Over the past century, a plague of persecution has swept across the Middle East, emptying the region of its Christian population. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East’s population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%. Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born.
In Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers.
Over the past 10 years, nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes. Many settled in Syria before once again becoming victims of unrelenting persecution. Syria’s Christian population has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to less than 10% today.
In January, a report by the nondenominational Christian organization Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians; nine were Muslim-majority states noted for Islamic extremism, tyrannical regimes that uphold archaic blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws. The Islamic Republic of Iran has executed dozens of people for the crimes of “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.”
Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded. Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab Israeli, has served as a Supreme Court justice since 2003.
Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest living in Israel, recently told me: “Human rights are not something to be taken for granted. Christians in much of the Middle East have been slaughtered and persecuted for their faith, but here in Israel they are protected.”
Via Gatestone Institute:
Unlike those nations, such as Saudi Arabia, that have eliminated Christianity altogether, Muslim countries with significant Christian minorities saw much persecution during the month of May: in Egypt, Christians were openly discriminated against in law courts, even as some accused the nation’s new president of declaring that he will “achieve the Islamic conquest of Egypt for the second time, and make all Christians convert to Islam;” in Indonesia, Muslims threw bags of urine on Christians during worship; in Kashmir and Zanzibar, churches were set on fire; and in Mali, Christianity “faces being eradicated.”
Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa—in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, the Ivory Coast—wherever Islam and Christianity meet, Christians are being killed, slaughtered, beheaded and even crucified.
Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following accounts:
Indonesia encountered several church-related attacks:
- A mob of 600 Muslims threw bags of urine, stones, and rotten eggs at the congregation of a Protestant church at the start of Ascension Day service; they shouted profanities and threatened to kill the pastor. No arrests were made. The church had applied for a permit to construct its house of worship five years ago. Pressured by local Muslims, the local administration ordered the church shut down in December 2009, even though the Supreme Court recently overruled its decision, saying that the church was eligible for a permit. Local Muslims and officials are nevertheless demanding that the church shut down.
- After protests “by hard-line groups including the Islamic Defenders Front,” nearly 20 Christian houses of worship were sealed off by authorities on the pretext of “not having permits.” The authorities added that, to accommodate the region’s 20,000 Christians, only one church may be built in the district in question.
- The Muslim mayor who illegally sealed the beleaguered GKI Yasmin church, forcing congregants to worship in the streets, has agreed to reopen it—but only if a mosque is built next door, to ensure that the church “stays in line.” “As well as opposition from the mayor, the church has faced hostility from local Muslims, who have rallied against them [the Christians], blocked them from accessing the street where the church is situated and disrupted their outdoor services. It is unlikely that they will suddenly embrace the Christians,” according to the report.
France: Prior to celebrating mass, “four youths, aged 14 to 18, broke into the Church of St. Joseph, before launching handfuls of pebbles at 150 faithful present at the service.” They were chased out, although, according to the report, “the parishioners, many of whom are elderly, were greatly shocked by the disrespectful act of the youths of North African origin.”
Kashmir: A Catholic church made entirely of wood was partially destroyed after unknown assailants set it on fire. “What happened,” said the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, “is not an isolated case,” and follows the “persecution” of a pastor who baptized Muslims. “With these gestures, the Muslim community is trying to intimidate the Christian minority.”
Kuwait: Two months after the Saudi Grand Mufti decreed, in response to a question on whether churches may exist in Kuwait, that all regional churches must be destroyed, villa-churches serving Western foreigners are being targeted. One congregation was evicted without explanation “from a private villa used for worship gatherings for the past seven years;” another villa-church was ordered to “pay an exorbitant fine each month to use a facility it had been renting…. Church leaders reportedly decided not to argue and moved out.”
Zanzibar: Hundreds of Muslims set two churches on fire and clashed with police during protests against the arrest of senior members of an Islamist movement known as the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation. Afterwards, the group issued a statement denying any involvement of wrongdoing.
Pakistan: Apostasy, Blasphemy, Rape, Forced Conversions, and Oppression
- A 20-year-old Christian man was arrested and charged with “blasphemy”—a crime “punishable with life imprisonment”—after vengeful Muslims accused him of burning a Koran soon after a billiard game. The Muslims kept taunting and threatening him, to which the Christian “dared them to do whatever they wanted and walked away.” Days later came the accusation and arrest, which caused Muslim riots, creating “panic among Christians,” who “left their houses anticipating violence.”
- Two years ago, after a Muslim man converted to Christianity and told his wife, she abused and exposed him, resulting in his being severely beaten. “No one was willing to let me live the life I wanted [as a Christian]—they say Islam is not a religion of compulsion, but no one has been able to tell me why Muslims who don’t find satisfaction in the religion become liable to be killed.” He eventually divorced, escaped, and remarried a Christian woman. Now that his family has again discovered his whereabouts, they have resumed threatening him. According to his wife: “Every other day, we receive threatening phone calls…They are now asking him to abandon us and renounce Christianity, threatening that they will kill me and our child.”
- A new report indicates that “on average, eight to ten Christians are being forced every month by fanatic Muslims to convert to Islam, mostly in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. The victims of forced conversions are often girls from poor backgrounds who are then subjected to harrowing and traumatic ordeals. Most of the girls are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves against extremists because their community is deprived, defenseless and marginalized. Christians, who constitute about two percent of the Pakistani population, are paying a high price for being a part of the minority community.” Two such cases from May follow:
- In an attempt to force her to drop charges against them for raping her 13-year-old niece, a band of Muslims severely beat a pregnant Christian woman causing her to lose female twins to miscarriage. The rapists came when all male members of the Christian household were out working and beat the women “mercilessly.” “They murdered our children, they raped our daughter. We have nothing left with us,” lamented an older family member. As usual, police ignored both cases: both the raped Christian girl and her beaten family.
- A 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted and forced to convert to Islam by her uncle, who himself had earlier converted. Pakistani police refused to liberate her, and said she converted of her own free will. According to her father: “After converting, my brother is conspiring against our family and kidnapped Mary with deception.”
- The investigation into the murder of the nation’s only cabinet-level Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, has become mired amid suspicions of a possible cover-up. Lax investigations, a series of freed suspects, and lack of coordination across law enforcement organizations have stalled the case after the March 2, 2011 slaying of the federal minister for Minority Affairs, who was an outspoken critic of, and targeted by, those who support Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws.
- Christians are being threatened and abused for trying, since 1947, to save their community’s graveyard. Despite failing to produce any proof, a retired Muslim official who claims he “recently discovered” that the land really belongs to him has already built a boundary wall, reducing the graveyard to less than a third of its original size, and turned the seized land over to agricultural use. Police, as usual, are failing to react.
[General Abuse, Debasement, and Suppression of non-Muslims as "Tolerated" Citizens]
Egypt: A court verdict that was criticized by many human rights groups as “unbelievable” and “extremely harsh” towards Christians was decided according to religion: all twelve Christians were convicted to life imprisonment, while all eight Muslims—including some who torched nearly 60 Christian homes—were acquitted, all to thunderous cries of “Allahu Akbar!” ["Allah is the Greatest!"] in the courtroom. Another Muslim judge in Upper Egypt dismissed all charges against a group of Muslims who terrorized a Christian man and his family for over a year, culminating with their cutting off his ear in a knife attack while trying to force him to convert to Islam after they “falsely accused him” of having an affair with a Muslim woman. And a new report describes the plight of Coptic girls: “hundreds of Christian girls … have been abducted, forced to convert to Islam, and forced into marriage in Egypt. These incidents are often accompanied by acts of violence, including rape, beatings, and other forms of physical and mental abuse.”
Eritrea: Activists taking part in a protest outside the Eritrean embassy in London revealed that “Some 2,000 to 3,000 Christians are currently detained in Eritrea without charge or trial… Several Christians are known to have died in notorious prison camps,” and “thousands of Eritreans flee their country every year,” some falling “into the hands of abusive traffickers, and are held hostage in torture camps in the Sinai Desert pending payment of exorbitant ransoms, or the forcible removal of organs.”
Ethiopia: A Christian man accused of “desecrating the Koran” spent two years in prison, where he was abused, pressured to convert to Islam, and left paralyzed. Now returning home, he has found that his two young children have been abducted by local Muslims: “My life is ruined—I have lost my house, my children, my health. I am now homeless, and I am limping.”
Greece: Abet Hasman, the deputy mayor of Patras who recently passed away, left a message to be revealed only in his obituary—that, although born to Muslim parents in Jordan, he was “secretly baptized” a Christian (demonstrating how some Muslims who convert to Christianity, knowing the consequences of apostasy, choose secrecy).
Indonesia: A predominantly Christian neighborhood was attacked for several days by “unidentified persons,” who set fire to homes and cars. Dozens of Christian families fled their homes, “many fear[ing] the involvement of Islamic extremist groups.”
Iran: A prominent house church pastor remains behind bars, even as his family expresses concerns that he may die from continued abuse and beatings, leading to internal bleeding and other ailments; authorities refuse to give him medical treatment. Also, the attorney of Youssef Nadarkhani—the imprisoned Christian pastor who awaits execution for apostasy—was himself “convicted for his work defending human rights and is expected to begin serving his nine-year sentence in the near future.” Meanwhile, in a letter attributed to him, the imprisoned pastor wrote: “I have surrendered myself to God’s will…[and I] consider it as the day of exam and trial of my faith…[so that I may] prove my loyalty and sincerity to God.”
Jordan: After the Jordanian Dubai Islamic Bank decreed that all females must wear the hijab, the Islamic veil or be terminated, it fired all female employees who refused to wear the hijab—mostly Christians, including one Christian woman who had worked there for 27 years. There are suspicions that this new policy was set to target and terminate the Christian employees, as it is they who are most likely to reject the hijab.
Lebanon: A 24-year-old woman, the daughter of a Shiite cleric, who was “physically and psychologically tortured by her father for converting to Christianity three years ago,” managed to escape and be baptized by a Christian priest—who was himself then abducted and interrogated to disclose the whereabouts of the renegade woman. In like manner, Muslim assailants fired gunshots at the house of another priest and at a church — “part of an escalating pattern of violence against local Catholics,” in the words of the region’s prelate.
Macedonia: After some Muslims were arrested in connection to a “series of murders of Christians,” thousands of fellow Muslims demonstrated after Friday prayers, shouting slogans such as “death to Christians!,” and calling for “jihad.”
Mali: Ever since the government was overthrown in a coup, “the church in Mali faces being eradicated,” especially in the north, “where rebels want to establish an independent Islamist state and drive Christians out….there have been house to house searches for Christians who might be in hiding, church and Christian property has been looted or destroyed, and people tortured into revealing any Christian relatives.”
Nigeria: Muslim gunmen set fire to a home in a Christian village and then opened fire on all who tried to escape the inferno, killing at least seven and wounding many others, in just one of dozens of attacks on Christians.
Sudan: Without reason, security officials closed down regional offices of the Sudan Council of Churches and a much needed church clinic for the poor; staff members were arrested and taken to an undisclosed location: “Their families are living in agony due to the uncertainty of their fate.”
Syria: Jihadi gunmen evicted all the families of a Christian region, “taking over all the homes of the village, occupying the church and turning it to their base.”
Uzbekistan: Police raided a Protestant house-church meeting, claiming “that a bomb was in the home.” No bomb was found, only Christian literature which was confiscated. Subsequently, 14 members of the unregistered church were heavily fined—the equivalent of 10-60 times a monthly salary—for an “unsanctioned meeting in a private home.” Between February and April, 28 Protestants were fined and four were issued warnings for the offence. Three Baptists were also fined for not declaring their personal Bibles while crossing the border from Kazakhstan into Uzbekistan. Fines and warnings were accompanied by the confiscation of religious literature.
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:
- To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, Muslim persecution of Christians.
- 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; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; apostasy and blasphemy laws that criminalize and punish with death to those who “offend” Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed dhimmis, or second-class, “tolerated” citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination.
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.