The Most Tragic Story Never Told: The Muslim Persecution of Christians
Will Christian lives ever matter?
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article first appeared on Doc Emet Production.
Few phenomena are as horrifically widespread as they are virtually unknown—at least in the West—as the Muslim persecution of Christians.
The general facts are undeniable and have been and continue to be documented in a number of reports issued by a variety of human rights organizations around the world. According to one of the most recent compilations, Open Doors’ “World Wide List, 2021”—which was published in January 2021 and which annually ranks the top 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted for their faith—13 Christians are killed for their faith every day around the world; 12 are illegally arrested or imprisoned; 5 are abducted; and 12 churches or other Christian buildings are attacked.
About 309 million of these Christians “suffer very high or extreme levels” of persecution. “That’s one in 8 worldwide, 1 in 6 in Africa, 2 out of 5 in Asia, and 1 in 12 in Latin America.” More specifically and for the reporting period covered (Oct. 2019 – Sept. 2020), “4,761 Christians were killed for their faith”; an additional 4,277 Christians were unjustly arrested, detained, or imprisoned; 1,710 were abducted for faith-related reasons; and 4,488 Churches or Christian buildings were attacked.
The worst category, “extreme persecution”—the harassing, beating, imprisoning, raping, and/or slaughtering of Christians on sight—occurs in 12 of the 50 nations. Nine of these top 12 worst persecutors are Muslim: Afghanistan (#2), Somalia (#3), Libya (#4), Pakistan (#5), Yemen (#7), Iran (#8), Nigeria (#9), Iraq (#11), and Syria (#12). (That these nations are racially, culturally, politically, and economically very different—Arab, Asian, Iranian, sub-Saharan African, etc.—should be indicative that something else accounts for their commonality towards Christians.)
Over all, the persecution Christians experience in 39 of the 50 nations making the list is also either from “Islamic oppression” or is occurring in Muslim majority nations. This means nearly 80 percent of the Christian persecution around the world—including of those 13 Christians killed for their faith every day—is committed by Muslims.
While the above numbers are important, including in displaying the magnitude of the problem, one should not lose sight that they represent real people; what they experience, when read in detail—girls chained and gang raped; Christians burned alive for supposedly “blaspheming” Muhammad; Muslim husbands and wives stabbing and poisoning each other whenever one apostatizes to Christ; another 30 having their heads sawn off just for the heck of it—is tragic if not bloodcurdling.
The following, for example, are among the most recent incidents to occur as of this writing (excerpted from the February, 2021 edition of the monthly “Muslim Persecution of Christians” reports):
- Uganda: A Muslim husband splashed acid onto his wife after suspecting she had converted.
- Malta: A Muslim man stabbed a former Muslim who converted to Christianity in an attempt to kill the apostate and please Allah.
- Iran: Four converts to Christianity that were arrested on the charge of “acting against national security by forming a house Church,” were sentenced to a combined total of 35 years in prison.
- Pakistan: Two Christian men reading the Bible in a park were arrested and are being charged with blasphemy—which carries the death penalty—after Muslims lied and told police that they were proselytizing.
- Somaliland: On Jan. 25, a Christian couple and their newborn baby were arrested. On the next day, police searched and seized from their home recriminating evidence of Christianity. Promoting any religion other than Islam is banned in Somaliland. Their fate remains unknown.
- Algeria: A 43-year-old married Christian father of four was sentenced to five years in prison for reposting a cartoon of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam on his Facebook account—three years ago, in 2018.
- Kenya: Muslims torched five separate churches. As occurred when vandals in France used human excrement to draw a cross on the Notre-Dame des Enfants Church in 2019, so these Kenyan arsonists also “committed the heinous acts of scooping human feces onto the buildings,” the source added.
- Sudan: The ninth church to be torched in Muslim-majority Sudan in two years occurred.
- Nigeria: Suspected Muslim arsonists set Holy Family Catholic Church ablaze on Sunday.
- Algeria: Although all mosques were given permission to reopen on Feb. 15, churches were denied the same greenlight.
- Bangladesh: Two Muslims brutally raped their neighbor, a married Christian mother, because they thought that the family consisted of “very weak Christians, [who] would not raise our voices.”
- Pakistan: After a 23-year-old Christian girl applied for the position of math instructor in a school adjacent to a mosque in Islamabad, the Muslims around her began to harass and insult her—to the point of threatening her with rape and death if she did not convert to Islam. An actual abduction attempt was also made.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: On Sunday, Feb. 14—St. Valentine’s Day—Islamic terrorists killed 13 civilians in the Christian majority nation, and burnt down a Catholic church during a raid.
- Nigeria: A Muslim colonel stole weapons from an armory and then blamed the 12 soldiers on duty of the theft. Six of those 12 soldiers—all Christians—were then executed. And, as they do every month, Islamic terrorists of the Fulani herdsmen variety butchered dozens of Christians.
- Indonesia: Authorities publicly flogged two Christian men for drinking alcohol and gambling in Aceh, which enforces Islamic law, or Sharia.
- Sudan: On the day that the only Christian program on Sudanese television first aired, outraged Muslims urged authorities to remove it. “Christians and Jews are not only infidels, but they are cursed by Allah.”
As mentioned, this is just the latest sampling from the most recent compilation. Every month contains similar, often significantly worse, accounts, both in quantity and quality.
Why is this happening? And why do Muslims have the lions’ share of the “extreme persecution” 309 million Christians around the world experience?
Islamic doctrine sheds much light. In short, shari‘a, that body of teachings that Muslims are obligated to adhere to, teaches hate for and violence against all non-Muslims. In the words of Koran 60:4, “We [Muslims] renounce you [non-Muslims]. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us—till you believe in Allah alone.” Such sentiments are to be applied to all non-Muslims—“even if they be their parents, children, siblings, or extended family” (58:22; see also 3:28, 4:89, 4:144, 5:54, 6:40, 9:23). Based on such verses, any number of fatwas, authoritative Islamic decrees from venerable sheikhs, call on Muslims to do things like hate their non-Muslim wives (while “physically” enjoying or benefitting from them) and to hate and be disloyal to the Western nations they reside in.
In short, and as the Islamic State once explained in an unambiguously titled article, “Why We Hate You & Why We Fight You,” “We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers.” (Lest it seem that ISIS is an aberration that hardly speaks for Muslims, a Pew poll found that in just 11 nations, as many as 287 million Muslims—just those who answered honestly—sympathized and/or supported ISIS.)
Despite their much vaunted “people of the book” appellation—the significance of which apologists for Islam have strained beyond credulity—both Christians and Jews are, in the end, also classified as infidels (kuffar; singular, kafir). Thus Koran 5:51 warns Muslims against “taking the Jews and Christians as friends and allies … whoever among you takes them for friends and allies, he is surely one of them”—that is, he too becomes an infidel.
Christians are further singled out by name for condemnation: Koran 5:73 declares that “Infidels are they who say God is one of three,” a reference to the Christian Trinity; Koran 5:72 says “Infidels are they who say God is the Christ, [Jesus] son of Mary”; and Koran 9:30 complains that “the Christians say the Christ is the son of God … may Allah’s curse be upon them!”
The significance of these verses can only be understood when one understands the significance of the word translated here as “infidel”—kafir. The kafir—the nonbeliever—is the mortal enemy of Allah and his prophet; their followers—Muslims—are obligated to war on, kill, and subjugate him, whenever possible, that is. As for what Muslims should do when attacking infidels is infeasible—for example, because the non-Muslims are currently stronger—Koran 3:28 advises: “Let believers not take for friends and allies infidels rather than believers: and whoever does this shall have no relationship left with Allah—unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions.” (This is one of the verses that endorses taqiyya, the notorious doctrine that promotes deceiving non-Muslims.)
The final word on both Christians and Jews was “revealed” in Koran 9:29: “Fight those among the People of the Book who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, and who do not embrace the religion of truth [Islam], until they pay the jizya [monetary tribute] with willing submissiveness and feel themselves utterly subdued.” With that, their fate was sealed; like all other infidels, Christians and Jews were also to be hated, warred on, and subjugated.
The only difference is that, whereas conquered pagans must either convert or die, Christians and Jews are permitted to keep their religions—once, that is, they embrace their inferior status, as well laid out in the “Conditions of Omar,” a historic document purportedly agreed to by the conquered Christian population of Jerusalem around 640 AD. Muslim jurists still cite these conditions as containing the main stipulations Christians must agree to in order to exist under Islamic rule. In it, Christians agree:
Not to build a church in our city—nor a monastery, convent, or monk’s cell in the surrounding areas—and not to repair those that fall in ruins or are in Muslim quarters… Not to display a cross on them [churches], nor raise our voices during prayer or readings in our churches anywhere near Muslims; Not to produce a cross or [Christian] book in the markets of the Muslims… Not to display any signs of polytheism, nor make our religion appealing, nor call or proselytize anyone to it… Not to possess or bear any arms whatsoever, nor gird ourselves with swords; To honor the Muslims, show them the way, and rise up from our seats if they wish to sit down.
This pact concludes with the Christians conceding that if they break any of these stipulations, they become, once again, free game for killing or enslavement.
Rather tellingly, the majority of persecution today is connected to these conditions: churches are bombed, burned, or simply denied permits to exist or renovate; Bibles, crosses, and other symbols of “polytheism” are often confiscated, destroyed, and/or provoke violent outbursts (especially in unguarded cemeteries); Christians who openly speak of their faith are accused of proselytizing or blaspheming—both of which can lead to execution. The stipulation for Christians to “honor the Muslims”—including by offering them their seats, a scene that predates the Rosa Parks incident by nearly 14 centuries—has led to an entrenched system of contempt for and discrimination against Christians.
Here it may be objected that, just because religious doctrine teaches something—just because some musty old books and scriptures say something—does not necessarily mean that the religious follow it. To this, one responds by saying that Islamic history is a virtual manifestation of Islamic doctrine.
In 628, the Arabian founder of Islam, Muhammad, called on the Byzantine Emperor, Heraclius—the symbolic head of Christendom—to recant Christianity and embrace Islam. The emperor refused, jihad was declared—Koran 9:29 was in fact “revealed” in this context—and centuries of Islamic invasions, wars, and conquests followed. As a result, “Muslim armies conquered three-quarters [or 75 percent] of the Christian world,” to quote historian Thomas Madden.
All that remained was the “West”—so called because it was literally the westernmost quarter of the pre-Islamic Christian world, namely Europe, that did not also fall, despite centuries of jihadi attempts. As late as 1683—a millennium after Muhammad’s ultimatum to Heraclius—over 200,000 Muslims marched onto, besieged, and nearly conquered Vienna in the name of jihad. Indeed, even the United States of America’s first war as a nation was against Muslims operating under jihadi logic.
In the words of eminent historian Bernard Lewis,
For almost a thousand years, from the first Moorish landing in Spain  to the second Turkish siege of Vienna , Europe was under constant threat from Islam. All but the easternmost provinces of the Islamic realm had been taken from Christian rulers… North Africa, Egypt, Syria, even Persian-ruled Iraq, had been Christian countries, in which Christianity was older and more deeply rooted than in most of Europe. Their loss was sorely felt and heightened the fear that a similar fate was in store for Europe.
As for those Christians whose lands came under Muslim control, from Morocco to Iraq, the historical records make clear that they were indeed treated as “inferiors,” dhimmis, in keeping with the Conditions of Omar. Whether to evade the fiscal and social oppression that was their lot—or the sporadic bouts of wholesale persecution that regularly flared out—over the centuries, more and more of these Christians, who once formed the majority of the Middle East and Africa, converted to Islam. Muslim records even make this clear; in al-Maqrizi’s (d. 1442) authoritative history of Egypt, anecdote after anecdote is recorded of Muslims burning churches, slaughtering Christians, and enslaving Coptic women and children—often with the compliance if not outright cooperation of the authorities. The only escape then—as sometimes still today—was for Christians to convert to Islam.
After recording one particularly egregious bout of persecution in the eleventh century, when, along with countless massacres, some 30,000 churches, according to Maqrizi, were destroyed or turned into mosques—a staggering number that further indicates how Christian the pre-Islamic Middle East was—the Muslim historian makes an interesting observation: “Under these circumstances a great many Christians became Muslims.” (One can almost hear the triumphant “Allahu Akbars.”)
That Christians still amount for very small minorities in the Middle East—as much as ten percent in Egypt—is, therefore, not a reflection of Muslim tolerance, as apologists claim, but intolerance. While the lives of many Christians were snuffed out over centuries of violence, the spiritual and cultural identities of exponentially more were wiped out in their pressured conversions to Islam. (Such is the sad and ironic cycle that fuels the persecution of Christians today: those Muslims who hate and attack them are themselves often distant descendants of Christians who first embraced Islam to evade their own persecution.)
Past and present, then, Muslims persecuted and persecute Christians—and for the selfsame reasons. Amazingly, however, such a perennial phenomenon is virtually unknown in the West. Why? Because, and in what should by now be a familiar theme, the guardians of information have suppressed it in an effort to serve the greater narrative, in this case, that Islam is a religion of peace.
The media are especially adept at getting around the Muslim persecution of Christians. First, only the most sensational attacks are ever reported; for example, the bombings of churches that leave dozens of Christians dead (as have occurred repeatedly in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and many other Muslim nations). Even then, the reporting is minimal. U.S. media coverage for a gorilla that was shot and killed after a toddler fell into its zoo enclosure was six times greater than that for 21 Christians whose heads were carved off for refusing to recant their faith.
Moreover, by reporting only on sensationalist terrorist attacks—carried out by outlawed organizations which the media’s talking heads can easily present as “not representing Islam” but rather “hijacking” it—and because these high casualty attacks occur only every few months or so, as opposed to every day, concluding that Christians experience systemic and systematic persecution under Islam becomes impossible.
In reality, of course, the spectacular terrorist attacks that receive some coverage are just the tip of the iceberg for Christians. Indeed, in an effort to help remedy the media’s failures, nearly a decade ago, in July 2011, I decided to begin compiling monthly reports titled “Muslim Persecution of Christians” (published by the Gatestone Institute). I was initially concerned as to the feasibility of this project: what sort of “report” could be compiled if, say, only one or two—or even no instances—of persecution occurred on any given month? Sadly, this has never been the case. Each monthly report—there are as of this writing 115—contains a dozen or so atrocities.
The overwhelming majority of these stories do not appear on any big media but rather smaller, human rights websites. Apparently they are unworthy of coverage. On the other hand, one suspects that if the roles were switched in any one of these accounts—if it was Christians who were banning or attacking mosques; attacking or imprisoning Muslims who blaspheme or Christians who apostatize to Islam; abducting, raping, and forcibly converting Muslims girls; and enforcing a myriad forms of open discrimination against Muslims—these stories would be reported and highlighted by all the major networks.
Which leads to the media’s second strategy: relativizing, neutralizing—always trying to present what happens to Christians as generic “crimes” that have nothing to do with their—or their persecutors’—religious identity. I have read more than one report of a terrorist attack that kills dozens of “people” only to find at the very end of the report that those slain were—and targeted for being—Christians.
Similarly, unprovoked Muslim attacks on Christians are portrayed as “sectarian strife,” a phrase suggestive of two equally matched adversaries. This hardly describes reality: Christian minorities being persecuted in Muslim-majority nations. The New York Times’ headline for an Islamic terror attack on an Egyptian church that left 21 worshippers dead was “Clashes Grow as Egyptians Remain Angry after an Attack”—as if frustrated and harried Christians lashing out against their persecutors was the big news, not the unwarranted butchery they just experienced.
But of course blurring the line between victim and oppressor is a regular tactic of the mainstream media. In two brief sentences, a BBC report stated the bare-bone facts of a church attack that left three Christians, including a toddler, dead in Nigeria. Then it jumped to the apparently really important news: that “the bombing sparked a riot by Christian youths, with reports that at least two Muslims were killed in the violence. The two men were dragged off their bikes after being stopped at a roadblock set up by the rioters, police said. A row of Muslim-owned shops was also burned.... ” The report goes on and on, with a special section about “very angry” Christians, until one all but confuses victims with persecutors, forgetting what Christians are “very angry” about in the first place: unprovoked and nonstop terror attacks. In what human rights groups are referring to as a “genocide,” Muslims have slaughtered tens of thousands of Christians in Nigeria—as opposed to reprisal killings of two Muslims—and bombed or burned thousands of churches. Yet, the casual reader of the mainstream media will walk away with some notion of tribal/sectarian conflict.
A final and rather deplorable media strategy is to actively issue false news in an effort to suppress the specter of Muslim violence against Christians. In the days before the aforementioned 21 Egyptian Christians were videotaped being decapitated in Libya, the BBC falsely reported that the majority of those now slaughtered Copts were “released.”
Why is the media so set against objectively reporting on Christian persecution under Islam? Because, of all forms of Islamic violence, the abuse of Christian minorities where Muslims are in power has the capacity to completely undermine the Leftist narrative—and thereby undermine a cornerstone of their doctrine of moral relativism. Muslim violence against the West or Israel poses no challenge to that narrative: in both cases, Muslims are presented as underdogs; they may be screaming and rioting, firing rockets, and destroying property—all while calling for the death and destruction of the “infidel” West or Israel to cries of “Allahu Akbar!” Still, this bloodlust can be rationalized as a natural byproduct of the frustration Muslims feel as an oppressed minority, retaliating against their “colonial” oppressors.
But if Muslims get a free pass when their violence is directed against those stronger than them, how does one reason away their violence when it is directed against those weaker than them, those who have no political influence whatsoever—in this case, the millions of Christian minorities suffering under Islam? The rationalizations used to minimize Muslim violence against the West and Israel simply cannot work here, for now Muslims are the majority—and they are the ones violent and oppressive to their minorities, in ways that make Western and Israeli treatment of Muslims seem enviable.
In short, Christian persecution is perhaps the most obvious example of a phenomenon the mainstream media wants to ignore out of existence—Islamic supremacism. Vastly outnumbered and politically marginalized Christians in the Islamic world simply wish to worship in peace, and yet they still are hounded and attacked; their churches are burned and destroyed; their children are kidnapped, raped, and enslaved. These Christians are often identical to their Muslim co-citizens in race, ethnicity, national identity, culture, and language; there is no political or property dispute. The only problem is that they are Christian—they are infidels—and so they must be despised and subjugated.
If the mainstream media were to report honestly on the persecution of Christians under Islam, the obvious implications that Islam is dangerously hostile to all non-Muslims would be inescapable. Hence, journalists develop an instinct—or make a deliberate choice—to ignore or sidestep these uncomfortable facts.
Perhaps worst of all, this lack of accurate reporting is occurring at a critical time. As seen, according to the latest statistics, “more than 340 million” Christians “experience high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith.” This represents a 31 % increase from 2020, when only “260 million Christians experience[ed] high levels of persecution.” That represented a 6% increase from 2019, when the number was only 245 million Christians. And that represented a 14% increase from 2018, when 215 million was the number.
In other words, between just 2018 and 2021, the persecution of Christians has shot up by nearly 60% around the world and, based on current trends, will likely continue to grow and metastasize into other regions. Indeed, whereas Muslim nations have the lions’ share, hostility for Christians is rapidly spreading into non-Muslim nations as well. India has, in recent years, become a chief persecutor of Christians. Even in neighboring Mexico—once thought a bastion of conservative Catholicism—the persecution of Christians is “very high,” even if for different reasons than in China, India, or the Muslim world.
And yet, most Americans, including most self-professed Christians, are either totally unaware of this phenomenon or have no idea of its extent or significance. If the current trajectory does not change, they will likely remain in the dark until the persecution starts to hit much closer to home—by which time accurate reporting will no longer be needed; the persecution will be self-evident.