By Dan Wooding (Assist News) The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.
On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution, according to Crux.
Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.
The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) — follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.
Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists on Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”
“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”
Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said. [Read Voice of the Persecuted’s (VOP) report: Held Captive For 2 Years By Boko Haram: Rebecca’s Story and the relief sent to them through VOP’s aid mission, Project 133 Nigeria here.]
Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world’s most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”
The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.
“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.
China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”
The Middle East was a major focus for the report.
“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”
The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.
The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.
Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.
ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.
A spokesperson for Aid to the Church in Need, said, “We invite everyone to attend, either in person or in spirit, on February 24, 2018 at around 6 p.m. in Largo Gaetana Agnesi, Rome.”
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 55 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan has written numerous books, and his most recent reporting trip for ANS was to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
VOP is on the ground helping persecuted Christian refugees from Nigeria and Pakistan. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope. Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
Christians in the countries of the GCC are virtually “servants, abominably treated. Their religion must be practiced in secret, with converts threatened with death.”
Interest in the state of Middle East Christians has largely focused on the quality of their lives in the Levant, Egypt, and Southern Sudan, predominantly Christian areas before the rise of Islam that still contain sizeable Christian minorities. By contrast, little attention has been paid to Christians in the Arabian Peninsula, which had no indigenous Christian presence in Islamic times.
However, the oil boom of the 1970s created a tremendous demand for foreign labor in the Persian Gulf rentier states. Unsurprisingly, the number of workers needed to drive the emerging economies of the Gulf states was bound to include significant numbers of Christians. There are now more than three and a half million expatriate Christians working in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, mostly Catholics from the Philippines, India, and Pakistan. As their numbers increased, the question of how—or whether—to allow them to openly practice their faith became a significant issue.
ERBIL, IRAQ–Kurdistan in the north of Iraq has become a refuge for Christians and other religious minorities in the midst of the Islamic State’s murderous rampage. In response, the Republican-controlled House voted to designate the Islamic State’s murderous campaign against Christians and Yazidis as genocide.
It’s an ironic judgment from a body controlled by the political party most responsible for the rise of ISIS–absent George W. Bush’s foolhardy invasion of Iraq, the deadly movement would not even exist. Nevertheless, Secretary of State John Kerry last week used the term for the first time regarding the Islamic State, declaring that it “is responsible for genocide against groups” including religious minorities.
The abundant crimes of Daesh, as it also is known, constitute an unprecedented religious war against members of minority faiths who until recently largely lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors. While Christians and other religious minorities suffered pervasive discrimination and persecution by such U.S. allies as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, these groups were largely unmolested by the secular dictatorships of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, a Christian woman was better off living in Baghdad or Damascus than in Riyadh or Islamabad.
Alas, George W. Bush’s botched campaign against non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction unleashed a tsunami of Islamist brutality. Newly empowered Shia turned the state against formerly ruling Sunnis, who responded with a virulent insurgency and indiscriminate terrorism. Christians, who possessed neither militia nor safe haven, suffered grievously, with hundreds of thousands driven from their homes, many fleeing to Syria.
The collapse, the latter into civil war left Christians (and other religious minorities) poised uneasily between the government and insurgents, with many leaning toward the former. After all, they lived the show in Iraq and didn’t enjoy the ending. Worse was to come from the Islamic State, an outgrowth of in Iraq which allied with disgruntled Sunnis to defeat Baghdad’s forces in Iraq and displace both government forces and more moderate insurgents in Syria.
As ISIS created its “Caliphate”–establishing its rule over a sizeable amount of territory–the group expanded its depredations against most everyone, including antagonistic Sunnis, but especially Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. Hence the brutal campaign detailed in the nearly 300-page report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” issued by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, a group which focuses on the Mideast.
This sustained Islamist attack targets the roots of Christianity. Believers were first called Christians in Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:26). Iraqi Christians, known as Assyrians, were converted to Christianity 2000 years ago, apparently by St. Thomas. Christianity predated Islam by hundreds of years and was subjugated through military conquest, not converted through spiritual persuasion. Nevertheless, the Christian community remained vibrant and contributed greatly to Muslim-dominated societies in succeeding centuries. Even in recent years Christians enjoyed surprising influence and authority. A Christian founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In Hussein’s Iraq a nominal Christian, Tariq Aziz, held multiple high public positions.
Today, however, the very survival of Christianity in its birthplace is in question.
The report argued simply: “ISIS is committing genocide” against Christians in Iraq, Libya and Syria. “Killings, rapes, torture, kidnappings, bombings and the destruction of religious property and monuments are, in some instances, a matter of public record.” But the document adds much more detail, reporting crimes largely hidden from public view in the West. Nor is this all. Explained the authors: “We are now being sent new stories and new evidence daily. So what is known about ISIS’ genocidal atrocities will only increase, and the known scale of the horrors that have occurred can only expand with time.”
The words of ISIS are clear. The organization publishes a magazine named Dabiq, the place where the movement expects to destroy the “Crusader army,” meaning Christians. This is no metaphorical quest. Explained the Islamic State:
“We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted.” If today’s ISIS killers fail in this regard, “then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
Nor is this viewed as a battle against secular armies. To the contrary, stated the Islamic State:
“It will continue to wage war against the apostates until they repent from apostasy. It will continue wage war against the pagans until they accept Islam. It will continue to wage war against the Jewish state until the Jews hide behind their gharqad trees. And it will continue to wage war against the Christians until the truce decreed sometime before the Malhamah. Thereafter, the slave markets will commence in Rome by Allah’s power and might.”
Some policymakers mistakenly believed the assault on Christians was limited–for instance, mostly occurring in Nineveh in 2014. However, noted the study, “Christians have been attacked throughout the region, not simply in the Nineveh area or only during the summer of 2014. Christians have been attacked and killed by ISIS and its affiliates in Syria, Libya, Yemen and surrounding areas.” Indeed, the violence began in Iraq shortly after the U.S. invasion by ISIS’ predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The Islamic State claimed to represent historic Islam and convinced some observers that it had replicated the practice of levying the jizya tax on Christians, otherwise leaving them at peace. In fact, explained the study, ISIS simply employed theological concepts which may “mean something contrary to historic Islamic practice” or “nothing at all.” In this case, jizya proved to be a ploy, “almost always a term for extortion and a prelude or postscript to ISIS violence against Christians.”
In Nineveh, for instance, demands for the tax preceded “killings, kidnappings, rapes and the dispossession of the Christian population.” In Raqqa the practice was employed only “after ISIS had already closed the churches, burned Bibles and kidnapped the town’s priests.” Scholar Alberto Fernandez called the concept “more a Salafi Caliphate publicity stunt than a careful recreation of jizya as practiced by the early Caliphs.” It seems even ISIS, which positively gloried in its murderous ways, hoped to mislead its opponents as to the nature of its campaign.
Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the Islamic State will change its behavior as long as any Christians or other religious minorities survive under its control. Argued the report: “Thousands of Christians, Yazidis, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabean-Mandeans, Kaka’en Kurds, and Jews have been–and will continue to be–targeted for extermination because of their religion by a well-financed and highly-organized network of criminal gangs.”
Yet to describe the Islamic State’s crimes in generalities does not adequately communicate the truly horrific nature of its campaign. The NGO Shlomo recorded 1131 Christians murders between 2003 and 2014 in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, with more than 100 more since then. Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan of Antioch, Syria believed more than 500 Christians in Iraq and more than 1000 in Syria were murdered. The Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, said that hundreds of Christians have been killed or kidnapped in his city and perhaps thousands in Syria as a whole. Others have been slaughtered in Libya and elsewhere.
While widespread murder is the Islamic State’s most odious crime, the group inflicts grievous harm on those it does not kill. Those interviewed for the report cited all manner of bodily harm: “Choking, beatings with guns and electrical cords, mock executions, and withholding of food and water in the extreme heat are commonplace.” Rape also is widespread, with more than “1500 Yazidi and Christian girls” taken as sex slaves. As in ancient times, they are sold and shared like chattel. At least 380 Christians are known to have been kidnapped in Syria and more than 150 have been seized in the Nineveh Plain since 2014. Such activities create “mental traumas” akin to PTSD, “Including intrusive thoughts of their captors, overwhelming emotions of fear and grief, and nightmares.” In some cases, such as women repeatedly raped by ISIS fighters, there is “acute mental distress, even total mental breakdown.”
Moreover, the Islamic State coerced religious conversion. Dozens of Christians have affirmed Islam “after being deprived of food and water, and being beaten and threatened with death.” This process might seem unimportant to nonbelievers but, reported the authors, “the violation of conscience–the spiritual rape–involved in a conversion through force works a state of mental and spiritual unrest that is difficult to put into words.” A coerced conversion against one’s beliefs “introduces fear, uncertainty, guilt, and shame into the most important and intimate relationship one can experience.”
There also is robbery of most everything Christians possessed–“homes, businesses, money, jewelry, clothes, and supplies.” ISIS members often returned repeatedly to steal more. Islamic State fighters seized the luggage of Christians forced into exile. Those left in their homes were denied electricity, sanitation and water.
Finally, there is religious cleansing. For instance, “Christians were rounded up into buses and driven out to a remote place to fend for themselves. Sometimes this was next to a river they had to cross, sometimes it was in the middle of the desert.” Left without food and water, many had to walk for hours to reach safety. All told, noted the report: “ISIS generally operated with extreme indifference or hostility to the survival and well-being of its Christian victims.”
The report included detailed lists of crimes committed against Christians and Christians known to be murdered, as well as summaries of witness statements. These highlighted the tragedy that has overwhelmed the region’s religious minorities. Those who escaped reported brutality, beatings, kidnappings, disappearances, expulsions, ransom demands, detentions, looting, churches vandalized and destroyed, homes seized, forced conversions, coerced marriages, and killing. Perhaps the saddest cases, tragically common, involved family members who chose to remain after ISIS’s arrival, believing that the situation would quickly return to normal. Many since have not been heard from and their fate is unknown.
Among the creepiest evidence of the depravity of the Islamic State is the “Subject/Prices of Selling Spoils of War” flier reproduced in the report. Almost beyond belief, this price list for sexual slaves has been confirmed as genuine by Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict. The document complained about a drop in “demand in women and spoils of war” which cut ISIS revenues. Thus, the “caliphate” set price controls, with the penalty of death for any violations. Prices started at 50,000 dinars for a Christian or Yazidi woman between 40 and 50 and rose to 200,000 for any Christian or Yazidi child from one to nine. Only foreigners, as in “Turks, Syrians, and Gulf Arabs,” were allowed to purchase more than “3 spoils.” Bangura explained that such “spoils” often were first offered to Islamic State leaders, next to wealthy Gulf Arabs, and then to local fighters.
Included within the report is a memorandum from ADF International detailing the extraordinary damage done Middle Eastern Christians. While Christianity is the most victimized faith worldwide, noted the group, “the persecution of Christian and other religious or ethnic minorities in Syria and Iraq differs significantly from the rest of the world due to the magnitude of the persecution and the intent behind it.” The number of Christians in Iraq is estimated to have dropped from 1.4 million in 2003 to 275,000 today. In Syria the number has gone from 1.25 million in 2011 to about a half million today.
As the Knights/IDC report substantiates, there is no doubt of widespread genocidal persecution of religious minorities. The biggest challenge is what to do about it. Many who pushed for the designation of “genocide” hoped to force a response from Washington. But there is little military option. After all, foolish U.S. intervention triggered the crisis in Iraq and Libya and exacerbated the conflict in Syria. Indictments under the International Criminal Court would provide moral satisfaction, but the Islamic State must be defeated for any prosecutions to occur. Indeed, defeat itself is the most important way to stop ISIS activities and is primarily the responsibility of the Middle Eastern nations under attack from Daesh.
Perhaps the most obvious response by Americans would be to offer more humanitarian aid and accept additional refugees. Despite security fears, the Islamic State is unlikely to attempt to use refugees, who typically wait years for resettlement, as a means to attack America. However, at least Muslim refugees could be taken in by the Persian Gulf States. Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities lack any comparable Mideast sanctuary: only Lebanon is hospitable to non-Muslims, and is overwhelmed with refugees of all faiths.
The slaughter of Middle Eastern Christians and other persecuted faiths is one of the great tragedies of our age. The Knights/IDC report helps bring the Islamic State’s many crimes to life. There is no panacea, no easy solution to the ongoing conflict. But Americans can act even when their government cannot. Today they should act even if their government does not.
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Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate the horrific suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.
Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
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A sermon delivered by popular Saudi Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid clearly demonstrates why Western secular relativists and multiculturalists — who currently dominate media, academia, and politics — are incapable of understanding, much less responding to, the logic of Islamic intolerance.
During his sermon, al-Munajjid said that “some [Muslim] hypocrites” wonder why it is that “we [Muslims] don’t permit them [Western people] to build churches, even though they allow mosques to be built.”
The Saudi sheikh responded by saying that any Muslim who thinks this way is “ignorant” and wants to equate between right and wrong, between Islam and kufr [non-Islam], monotheism and shirk [polytheism], and gives to each side equal weight, and wants to compare this with that, and he asks: “Why don’t we build them churches like they build us mosques? So we allow them this in return for that?” Do you want another other than Allah to be worshiped? Do you equate between right and wrong? Are Zoroastrian fire temples, Jewish temples, Christian churches, monks’ monasteries, and Buddhist and Hindu temples, equal to you with the houses of Allah and mosques? So you compare this with that? And you equate this with that? Oh! Unbelievable, for he who equates between Islam and kufr[non-Islam], and Allah said: “Whoever desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers” (Koran 3:85). And Prophet Muhamad said: “By Him in whose hand is the life of Muhamad (By Allah) he who amongst the Jews or Christians hears about me, but does not affirm his belief in that which I have been sent, and dies in his state (of disbelief), he shall be of the residents of Hellfire.”
What’s interesting about the sheikh’s zealous diatribe is that, although “intolerant” from a Western perspective, it is, in fact, quite logically consistent and reveals the wide gap between Islamic rationalism and Western fantasy (despite how oxymoronic this dichotomy might sound).
If, as Munajjid points out, a Muslim truly believes that Islam is the only true religion, and that Muhammad is its prophet, why would he allow that which is false (and thus corrupt, cancerous, misleading, etc.) to exist alongside it? Such gestures of “tolerance” would be tantamount to a Muslim who “wants to equate between right and wrong,” as the sheikh correctly deplores.
Indeed, not only does Islam, like traditional Christianity, assert that all other religions are wrong, but under Islamic law, Hindus and Buddhists are so misguided that they must be warred against until they either accept the “truth,” that is, converting to Islam, or else being executed (Koran 9:5). As for the so-called “people of the book” — Jews and Christians — they may practice their religions, but only after being subdued (Koran 9:29) and barred from building or renovating churches and synagogues and a host of other debilitations that keep their (false) religious practices and symbols (Bibles, crosses, etc.) suppressed and out of sight.
From an Islamic paradigm — where Allah is the true god and Muhammad his final messenger — “intolerance” for other religions is logical and difficult to condemn.
The “altruistic” aspect of Islamic “intolerance” is especially important. If you truly believe that there is only one religion that leads to paradise and averts damnation, is it not altruistic to share it with humanity, rather than hypocritically maintaining that all religions lead to God and truth?
After blasting the concept of interfaith dialogue as beyond futile, since “what is false is false — even if a billion individuals agree to it; and truth is truth — even if only one who has submitted [a Muslim] holds on to it,” the late Osama bin Laden once wrote that “Battle, animosity, and hatred — directed from the Muslim to the infidel — is the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them” (The Al Qaeda Reader, pgs. 42-43).
Note the altruistic justification: It is a “justice and kindness” to wage jihad on non-Muslims in the hopes that they convert to Islam. According to this logic, jihadis will always be as the “good guys” — meaning that terrorism, extortion, sex-jihad, etc., will continue to be rationalized away as ugly but necessary means to altruistic ends: the empowerment of, and eventual world conversion to, Islam.
All of this logic is alien to postmodern Western epistemology, which takes for granted that a) there are no objective “truths,” certainly not in the field of theology, and that b) religion’s ultimate purpose is to make this life as peaceful and pleasant as possible (hence why “interfaith dialogue” in the West is not about determining the truth — which doesn’t exist anyway — but finding and highlighting otherwise superficial commonalities between different religions so they can all peacefully coexist in the now).
The net result of all this? On the one hand, Muslims, who believe in truth — that is, in the teachings of Islam — will continue attacking the “false,” that is, everything and everyone un-Islamic. And no matter how violent, Islamic jihadis — terrorists and murderers — must always be seen as the “good guys,” supported by millions of Muslim sympathizers. On the other hand, Western secularists and multiculturalists, who believe in nothing and deem all cultures and religions equal, will continue to respect Islam and empower Muslims, convinced that terrorism is an un-Islamic aberration that has no support in the Muslim world and is destined to go away — that is, they will continue disbelieving their own eyes. Such is the offspring of that unholy union between Islamic logic and Western fallacy.
Saudi Arabia’s top Muslim cleric called on Tuesday for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula after legislators in the Gulf state of Kuwait moved to pass laws banning the construction of religious sites associated with Christianity.
Speaking to a delegation in Kuwait, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who serves as the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, said the destruction of churches was absolutely necessary and is required by Islamic law, Arabic media reported.
Abdullah, who is considered to be the highest official of religious law in the Sunni Muslim kingdom, also serves as the head of the Supreme Council of Ulema (Islamic scholars) and of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas.
Last month, Osama Al-Munawer, a Kuwaiti member of parliament, announced his plans to submit a draft law calling for the removal of all churches in the country, according to the Arabian Businesses news site. Al-Munawer later clarified that the law would only apply to new churches, while old ones would be allowed to stay erect.
Christians arrested at a prayer meeting in Saudi Arabia is the continuing persecution of those that follow Christ Jesus worldwide, but especially in Muslim countries right across the middle east.
These countries and people are doing everything in their power to stop the advance of the message of the kingdom of God. And the salvation through our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. They understand completely that when people are set free, they are free indeed. They do everything in their carnal being to try and stamp out the Good News being preached.
We see the same in the Gospels where no matter how many miracles were done, or what Jesus spoke directly to the religious sects of the day, they sought to put him to death. The only reason they did this was to protect their own positions, kingdoms and power that they had over the people of that time.
Saudi Arabia’s continued persecution of those following in “the way” of Jesus of Nazareth is for the exact same reason. Anyone who does not follow their ideology, or preaches the “truth of all things”, do not worship their God—which Christians believe to be false become a danger to their kingdom and to their hold on power, therefore they will persecute them even unto death.
We are seeing the worst of this behavior coming out of the Middle East, but those who live in countries ruled by a thing called democracy, persecution of those walking in the steps of Christ Jesus are starting to rear its head in many forms.
A few examples include not allowing you to speak about your faith in your workplace, forbidden to bless people publicly, or told you do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work. All of which are the thin edge of the wedge to further persecution and possible imprisonment and in some cases physical death of the Lord’s followers in western governed countries.
Recently in New Zealand, we saw Saudi agents allegedly involved in covert operations whereas they forcibly repatriated three converts from the Muslim faith to Christianity back to Saudi Arabia.
This story should be making headlines in New Zealand, but it has been carefully controlled so that it does not interfere with the countries elections today, 20th September 2014.
It is a story I will follow up after the election and will continue to do so until someone has the courage and fortitude to seek the truth in these circumstances— a country like Saudi Arabia thinking it can freely persecute Saudi converts to Christianity within another countries sovereign borders such as New Zealand.
Continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in these lands to ask the Lord to strengthen them for the trials they are to face and to intervene personally in all their lives, so their persecutors see we serve a living God who is coming back for His people and to bring in His Kingdom upon this earth.
VOP note: For those who argue that Christians in the West are not persecuted, we have been told by those in areas of severe persecution that we are seeing the beginning of what may lead to the same they are suffering today. They pray for us and tell us to stay alert. By no means are we diminishing the suffering of those under extreme persecution. Believers in the West do not suffer equally, nor should we imply that we do. But we will continue to chart the growing animosity towards Christians in all nations, including those in the West.
Washington, D.C. (May 9, 2014) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today introduced legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which he helped establish in 1998 as the author of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The commission was last reauthorized in September 2011.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government advisory body charged with monitoring the status of the freedom of religion or belief abroad and providing policy recommendations to the president, Secretary of State and Congress.
“Religious freedom is America’s first freedom, and a vitally important human right enshrined in international law,” Wolf said. “It should be a bedrock of U.S. foreign policy. Too often that is not the case.”
“The Commission plays an invaluable role in giving an unvarnished picture of religious freedom violations the world over,” Wolf continued. “It is well respected on both sides of the aisle for its thoughtful analysis and policy recommendations, and its commissioners are regularly called upon to provide expert testimony at congressional hearings and briefings. Simply put, the commission’s research informs the work of many in foreign policy-making circles.”
As recent as April 30, 2014, the USCIRF released its annual report which documented religious freedom violations in 33 countries and made a number of policy recommendations, including that 16 countries and recommended that the State Department add eight more nations to its list of “countries of particular concern,” defined under law as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. USCIRF also recommended that the following eight countries be re-designated as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. for particularly severe violation of religious freedom. The report also examines U.S. international religious freedom policy and recommends way to strengthen U.S. engagement and promotion of religious freedom.
Wolf said he looked forward to swift passage of this critical legislation.
Representative Wolf deeply cares and has worked diligently to protect the human right, Freedom of Worship for all people in the world.
He has long believed that the United States has an obligation to speak out for religious freedom, often referred to as the “first freedom.” Recognizing that religious freedom was often sidelined in our bilateral relations and diplomatic engagement with other countries, in 1998, he authored the International Religious Freedom Act, which created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and established the International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department headed by an ambassador-at-large. This was a critical first step in integrating religious freedom into our broader foreign policy, but he says “Much remains to be done.”
“Sadly, religious freedom advocacy has never been more needed. A landmark report on religious freedom, released by the Pew Forum in 2009, found that “nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities. Pew has done subsequent studies on the issue and it’s 2014 report found that incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47% of countries in 2012, up from 38% in 2011 and 24% in the baseline year of the study.”
“If the international community fails to speak out and advocate for those whose basic human rights are being trampled, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance are bleak.”
In January 2013 I reintroduced bipartisan legislation to create a special envoy within the State Department to advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.
In countries like Iraq and Egypt, ancient Christian communities are being driven from the lands they have inhabited for centuries. In Iran, Baha’is are imprisoned and in some cases executed simply because of their faith. In Pakistan, Ahmadi graves are desecrated. In Afghanistan, a country where America has sacrificed greatly in both blood and treasure, the most basic right to freedom of religion or belief is not recognized in the constitution. This is but a snap shot of the grave challenges facing these communities.
In January 2011 following a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing during which sobering testimony [was heard] about the challenges facing religious minorities in Iraq and Egypt, Wolf introduced the special envoy, bill – along with Democrat Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who is of Armenian and Assyrian heritage. The hearing predated the so-called “Arab Spring.” But arguably, the dramatic changes in the region have only made these communities more vulnerable.
Over 20 special envoy posts exist to protect a range of groups and interests, but none is dedicated to the plight of Middle East religious minorities.
On September 18, 2013 the House again overwhelmingly passed the Special Envoy vote by a vote of 402-22, but it has languished in the Senate.
Wolf is actively working to press for swift Senate action. Each day that passes without a dedicated special envoy to advocate for these besieged religious communities, America’s first freedom, religious freedom, is under assault around the globe.
“I renewed my efforts in the 113th Congress to press for passage of this important legislation and to mobilize faith leaders in the West to advocate for these imperiled communities. In January I sent a letter to more than 300 Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox leaders in the West, calling for them to use their influence to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Church around the globe, specifically in the Middle East.”
On Wednesday, the Christian leaders joined forces to call for an end to the silence over persecuted Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Rep. Wolf has regularly met with beleaguered Christians from this part of the world. He said, “Their stories are eerily similar: believers kidnapped for ransom; churches–some full of worshipers–attacked; clergy targeted for killing. In the face of this violence, Christians are leaving in droves.”
In countries where Christians must deal with harsh persecution, many are silenced by fear and abuse. The oppressors wish to hide the atrocities from the international community. Those standing up for religious rights and revealing the abuse are threatened to be silent or face severe persecution—death threats, pressured to convert to Islam, beaten, tortured, shot at and even lose their lives. It is not uncommon for them to be fired from their jobs when the employer is pressured to do so by the persecutors. And to further strike fear, their families likely experience all of the above.
The growing radicalism in these countries has forced many religious minorities to live in fear. In Pakistan, where false blasphemy charges have escalated and are abused, Christians asks us, “What has happened to humanity and what have we done to deserve such treatment?” (John 15:18, John 15:20) Simply being in disagreement with the prophet of Islam can wrongfully be proclaimed as blasphemy, denying their freedom of worship. As seen in recent cases, subjecting them to possible death sentences has also intensified. Too often and now more frequently, Pakistani citizens trying to make a difference by promoting peace and religious equality are forced to flee the country to spare their lives and that of their families. While Pakistan loses one more of the brave few willing to stand up and be a voice for Christian rights and that of other religious minorities.
In the Bible there is much written about the oppressed and persecuted. Jesus had more to say about the poor than any other group of people. He had great concern for this critical issue and taught us that we should too. As American Christians, if we are earnest about our faith, then we should be compelled to aid the oppressed in the world. Being blessed by God living in a nation of great freedom, should we not use this gift and ability to be a voice for those who don’t?
VOP and persecuted Christians appreciate the work of Rep. Wolf. May the Lord bless him in his efforts.
Engage and inform others on the topic of Christian persecution. And get them praying for our suffering brethren!
Ethiopian migrants pushed to the edge?
This attack comes following an operation by Saudi officials to expel all illegal immigrants from the oil rich nation. Since the operation began early in November, there are reports that about 3 Ethiopian nationals have been killed and many others gravely abused. Ethiopians across the world have held protests in the past two weeks, rebuking the Saudi government’s clamp down. The Ethiopian government is reportedly in the process of repatriating over 23,000 of its citizens who are in Saudi Arabia illegally.
According to the report of the incident, the suspected Ethiopian attackers confronted the Saudi Arabian man, who was driving around Casablanca, Al Ha-da area, knocking him unconscious before carving a cross on his chest with a metal object. The suspects fled the scene before the police arrived, but the authorities are reported to have been able to apprehend a number of suspects of Ethiopian origin in the area with the aid of locals.
Following reports of this attack, there have been speculations that the Ethiopian nationals behind the attack may be retaliating the perceived wrong wrought on their kinsmen by Saudi officials during the ongoing mass repatriation exercise. But neither Saudi Arabia nor Ethiopia have so far issued a statement to validate or dispute this claim.
This is not the first incident that highlights an underground religious conflict in the Muslim kingdom. Although no public churches operate in Saudi Arabia, Christians are reported to exist in the country—holding their meetings in individual houses and other locations. Several people reported to be Christians have been arrested by Saudi Arabia’s “religious police”, the Mutaween (or Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) in the past for practicing their faith in public or attempting to proselytize to Muslims. Last year, about 36 Christians who had been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia were released after much criticism from governments and human right groups.
Pundits say Saudi official are dedicated to ensuring the kingdom retains its characteristic Islamic roots. Last year, Fox News quoted the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh saying it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula.” But Saudi officials insist Christians are only arrested when they attempt to convert Muslims to their faith–by practicing in public. In Saudi Arabia, converting from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death.
Ethiopia is a traditionally orthodox christian state, the faith is reported to have been practiced in the state at least since the 4th century. Naturally, the thousands of Ethiopian migrants who are reported to travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia yearly attempt to practice their religion— but with great difficulty. While Christians face persecution in Saudi Arabia, Muslims also face persecution in Ethiopia. In the past few years, the Ethiopian government is reported to have increased surveillance of its relatively small Muslim population, with several clashes and arrests recorded.
In a Wikileaks report, Sheikh Elias Redman, a notable figure in the Ethiopian Muslim community noted that fundamentalist Wahhabist influence is spreading among Ethiopian Muslims, threatening the existence of Ethiopia’s Sufi version of Islam which promotes religious tolerance and co-existence with Christians. The Sheikh also revealed that these attempts are being supported by Saudi Arabia, allegedly to influence Ethiopia’s moderate Muslims with the Kingdom’s more traditional version of the religion.
Photo: Migrants wait to be transported to deportation centres in Riyadh. [AFP/Fayez Nureldine]