Saturday was a day of celebration for Christians and religious rights advocates around the world. Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl with mental disabilities, was flown to a secure location after spending nearly three weeks in jail on false blasphemy charges. And, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani—who was to be executed for his conversion to Christianity—was finally freed. Our voices were heard and our prayers were answered.
We must not be fooled, however, in thinking the views of those who put Rimsha and Youcef in prison have changed. As one article headline put it: Rescue of Christian Girl May Be Turning Point in Abuse of Blasphemy Law. But, was this really a “turning point”? Or, do the oppressor’s motives remain the same, only to have succumbed this one time to international pressure?
In Pakistan, numerous Christians and other religious minorities, mainly Ahmadis, linger in prison for allegedly blaspheming Islam. Among them is Asia Bibi, a young Christian mother sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy in November 2010. Two of her closest advocates, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s sole Christian cabinet minister, were assassinated for publicly opposing the laws that condemned her. Where is her justice?
In Iran, there are at least 16 Christians imprisoned for their faith, not to mention the hundreds of nameless Muslims that far outnumber Christians in the country’s jails for opposing the oppressive regime. Among them is Behnam Irani, a pastor suffering from stomach ulcers and being denied treatment. Where is his justice?
The release of two Christians last week was a great victory for the individuals and their families; in that we can rejoice. But, do not forget that thousands of prisoners of conscious, convicted for nothing more than their religious affiliation or political views, have yet to see justice.
When Christians rise up in defense of the persecuted Church, there is freedom. Your prayers, your advocacy, and your voices are heard. Please continue to be vigilant in prayer for Christians in Pakistan, Iran, and throughout the world who suffer discrimination, abuse, imprisonment, and even death for no other reason than following Jesus.
To support the persecuted church through assistance, advocacy, and awareness, visit Persecution.org. Sign our petitions to raise your voice for the persecuted Church.
Rifkha (name changed for security reasons) works at a Muslim farm in the village of Muphat Pura, in Kasur district of Pakistan. On September 16 at 5 pm, Rifkha was working alone on the farm when three relatives of her Muslim employer came and repeatedly raped her.
Warned not to report the rape to anyone, Rifkha told us, “I am very sad about what happened to me. If I report this case, it will be difficult for me and my family to live in the area. The Muslims have threatened to kill me and my brothers (who also work for the same employer) if I report the case to the police. We are Christians and we are very poor that is why we are targeted by the Muslims.”
Unfortunately, Rifkah’s experience is not an isolated one. Many Christian girls are raped at the hands of Muslims in Pakistan. Rape has been used as a weapon of persecution against Christian girls in Pakistan, a country where Christians are treated as third-class citizens. In the Muslim majority country, Christian girls are particularly vulnerable to these types of crimes because Muslim authorities are reluctant to protect them when their rights are violated by Muslims. According to Compass Direct News, a Christian mother of five said that she was raped by two Pakistani Muslims on September 15th. In January, Muhammad Aftab was arrested after raping six Christian girls at different times.
The president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, Dr. Nazir Bhatti, told us, “The incidents of rape and enforced conversion of Christian women to Islam is rising every year. 99.9% of rape cases go unreported in Pakistan… If a Muslim man rapes a Christian girl, then he easily forces her to convert to Islam, marries her and covers up his heinous crime of rape under Islamic law. Some cases of rapes of Christian women are reported, but the majority of such rapes are never reported.”
Unfortunately, Rifkha’s story is not even unique to Pakistan, but is rampant in much of the Islamic World. In our November newsletter, we are focusing on Christian women like Rifkha who, in many parts of the world, are vulnerable, easy targets for abduction, rape, forced marriage, forced conversion, and even sexual slavery. Make sure you sign up in the next week to get ensure you get your copy. This is an issue that is largely overlooked and urgently needs the Church’s attention.
In the Faisalabad District of Pakistan, Muslim families on their way to and from mosque routinely pass by the home of Skeena Bibbi, an elderly Christian woman who hosted weekly prayer meetings in her home until she was forced to flee the area with her family last month.
When some of Bibbi’s Muslim neighbors discovered that she was inviting Christians from around the community to weekly prayer, they incited one another to break in to the woman’s home on July 28th and harass the believers who had gathered for the meeting. The next day, they returned to Bibbi’s home when all of her family members were away at work and she was left alone. Arriving at her door armed with sticks and guns, the Muslim attackers mercilessly beat Bibi – severely injuring her head and arm.
When the Muslims finished beating the elderly woman, they left her and traveled to her son’s workplace. After luring him outside, they beat the young man with rods. His injuries to his head and ribs can be seen in the picture at right.
When the family attempted to submit a complaint to the police, their Muslim neighbors intervened and forcefully told the family to make peace with their attackers. In Pakistan, it is very common for Christian victims to be forced into accepting reconciliation when they decide to take their case to the police.
Bibbi and her family have now abandoned their home and fled their community due to continued pressure from their Muslim neighbors and fear of another attack. Please keep this family in your prayers.
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.
Narsi* is a Christian woman living as part of one of only fifty Christian families among thousands of Muslim residents in a Pakistani village. Recently, in a telephone interview, she shared with me the challenges she and fellow believers in her village face to stay faithful to Christ.
Muslims use insults, threats and even bribes to attempt to convert believers – many of whom live in poverty. Narsi told me that though she is poor and must provide for the needs of her three children, she refused to recant her faith in exchange for money or property because she believes that Christ died for her.
Though persecution was her daily experience, nothing could prepare Narsi for what she faced on February 15. Because Narsi cannot afford to build a restroom, she went out to her field early in the morning to relieve herself. Tragically, two Muslim men were hiding in the field, lying in wait for their Christian victim. As soon as Narsi came near, one of the men grabbed her and forced his hand over mouth – muffling her screams while the other man raped her. The men took turns raping Narsi. She told us that during the rape, they asked her, “You Christian dogs, why do you live here?”
Narsi is still devastated by what happened that morning. In the picture at left, she was weeping as she told one of our representatives her story while holding the bloodied trousers she wore during the attack. Rape brings such shame to a woman in Pakistani society that Narsi was terrified to report the rape to police. She told me that she did not even tell her husband because she was afraid that he might attempt to retaliate against the Muslim attackers and kill them.
My final question for Narsi was a question we ask all of our suffering brothers and sisters: How can the Church help you? She simply said that she would like Christians to pray for her and to help her and her family. Because Narsi was attacked when she had to venture into a field in the early morning because she could not afford a restroom, ICC will be helping Narsi and her family by building her a new bathroom for her home.
After my interview with Narsi, I learned that the rape has resulted in a pregnancy. She is being advised by doctors to have an abortion and she is afraid that she would not be able to care for the child, so ICC is working to counsel her to keep the child and provide funds to help ease her fears that she will not be able to afford keeping the baby. This is obviously a very sensitive situation so we covet your prayers for Narsi and her child – that the Father would comfort her heart and allow a true work of redemption and grace to come through the birth and life of her child.
*name has been changed to protect identity