“Let Allah be avenged on the polytheist apostate!”
“Allah: empower your religion, make it victorious against the polytheists!”
“Allah, defeat the infidels at the hands of the Muslims!”
Those were the prayers just before the beheading of a Christian convert from Islam in a video released on June 4. The calls to “avenge Allah” that preceded the execution—which reportedly took place in Tunisia—have become commonplace for many Middle Eastern Christians. Radical Islam has quickly spread throughout the region following the ousting of long-standing dictators in the Muslim world’s so-called ‘Arab Spring.’
In Egypt, for example, a leaflet titled, “An Urgent and Important Notice,” was distributed by jihadist organizations on August 14 calling for Muslims to “kill or physically attack the enemies of the religion of Allah—the Christians in all of Egypt’s provinces, the slaves of the Cross, Allah’s curse upon them…” The letter went on to promise a reward to anyone who helps “achieve Allah’s rights against his enemies.”
Not surprising, attacks on the Christian community followed soon after. In the Upper Egypt town of Sohag, four Christian shops were set ablaze and dozens of Christians were severely beaten just days after the leaflets were distributed.
Similar threats are now surfacing in Syria where entire cities have been emptied of Christians while Sunni jihadists, who were fighting alongside al-Qaeda against U.S. forces in Iraq, are returning to fight the regime at home.
“We have experience now fighting the Americans, and more experience now with the Syrian revolution,” said Abu Thuha, an al-Qaeda operative. “Our big hope is to form a Syrian-Iraqi Islamic state for all Muslims, and then announce our war against Iran and Israel, and free Palestine.”
In a recently released video on YouTube, masked men that claim to belong to the Free Syrian Army hold AK-47s in front of two al-Qaeda flags. “We are now forming suicide cells to make jihad in the name of Allah,” said a speaker in the video. The video is the latest bit of evidence suggesting that al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are hijacking the Syrian revolution and quickly gaining control of the country.
According to Agenzia Fides, the official Vatican news agency, Syria’s Salafis—who follow the radical Wahhabi interpretation of Islam found in Saudi Arabia—is another group carrying out “brief executions” against Christian “infidels” while initiating a “sectarian war.” These Christians are given a choice to either join the opposition or face “harassment, discrimination, [and] violence.
The surmounting threats and routine killings of Christians have persuaded hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee the region. Christians in Syria and Egypt often express their fears by referencing the decline of Christianity in Iraq, where about 50 percent of Iraq’s 1.4 million Christians have fled the country amidst nearly a decade of church bombings, kidnappings, and sectarian murder. Will the faithful in other Middle Eastern countries join Iraq’s mass exodus of Christians? Now, more than ever before, Christians in the Middle East are seeking the prayers and support of the international church during this period of great suffering and uncertainty.
Right now, as I write this, there are 35 men and women sitting in a jail in Saudi Arabia for committing a “crime” that, not only is nonexistent in most countries, is not even on the books in Saudi Arabia. A little more than four months ago, these 35 men and women gathered together for a prayer meeting in a private residence and emerged to find the Saudi “religious police” waiting to arrest them.
They were accused of “illicit mingling” between genders, which as I mentioned, is not codified in Saudi law. But no one is really fooled by the official explanation. The fact is, the men and women arrested are Christians and they were arrested for having the audacity to hold a prayer meeting.
Since their arrest, they have faced everything from strip searches to violent interrogations. They have been accused of being “unbelievers” and pressured to convert to Islam. Worst of all, they do not know when or if they will be released. This completely flies in the face of official Saudi policy, which is supposedly to respect the private worship practices of all faiths.
Next week, ICC is going to Capitol Hill, the State Department, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in order to draw some attention to this case. Over the course of three straight days we will be meeting with at least two dozen congressional offices, explaining what took place, and asking for senators and congressmen to start exerting serious pressure on the Saudi Arabian government to respect basic human rights, like the right to worship according to the faith of your own choosing.
In the past, we have seen Christians set free after advocating on their behalf, so join us in prayer as we go to our nation’s leaders and speak up for the Christians who can’t.