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Three Christians in India, Pakistan, and Somalia share challenges of navigating their faith

by Matthew

Ideally, the media would give suitable attention to human rights crises, no matter what religions were involved. In reality, though, persecuted Christians can encounter what might seem like a towering wall of silence from mainstream Western media.

Many of these Christians — who come from such countries as India, Pakistan and Somalia — have something to say about their predicament, along with the hope that Christians in the West are willing to listen.

Daniel (real name withheld to protect anonymity) is a Christian human rights activist in India. He feels that mainstream Western media hesitates to report about persecution against Christians because “religion does not make news.” He adds that such media focuses on “politics and glamour” because, “It wants secularized or irreligious reporting. Anything that will take people away from religion and into commercialism.”

Meanwhile, persecution against Christians in India has worsened quite a bit over the last several years. Daniel relates that, “Christian evangelical groups are increasing and believe in wearing Christianity on their sleeve.” He adds that there has been a negative reaction, not just from Hindus, but also from Muslims and Sikhs.

Daniel expects persecution against Christians in India to become more severe over the next ten years. “The Christians [in India] are divided and have no strategy or action plan to prevent or face it,” he says.

He adds that persecuted Christians in India want Christians in the West to know that, “Persecution is rising and we look up to them to speak out to the politicians who can stop it. Christians abroad need to be more vociferous.”

Rahmiya (real name withheld to protect anonymity) is a Christian in eastern Pakistan. She feels that most media venues, wherever they may be located, don’t want to have to tell the full story when Christians get attacked. She says that the media in her own country will typically report the occurrence of such an attack “but not say that much” in terms of detail. “They don’t want to highlight the issue, because it’s a very sensitive issue,” she adds.

Rahmiya describes attacks on Christians in various villages, where homes were burned down and many families rendered homeless. She visited one such village in the immediate aftermath and attempted to give food to the victims but was prevented from doing so.

She says she has video of arson perpetrated against churches and Christian homes, but she can’t show such video on social media because she is “afraid to make people angry.”

Christians account for just over 1% of the overall population in Pakistan, where 96% of the people adhere to Islam.

One of the most memorable aspects of listening to Rahmiya is her phrase “a five-letter word.” The second time she utters this phrase (“The media has to be sensitive because of ‘a five-letter word.’”), there is no doubt as to her intended meaning. But she still can’t bring herself to mention Pakistan’s dominant religion by name. Even while talking about attacks on Christians, she won’t say the word directly. It’s like the word is connected to a fuse.

Naomi (a pseudonym) is a Somali Christian. She belongs to a family of four that operates Somali Christian TV, an online and TV ministry that preaches (in both English and Somali) to Somali Muslims in the Horn of Africa and around the world.

In Somalia, it’s basically impossible to live openly as a Christian. And even far outside the country, Somali Christians have significant cause for concern.

“Somali Christians are in danger from Somali Muslims anywhere on the planet, whether they are in a Muslim country or not,” says Naomi. “We have heard so many anecdotes of people [especially Muslim converts to Christianity] unable to live their lives freely as believers in supposedly free Western countries due to the Muslim communities they live in.”

“There have been cases in Europe where Somali Christians have been physically assaulted when they were spotted walking out of a church,” says Naomi.

As one of the few Somali Christians with a significant online presence, Naomi says she and her other Christian family members “face religious-based threats and harassment every single day.”

They have also “received two death sentences from the Islamic court in Somalia,” she relates, adding that Somali Muslims “have messaged us, threatening our lives and saying we are their ticket to heaven” (killing such apostates as Naomi would, in their view, put them on the fast track to paradise).

Naomi relates that she and her other Christian family members have had to make frequent changes of residence due to threats, and have also had their addresses leaked online.

She wants Christians in the West to know that Somali Christians living abroad could feel very isolated and might have been disowned by their families. “Please welcome them with open arms, not just hello and goodbye every Sunday,” she says.

Naomi agrees that mainstream Western media hesitates to report about the persecution of Christians. She feels that this type of persecution is not a “sensationalist enough” topic for mainstream Western media venues. She adds how, “Many Western societies are secular and may not really care.”

And for those Western media persons who might actually care, they still avoid the issue “out of fear of looking Islamophobic,” says Naomi.

It’s not just the fear of being labeled a bigot. It’s also about physical safety. “To point out any ills of Islam or the Muslim community would make the Western media outlet a target,” says Naomi. “They know if they report anything negative that this could cause danger for them as well.”

She points out that, by failing to report on persecution against Christians, the media “are saving themselves.”