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March 2, 2020 7:35 am

Israel: The One Middle East Country With True Religious Freedom

avatar by Rami Dabbas

Opinion

Egyptian security forces stand guard at the site of an attack on a church in the Helwan district south of Cairo, Dec. 29, 2017. Reuters / Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

Christians would rather stay out of the Middle East’s raging conflict, but they invariably become the most prominent victims. Even in the region’s quieter countries, Christians face routine persecution. And it’s been that way for millennia.

Syria: Although many Christians were indigenous to the land, over the centuries countless numbers were forcibly converted to Islam. Yet pockets of native Christians remain. Today, the Syrian regime punishes any Muslim who converts to Christianity.

Jordan: Often portrayed as the most moderate of Arab Muslim countries, Jordan still legally prohibits Muslims from converting to Christianity, and forbids Christian men from marrying non-Christian women. Christians in Jordan, while they are free to worship in churches, must submit to various aspects of Sharia law.

Egypt: Egypt has by far the largest Christian population of any country in the Middle East, but that hasn’t helped them in terms of quality of life or national influence. Egypt’s Coptic Christians are prohibited from holding certain high-level government positions, and are routinely discriminated against in society. For instance, many sports clubs will not admit Christians unless they convert to Islam. Young Christian women are often kidnapped and forcibly converted, with little or no intervention by the authorities, and the destruction of Christian property more often than not goes unpunished.

Iraq: Christians in Iraq say mass persecution began immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, when, among many other violations of human rights, Muslims started forcing Christian women to wear the hijab. According to Wafa Abdallah, an Iraqi Christian today living in Australia, the situation for Christians in the city of Mosul became intolerable with the rise of groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. And forget about open evangelism. Converting from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death in Iraq. And if the authorities fail to carry out the sentence, then the many Sunni extremist or pro-Iranian militias might.

Palestinian Authority (PA): Palestinian Christians suffer discrimination and persecution at the hands of the local Muslim population and the PA government. For example, in 2015, Muslims set fire to the Saint Charbel Convent in Bethlehem. The law under the PA prohibits Muslims from converting to Christianity.

Iran: We received the following letter from Iranian Christian activist Karim Irani, host of a popular program on the Aramaic Broadcasting Network:

It is impossible to convey in one short article all the suffering of Christians in Iran. I converted to Christianity in 2013, but it took me a long time to find other Christians since there is no true freedom of religion. It’s very difficult even to find a Bible. Many Christians won’t openly acknowledge their identity for fear of being reported to the authorities by their Muslim neighbors. There are no Christian schools, so Christian children are being forcibly converted to Islam at the Muslim schools. Anyone caught evangelizing is publicly executed. We love our country, but the Iranian authorities do not allow us to be Christians and practice our faith freely.

Lebanon: Lebanon was once a Christian country, but waves of Christian emigration have resulted in a Muslim majority today. Iran has slowly been taking over Lebanon via its proxy, Hezbollah. “Those Christians remaining in Lebanon are living in fear and acknowledge now that they are second-class citizens,” Lebanese journalist Brigitte Gabriel, who today lives in the US, recently said. Many don’t understand that in addition to fighting Israel, Hezbollah is a jihadist organization seeking to establish Sharia law, under which Christians will inevitably be persecuted.

Israel: Israel is the one place in the Middle East where Christians enjoy equal rights and are able to practice their faith openly without fear of violence or legal repercussions. Many of the Christians from the above countries with whom we spoke privately acknowledged as much, but were too afraid to openly say so. Some said that while they respect Israel, they still view it as an enemy due to the education they received and the societal pressures of living in Muslim countries

Rami Dabbas is a civil engineer by profession who writes for several media outlets. He is a pro-Israel advocate, peace campaigner and political activist speaking out against terrorism.

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