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Growing persecution of Christians in the Islamic world

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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 closed.

 

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

 

For further information on this subject and to help those in need as a result of persecution, contact:

 

Barnabas Fund

The Old Rectory, River Street

PEWSEY

Wiltshire

SN9 5DB

UK

 

Tel: 01672 564938.

 

Email: info@barnabasfund.org

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