On April 15, Mushtaq Gill and his family were shocked to find pages of the Qur’an scattered in the wind in front of their home. They were terrified to learn that the torn pages were accompanied by self-incriminating notes, allegedly from Mushtaq’s son, which read: “I, Farrukh Mushtaq Gill, have committed this blasphemous act, and I will keep doing this.”
The desecrated Qur’an pages were planted by Muslims who hoped to stir up violence against Gill’s family and other Christians in Gujranwala, Pakistan. To make matters worse, they scattered the torn pages in front of Gill’s home just before the Muslim time of prayer on Friday.
During the prayer time, Muslims were told about the desecration of the Qur’an and incited to gather and demand the arrest of Farrukh (see picture at right) and his father, Mushtaq. Nearly 100 had gathered before the police arrived at the scene to attempt to calm the situation. The police explained to the mob that they were convinced that the desecration of the Qur’an was done by someone who intended to stir up violence against Christians, but the Muslims refused to recant their allegation.
The police eventually caved to the pressure from the radical Muslims and arrested Farrukh and his father. After detaining them for one day to appease the mob, the police released them. Unfortunately, the Muslims protested and essentially forced the police to re-arrest Mushtaq and Farrukh on the same day that they were released. This time, they also arrested other members of Gill’s family, including Farrukh’s wife and their one-year-old daughter.
This case is a clear example of mob justice in Pakistan. Radical Islamists can easily persecute Christians and force the government to do the same, leaving Pakistani Christians without protection.
The Father is truly the only hope for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, so we ask that you please pray for Mushtaq, Farrukh and the rest of their family to be released and protected from further persecution by the Islamists.
On New Year’s Day, a bomb was detonated outside the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria as worshippers were leaving midnight mass. Twenty-three Christians were killed and at least ninety were wounded in the worst attack against the country’s Christians in recent memory. The explosion ripped through the crowd leaving the church’s entrance-way covered with blood, bodies and severed limbs.
Days after the bombing, Coptic Christians took to the streets in protests which some believe helped ignite the fervor of Egypt’s January 25 revolution. “This was the most powerful protest that Christian Copts ever held in recent history,” said Coptic human rights activist Wagih Yacoub. “It went three days and inspired the 25th youth movement. We wanted to end a life under dictatorship, and we were not alone in our aspirations.”
However, details on how the attack was carried out remained disputed. Immediately after the bombing, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that it was the work of the Army of Islam, an Al-Qaeda affiliated Palestinian network. Mubarak’s accusations ignited further Coptic frustration from those who believed that the attack was executed by Egyptians and that Mubarak was trying to avoid confrontation with internal Islamic terrorism targeting Christians.
Mubarak’s disregard was nothing new for Copts who had experienced considerable persecution the past year. Murders have been accompanied by anti-Christian propaganda in Egyptian media, acquittals of Muslim offenders who initiated anti-Christian attacks, the inability of Christians to build churches without special government authorization, and the lack of basic freedoms for Christian converts from Islam. Marginalized by the government, Christians were left helplessly exposed. It came as no surprise that Christian frustrations boiled over in January.
“We have suffered a lot as Christians,” said Yacoub. “We’ve seen churches being bombed, innocent people being killed, girls being kidnapped, and the spread of Islamization against our will. We want to get rid of the dictatorship that we have been living under for over thirty years.”
The New Years Eve bombing led many Christians to participate in Egypt’s revolution to demand the end of oppression under Mubarak’s dictatorship and the beginning of religious freedom. However, there is grave concern among Egypt’s Christians that persecution could potentially increase if free elections give power to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“If the Muslim Brotherhood were to take over, it would not only be dangerous for the Christians in Egypt, but for the whole world,” said Magdi Khalil, Director of the Middle East Freedom Forum. “It means the entire Middle East will be an Islamic Middle East. Egypt is the key state. We must support the secular approach and rewrite the constitution to be a secular constitution.”
While Egypt and its Christians sit on the brim of uncertainty, Christians around the world ought to be careful in fully embracing revolutions that could lead to greater influence for radical Islam. Yet, who can blame Egyptian Christians for demanding the end of tyranny and hoping for a better future?
“We are seeking freedom, we are seeking democracy,” said Yacoub. ”No one can live without freedom. Freedom is life.”
Cairo’s garbage districts are notoriously populated by Coptic Christian families who have been shunned by the Egyptian government. This three part documentary explores the life of Cairo’s poorest Christian communities.
Prior to joining ICC, I lived and worked in a remote village in the deep south of Sudan rebuilding churches – many of which were destroyed by the Muslim north during Sudan’s seemingly endless civil war. South Sudan’s new found independence will prayerfully end an era that has taken some two million lives and displaced countless more. But after a lifetime spent at war or living in impoverished refugee camps spread across East Africa, how does one forgive an oppressor and start anew?
Forgiveness is never an easy process, yet the virtue was instilled within many southern Sudanese long before the civil war had ended. Forgiveness came to southern Sudan with the first missionaries who brought the Gospel. Because of those who faithfully offered the hope of Christ to the Sudanese, you will see neither vengeance nor agony on the faces of Sudan’s Christians, but rather an inconceivable joy for the opportunity of a new beginning.
At first, I was amazed when I heard an Anglican bishop tell his congregation to begin planting mango trees, teak trees, and gardens. At the time, I had been in Sudan for several months and was overwhelmed by the desperation of a place ravaged by war. I had been focusing on the immediate needs – food for the hungry, hospitals for the sick, clean water for the thirsty. Why was this pastor telling his people to plant when there was so much else to be done? I then realized that he saw past the obstacles I had been dwelling on. Instead, he was offering hope to his people by bringing new life to a new nation. He saw the fruit, the building potential, and the beauty that the trees would harvest. He was a visionary, wishing to bestow a better future to his children.
It is easy to become disheartened when reading about or living amongst the bloodshed and devastation suffered by the southern Sudanese, but let us not forget that Christ has not forgotten Sudan, but claimed the Sudanese as his own ages ago. While I was in Sudan, I reflected in my journal upon the early missionaries who brought the Gospel to this unfamiliar land and the hope that is only found in Jesus Christ:
Outside our compound is a church built of brick and stone by English missionaries in the 1930s. It was destroyed in the war and all that now remains are crumbled walls and stone pillars left deserted to serve as a plot of weeds rather than as a house of God. Within the shadows of these halls I find a cool place to write where I am hidden from those passing by. I imagine what this place must have been like when it was used for worship to our Lord. I try to picture the early pioneers who struggled to reach this unfamiliar land and persevered through countless hardships for the sake of Christ to bring the gospel to these people. What an incredible thought that as missionaries, we are continuing a work that was built and has lasted through the ages by the trials, sufferings and perseverance of faithful men and women before us who “considered everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus… (Phil. 3:8).” Those are the footsteps that we follow and whose work it is now our joy to complete.
Some who look upon those ruins may see a church that was unable to stand firm through the devastation of war, and hence may believe that the mission of those pioneers had failed. But, we know better. When I meet the Sudanese Christians and see the hope that they have, I am reminded that the work of the missionaries before us to share the Truth did not end with the destruction of a building but will endure for eternity in the hearts and souls of these people.
“There’s no water here,” I was told. “You can pay for it, but these people can’t afford that. They walk or ride donkeys in the desert heat for three kilometers for water, but the well is often dry. They don’t bathe, they don’t wash their clothes. There’s hardly enough water to drink.”
We drove to this isolated slum to visit a school ran by a Christian group in the area. Trudging up the hills, we passed five and six-year-olds on donkey carts filled with massive sacks of the city’s refuse. The stained pants of street-side boys with feet in the air and faces in dumpsters, searching through the filth to find a recyclable treasure caught our attention. For generations Cairo’s poor have served as the city’s garbage collectors. Today 50,000 garbage-area dwellers do much of the work. Ninety percent of them are Christians.
We approached a Muslim cemetery less than a kilometer from our destination. Ornate red-brick walls enclose the tombs of Cairo’s dead. The graves, erected high atop the hills, were less than a kilometer away from the vast slum, literary hugging the valley floor under desert cliffs. “This valley floods when it rains,” said my guide. “But, the government wants to hide the garbage collectors from view. They’re an embarrassment.” These homes, in contrast to the flamboyant graves, are built of mud with iron sheet roofing. “These are the poorest families I’ve ever seen,” he continued.
Arriving at the schoolyard, also within range of the ditch’s foul odor, children were happily playing. “My parents took me to these slums when I was a child to show me how fortunate I was,” my guide said. In the classrooms, children recited Psalms, and said their ABC’s in both Arabic and English. Flies swarmed the room and nestled on the children’s faces; they hardly flinched.
Outside the classroom, a teacher scrubbed a girl’s feet and washed her face, an act of love and servitude. “This is the only place children can wash,” the teacher said. “Many diseases are spread through cuts in the feet when sorting through trash. We must keep them clean and treat their diseases. Christ tells us that the greatest leader must also be the greatest servant.”
Education is the chief method to reverse the cycle of poverty for the community’s children. “Garbage collectors have existed for generations. Unless you give these kids a chance at something better, they too will collect garbage,” said the school administrator. “To be very poor is to have no decisions. We offer these kids the opportunity to make a decision.”
The school also seeks to instill a firm foundation in the children’s faith. “After kindergarten, these kids will go to a state school and be forced to memorize the Quran. We want them to have a personal relationship with Christ first.”
Cairo’s garbage districts are notoriously populated by Coptic Christian families who have been shunned by the Egyptian government. Mokattam, one of the city’s largest and oldest garbage communities, is a historical area for persecuted Christians. Also known for its famous Cave Church carved out of a chalky mountain-side, the church’s Coptic clergy essentially govern the area. While the government works to keep the Christians poor, as it did during the swine flu endemic by slaughtering the community’s pigs which were used by the collectors to dispose of organic waste, the local church has stepped up to provide aid. They now aim to address virtually every need of Mokattam’s 30,000 inhabitants, from fund raising to fixing sewers, to making sure that homes has running water.
BBC segment on the kidnapping of Christian girls by Muslim men in Egypt
In a dark room nestled in the back corner of a small apartment sat Rafat Matta Damion, the father of an abducted girl. Rafat had heard of his daughter’s rape and fought tirelessly for her release. He looked tired sitting on a bed with shoulders hunched over. He had gone out of his way to meet me and had already put in a full day’s work of manual labor. But, the disheartened man looked to me as a glimmer of hope, a step towards getting his daughter back or, at the very least, a light to shine purpose on her plight.
I explained to him that his daughter’s case carried great significance to our cause and that his testimony would shed light to this undocumented and under-reported occurrence. He listened and was grateful, but his eyes grew void of the hope I had seen minutes before. “Ebtesam disappeared on Christmas morning,” he began. “She took the kitchen garbage out and was gone. It was the last time I ever saw her.” Rafat knew who it was that kidnapped her, for it had happened once before. The first time she was only fifteen. It was his neighbor Sabry, a policeman who had a wife and two children.
Rafat reported the kidnapping to four separate branches of Egyptian security. The police filed the reports, but investigations did not amount to anything. When the case finally appeared in court, the judge was ready. Presenting forged documents as hard evidence, including a certificate that verified Ebtesam’s marriage to Sabry, the judge ruled that Ebtesam willingly chose to marry. Rafat was again heartbroken, not only would he never see justice come upon Sabry, but he would never see his daughter again. He continues to fight for his daughter’s release as best he can, “But what chance do I have?” he asked me. Days before our visit, he received a call from the abductor’s family saying they would return her for 20,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $4,000). A sign of hope? Hardly. Rafat has been lied to before.
Rafat fits the mold. Uneducated, poor, and a Christian, it was not difficult to understand why his daughter was victimized. What could Rafat do? Fight through the court system? At a salary of less than two dollars a day, he couldn’t even pay for a lawyer. To the police department, he was a nonentity. His voice didn’t matter. When returning to the police station to inquire about the investigation’s progress, he was laughed at and mocked. Still today, he does not know where his daughter is or how her health is faring.
Ebtesam is one case among hundreds that occur each year where Christian girls fall prey to Egypt’s cultural norms – rooted in Islam – that legitimize violence against women and non-Muslims. The disappearance, forced conversions, and forced marriages of Coptic Christian girls is often accompanied by acts of violence, which includes rape, beatings, and other forms of physical and mental abuse. There are few organizations able or allowed to undertake the vast effort needed to defend, rehabilitate, and minister to these girls. By discreet and various methods, ICC is partnering with Egyptian Christian ministries who are courageously struggling to reclaim the dignity of their Christian daughters.
Engy Adel was on her way home from school in Alexandria, Egypt when a van with no plates pulled beside her, grabbed her and drove away. Only 12 years old, Engy had been abducted.
Interviewed on Al-Hayat television, Engy explained what happened: “I was coming out of school on a normal day going home. Then there was a van and some guys who came out of the van and began following me. Then two of them grabbed me and tied my arms and pushed me into the van. I woke up and found myself in an apartment… A man called Sultan took me into the room and tied my hands behind my back and raped me. Another four entered in and one after the other, they raped me. Each raped me and was brutally hurting my body as if I was their enemy. They beat me so heavily… that I could neither eat, drink nor sleep. All they cared for was that I took the drugs and rape me.
“Another group of men came and took me away from them. I stayed with them two days and I don’t know how these two days passed by. There were five of them. They were all in the room with me at the same time. I couldn’t tell the difference between day and night – I was raped 24/7. No less than 50 men raped me that much. After that my father found me and brought me back home.”
It was not until months later that Adel Wassily, Engy’s father, found his daughter after being notified of her location by an anonymous caller. They moved to an unknown location for Engy’s safety.
See full interview here:
This is the story of Hany, a young man who was tortured and martyred in the Egyptian military for refusing to deny his faith in Christ (film produced by CBN).
Mubarak Masoud Zakaria, 22, was recruited into the Egyptian military in 2010. Uneducated and from a family that lives far below the poverty line, the military promised Mubarak a consistent income that would provide for his family. However, Mubarak’s military service would be brief.
It was not long before Mubarak’s parents heard of their son’s mysterious death. No report was given on how he died, but an officer told them it was suicide. However, Mubarak’s parents knew their son would not take his own life. When visiting the morgue to see the body for themselves, the parents were horrified by the body’s disfigurement. Beaten and bruised, one cannot comprehend the suffering Mubarak endured during his last breaths. Upon incessant inquiry, the family found out that their son was asked by fellow soldiers to renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam. Upon refusing, he was tortured and murdered.
After hearing the story from Mubarak’s mother, ICC representatives immediately visited her in Upper Egypt to offer assistance. Through ICC’s in-country representatives, ICC is able to respond and minister to the needs of persecuted believers.