By Raymond Ibrahim
"Destroying churches is permissible -- as long as the destruction does not bring harm to Muslims, such as false claims that Muslims are persecuting Christians...." — Dr. Yusuf al-Burhami, leading Salafi cleric, Egypt.
"The children were isolated and put in cages. Adults who do not deny their faith will be decapitated, and their children burned alive in the cages." — Sister Monique of the Vincentian Daughters of Charity, Syria.
"[T]he police detained my son Zubair and tortured him in front of me. When Zubair cried with pain, they told him that he would be released only if I confess the theft.... I repeatedly told the police that I had no connection with the said theft, and then they threw me out of the police station... The next day we found Zubair's dead body outside our house." — Aysha Bibi, on the Pakistani police's attempt to extract from her a confession to a theft she did not commit.
On Sunday, March 15, as Christian churches around the world were celebrating morning mass, two churches in Pakistan — one Catholic, one Protestant — were attacked by Islamic suicide bombers. At least 17 people were killed and over 70 wounded.
The Taliban claimed responsibility. It is believed that the group had hoped for much greater death tolls, as there were almost 2,000 people in both churches at the time of the explosions.
According to eyewitnesses, two suicide bombers approached the gates of the two churches and tried to enter them. When they were stopped — in one church by a 15-year-old Christian youth who blocked them with his body — the Islamic jihadis self-detonated. Witnesses saw"body parts flying through the air."
According to an official statement from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan, despite all the threats received by the churches, authorities only provided "minimal" security.
As in other Muslim-majority nations, churches in Pakistan are under attack. On September 22, 2013, in Peshawar, Islamic suicide bombers entered the All Saints Church right after Sunday mass and blew themselves up in the midst of approximately 550 congregants, killing nearly 90 worshippers. Many were Sunday school children, women, and choir members. At least 120 were injured.
In 2001, Islamic gunmen stormed St. Dominic's Protestant Church, opening fire on the congregants and killing at least 16 worshippers, mostly women and children.
The rest of March's roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following accounts, listed by theme and country in alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity.
Muslim Attacks on Christian Churches and Monasteries
Central African Republic: At least eight churches were burned in the northern province of Nana Grebizi, after heavily armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages. Two Christians, including a pastor, were killed in the attack; another Christian was severely tortured. After the carnage, the Islamic herdsmen started fires and looted the local population. The blaze destroyed swathes of farmland, at least eight churches, several other mission centers and an unknown number of Christian homes.
Egypt: During the early morning hours of March 9, the Coptic Catholic Church of Kafr el-Dawar was attacked by armed men who used an explosive device against the place of worship. Two policemen were hospitalized after the attack. Separately, Dr. Yusuf al-Burhami, a leading cleric in Egypt's Salafi movement, appeared in a video that surfaced in March, saying that "Destroying churches is permissible — as long as the destruction does not bring harm to Muslims, such as false claims that Muslims are persecuting Christians, leading to [foreign] occupations." He further added that "the reason we agree to their [churches] being built, via the article in the constitution dealing with worship, and the reason we do not collect the jizya [tribute] from the Christians, is because the condition of Muslims in the current era is well known to the nations of the world — they are weak and deteriorating among the people." Burhami explained that when the Arab Muslims first conquered Egypt in the 7th century, the ancient nation was Christian, and because the Muslims were few in number, Coptic Christian churches were allowed to remain — "just as the prophet allowed the Jews to remain in Khaibar after he opened [conquered] it, but once Muslims grew in strength and number, [second caliph] Omar al-Khattab drove them out according to the prophet's command, 'Drive out the Jews and Christians from the Peninsula.'"
Germany: A potential jihadi attack on the cathedral and synagogue in Bremen was averted following action by police. Police guarded the cathedral and synagogue and searched a local Muslim cultural center.
Heavily armed German police guard the Cathedral in Bremen, after receiving intelligence information that jihadists planned to attack the city's Cathedral and synagogue. (Image source: Tagesschau video screenshot)
Iraq: Islamic State militants blew up a 10th century Chaldean Catholic church north of Mosul and bulldozed a nearby graveyard. According to Nineveh Yakou — an Assyrian Archaeologist and Director of Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Affairs at A Demand for Action — the Saint George monastery was "wiped out" by IS. The building was founded by the Assyrian Church in the 10th century but rebuilt as a seminary by the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1846. "The current monastery was built on an archeological site containing ancient Assyrian ruins. It was an important show of continuity from the Assyrian to our culture," Yakou said. "ISIS is wiping out the cultural heritage of Iraq. The monastery was classified as cultural heritage. It's a cultural and ethnic cleansing."
Kenya: On the afternoon of February 28, in Maramande, Muslims from neighboring Somalia set a Christian church on fire. This same church was set on fire July 5, 2014, but was rebuilt in January 2015. According to its pastor, "These people do not want Christianity in this area.... They want to finish me so that Christianity will not go on here. But I will continue raising up my eyes to God for help." According to Morning Star News, "Violence in Kenya's coastal region has accelerated in the past few years. On Jan. 11 in the Mombasa area, a gunman shot a Christian dead at the gate leading to a church building, apparently after mistaking him for the church pastor. Police reportedly said the assailants could be members of an active Islamic extremist terror cell in Mombasa blamed for past gun and grenade attacks."
Lebanon: Unidentified persons invaded Mar Elias, an ancient Maronite church in the Bekaa Valley. Along with damaging one of the church's windows, they destroyed a portion of the flooring by digging a large hole near the altar. According to Maronite Bishop Joseph Mouwad, much of the church's sacred items were left intact and not stolen. Instead, "they broke the tiles and dug the ground, apparently looking for something, though we do not know what." Fingerprints and cigarette butts were found.
Muslim Slaughter of Christian 'Infidels'
Central African Republic: An argument between a taxi driver and his Muslim passenger led to the slaughter of at least 16 Christians in Bangui, the nation's capital. A Muslim man known as Aladji hailed a motorcycle taxi and asked to be taken to a Muslim-dominated district of Bangui. He was carrying a bag of grenades. When the motorcycle broke down, the driver stopped to fix it, but his agitated passenger pulled out a knife and tried to stab him. The driver overpowered Aladji and killed him instead. After his body was found, Muslims marched to the Christian sector of the city where they slaughtered at least 16 Christians—some decapitated. Authorities arrested 10 members of Seleka — the almost entirely Muslim rebel group — after the killings.
Libya: Two months after the Islamic State in Libya released a video of 21 Coptic Christians having their heads cut off for being "infidels" and "worshippers of the cross," Copts continue to be targeted and killed. Since that video was released in mid-February, at least 35 more Coptic Christians in Libya have disappeared. Further, on March 2, the beheaded body of another Egyptian Coptic Christian was discovered on the outskirts of Mechili in eastern Libya. In related news, an Egyptian professor claimed that IS received its justification to slaughter Christians in Libya from a book entitled (in translation), Christians in the Koran. The author of this book is Mahmoud Lutfi 'Amr — president of Damanhur's Ansar al-Sunna al-Muhammadiya, that is, "The Supporters of Muhammad's Example." The book was being openly sold in Islamic bookstores throughout Egypt.
Nigeria: Upset that watchmen of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Kaduna state dared to set up a roadblock as a security measure against jihadi raids, on March 8, Nigerian soldiers opened fire on and killed five church members during Sunday Mass. According to parish member Christopher Mamman, "A soldier approached our Cadets who had mounted a blockade during Sunday morning Mass on the road leading to our parish and ordered them to dismantle the blockade. The Cadets told the soldier that Mass was going on, and they would remove the blockade as soon as it was over, but the soldier was dissatisfied with the explanation." It should be noted that hundreds of Christian churches have been attacked and Christians slaughtered during Sunday services — hence the reason for the church roadblock. Regardless, the soldier returned 10 minutes later with other soldiers: "They stormed the parish, shooting at worshipers inside the church," Mamman said. "Five of our members were shot and killed, while many others were injured. One other Christian from another church was also killed when the incident escalated and engulfed the town."
Pakistan: A Christian mother accused police of torturing her son to death in an attempt to extract from her a confession to a theft she did not commit. Zubair Masih was buried on March 9 in a Christian cemetery in Lahore, amid a heavy police presence. He was 20. His mutilated body was found on the evening of March 7, outside his house in the Shamsabad area of Lahore. His mother, Aysha Bibi, worked until February 20 as a servant in the home of Abdul Jabbar. She said her wages had been paid in full when she left Jabbar's employment. But on March 4, she received a phone call from Jabbar's wife, asking her to return for some work: "When I went there, Jabbar took me to the Harbanspura Police Station, where I was told that I had stolen things from Jabbar's house," Bibi said. "Jabbar beat me in the police station while other policemen called me names and forced me to confess that I had stolen 35,000 rupees (about US $350) and gold ornaments weighing up to 100 grams." On March 6, she said, "the police detained my son Zubair and tortured him in front of me. When Zubair cried with pain, they told him that he would be released only if I confess the theft.... I repeatedly told the police that I had no connection with the said theft, and then they threw me out of the police station while they still detained Zubair there. The next day we found Zubair's dead body outside our house." Human rights activists say that the allegation made by her former Muslim employer is suspect because he waited a week to register his complaint with police.
Uganda: A 16-year-old girl who fled from a Muslim uncle who beat her and her sister for converting to Christianity, died under mysterious circumstances on March 8, one day after Muslim relatives who had been searching for her found her. Namwase Aisha died at Iganga Hospital where she had been recovering from malaria after being admitted on March 2, as well as receiving further treatment for a head injury suffered on Feb. 1, when her uncle beat her and her sister with a wooden rod and locked them in a room for nearly three days without food. According to a source, "On Saturday [March 7], Muslim relatives discovered her location and visited the hospital after tracing her whereabouts for some weeks.... Aisha then was responding very well to the medication, but on Sunday morning, after receiving morning medication, she became restless, and we wondered what could have happened to her."
Her condition continued to deteriorate until her death, said a pastor caring for her: "We suspect that the death of our sister Aisha could be related to the medication given the morning of Sunday, which has connection with the arrival of the Muslim relatives on Saturday." Church leaders considered filing a case against the hospital but felt it would lead to more friction with Muslims, they said.
Aisha received a Christian burial near the area to which she had fled. "As we took Aisha to the burial site, her body was swollen and smelling of drugs, which is an indication that her body could have been injected with unknown drug," said her pastor. Two years earlier, another convert to Christianity in Uganda was attacked by his Muslim family, including an aunt who poisoned his drink with insecticide.
Dhimmitude: Generic Contempt and Hostility
Egypt: "Unknown persons" set fire to the parked car of Fr. Ayub Yusif, the priest of the Saint George Coptic Catholic Church in the village of Dalga, Minya, Upper Egypt. By the time authorities put out the fire, the car was completely charred. Dalga has been the scene of many attacks on Christians. Back in September 2013, for example, Muslim Brotherhood supporters forced Coptic households to pay jizya -- Islamic "protection money" extorted from Christians and other non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state. Then, Fr. Ayub, the same priest whose car was recently torched, complained of how the Muslim Brotherhood was abusing the Christians of the village.
Kazakhstan: A drug and alcohol rehabilitation center run by Christians in the village of Sychevka, Pavlodar Region, was fined and closed down for three months after a court order claimed that the center was "conducting illegal activities," including religious worship. This charge, which the center denies, was made after police seized 18 Christian books and other materials in a raid on March 9. The center had housed 14 residents, all of whom had freely chosen to reside there and could leave at any time. Eight of the residents, scared after being questioned several times, decided to leave after police raided the center last year.
Kenya: Muslims from Somalia attacked two Christian siblings, a brother and sister, in their home. According to the brother (name withheld): "The attackers made a knock at the door, and my sister decided to go and open the door, only to be hit with a blunt sharp object near the forehead. My sister fell down screaming, and I decided to rush in to help. Just at the door, I was hit on my right hand, and I fell down." When neighbors rushed to the scene, Somali-speaking assailants fled. While doing so, one of the neighbors heard them saying, "We do not want hard-haired [derogatory for Kenyan] Christians in our region — they should go back to where they came from. We shall soon come back again." Less than a year earlier, the siblings' father had been murdered, also by Somali-speaking Muslims.
Syria: The International Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic organization, reported that some of its members in Syria were kidnapped by the Islamic State and told that if the adults do not deny their Christian faith, they will be decapitated and "their children burned alive in cages." According to Sister Monique, of the Vincentian Daughters of Charity: "Late Sunday afternoon on 1 March 2015, I received a message from M. Francoise, a delegate of the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul [in Rome], and I managed to reach her by telephone. She was leaving for Paris, and collapsed at the news she had just received: members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Syria were kidnapped, along with their wives and children. The children were isolated and put into cages. Adults who do not deny their faith will be decapitated, and their children burned alive in the cages." The fate of most of those kidnapped Christians, well over 200, remains unknown.