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Christianity’s Modern-Day Martyrs

ICC Note

The rise of Islamic extremism is putting increasing pressure on Christians in Muslim countries, who are the victims of murder, violence and discrimination. Christians are now considered the most persecuted religious group around the world.

By Juliane Von Mittelstaedt, Christoph Schult, Daniel Steinvorth, Thilo Thielke, and Volkhard Windfuhr

02/26/2010 Islam (Spiegel Online International)- Kevin Ang is cautious these days. He glances around, taking a look to the left down the long row of stores, then to the right toward the square, to check that no one is nearby. Only then does the church caretaker dig out his key, unlock the gate, and enter the Metro Tabernacle Church in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur .

The draft of air stirs charred Bible pages. The walls are sooty and the building smells of scorched plastic. Metro Tabernacle Church was the first of 11 churches set on fire by angry Muslims — all because of one word. “Allah,” Kevin Ang whispers.

It began with a question — should Christians here, like Muslims, be allowed to call their god “Allah,” since they don’t have any other word or language at their disposal? The Muslims claim Allah for themselves, both the word and the god, and fear that if Christians are allowed to use the same word for their own god, it could lead pious Muslims astray.

For three years there was a ban in place and the government confiscated Bibles that mentioned “Allah.” Then on Dec. 31 last year, Malaysia ‘s highest court reached a decision: The Christian God could also be called Allah.

Imams protested and disgruntled citizens threw Molotov cocktails at churches. Then, on top of everything, Prime Minister Najib Razak stated that he couldn’t stop people who might protest against specific developments in the country — and some took that as an invitation to violent action. First churches burned, then the other side retaliated with pigs’ heads placed in front of two mosques. Sixty percent of Malaysians are Muslims and 9 percent Christians, with the rest made up by Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. They managed to live together well, until now.

Expelled, Abducted and Murdered

Not only in Malaysia , but in many countries through the Muslim world, religion has gained influence over governmental policy in the last two decades. The militant Islamist group Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, while Islamist militias are fighting the governments of Nigeria and the Philippines . Somalia , Afghanistan , Pakistan and Yemen have fallen to a large extent into the hands of Islamists. And where Islamists are not yet in power, secular governing parties are trying to outstrip the more religious groups in a rush to the right.

There are 2.2 billion Christians around the world. The Christian non-governmental organization Open Doors calculates that 100 million of them are being threatened or persecuted. They aren’t allowed to build churches, buy Bibles or obtain jobs. That’s the more harmless form of discrimination and it affects the majority of these 100 million Christians. The more brutal version sees them blackmailed, robbed, expelled, abducted or even murdered.

Bishop Margot Kässmann, who was head of the Protestant Church in Germany before stepping down on Feb. 24, believes Christians are “the most frequently persecuted religious group globally.” Germany ‘s 22 regional churches have proclaimed this coming Sunday to be the first commemoration day for persecuted Christians. Kässmann said she wanted to show solidarity with fellow Christians who “have great difficulty living out their beliefs freely in countries such as Indonesia , India , Iraq or Turkey .”

Part 2: ‘Creeping Genocide’ against Christians

Open Doors compiles a global “persecution index.” North Korea , where tens of thousands of Christians are serving time in work camps, has topped the list for many years. North Korea is followed, though, by Iran , Saudi Arabia , Somalia , the Maldives and Afghanistan . Of the first 10 countries on the list, eight are Islamic, and almost all have Islam as their state religion.

Gone is the era of tolerance, when Christians enjoyed a large degree of religious freedom under the protection of Muslim sultans as so-called “People of the Book” while at the same time medieval Europe was banishing its Jews and Muslims from the continent or even burning them at the stake. Also gone is the heyday of Arab secularism following World War II, when Christian Arabs advanced through the ranks of politics.

‘People Are Scared Out of Their Minds’

Tacit State Approval

In many Islamic countries, Christians are persecuted less brutally than in Iraq , but often no less effectively. In many cases, the persecution has the tacit approval of the government. In Algeria , for example, it takes the form of newspapers reporting that a priest tried to convert Muslims or insulted the Prophet Mohammed — and publishing the cleric’s address, in a clear call to vigilante justice. Or a public television station might broadcast programs with titles like “In the Clutches of Ignorance,” which describe Christians as Satanists who convert Muslims with the help of drugs. This happened in Uzbekistan , which ranks tenth on Open Doors’ “persecution index.”

Part 3: ‘We Don’t Feel Safe Here’

Government-tolerated persecution occurs even in Turkey , the most secular and modern country in the Muslim world, where around 110,000 Christians make up less than a quarter of 1 percent of the population — but are discriminated against nonetheless. The persecution is not as open or as brutal as what happens in neighboring Iraq , but the consequences are similar. Christians in Turkey , who numbered well over 2 million people in the 19th century, are fighting for their continued existence.

Converts in Grave Danger

In even graver danger than traditional Christians, however, are Muslims who have converted to Christianity. Apostasy, or the renunciation of Islam, is punishable by death according to Islamic law — and the death penalty still applies in Iran , Yemen , Afghanistan , Somalia , Mauritania , Pakistan , Qatar and Saudi Arabia .

The Christian Virus

Six Copts were massacred on Jan. 6 — when Coptic celebrate Christmas Eve — in Nag Hammadi, a small city 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the Valley of the Kings. Predictably, the speaker of the People’s Assembly, the lower house of the Egyptian parliament, called it an “individual criminal act.” When he added that the perpetrators wanted to revenge the rape of a Muslim girl by a Copt, it almost sounded like an excuse. The government seems ready to admit to crime in Egypt , but not to religious tension. Whenever clashes between religious groups occur, the government finds very secular causes behind them, such as arguments over land, revenge for crimes or personal disputes.

More Rights for Christians?

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