Throughout the world, Christians are increasingly suffering horrendous persecution at the hands of Muslims. Six instances of such persecution during July this year are documented below. These reports have been selected and edited from Barnabas Fund’s website and Prayer Focus bulletins. Ed.
Kenya: Deadly church attacks by Islamist militants
A coordinated attack on two churches in Kenya on 1 July by suspected al-Shabaab militants left at least 17 people dead and around 65 injured. The churches, which are 3km apart in Garissa, were targeted during their Sunday services at around 10.15am.
The first and most serious attack took place at the AfricanInlandChurch, where the gunmen shot dead two policemen who were guarding the building before throwing grenades inside. As the congregation tried to escape, the assailants opened fire on them; 15 members of the church were killed in the onslaught.
A Barnabas Fund contact in Kenya said, “The gun shots in the compound made worshippers run out in panic only to the waiting killers. Using police guns, they rained bullets on fleeing worshippers and many who could not run. Blood could be seen everywhere, furniture strewn all over and worshippers left in shock.”
Two grenades were thrown inside the second church; one failed to detonate, but three people were injured by the other.
Nigeria: Multiple attacks on Christians by Muslims in Plateau state
Over 65 people, including two politicians, were killed in early July in a triple attack by Muslims on a Christian farming community in Plateau state, Nigeria.
The first incident happened on 5 July when Muslims destroyed 43 Christian-owned farms. Nobody was arrested. This was followed up on 7 July with attacks on nine Christian villages around the city of Jos, in which dozens of people were killed. The next day, a funeral for the victims of the village raids was attacked by Muslims. Two Christian politicians in attendance, Gyang Dantong, the senator representing Plateau North, and Gyang Fulani, the majority leader of the state assembly, were shot dead. Several other people were also killed.
Then in mid-July, militant Islamist group Boko Haram launched attacks on twelve villages near Jos.Church members fled in panic and took refuge in the home of a local church leader. The house was bombed and more than 50 people were burnt alive, including the pastor’s wife and children.
Iran: Christian pastors imprisoned
A six-year prison sentence for an Iranian pastor, who was arrested as part of a major crackdown on the country’s house church movement, has been upheld following an unsuccessful appeal hearing in June. Farshid Fathi Malayeri was originally sentenced on 5 March after several delays to his trial; at that point he had already been detained for 14 months, including over 100 days in solitary confinement. Farshid, a married father of two, will serve out his term in the notorious Evin Prison.
The pastor was convicted by a court in Tehran of being the chief agent of foreign organisations in Iran and of administering funds for foreign organisations. The political charges are apparently a pretext for locking up the pastor, a convert from Islam to Christianity, on account of his faith.
Meanwhile, concerns are growing for an imprisoned Iranian pastor whose health is deteriorating as a result of the regular beatings he has endured in one of the country’s most notorious jails.
Benham Irani (41), who is serving a six-year prison sentence, lost consciousness last week as a result of a bleeding ulcer. He has since regained consciousness, but his health is steadily declining. Benham has difficulty walking because of the injuries he has sustained in regular beatings by other prisoners and guards, and he is starting to lose his eyesight; it is feared that he could die within the next few months.
He began his sentence in Karaj’s Ghezel Hesar prison in May 2011, having been charged with “action against the state” and “action against the [Islamic] order”: pretexts for locking him up on account of his Christian faith and ministry; in the verdict issued against him, Benham is described as an apostate, which refers to his leaving Islam, and it states that apostates “can be killed”.
Egypt: Christian surgeon’s heart operations centre under threat from Muslims
A charitable medical centre that performs free heart operations on children in Egypt is under threat from radical Muslims, who want it closed down because it was founded by a Christian surgeon.
The centre in Aswan city was established by the world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, Sir Magdi Habib Yacoub, an Egyptian Christian who emigrated to Britain in 1962. His charitable organisation covers all the centre’s costs, and operations are performed on Christian and Muslim children alike free of charge.
Sir Magdi, who specialises in surgery on children with congenital heart defects, goes to the centre in Aswan himself to perform operations on needy youngsters.
The protests against his medical centre follow the election last month of an Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, in Egypt, which heightened concerns for the future of Christians in the country.
Gaza: Beleaguered Christians protest over forced conversions
A protest over fears that five Christians had been kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam has highlighted the plight of the Christian community under Islamist rule in the Gaza Strip.
Dozens of Christians staged a demonstration in Gaza on Monday 16 July over the conversion of Ramez al-Amash (24) and Heba Abu Dawud (32), along with her three daughters.
The local church said that a group of armed Islamists kidnapped the Christians and forced them to convert to Islam. In a statement, the church said:
The dangerous Islamist movement is trying to convince Christian men and women to convert to Islam, destroying Christian families and the Christian presence in the Gaza Strip.
The Islamist movement uses dark and dirty methods, sowing fear and using intense pressure, blackmail, and dishonest means including using chemical substances to control and terrify those who have been kidnapped.
The leader of the church said that Ramez al-Amash’s parents had reported her abduction to the police but they had done nothing after discovering that the orchestrator was a senior cleric linked with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
The kidnappings have highlighted the plight of the Gaza Strip’s tiny Christian community, which has been increasingly marginalised and harassed since Hamas came to power. Their daily lives are extremely difficult, and several Christian stores and schools have been vandalised by Muslim extremists. While Hamas has said that it is committed to protecting the Christian minority, crimes against Christians go largely unpunished and are under-reported.
The Christian population has shrunk from an estimated 3,500 to 1,500 in recent years, and there are fears that it could disappear altogether.
Syria: Desperate humanitarian crisis engulfs displaced Christians
Disturbing new reports from Syria have revealed the desperate humanitarian needs both within the country and on its borders, heightening concerns for its vulnerable and beleaguered Christian community.
As Syria implodes into chaos and civil war, its large but endangered Christian minority has been caught up in the growing crisis of displacement and poverty.
Tens of thousands of Christians have been driven from their cities by threats and violence. Almost the entire Christian populations of Homs and Qusayr have fled to surrounding villages or further afield. Many Christian families have seen their homes occupied and their lives torn apart by the conflict. They are in urgent need of food and other essentials.
The opposition forces and the militant groups that support them are largely hostile to Christians, believing them to be supporters of the government. An Islamist takeover is likely to generate further violence against Christians. Some believe that they have no alternative but to leave the country to avoid persecution or even death.
But few if any havens remain for them in the region. Turkey and Iraq are inhospitable places for Christians, and they have only restricted freedoms in Jordan. Even in Lebanon, once a Christian stronghold, the churches are beset by a powerful and confident Islamist movement.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said, “My heart goes out to the countless numbers of our brothers and sisters in Syria who have been reduced to homelessness and poverty by the present conflict. Within their own country they are in grave peril, and they may be unable to find security anywhere else. They have no-one to turn to for help except their worldwide Christian family.”
Barnabas Fund is helping displaced Christian families within Syria and in other countries, with food, medicine, money for rent and other essentials.
Pray that God will comfort, strengthen, and protect our brothers and sisters in Christ who are experiencing persecution in Islamic countries.
Pray that God will halt the spread of Islam throughout the world.
Support our persecuted brethren financially through Barnabas Fund.
Inform other Christians and encourage them to pray and give.
Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org) is an outstanding Christian aid agency for the persecuted church.