Christians Burn While Pope Worries about ‘Worldly’ Matters

Indifference from the top.

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Indifference to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world was highlighted in June when Pope Francis released his first independent encyclical.

Although the Pope warned against things like global warming and issues dealing with the environment, he did not mention the plight of persecuted Christians—even though he is well acquainted with it and even though previous popes mentioned it at times when Christians experienced a small fraction of the persecution they are today.

Encyclicals are formal treatises written by popes and sent to bishops around the world.  In turn, bishops are meant to disseminate the encyclical’s ideas to all the priests and churches in their jurisdiction, so that the pope’s thoughts reach every church-attending Catholic.

If it were mentioned in the encyclical, bishops and the congregations under their care would be required to acknowledge the truth about Christian persecution.  Perhaps a weekly prayer for the persecuted church could be institutionalized—keeping the plight of those hapless Christians in the spotlight, so Western Catholics and others always remember them, talk about them, and, perhaps most importantly, understand why they are being persecuted.  Once enough people are familiar with the reality of Christian persecution, they could influence U.S. policymakers—for starters, to drop those policies that directly exacerbate the sufferings of Christian minorities in the Middle East.

Instead, Francis deemed it more important to issue a proclamation addressing the environment and climate change.  Whatever position one holds concerning these topics, it is telling that the pope—the one man in the world best placed and most expected to speak up for millions of persecuted Christians around the world—is more interested in speaking up for “the world” itself.

Meanwhile, Christians around the world in general, the Muslim world specifically, continued to be persecuted and slaughtered.  In one little reported story, the Islamic State burned an 80 year-old Christian woman to death in a village southeast of Mosul.  The elderly woman was reportedly immolated for refusing to comply with Islamic law.

A group calling itself the “Islamic State in Palestine” spread fliers in east Jerusalem threatening that it would massacre all Christians who fail to evacuate the Holy City.  The leaflets, which appeared on June 27, said that the Islamic State knows where the city’s Christians live, and warned that they have until Eid al-Fitr—July 19, when Ramadan ends—to leave the city or be slaughtered. The leaflet was emblazoned with the black flag associated with the Islamic State.

Similarly in Egypt, after the foiled suicide attack on the ancient temples of Karnak in Luxor—a tourist designation—the Islamic State promised a “fiery summer” for the Christian Copts.  Abu Zayid al-Sudani, a leading member of the group, tweeted the following: “The bombing of Luxor, a burning summer awaits the tyrant of Egypt [President Sisi] and his soldiers, and the worshippers of the cross.  This is just the beginning.”

The rest of June’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following accounts, listed by theme.

Muslim Attacks on Christian Churches and Cemeteries

Turkey: On June 9, a Muslim man attacked a church in the Kadıköy district of İstanbul with a Molotov cocktail, setting the building’s door on fire.  In a video of the attack, the man is seen shouting “Allahu Akbar” [Allah is greater] and “Revenge will be taken for Al-Aqsa Mosque” as he throws a firebomb at the Aya Triada Orthodox Church.  The door of the Christian worship building caught fire, though the blaze was extinguished shortly after the attack. The man was detained by police.

Egypt: A bomb was placed alongside a Coptic Christian church—the Virgin Mary Church in Helwan city, part of Greater Cairo—but security managed to dismantle it before it exploded.

France: On June 7, two Muslim men were arrested by French authorities in connection to a thwarted terror plot to attack a church near Paris last April.  Authorities said they had aided Sid Ahmed Ghlam, a computer science student, who had planned an attack on churches in Villejuif, south of Paris, and is suspected in the killing of a woman nearby.  Documents in Arabic mentioning al-Qaeda and the Islamic State were found following a search of Ghlam’s home.  Several military weapons, handguns, ammunition, bulletproof vests and computer and telephone hardware were also found in Ghlam’s home and car.

Zanzibar: Muslims on the majority-Muslim island harassed and persecuted two churches:

1) They drove Pastor Philemon, a father of five, into hiding and took over his New Covenant Church’s worship hall by getting the landlord to rent it to them before the church’s lease ended.  Once a congregation of 100, members now account for 25.  “The church faithful are so scattered,” said Philemon. “Some members are always knocking at my door requesting a place for worship.”  The pastor is also helping care for several converts from Islam who fled their homes due to persecution and is struggling financially to help them while also providing for his own family, which includes five children.

2) Just outside Zanzibar City, in Chukwani, Muslims made false land claims in order to bleed another church dry with legal costs.  Said Pastor Lukanula: “The Muslims are waiting for the time when we shall fail to attend the court hearing, implying losing the case and subsequently having to pay a substantial amount of money.”  Before the false claims regarding ownership of the land were made, the leader of a local mosque told the pastor, “We do not want to see a church building here in Chukwani.”  And in 2007, area Muslims demolished the original structure under construction.

Iraq: The Islamic State posted notices around the captured city of Mosul announcing that the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral Church of St. Ephrem, seized a year ago, is to be become the “mosque of the mujahedeen,” or “jihadis.”  The new name was announced on the anniversary of the date the church was seized.  The Islamic flag stating the shehada—that “there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”— was further draped over the building.  “If they changed a church to a mosque it is further proof of their cleansing,” said the president of A Demand for Action, a group advocating for the protection of minorities in the Middle East. “They destroy our artefacts, our churches and try to erase us in any way they can.”

Libya: Yet another Christian cemetery in post “Arab Spring” Libya was recently desecrated by Muslim militants.   Described by witnesses as “Salafi” Muslims, the grave vandals destroyed crosses and tombstones, and dug up graves in the old Christian section of Tripoli in the early morning hours of June 3.   Security forces charged with protecting the region did nothing to stop or arrest the desecraters.

Muslim Slaughter of Christians

Egypt: Two Christians were killed under questionable circumstances:

1) The only Christian in his army unit was found shot dead in a chair at the office of the military base he was stationed.  On June 24, Bahaa Gamal Mikhail Silvanus, 23, a conscript in the Egyptian Army, was found with two bullet wounds to his chest and a gun at his feet.  Relatives who later saw the body also say there were wounds atop his head, as if he had been struck with a solid object.  The military’s official position is that the Copt committed suicide.  Family, friends, and church leaders strongly disagree.  They point out that those who commit suicide are rarely able to shoot themselves twice — or first hit themselves atop the head with blunt objects — as well as the fact that Silvanus was a happy man with a strong faith, a college degree in music and plans to enter the monastic life.  “My son was killed by someone. He didn’t kill himself,” said his father, Gamal Silvanus, who had advised his son to finish his military obligation, work for five years to help support the family, then join a monastery.  A friend of the deceased Christian, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that Silvanus had confided to him that he was regularly pressured by other soldiers in his unit to convert to Islam or else: “He told me that the persecution of the fanatical Muslim conscripts in the battalion against him had been increased the last days, and they threatened him with death that they would kill him if he wouldn’t convert to Islam.”[i]

2) According to MCN, “Police officer Mohammed Megalli, who killed a Coptic woman, used to insult Copts of the district and treat them with contempt, said Nour Rashad, a cousin of the Coptic woman.  Sarah Youssef Ghali was accidentally shot dead by Megalli, a police officer from Manshiet Nasser Police Station in Cairo.”

Uganda: A mother of 11, who, along with her husband, apostatized from Islam and converted to Christianity almost a year earlier, was poisoned to death on June 17 in a village in eastern Uganda.  Namumbeiza Swabura, mother of a 5-month-old baby, died after her sister-in-law visited and offered to prepare a meal for her.  Muhammad, her husband, arrived soon after his wife had finished eating the food prepared by his sister, who had already left.  His wife complained of stomach pain that started immediately after eating the food.  According to Morning Star News:

Swabura’s pain grew worse as she began vomiting and her nose began to bleed uncontrollably; her face turned pale, and two hours later she died in their home as Muhammad was trying to rent a car to take her to a hospital, they said. Her sister-in-law has gone into hiding, the sources said.  Swabura and her husband have received several death threats since putting their faith in Christ, according to Muhammad. During a visit by Morning Star News to the area in late May, he said, “We are fearing for our lives as the Muslims are threatening to kill us if we continue in Christianity.”  Besides her infant and husband, Swabura wife leaves behind 10 other children.

Dhimmitude: Generic Contempt and Discrimination against ‘Infidels’

Ethiopia: On April 25, police raided a Christian worship service in Asella just south of the capital, Addis Ababa. The Church of Asella had just baptized 40 new converts to Christianity, prompting mass arrests.  One of those imprisoned, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity known only as “Palus Ejigu,” said, “We were gathered for sharing and encouraging each other with the Word of God.  After we finished the service, police imprisoned us. Some of our friends ran away when they saw the way we were harshly handled.”  After weeks of suffering harsh prison conditions and abuses, Ejigu was eventually released.  But five days later, four masked men forced him on his knees, put a pistol in his mouth, and ordered him to kill two pastor friends, or else his children would die:

I was commanded to follow the instruction of four covered, armed, persons who spoke in the Oromo language. I was also slapped two times and asked to kneel down. They put their pistol in my mouth and gave me instructions to kill pastors Nebiyou and Legesse.

Ejigu was instructed to accomplish the mission in three months’ time. If successful, he was promised an easier life abroad.  But if he failed or refused, the masked assailants vowed to murder his three children. His wife’s Muslim family had already taken the children away from him, in accord with Islamic law.

Egypt: Several anecdotes demonstrating the inferior status of Christian minorities occurred:

1) The principal of a school in Sohag has been openly refusing the enrollment of Christian students, simply on the basis of their religion. When Copts and others protested—the current law of Egypt is on their side—the principal unabashedly declared that “As long as I am present in the school, no Christian pupils will be accepted in this school.”

2) Popular Egyptian columnist Karima Kamal wrote that although the Egyptian constitution stipulates equality before the law, the judiciary does not apply this provision and refuses the testimony of Christians against Muslims in courts.   Anecdotal evidence supports her claim.   Some weeks earlier, the following letter was published on Arabic media:

Yesterday I suffered an extremely harsh and psychological shock.   I went to court with one of my neighbors, a widow, to serve as witness in an inheritance case.  Another neighbor and witness accompanying us was a young Christian.  We had all been living as one family.  Imagine my shock, then, at the judge who very rudely and with incomprehensible disapproval rejected the testimony of the [Christian] youth [saying]: “It is unacceptable for a Christian to testify against a Muslim.”

In fact, Islamic law maintains that the testimony of an “infidel” cannot be accepted against a Muslim.

3) Al Azhar—arguably the Islamic world’s most prestigious Islamic university—continues to incite Egypt’s Muslims against Christians.  Most recently the university was exposed distributing a free booklet dedicated to discrediting Christianity.  It is full of direct attacks on Christianity in general and the nation’s Coptic Christians in particular.  Christianity is referred to as a “failed religion,” while Islam is hailed as the true and superior religion.  Because the “seeds of weakness” are inherent in Christianity and the Bible, says the booklet, Islam was easily able to supplant it in the Middle East.  No mention of the violent Islamic conquests are made.

Iran: Iran’s revolutionary court sentenced 18 Christian converts on charges that include evangelism, propaganda against the regime, and creating house churches to practice their faith.  The sentences totaled almost 24 years (the lack of transparency in Iran’s tightly controlled judicial system does not allow for a breakdown of individual sentences). The defendants were also barred from organizing home church meetings and given a two-year ban from leaving Iran.  The Christians, many of whom were arrested in 2013, were sentenced in accordance with Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which states that “Anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations, shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”[ii]

Nigeria: More than 200 girls remain missing after Boko Haram stormed a government school in 2014, kidnapping scores of mostly Christian young girls.  Escapees continue to testify to the brainwashing that they encountered from their captors.  Some were told to slit the throats of Christians and to carry out suicide attacks.   One witness said that the Chibok girls have been given special status as “teachers” told to memorize the Koran and teach others to do so. Girls face flogging if they cannot recite the Koran.

Pakistan:

1)The “lawyers” of a Christian man imprisoned in Pakistan on the charge of desecrating the Koran last May[iii] are actually working against him.  Humayun Faisal, a mentally disabled Christian will remain in prison because his lawyers have withdrawn their request for bail.  According to the pool of Christian attorneys of the NGO “Lead,” during the hearing on June 27 before the Lahore High Court, Faisal’s lawyers officially canceled the request for bail, previously submitted by other lawyers. Said Lead:

[There are lawyers who] intervene in cases in which Christians are accused of blasphemy or other crimes and, instead of obtaining justice, do not operate in the interests of the accused, their clients, but act for others purposes.

2)  Mumtaz Masih, a Christian man, was recently released from forced slavery by his Muslim employer.  Masih had an arrangement with his Muslim employer, part of which was that Masih remain on his employer’s property at all times except once a month when he would receive payment and could go home to visit his family.  In July 2014 the employer stopped paying Masih, banned him from home visiting, and effectively turned him into a slave.  Masih’s wife sought help when her husband stopped coming. After a habeas corpus court case on 29 May, a court official was directed to find Masih, who was found on his master’s property in a locked room.  Although bonded labor is illegal in Pakistan, many poor Christians live and work in such conditions.

Sudan: On June 25, 12 Christian girls were detained due to their “scandalous outfits” by the Public Order Police as they left the Baptist church in El Izba, Khartoum.  The young women, wearing trousers and skirts, were transferred to a police station; two of them were acquitted on Friday, after the agents of the Public Order Police reconsidered their opinion about their clothes.  The ten others were charged with “deeds against the public morality” under Article 152 of the 1990 Criminal Code.  “The young women attended a religious festivity in the church, and were wearing fancy dress. The charges are an insult to the church,” argued their lawyer.  “Furthermore, the students were forced to change their clothes inside the police station, which is an affront to their dignity.”

Turkey: Authorities shut down Christian schools belonging to the Association of Churches of Jerusalem.  Schools in several districts of the southeastern city of Gaziantep, where many refugees from Syria had fled, and in three other regions, were closed.  Although providing much needed humanitarian relief, the Christian schools were found giving Bible and other Christian literature to their refugee students, many of whom come from Muslim backgrounds.

Philippines: Christians and others in the southern Philippines are expressing strong fears that legislation meant to create an Islamic sub-state on Mindanao Island –legislation meant to appease Islamists — will only create more extremism against Christians.  They believe that if Bangsamoro, or “Moro Country” – Moro is colloquial for “Muslim” — were ruled under Sharia, non-Muslims would become second-class citizens with drastically reduced rights. Critics of the bill say it would render the federal government powerless to redress human rights abuses under Islamic law.[iv]  “What President Aquino is doing is treasonous to Christian communities in Mindanao,” Rolly Pelinggon, national convener of Mindanaoans for Mindanao (M4M), said.

United Kingdom: Nissar Hussain, a former Muslim from Pakistan who converted to Christianity in 1996, recently wrote a letter to his local MP recounting some of the violence, abuse, and other attacks that he and his wife and their six children have suffered at the hands of Muslims in the Bradford area where they live.[v]

Iraq: According to Nineveh Provincial Council member Anwar Mata “more than 120 thousand Christians [were] displaced from Mosul and Nineveh after the Islamic State invaded Mosul.  He further noted that “about 20 thousand of them have migrated Iraq since last year….  The lack of interest of the federal government towards the displaced Christians pushed them to migrate outside the country … the psychological and moral damage was greater than the loss of their money and property as a result of ISIS occupation of Mosul.”  Meanwhile, the loss of Christian property was conducted, not only by IS but by local politicians in Iraq.  Impostors and fraudulent groups, thanks to corrupt officials, have managed to acquire illegal possession of thousands of houses belonging to Christian families in Baghdad, who fled the city after the U.S-led ousting of Saddam Hussein uncorked a virulent jihad on them.  Mohammed al-Rubai, member of the city council of Baghdad, said that almost 70 percent of Christian houses in Baghdad have been expropriated illegally, and property titles were forged with the tampering of land registers carried out thanks to the connivance of dishonest bureaucrats. The NGO “Baghdad Beituna” has calculated that the violations of Christian properties carried out with the complicity of corrupt public officials were about seven thousand. Even members of the political and military apparatus have enjoyed the “legalized” theft of Christian properties.


[i] Mikhial Shenouda, senior priest of Archangel Mikhial, adds: “A person who commits suicide is a disappointed and desperate person, but Bahaa was in a very good spirits. He was smiling always. He was keeping the word of God.”  Although the Egyptian military and media have said little about this incident, hundreds  attended his funeral.

[ii] According to a 2015 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report, “Over the past year, there were numerous incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, threatening church members, and arresting and imprisoning worshipers and church leaders, particularly Evangelical Christian converts….  Since 2010, authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 500 Christians throughout the country.”  Christians make for less than one percent of Iran’s Shia Muslim majority population.  “The Iranian regime’s systematic persecution of Christians, as well as Baha’is, Sunni Muslims, dissenting Shi’a Muslims, and other religious minorities, is getting worse not better,” said U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in a statement. “This is a direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to de-link demands for improvements in religious freedom and human rights in Iran from the nuclear negotiations.”

[iii] On Sunday, May 24, Faisal was accused of blasphemy when some Muslims saw him burning newspapers that reportedly contained Arabic verses from the Koran. After the accusation, a Muslim mob caught the Christian, severely beat him, and even attempted to set him on fire.  A few months earlier, another Muslim mob burned a Christian couple alive inside a kiln after they, too, were accused of insulting Islam.  After the attack on Faisal, the Muslim mob, reportedly numbering in the thousands, rampaged through the neighborhood and set fire to Christian homes and a church.

[iv] The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), proposed by President Benigno Aquino III last September with the aim of ending decades of Islamist rebel violence in Mindanao, was approved by a House Ad Hoc Committee on May 20. The area, comprising five provinces with sizeable non-Muslim populations, already enjoys a measure of autonomy and the proposed BBL would give leaders sufficient independence to impose sharia (Islamic law).  The BBL came about as part of a preliminary peace accord between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group. But it has done little to reduce violence.The BPFA was signed in 2013 as a precursor to a final peace agreement. The government claimed there would be no more Muslim rebel attacks in Mindanao after it was signed, but in some areas violence –including trademark Islamic attacks on churches and nuns — has increased.

[v] The letter follows:

Dear Naseem Shah MP,

Can I congratulate you on behalf of myself and family on your stunning victory and we can’t express our delight as our newly elected MP for the Ward of Manningham and wish you every success for the future. On a serious note can I express our utter misery and dire situation as Christian converts from a Mirpuri/Muslim background since 1996 [Mirpuri is a region in Pakistan].

We were forced out of our previous home after over several years of suffering as converts and in short my family and I endured ‘hell’ by my fellow Pakistani young men in the form of persecution which entailed assault, daily intimidation, criminal damage to property: smashing house windows and also 3 vehicles written off whilst the community looked on and even endorsed this. One of vehicles was torched outside my home.  Despite witnessing another vehicle being rammed deliberately by a man who I knew, the Police did not even take a statement never mind an arrest. Finally after being threatened to be burnt out of my home these young men deliberately set the neighbours’ house (which was vacant) on fire in the hopes that our house would catch fire. When I had reported it to Police prior to this happening the Police sergeant’s response was: “Stop trying to be a crusader and move out!” In short the Police had wilfully failed us so as not to be labelled racists or seem to cause the Muslim community offence at our suffering and expense.

After being forced to move out in June 2006 we settled in St Paul’s Rd and set about rebuilding our lives, which was going well and had no issues and forged good relations with neighbours until we contributed in a Dispatches documentary called ‘Unholy War’ highlighting the plight of converts from Islam to Christianity in September 2008. Then our problems began, largely posed by the A. family who have been engaged on a campaign to drive us out our home given their bigoted attitude and thoroughly unscrupulous conduct and since last July they have embarked upon criminal damage to my vehicle to the point I have now had my vehicle windscreens smashed for the fourth occasion. The most recent incident occurred on 24 April when I had my vehicle smashed in the early hours of the morning and cannot express the financial impact also as I have to wait 3 weeks at a time for the glass to be ordered from the States as my vehicle is American. And again as in our previous experience the Pakistani community has looked on at our suffering and turned a blind eye whilst others have been openly hostile, while they enjoy freedom and liberty religious or otherwise whilst imposing their will rule and reign upon us and we are treated as second class citizens.

As a result of the latest criminal damage, and after weeks of having no car until it was repaired, I took the liberty of parking my vehicle away from outside my home for peace of mind, as given the misery over the last several years I have been diagnosed with PTSD and my wife and family also suffer stress and anxiety. When I went this morning to get my car I was mortified to discover that my car has been smashed deliberately yet again. Clearly we cannot go on living like this; … our lives have been sabotaged, we fear for our safety and suffer anxiety daily, not to mention the financial costs to all of this wanton criminal damage.

I cannot express in words the Police failure over the years which has led to our suffering and have no confidence in them whatsoever and am desperate for your help.

Kind regards,

Nissar Hussain

About this Series

The persecution of Christians in the Islamic world has become endemic.  Accordingly, “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 does not: the habitual, if not chronic, persecution of Christians.

2)          To show that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Islamic Sharia.

Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; apostasy, blasphemy, and proselytism laws that criminalize and sometimes punish with death those who “offend” Islam; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam;  theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed dhimmis, or third-class, “tolerated” citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination thereof.

Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the West, to Indonesia in the East—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.

Previous Reports:

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