such as through the publication
of Christian literature, are constantly harassed, including by the police. In addition,
Turkish media has for many years portrayed Christians as ‘enemies of Turkey’, or
as agents of foreign governments trying to weaken Turkish society.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, has commented on these
events noting that there is a similarity to what is happening in different Muslim
countries: ‘Threats to convert to Islam, to leave or be killed are being made against
Christians sometimes written, sometimes verbal. … Is this simply copy-cat terrorism,
or could there be an organised international strategy against Christian minorities
in the Muslim world and against Christian evangelism in Muslim contexts?’
Information from Barnabas Fund
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