What Happened to Christians in the Middle East this August?
“After torching a Franciscan school, Islamists paraded three nuns on the street ‘like prisoners of war,’ before a Muslim woman offered them refuge.” — Associated Press
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching pandemic proportions.
The attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christians and their churches that began in July on the heels of the popular June 30 Revolution — which saw the ousting of President Morsi and prompted the Muslim Brotherhood to scapegoat and incite violence against the Copts — became even more brutal in mid-August after security forces cleared out Brotherhood “sit in” camps, where people were being tortured, raped, and murdered. Among other things, over 80 Christian churches were attacked and often torched. (Click here for a brief video of one of these many churches set aflame.)
Upper Egypt, especially Minya, which has a large Christian minority, was hit especially hard, with at least 20 attacks on churches, Christian schools and orphanages. “The Islamists,” one resident said, “burnt and destroyed everything. Their goal was to erase all the traces of a Christian presence; even the orphanages were looted and destroyed.” After storming the Prince Tadros el-Shatbi Church, Morsi supporters turned their attention to two homes for disadvantaged children located near the parish church; there, they stole church offerings, clothes, and children’s games before torching the entire building in a fire that lasted over five hours.
The Al-Anba Mousa Church in Minya, Egypt, after being torched by Islamists. (Image source: Screenhot of Human Rights Watch video)
The attacks were not limited to inanimate objects. According to the BBC, 10-year-old Jessi Boulus, an only child, was walking home from her Bible class in a working-class area of the capital when a gunman killed her with a single shot to the chest. Her mother, Phoebe, devastated, believes Jessi was targeted purely because she was Christian.
The attacks on Egypt’s Christians were so fierce that, at one point, when they started to run out of food, they were afraid to come out of their homes for fear of being killed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many churches canceled services. Even at the Virgin Mary monastery, which was also torched, one priest said, “We did not hold prayers in the monastery on Sunday for the first time in 1,600 years.”
Although some in the West assert that the Christian minority needs to fight fire with fire, when one 60-year-old Copt tried to do just that, firing a gun in the air to scare away an invading Islamic mob, “It proved a fatal error,” the Sunday Times reported: “They took offence at the fact that a Christian fired in the air against them, and they stormed his home and shot him to death before taking his body away and hacking it into parts.”
Scenes reminiscent of the original Islamic conquest of Seventh Century Egypt replayed themselves: an Evangelical church in the village of Bedin was not only attacked but converted into a mosque. Similarly, as reported by the AP, “After torching a Franciscan school, Islamists paraded three nuns on the streets like ‘prisoners of war’ before a Muslim woman offered them refuge. Two other women working at the school were sexually harassed and abused as they fought their way through a mob.”
Meanwhile, the Western mainstream media sympathized with the Brotherhood while ignoring the Coptic victims. Even the Coptic Church criticized the “false broadcast by Western media” and called for an “objective” revision to be made of the actions of those “blood-thirsty radical organizations…. [I]nstead of legitimizing them with global support and political coverage while they are trying to wreak havoc and destruction upon our beloved land, report all events truthfully and accurately.”
One activist said of the U.S. and the EU, that they “almost daily issue statements threatening to take further actions against our interim government and army, portraying the Muslim Brotherhood as victims while not even mentioning the destruction of over 80 churches, as well monasteries, orphanages, businesses and Coptic schools by the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Father Rafic Greiche, the chief spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, criticized President Obama for not speaking out against the worst violence against Egyptian Christians in nearly 700 years: “President Obama when he made a speech he just touched on the burning churches instead of telling the Muslim Brotherhood that they are terrorists and they are making terror on Egypt. He did not speak loud for this and shame on him if he is a Christian that he does not speak out loud.”
Even more telling, although human rights activists and lawmakers have long been asking that U.S. aid to Egypt be made contingent on the respect for the human rights of minorities such as the Copts, the Obama administration failed to include such a condition. In a direct response to the ousting of the Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, however, the administration did reduce U.S. aid to Egypt by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The rest of August’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country in alphabetical order, not according to severity:
Attacks on Christian Places of Worship
Nigeria: A report revealed that, since January 2012 alone, 50 Christian churches were attacked and 366 people killed in those attacks. (Attacks on churches, however, have been going on for well over a decade; hundreds if not thousands of churches have been destroyed.) In August, a Muslim mob with knives and iron rods injured several members of the St. James Anglican Cathedral in Nasarawa—including three pastors, four elders and choir members. According to a source, a “Muslim woman sent her children to purchase water from the church’s borehole, and then a misunderstanding over about 5 naira [less than 1 cent US$] occurred. The Muslim woman then went and invited some of her Muslim neighbors, who stormed the church and attacked the members of the church” as well as damaging Bibles and other property.
Syria: The Antiochian Orthodox church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, one of only two churches that served many Christians, was demolished after the Free Syrian Army took over the region of Thawrah. According to one Christian refugee: “They [FSA] tore up the sanctuary curtains, Bibles and other holy books, and broke all the crosses, chairs and icons of Jesus and the saints. They stole electrical appliances like fans, chandeliers and lights. They took whatever was in the church, and sold it all. There is nothing there now.”
Turkey: After the Christian staff of the Saint Abraham monastery told a group of Muslims that visiting hours were over, the Muslims threatened, cursed, and ultimately attacked the staff, saying “we own this land, obey us or you will be sorry.” According to a member of the monastery, “The monastery was attacked two months before this incident by young [Muslim] Kurds from the town of Batman, but we decided not to go public about it, this time we decided it’s enough. We gave the police the footage from the surveillance camera from the previous attack and now it is gone and no one was punished. They promised us to put guards here but we don’t see any and when they [the police] came yesterday, they attacked us with pepper spray instead of the attackers. Certainly all this cannot be merely coincidences.”
Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Proselytism
Iran: Mohammad-Hadi Bordbar, known as Mostafa, an Iranian convert to Christianity, was sentenced to ten years in prison under the pretext of “crimes against state security.” Court documents state that the man confessed to “having abandoned Islam to follow Christianity … considering evangelization his duty, he distributed 12,000 pocket gospels.” According to Agenzia Fides, “After having received baptism, Mostafa had set up a ‘house church,’ an assembly of home worship, with prayer meetings at home, which are considered ‘illegal.’ Mostafa was arrested in Tehran on December 27, 2012, after a police raid at his house. The security officers detained and interrogated all those present at the meeting for hours, about 50 Iranian Christians. In his home the police found material and Christian publications, such as movies, books, CDs and over 6,000 copies of the Gospel. Mostafa had already been arrested in 2009 for conversion to Christianity, found guilty of apostasy, then released on bail. Similarly, Ebrahim Firouzi, another young convert from Islam to Christianity, was sentenced to one year in jail followed by two years in exile, after being accused of starting and directing an evangelism group, launching a Christian website, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, and attending house churches. The judge described such activities as “propagating against the Islamic regime” and said that Ebrahim was “an anti-Islamic Revolution agent inside the country.”
Uzbekistan: In the Samarkand region, some 30 police officers along with 60 other officials raided a Christian children’s camp, subjecting all 22 children to questioning. Brandishing their batons, police collected statements from the nine adults present at the camp, and all the children, including the youngest, and took them all to the police station for further questioning before releasing them. Officials confiscated a number of items including Christian literature and Uzbek-language New Testaments. Next, police raided the homes of the four adults who organized the children’s camp, and confiscated more Christian literature. It is believed that anti-proselytism related charges will be leveled against the four.
Slaughter of Christians
Central African Republic: Anywhere from 15 Christians to dozens, including a five-month-old baby, were slaughtered and 14 Christian villages emptied, after the Islamic group Seleka, which earlier seized the African nation’s leadership, raided their villages. According to Fr. Gazzera, a local missionary priest from Italy, “It was terrible. Many villages are like ghost towns because they are completely empty. Witnesses told me that the rebels had thrown the bodies of those killed in the river.” During a sermon, the priest lamented how the Islamic takeover of the country is producing “victims of the worst kind of barbarism” who “are being tortured and killed,” while “our mothers and sisters are being raped.”
Nigeria: A former Muslim terrorist recounted in detail the jihad on Christians and how Islamic organizations in the nation, not just Boko Haram, see the slaughter of Christians as one of the loftiest goals to which Muslims can aspire. He also explained how, “If we ask our victim, ‘Will you become a Muslim or not’ and he or she refuses, we will slaughter him like a goat…”
Somalia: Suspected al-Shabaab Islamic militants kidnapped and sexually abused a 28-year-old Christian wife and mother, while calling her an “infidel.” They also texted her husband, who had fled with their small children, writing: “Your wife has told us all about your Christian involvement and soon we shall come for you too.”
Syria: Islamic rebels killed Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest who had earlier disappeared in the east of the country. Before being slaughtered, the priest had served for three decades in the Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian. Activists say he was killed by the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Dall’Oglio’s disappearance follows the kidnappings of the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo; Paul Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim were both kidnapped after gunmen intercepted their vehicle and killed its driver near Kafr Dael as the clergymen returned from a humanitarian relief mission on April 22. They are both believed to be held by Chechen jihadists. Aside from religious leaders, hundreds of regular Christians have been abducted and held for ransom, an activity that is legal according to Sharia in the context of the jihad.
[Infidels as Tolerated, Second Class Citizens in the Islamic World]
Indonesia: During celebrations marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and praying, an unidentified person hurled two Molotov cocktails into the compound of the Assisi Catholic School in South Jakarta, the same school U.S. President Barack Obama attended as a pupil before moving to another facility located in Central Jakarta. According to police sources, the Islamic extremists responsible for the bombings and attacks on religious minorities in Java are linked to the same Islamic groups that beheaded three Christian girls on their way to school in 2005.
Malaysia: A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal ruled unanimously in favor of the proposed ban on Christians publications from using the word “Allah.” In 2009, when this issue of Christians using the word “Allah” was popularized, churches were vandalized and those supporting the Christians’ using the word “Allah” threatened with death. Also in 2009, the government seized shipments of local language Christian Bibles because they contained the Arabic word for the deity.
Pakistan: A Christian woman and her children are under great pressure to convert to Islam or die by the Muslim family of their deceased husband and father. According to the mother, Martha Bibi, “When I got married, the relatives [of my husband] began to exert pressure so that I convert [to Islam]. But my husband stood up for me, saying that ‘my wife and my children should feel free to profess their faith.’ However, after his death his brothers have begun to terrorize us. They have sworn to kill us if we do not convert to Islam.” Also, approximately 30 armed Muslims attacked a Christian colony by opening fire at residents and throwing projectiles at their homes and local church. The colony, Shah Bagh, is near Joseph colony, where earlier nearly 200 Christian homes were torched by rampaging Muslims. The attack was prompted after a local Christian tried to stop the cable operator from charging Christians more money for cable access. Many Christians were injured, often with bullet wounds.
Sinai Peninsula (Egypt): In the Sinai Peninsula, now populated with jihadis, members of the Muslim Bedouin tribes are abducting Christians and holding them ransom for exorbitant sums. When their often destitute families are unable to pay for their release, the Christians are tortured to death—including by crucifixion. Shahar Shoham, director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, told CBN News : “Sinai was always a place for human smuggling, but since around two years ago—even a bit more—it started also to be a place of human torture. They torture them in horrible methods, like hanging upside down from the ceiling, like using electric shocks, like burning them on their bodies.”
Syria: Concerning the Islamic rebel takeover of Christian regions, one refugee lamented how “if any Christians want to go back they have to become Muslim or else they will be killed.” Displaced Christians further report their property stolen, their homes confiscated, and their possessions sold on the black market. Another refugee lamented they were running out of places to flee: “All the roads are full of rebel fighters. It’s really dangerous. We have lost everything. There is nothing for us over there now, nothing to return to. We just need help to get out of here and settle in a country that is safe.”
About this Series
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching pandemic 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:
1) To document that which the mainstream media often seems to fail to report.
2) To suggest that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic.
These accounts span different ethnicities, languages, and locations.
Raymond Ibrahim is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013). He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Media Fellow of the Hoover Institution, 2013