While many people are regularly persecuted by Islam’s blasphemy law, one particular case made August headlines: a 14-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan, Rimsha Masih, was arrested, accused of burning pages of a Quran. Rioting Muslims destroyed Christian homes and churches, tore Bibles to pieces and broke crosses, while calling for the death penalty against her. Because this story made it to the mainstream media, widespread international condemnation caused Pakistani authorities to release her recently, not by annulling Pakistan’s blasphemy law, but by finding loopholes, from characterizing the girl as retarded—Islamic law does not mandate punishment for blasphemers if they are retarded—to the unprecedented exposure of a Muslim cleric who framed her.
Because this incident prompted a widespread rampage against Pakistan’s Christians, thousands have deserted their homes and are dispossessed. The Christians from Rimsha’s neighborhood, including women and children, fled into the woods in fear of Muslim retribution, while others were evicted by their Muslim landlords. A few Christians sleeping overnight on the ground just miles away from Pakistani government buildings decided to build a church there and make it their permanent dwelling place. “Here it is not anybody’s home, nobody’s land. Let us live here in safety,” said one. Another said: “We have cleared this place with our hands, and we have laid the first foundation of a small church here. Although this is a mere skeleton made of tree branches, this is the holy home of God. This should be respected.”
Categorized by theme, August’s batch of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and in country alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity.
Jihad Killings and Christian Displacement
Iraq: What Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors, characterized as “religicide,” continues unabated in the nation that was liberated by U.S. forces a decade ago: “Christians in cities like Baghdad and Mosul are gripped by terrorism. They are fleeing in droves. Today [August 16] it was reported that at least 20 people died in blasts and shootings across the country.” Before the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Mosul was home to some 75,000 Christians, but now the number has dropped to around 25,000. Christian homes are set on fire, bombs placed in their cars; other Christian families are receiving letters threatening them to leave Iraq or be kidnapped or killed.
Ivory Coast: As part of the civil war, Muslim rebels “massacred hundreds and displaced tens of thousands” of predominantly Christian supporters of Laurent Gbagbo. Since the attack, when their homes were taken by rebels, some 5,000 predominantly Christian ethnic Guere have been forced to flee into the ungoverned, inhospitable bush, or to the Catholic mission in Duekoue. The priest there reported that the mission has also been threatened by “crowds of angry youths.”
Mali: As many as 200,000 Christians are fleeing to Algeria and Mauritania, where they are seeking a safe haven from Islamic terrorists linked to al-Qaeda, who have become increasingly active in the northern regions of the nation.
Nigeria: The Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram [Western Education is a Sin] continued its jihad [holy war] to purge north Nigeria of all Christians. In one instance, gunmen murdered a 57-year-old evangelist of a Pentecostal church. When he was threatened earlier, he had said “I leave everything in the hands of God.”
Syria: Some 12,000 people were blockaded in the predominantly Christian town of Rableh by anti-government forces; they killed several people trying to leave and refused the entry of food and medical supplies. Government forces had reportedly driven out the opposition by August 24. Christians were also given an ultimatum to leave the nearby cities of Qusayr and Homs, which has been almost entirely cleansed of its 50,000-60,000 Christian population. The predominantly Christian part of Aleppo was also hit by heavy fighting earlier this month; and a car bomb was detonated in the predominantly Christian area of Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus, as “a crowd of faithful, families, elderly people, women and children, were heading to the cemetery to bury two young people who had died a day earlier, on August 27, also victims of an IED. Twelve died (other sources say as many as 27), including five children, and injuring more than 50 people.” Further, “a family of Armenian Christians was found murdered, and all members of the family horribly decapitated.”
Azerbaijan: The highest appeals court upheld the decision to close Greater Grace Church, “the first religious community to be liquidated by a court since the country’s harsh new religion law came into force in 2009.” The church, registered since 1993, had provided a place for Christian worship and teaching for almost 20 years; and with a congregation of nearly 500, was one of the larger Protestant churches in the country.
Indonesia: Two churches were the latest to be forcibly closed in West Java: First, a “large tent” used for services by St. Johannes Baptista Church in Bogor was sealed off by authorities on August 7. The congregation had been using the tent since 2006 as a temporary location while they awaited a permit for a proper building, for which it had applied in 2000. Police threatened to “tear down” the tent if the Christians continued to use it; the church leader suspects the hostility is linked to the growth of the congregation, which now numbers around 500. Second, Batak Karo Protestant Church in Bandung was sealed off by protesters who claimed that the congregation had earlier agreed not to use the building, even though it now has all necessary permits to hold service.
Kenya: After a fight ensued between the supporters of a Muslim cleric who had died and the police, a church near the mosque where the funeral was being held was set on fire, and another church was attacked. Separately, another church was attacked and looted “by an armed mob,” believed to be sympathizers of the al-Shabaab terrorist organization. In the words of the pastor who witnessed the pillage, “attackers armed with guns stormed the compound and immediately began pulling down one iron sheet after another, and soon 60 iron sheets were gone. It was a terrible sight to watch the walls of the church come down, [but] I could not shout for help because the attackers could gun me down. Shocked and dismayed, the church’s 60 congregants arrived for worship the next day to find their church building in ruins.” Police were told that there were threats of an attack and that local Muslims were saying things such as “we do not want infidels in this area,” but did nothing. These latest attacks “came only one week after al-Shabab militants hurled grenades into the African Inland Church of Garissa, in eastern Kenya, and opened fire on congregants, killing 17 people, including 15 worshippers. Grenades were also thrown at the local Catholic church.” More than 14 churches have been attacked in Kenya since April.
Nigeria: Gunmen, probably connected with the jihadi organization Boko Haram, “stormed the Deeper Life Church, where Christian worshipers were gathered in prayer, and surrounded the church in the middle of a worship service and opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles on the worshippers.” At least 19 of them were killed, including the pastor. The following day, an unexploded bomb was discovered at Revival Church.
Syria: Gunmen attacked the Catholic monastery of Mar Musa, which dates from the 4th century, and is located north of Damascus. None of the monks was hurt, although the monastery was, in the words of Father Dall’Oglio, “sacked,” and “gunmen stole everything they could steal,” including tractors and other agricultural tools.
Apostasy, Blasphemy, Proselytism
Egypt: A Christian man accused of defaming Islam was arrested after a complaint in which he was accused of posting opinions in Facebook which insulted Muhammad. Insults to Islam and the prophet are considered crimes in Egypt under Article 98(f) of the Penal Code, which states: “Confinement for a period of not less than six months and not exceeding five years… shall be the penalty inflicted on whoever makes use of religion in propagating, either by words, in writing, or in any other means, extreme ideas for the purpose of inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it, or damaging national unity.”
Pakistan: After a Pakistani flag with the name of “Allah” on it accidentally blew from a Christian’s property to a Muslim’s, the Muslim accused the Christian of deliberately trying to blaspheme the name of Allah. This accusation was advertised in the local mosques, and prompted enraged Muslims to threaten to burn down the homes of the 15 Christian families in the area. Also, a Christian pastor, who had preached among Muslims, some of whom showed interest in converting, was threatened and subsequently kidnapped.
Tanzania: A 17-year-old girl, Eva Abdullah, who had abandoned Islam three years ago to convert to Christianity, was sentenced to two years in prison after being accused of desecrating the Quran. Her parents had disowned her and “a group of radicals” tried to “persuade” her to renounce her Christian faith. When she refused, they falsely accused her of desecrating a Quran.
Tunisia: The nation’s ruling Islamist party filed a bill to criminalize offenses against “sacred values.” “Crimes” would mandate prison terms and fines for broadly worded offenses, such as insulting or mocking the “sanctity of religion.” Among other things, the bill also codifies the levels of offense to religious feelings, including “insults, profanity, derision and representation of Allah and Mohammed.”
[General Abuse, Debasement, and Suppression of Non-Muslims as “Tolerated” Citizens]
Egypt: The nation’s jihad organizations dropped leaflets calling on Muslims to kill Christians wherever they found them. Coptic shop owners who sell Christian icons and statues received threatening letters. Muslim “gangs” plundered and kidnapped for ransom Christians. Islamists in the Constituent Assembly demanded that the Coptic Church’s funds be placed under state financial control, a measure categorically rejected by Copts: the state in no way funds the Church, even though mosques are funded by taxpayers, including Christians. Condemning the proposal, the acting Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church said the demand has only one meaning: “that Copts are clearly persecuted.” Despite promising greater representation for Egypt’s Copts, President Morsi broke his word and allowed only one Copt, a female, to represent the nation’s 10-14% Christians in the newly formed Cabinet: “We had expected an increase in the representation of Copts especially after the number of ministries increased to 35. But the formation ignored all the known rights and concepts of citizenship,” said the acting Patriarch: “It is not right that Copts get treated in this way.” When Egypt’s Constituent Assembly proposed a law to criminalize “forced labor, slavery, the trafficking of women and children, human organs, and the sex trade,” from which Christians, especially females, would benefit, the Islamist party complained.
Iran: According to Mohabat News, authorities “raise[d] unsubstantiated charges” against five arrested converts to Christianity to “pressure” and “intimidate” them, including by falsely accusing them of desecrating the Quran, and holding them for indefinite periods. “Although their situation is still unclear six months after their arrest, there is no doubt that the Christians’ only crime is related to their faith in Jesus Christ.”
Pakistan: Eleven Christian student nurses were poisoned with mercury in their tea. It is believed that the Christian women were targeted as punishment for drinking tea while their Muslim colleagues were fasting during the month of Ramadan. And a 56-year-old Christian woman at the Karachi Press Club recounted how she and her family were enslaved and forced to work without pay, and tortured and beaten. Muslim “feudal lords” are threatening her and her extended family, with, among other charges, accusations of blasphemy: “Please protect us,” they said. “We don’t want to go back.”
Saudi Arabia: The last of the 35 Ethiopian Christians held in detention since December after being arrested for holding a prayer meeting in a private home was deported home: “We have arrived home safe,” one of the released said: “We believe that we are released as the result of the pressure exerted by ICC and others. The Saudi officials do not tolerate any religions other than Islam. They consider non-Muslims unbelievers. They are full of hatred towards non-Muslims.”
Syria: A number of Melchite Greek Catholic priests, including the archbishop, fled to Lebanon after their offices were ransacked. According to Fides, “unidentified groups who want to feed a religious war and drag the Syrian population into sectarian conflicts” attacked the Christian area in the old quarter of Aleppo. A Byzantine Christian museum and an office of the Maronite Christian faith were also damaged.
Turkey: The chairman of Parliament’s education committee is accusing the French government of “planting seeds of hate” with its move to include the Armenian genocide in history and geography books used in French secondary schools. Armenia, backed by many historians, says that about 1.5 million Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War I in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government.
Uzbekistan: A 26-year-old Christian woman, paralyzed from youth, and her mother were violently attacked by six men with sticks who broke into their home at 4 a.m. The men ransacked the home, confiscating icons, bibles, religious calendars and prayer books. When the paralyzed woman furtively tried to phone for help, she was beaten again. They were all taken to the police department, where the woman was “offered to convert to Islam.” She refused, and the judge eventually “decided that the women had resisted police and had stored the banned religious literature at home and conducted missionary activities. He fined them 20 minimum monthly wages each.”
About this Series
Because the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching epidemic proportions, “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:
- Intrinsically, to document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, Muslim persecution of Christians.
- Instrumentally, 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; apostasy and blasphemy laws; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (tribute); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed “dhimmis” (barely tolerated citizens); and simple violence and murder. Oftentimes it is a combination thereof.
Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the west, to India in the east, and throughout the West, wherever there are Muslims—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 a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.