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“We Are Your Death”: The Persecution of Christians, May 2022
By Raymond Ibrahim
Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.
The following are among the abuses Muslims inflicted on Christians throughout the month of May 2022:
Murder and Mayhem in Nigeria
On May 12, the Islamic State in Nigeria released a video of its members slaughtering 20 Christians. The ISIS terrorists were dressed in black, which covered everything but their eyes. In the video, the Christians appear on their knees, their hands tied behind their backs. A man holding a knife stands behind them. The terrorists claim that the murder of these 20 Christians is “payback” for ISIS leaders killed three months earlier in Syria by the U.S. Although the scene is reminiscent of the 2015 video of another pack of Muslim terrorists slaughtering 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, it received far less media coverage. The 2015 video of the Copts had received six times less media coverage than the killing of a gorilla about the same time. The video of the Nigerian Christians also barely made a peep in the Western media — as if the ritual slaughter of Christians is now so normal, it does not merit a report.
The same day the video was released, a Muslim mob beat, stoned and then burned the body of Deborah Emmanuel, a Christian college student who earlier had refused the sexual advances of a Muslim man. He retaliated by loudly proclaiming that she had blasphemed Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. According to Pastor David Ayuba Azzaman, a local acquainted with the incident:
“Deborah Emmanuel was complaining in a class WhatsApp group chat, kicking against how they discriminate against Christians in the school in areas of assignments and test in favor of the Muslims. This is what they used as a yardstick to say she insulted Muhammad. She didn’t insult prophet Muhammad, but it was discovered that she turned down a Muslim proposal to date her. That led to him accusing her of insulting prophet Muhammad.”
A brief video clip shows a massive fire against a wall, where she was likely driven before being stoned to death, with Muslims jumping around her burning body and crying, “Allahu Akbar” [“Allah is greatest!”]. One man, dressed in traditional Muslim attire, triumphantly keeps talking while waving a box of matches — apparently used to burn the Christian woman. After viewing other, more graphic videos of Deborah’s stoning and immolation, the Rev. Kelvin Ugwu said,
“I can’t bring myself to share the videos of how they stoned and beat this young lady to death and subsequently burned her body. It is very, very traumatizing…Why does this keep happening? What is the content of the insult she was accused of? How was it investigated? What part of our constitution allows this? Why are we silent about this evil? Why are Muslim elites silent about this? When are we going to have this conversation to put an end to this evil?”
Local media reported that Muslim anger had been further raised after Deborah said in another WhatsApp chat group that she had passed her exams thanks to Christ, “and when she was pressured to retract the statement and apologize, she declined.”
Far from being repentant, several Islamic clerics defended the actions of her murderers. In one video, Bello Yabo, a sheikh, says,
“A young person [Deborah] in Sokoto insulted Allah’s prophet yesterday. In Sokoto we kill such. We don’t tolerate such idiocy in Sokoto… Here we kill. When you touch the prophet we become mad people…. Anyone who touches the prophet, no punishment— Just kill! Even if the person repents or recants, forgiveness is God’s business. We must kill such…. Like Shehu Usman Dan Fodio [a nineteenth century Nigerian “caliph”], we are Mujahedeen (holy warriors) and Jihadists. No compromise. Allah curse whoever touches the prophet. Those of you who displayed your wrath, Allah bless you. Kill and disperse!”
Separately, on May 20, rioting Muslims searching for another Christian woman rumored to have blasphemed against Muhammad set numerous Christian homes and shops ablaze and injured approximately 20 people. “A Muslim claimed he saw a comment written by one Rhoda Jatau, 40, a Christian woman, insulting Muhammad,” an area resident said. “This information the Muslim man passed to Muslims in the town made them set fire on houses and shops belonging to Christians.” But the Rev. Joseph John Hayab said that Muslims were using blasphemy as a pretext to attack and abuse Christians:
“We know and have evidence of how some of these allegations of blasphemy are false and just for blackmail or settling scores with perceived enemies or well-mannered young girls who have refused sexual advances by the opposite sex from another religion. We are also aware of how fanatics have in the past raised lies in the name of blasphemy. We wonder if the recent sermons we are getting from some Islamic clerics on what the Holy Koran says about what should be done if anyone is accused of blasphemy is unpopular among followers?”
Attacks on Apostates, Blasphemers, and Preachers
Uganda: Knife-wielding Muslims crying the jihadist slogan, “Allahu Akbar!” [“Allah is greatest!”],” intercepted a church leader and sliced him up after he left an open-air evangelistic event where for four days he had debated with Muslims. Several Muslims had converted to Christianity during the debates. In the attack, Bishop Amon Sadiiki received serious wounds to his head, torso, and legs, and might have died if others had not intervened and driven away the assailants.
Iran: Anooshavan Avedian, a 60-year-old Iranian-Armenian Christian, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for teaching other Christians in his house church what Judge Imam Afshari called “educational and propaganda activities contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam.” Two other members of his house church, Abbas Soori, 45, and Maryam Mohammadi, 46—both Muslim converts to Christianity — were fined the equivalent of $2,000 USD and given a 10-year “deprivation of social rights” upon their release. All three were originally arrested in the summer of 2020, when about 30 agents raided Avedian’s home, where 18 Christians, including Avedian’s family, had gathered to pray and worship. Bibles and communication devices were confiscated and all in attendance were required to fill forms of personal information and forced to sign commitments to avoid fellowship with Christians and churches. Some were sent to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison where they were “subjected to psychological torture during several intense interrogation sessions.” According to the report:
“[Judge Iman Afshari has been building a reputation in recent years by issuing some of the harshest sentences against Christians…. He was also the judge in the case of Fariba Dalir, a 51-year-old Christian woman convert who recently began a two-year prison sentence as a result of a conviction on similar charges…. The Christians’ defence was met with disrespectful remarks towards their character, and insults to their faith.”
For Iran, all house churches are “enemy groups” of a “Zionist cult,” as the High Council for Human Rights of the Islamic Republic of Iran once wrote to the UN.
Pakistan: Charged with “blasphemy” nearly a year ago, Shagufta Kiran, a Christian wife and mother, remains in prison awaiting her trial. She is accused of disseminating content deemed “insulting” to Islam that was sent to her via a WhatsApp group. “My wife and I lived happily with our children,” said her husband, Rafiq Masih. “The accusation of blasphemy has caused our lives to take a bad turn: Now I am very worried about the present and the future.” Once news of her crime was voiced abroad, her husband and children had to flee their home and take shelter in an undisclosed location. Shagufta’s 15-year-old son, said he was not even allowed to hold his mother’s hand when he recently visited her in prison:
“They keep her in a small cell and there is a separation barrier between prisoners and visitors. It is heartbreaking to see her locked up like that. Living without a mother is like living in a body without a soul.”
Her young daughter said:
“We feel no excitement about celebrating any feast without our mother. We are worried about her fate, and pray that the court frees her and that she can come back to us.”
Discussing her case, Joseph Jansen, president of Voice for Justice, said, “[Pakistan’s] blasphemy laws and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016 are misused to curb freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion, as evinced in several cases, including Shagufta Kiran’s. Existing laws do not guarantee ‘the presumption of innocence, the proportionality of punishments, etc.'” whereas “the accuser enjoys impunity despite fabricating evidence.”
Sudan: A married Muslim couple who converted to Christianity face a 100-lashes punishment on the bizarre charge of “adultery.” According to the report,
“Hamouda Tia Kafi, 34, and Nada Hamad Shukralah, 25, were Muslims when they married in 2016, but when Kafi put his faith in Christ in 2018, his wife’s family sought and won a sharia court decision to dissolve their marriage… The sharia court annulled the marriage on the basis of Kafi’s conversion as apostasy was a crime punishable by death at the time. In 2020, following the end of President Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist regime in 2019, Sudan decriminalized apostasy, and in 2021 Shukralah [the wife] converted to Christianity and returned with their two children to her husband. Following Shukralah’s conversion and return to her husband, her brother charged them with adultery under Article 146 of Sudan’s 1991 criminal law based on the sharia court’s annulment of their marriage…. Police arrested the couple on Aug. 17 and detained them for four days before they received bail…. [Moreover,] the couple, members of a Baptist church, are facing growing threats from hardline Muslims, in particular Shukralah’s brother.”
Last reported, the married couple with children face a public flogging with100 lashes for their “adultery.” Although Sudan has always been at the top of the list of worst nations to persecute Christians, it was removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” — meaning nations that tolerate or engage in egregious violations of religious freedom — in December 2019.
Hate for and Abuse of Christians
Pakistan: On May 20, Muhammad Yasir, a 45-year-old Muslim, abducted Saba Masih, a 15-year-old Christian girl, as she and her sister were walking to work. He subsequently forced her to marry him and convert to Islam. Her family immediately called the police, but they failed to act. According to the girl’s father, Muhammad is a neighbor and “has already been married thrice”:
“The police are not cooperating with us. The investigating officer keeps telling us that Saba has converted to Islam and contracted marriage with [Muhammad] Yasir, but he has not shown us any document as yet. We are pleading with police to at least recover the girl and arrange our meeting with her so that we can ascertain the facts ourselves, but he doesn’t listen to us.”
Saba’s mother had severely injured her knee, and her two daughters were taking her place as a domestic servant. Continues the father:
“I was forced to take my children, four daughters and two sons, out of school due to poverty, and my wife and elder daughters are working as household helps to supplement our family income. We are already suffering from poverty, and now our daughter has also gone missing.”
Saba is among at least three Christian girls to be kidnapped in Faisalabad city since July 2021. Then, 14-year-old Chashman Masih was kidnapped from her school. The following day, her family received images by phone of an Islamic conversion letter and Islamic wedding certificate claiming that she had willfully converted to Islam and married a Muslim man. On May 25, an Anglican Church leader, Azad Marshall, tweeted:
“Kidnapping of our youth must end; today we see a new level of hate when a young girl with hearing and speech impairment was conned and kidnapped in broad daylight. The police must act, the judiciary must send a message. We are being forced to watch as humans are violated.”
In a subsequent tweet, Marshall added, “Social indifference to predators who use religion to pursue and target minorities and the vulnerable, continuing to saw away at all of our futures. The violation of Saba Masih in Faisalabad is another reminder of just how grim the situation is.”
India: A video of a young Muslim child threatening to kill all Christians and Hindus surfaced, reigniting concerns that Muslim children are being indoctrinating to hate the other. The video was from the march of the Popular Front of India (PFI), an Islamic organization. In it, a small child chants the following words, while the marchers repeat them:
“Be ready for your death rituals if you won’t live in our land quietly. Be ready with rice flakes to fill your mouth if you won’t live quietly (For Hindus). Be ready to burn amber in your home if you won’t live quietly (For Christians). Because we are coming, we are your death. We won’t go to Pakistan or Bangladesh, you have to live here as we say, or else we know how to make you live quietly, we will kill you even if we are attacked. We take pride in being a martyr, we salute them. If you won’t live quietly… Be prepared for your death.”
The May 24 report continues:
“It was not a random rant by a child. It was a song, a hateful verse that has been taught to the kid which he then sings and waits for people to join him in the sloganeering. The crowd around the kid seems familiar with the song because they know when to chant the appropriate slogans.”
Yemen: A remote nation that has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, little news concerning Yemen’s tiny Christian population ever surfaces. A May 25 report, however, offers useful information on the Christians of Yemen, who amount for about one percent of the Muslim nation’s population, or about 40,000 people:
“Most Christians are converts from Islam and must practice their faith in secret, meeting in small groups in homes or outdoors. Whereas Yemen is an Islamic country with apostasy and blasphemy laws in place, Christians are subject to a wide range of persecution, including exclusion of family and social life, loss of employment, physical and mental abuse, imprisonment, rape, forced marriages, and death. The degree and source of persecution varies between regions. Tribalism is strong and often the most severe persecution comes from one’s tribe or clan. In the northwestern third where Shiite Houthis exert authority, Christians are at the greatest risk due to strict adherence to Sharia law and heavy policing. In addition, those living in the south where there is a strong al-Queda presence also are at high risk… [Throughout the covid pandemic] Christians have been denied access to emergency humanitarian and medical aid, which typically is distributed by local Muslim leaders and mosques. Without necessary goods and services, their circumstances are especially dire. Due to the warring factions, lawlessness, and government dysfunction, Christians and other minorities are increasingly targeted with little hope of protection and justice.”
Death and Destruction at Churches
Uganda: On May 5, Muslims set fire to a church; two Christians were killed from the blaze inside Holy Healing Ministry International Church. “The fire weakened the church structure and forced it to collapse,” said Pastor George Kato. “I managed to escape with other remaining few members, but two elderly members were trapped inside, and the fire burned them beyond recognition.” As the pastor emerged from the burning building, he “saw three Muslims dressed in long Islamic attire taking off. I couldn’t identify them.” He also saw cans of gasoline near the door. According to the report, “Hardline area Muslims accusing the Christians of being too loud in their worship services and prayer meetings had told them many times to remove the church building.”
In another incident in Uganda, on May 6, “Muslims furious that an Islamic sheikh and his wife put their faith in Christ destroyed a pastor’s house and church building.” While inside his church, which also served as his home, Pastor Wilberforce Naaya said he and other Christians saw a Muslim mob in the distance:
“They were carrying machetes, clubs, sticks and marching towards our church building while chanting ‘Allah akbar! Allah akbar! Allah akbar! [Allah is the greatest]’ slogan. We quickly left the church, because we knew we were in danger for having a sheikh pray with us and quickly rang the police.”
A Christian neighbor and eyewitness continues:
“Some of my Muslim neighbors were not happy about the conversion of the sheikh and the wife to Christianity. Some were even saying that they were going to report the incident in the mosque, since it was a Friday prayer day for the Muslims.”
An hour after fleeing the approaching Muslim mob, the pastor and others saw smoke rising from the church building. “We knew that the Muslims had started burning it,” he said.
Nigeria: On May 14, Muslims attacked and looted three churches — two Catholic, one Protestant — and other Christian-owned stores. These attacks came in response to the arrest of two Muslim men involved in the stoning and burning to death of Deborah Emmanuel, who was a regular attendee of the Protestant church. Discussing this, a local Christian woman said, “It is the failure of the security agencies and the government to rise to such criminalities in the past that gave birth to terrorists and bandits. And as long as the state fails to bring these beasts and criminals amidst us to book, so long will the society continue to be their killing field.”
Pakistan: Fourteen armed Muslim men raided a Christian school, Global Passion School, which offers free education to Christian youths. The men began by hurling chairs at a group of youths gathered in prayer. Then, according to the school principal, Simon Peter Kaleem, who was among those beat and tortured:
“They attacked the security guard and demanded 100,000 rupees [US$536] in extortion money every month, threatening that if their demand was not met they would forcibly stop Christian worship and the school’s operations. They misbehaved with the female staff and issued death threats if we failed to make payment in two days. They also damaged staff cars and motorcycles parked in the building, causing an estimated total loss of 350,000 rupees… Many of our religious and political leaders, while visiting other countries, say that minorities and Christians are safe in Pakistan. After what happened to us today, I will never say that. Our security guard can’t even walk now. Our community is threatened to keep silent. A few among the neighboring Muslim community have always tried to stop us from praying…. We want to be treated equally. Please pray for us.”
This is the third attack on a church institution in Pakistan’s Punjab province alone this year. According to the report,
“In March, police in Lahore arrested a Muslim youth who climbed onto the rooftop of One in Christ Church and sat on the cement cross chanting “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest) while trying to pull it down. In January, police charged four people with blasphemy for ransacking St. Camillus Church in a village in Okara district in Punjab province. According to parishioners, the raiders tied up the Christian watchman and threw pictures of the Holy Family, Eucharist, Bibles and the Ark of the Covenant on the floor.”
France: On Sunday, May 8, a Muslim man barged into the Cathedral of Metz and began to scream repeatedly “Allahu akbar!” After arriving, police found a knife in his possession.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Defenders of the West: The Christian Heroes Who Stood Against Islam, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.