Raymond Ibrahim: A Thousand Churches Destroyed in Nigeria

riginally published by Gatestone Institute.

In just two months, from August to October, nearly 200 Christian churches were destroyed by the Islamic organization Boko Haram and its Muslim allies after their capture of towns and villages in the north-eastern states of Borno and Adamawa. In the words of Reverend Gideon Obasogie, the director of Catholic Social Communication of Maiduguri Diocese in Borno State: “The group’s seizure of territory in both states has seen 185 churches torched and over 190,000 people displaced by their insurgency.”

Obasogie added that Boko Haram’s “ransacking and torching” of churches was “sad, heart-aching and potentially dangerous to the territorial integrity and common good of Nigeria…. Our priests are displaced, while citizens… are counting their losses and regrets as they have been reduced to the status of Internally Displaced Persons [IDP]. Where is the freedom?… Life is really terribly difficult.”

In 2011, hundreds of Christians were killed and 430 churches destroyed or damaged in Nigeria by Boko Haram. In 2012, 900 Christians were slaughtered and an unknown number of churches destroyed.  In 2013, 612 Christians were slaughtered and approximately 300 churches destroyed.

This suggests that in the last four years alone, approximately 1,000 Christian churches have been destroyed by Boko Haram and its Muslim sympathizers in a nation that is approximately half Christian half Muslim.

Moreover, according to an October Human Rights Watch report, Boko Haram has so far been responsible for killing 2,053 people in 2014—a number that likely exceeds the previous four years put together.

A typical church attack in Nigeria that occurred in October was reported as follows: “Armed Muslim extremists stormed two churches in Taraba state on Sunday (Oct. 19) and killed 31 people as they worshipped… Two pastors, one pastor’s son, and 28 other Christians were slain in the attacks.” According to the Rev. Caleb Ahema, president of the Christian Reformed Church of Christ in Nigeria, “The attack on Christians in Taraba state is a planned genocide against Christians by Islamic insurgents who have invaded the southern part of the state, inhabited mostly by Christians, since February.”

The experiences of Adamu, a 28-year-old Christian man who refused to abjure Christianity for Islam, appeared in October. One day while working on his farm, a Boko Haram member came to him:

He told me to convert to Islam and join them in waging a jihad to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. I told him that I will not renounce my Christian faith in order to embrace Islam. He left me there on my farm without saying anything again. [Two days later, five other Boko Haram members showed up.] They said their member told them that I refused to renounce being a Christian and wanted to know whether it is true that I refused to become a Muslim. [Adamu repeated his decision again.] They then told me that since I refused to recant, they would kill me…. They pinned me down and told me they will make death painful and slow, as they are not prepared to waste their bullets on me. They also said they would not give me the honor of slaughtering me by cutting my neck from the front, because that is the way they slaughter their rams. They forced me down on my stomach and then proceeded to slaughter me by cutting my neck from the back. I was bleeding and went blank as the knife cut through my neck. It was pains I cannot explain to you. After cutting my neck, they left me bleeding…. It was only after I was taken to the hospital that I was told that the Boko Haram members who attacked me on the farm had gone to the village shortly after leaving me bleeding to death and had warned other Muslims that if any of them dares to rescue me, he would be killed. They sternly warned other Muslims in Musari, “We have butchered an infidel there on his farm. Be warned that if any of you Muslims dares to assist him, he is also an infidel and we shall make sure that he too is killed.’” [Days later, a fellow Christian snuck onto the farm and rescued the barely living man.]

Also in October, the Center for the Studies of Global Christianity in the United States concluded that

about 100,000 Christians die every year because of their religious beliefs, that is to say one every five minutes. In addition, in many Countries, many other religious minorities suffer violence and persecution. Just to name a few, in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, Pakistan, Somalia and Egypt [all nations with large Muslim numbers], the Christian elderly, women, men and their children live in conditions of total insecurity. They are driven from their homes; put in prison for blasphemy, and brutally killed during liturgical celebrations, churches are burned. Girls are kidnapped and forced to marry.

The rest of October’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity.

Muslim Attacks on Churches

Egypt: According to a terse report relayed from Arabic media, “homemade bomb exploded today [October 7] next to the Evangelical Church of God, in Sarie district in Minya [Upper Egypt]. The bomb caused great panic, but no casualties or deaths. Police were reported and the matter is still under investigation.”

Germany: Just as happens regularly in Egypt, a Coptic Christian church in the European nation was attacked and torched. According to the report, “The mayor of Berlin condemned attacking and burning St. Athanasius and St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church in Berlin by extremists describing it as a crime against peaceful coexistence. On his part,Abba Demian, bishop of Germany, said that he didn’t expect such attack against a church in Germany.”

Iraq: Bombings by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State hit and devastated the Church of the Resurrection near the town of Qaraqosh.   The Christian place of worship was being used as a base for jihadis, who hadbroken off the cross from the building’s roof before occupying it.

Philippines: A grenade attack on a church during worship service left two Christians—Felomina Ferolin, a 54-year-old nurse, and a teacher Gina Cabilona, 39—dead, and three others injured, one critically.   Two men on a motorbike fired a grenade launcher at the door of the United Church of Christ before fleeing the scene. The attack took place in the island of Mindanao, where Islamic groups have previously targeted Christians and churches. In a separate incident, an attempted bomb attack took place on October 11 in Mindanao. At that time, the improvised explosive device was defused at the scene by security forces with no reports of injuries. Another location, Zamboanga had been the location of a previous attack on a church by Islamic militants in February 2014. Members of two other militant Islamist groups in the Philippines recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Sudan: The nation’s air force dropped four bombs on an Episcopal Church of a Sudan complex in the Nuba Mountains. According to the Rev. Youhana Yaqoub “The bombs have completely destroyed our church compound in Tabolo. A family living at the church compound miraculously escaped the attack, although their whole house and property were destroyed.”

Muslim Attacks on Christian Freedom

Iran: In what was called a “serious blow,” three Christian leaders were sentenced to six years in prison for their involvement in house churches. Pastor Benham Irani, Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad, and Reza Rabbani, all leaders in the Church of Iran, were sentenced for “action against national security” and “creating a network to overthrow the system” — generic terms the Islamic republic uses to suppress Christian activities. All three are being moved to remote prisons along the nation’s borders. Jason Demars, president of Present Truth Ministries, an evangelical group that works in Iran, said, “Basically they want to silence them—they want to move them away to a place that is tough to get to, for their family to get to. With no one on hand to know what is going on, it’s easier to mistreat them.” Separately, three other converts to Christianity were arrested by intelligence officers in Foolad-Shahr, Esfahan province. Security forces also raided the home of arrested Christian actor Shahram Ghaedi. It is thought that Shahram and the two other believers, Heshmat Shafiei and Emad Haghi, were targeted by authorities because of their involvement in a “Jesus Film” project. Pressure had previously been placed on the filmmakers by the security authorities, forcing some cast members to leave the country and disrupting the project.

Kazakhstan: Two Christian men, Vyacheslav Cherkasov and Zhasulan Alzhanov, were given ten-day prison terms for distributing Christian literature after authorities claimed that one of the books incites religious hatred.   The book Jesus: More than a Prophet—a collection of testimonies of former Muslims—which was among 252 Christian books seized by the authorities—was found by officials who conducted “expert analysis” to contain “elements inciting religious hatred and discord.” A Christian source in Kazakhstan characterized the plight of Christians in the Muslim-majority nation as follows: The situation in every Central Asian republic is different, but we see that persecution is increasing. The Kazakh authorities put tougher pressure on… churches. All countries have passed new regulations in administrative and criminal laws that toughen punishments for illegal religious activity. At the same time the authorities don’t protect… churches from zealous local Muslims or just criminals. [Violence] happens not very often but we don’t have any protection from the authorities.”

Lebanon: A Syrian-born Muslim convert to Christianity who goes by the name “Tarek” is in hiding from his father and stepbrothers who are determined to slaughter him: “They are searching to cut my throat. I’ve been told they have hired someone to find me to get the mission accomplished….. Sometimes, I feel in danger. Especially when I go into the streets, when I come to Beirut. You never know if someone is looking for you. I’m living in a place where the majority are Muslims. So whenever I go to church on Sunday, they would know I’m Christian. So I don’t say anything about my religion, and when I go to mass, I say I am going to English classes because I plan to travel.”

MalaysiaPerkasa, Ibrahim Ali the leader of a Muslim supremacist organization, said during a press conference that: “Muslims must unite to protect their religion. They must seize those Bibles, including the Malay editions, which contained the term Allah and other Arabic religious terms, and burn them. This is the way to show our anger against disrespect to our sensitivity.” A police investigation was launched to see if Ali was in breach of Section 298, which criminalizes saying words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings, or Section 505, which criminalizes making statements that could cause public mischief. The government concluded that Ibrahim Ali would not be charged with anything because “he only meant to defend the sanctity of Islam.” But as the Christian Federation of Malaysia points out, by portraying calls to burn the Bible as acts “to defend the sanctity of Islam,” the government just gave “free rein to other extremists to do likewise, not just to Christians but to any other religious community that is not Muslim.”

PakistanA court upheld the death penalty for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of four, who was accused of blasphemy, imprisoned, and sentenced to death in 2010. She is alleged to have made derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass, because she was not Muslim and therefore “unclean.” After Bibi’s arrest in 2010, two top Pakistani politicians who sought to intervene on her behalf were gunned down, one by his own bodyguard.

Sudan: Ibrahim Ismaeil Ibrahim, a 34-year-old Muslim convert to Christianity and father of two, once worked as a human rights defender.   Today he lives in a refugee camp after surviving an attempt on his life by Muslims trying to kill him for apostatizing from, and criticizing, Islam.   Before leaving Islam, he worked as a writer and human rights defender in the Darfur region. As he chronicled human rights violations by Muslim militants, he became disillusioned with Islam and converted to Christianity: “I defected from Islam and started writing articles through my [pseudonymous] page on Facebook, in which I described Islam as a religion of terror and killing. Then some people discovered my identity and sent me messages of intimidation on my phone that they were looking for my head. Suddenly, I was attacked…. An unknown Islamic extremist broke into my house at midnight and opened fire on my room.” Ibrahim and his family fled the nation. He later discovered that the government of Sudan was behind the Islamic assassins trying to kill him.

Uzbekistan: Artur Alpayev, a Christian man, was given a large fine—50 times the nation’s minimum monthly wage—and threatened with further punishment after religious literature was seized from his home during a raid on a prayer meeting. Police also raided several other homes in the repressive country in search of Christian materials. When sentencing Alpayev, Judge Oltinbek Mansurov said, “We will continue fining you unless you stop storing religious literature in your home.”   Police also raided the homes of two other Christian couples in search of religious literature; 65 Christian books and materials were seized, including children’s Bibles.

Dhimmitude: Islamic Discrimination Against Christianity

Egypt: Lisa Nasim Basari, a 28-year-old Coptic Christian woman, made a video describing the advances of a Muslim man who has been pressuring her to convert to Islam and marry her. According to her account, Wa’il Hassan Abdul Mu’min began stalking her whenever she left home. He eventually asked her to convert to Islam and marry him—even offering her money—but she refused. In retaliation, he attacked and burned portions of the grocery store in which she worked; tore her clothes and sexually abused her. Lisa eventually went to local police to file a formal report against him, but, as she explained in the video, the police, far from interfering, actually incited the Muslim man—who appears to be affiliated with the police department—to keep harassing her. They also imprisoned her for a time and, “tortured” her into abandoning the complaint against the Muslim man. In the video, she pleas for help begging some authority in Egypt to intervene and prompt Abdul Mu’min to leave her in peace. Another Coptic female was kidnapped. The 20-year-old Christian woman was on her way to St. George Church in Sohag governate in the early morning but never returned. The family later received a phone call from one “Muhammad” who said that if they wanted to see the girl again they must ransom her for 250,000 Egyptian pounds ($35,000). When her brother went to the authorities, the head captain told him, “So what, one Coptic girl missing? Look at how many millions of Muslims are dying in Palestine. Who would’ve thought so many millions of Muslims would die in Syria?  And you’re bothering us about one girl?”

Libya: The old Christian cemetery in Tripoli has been vandalized three times since the fall of the Qaddafi government in 2011.   According to an eyewitness who took pictures, several crosses were destroyed or had their sides broken off: “Halfway to the ossuaries, bent steel rods that once strengthened a large concrete cross reminded me of the trouble the Islamists had to go through to destroy that symbol of Christianity…  The statues of an angel clutching a cross that was pushed over and of a small boy that had its head chopped off were among other Christian relics that were damaged…. As the Islamists’ grip on Libya tightens and Tripoli’s Christian population dies out, it is only a matter of time before the Christian cemetery is bulldozed and erased from history.

Pakistan: In a nation where the mere accusation of offending Islam leads to incarceration and possibly death—see Asia Bibi entry above—offending Christianity leads to nothing. A Muslim shopkeeper started selling shoes which depict the Christian cross on their sole. Christians demonstrated but police did nothing. According to the report, “In Pakistani culture, showing the sole of one’s shoe or foot is offensive because placing anything on the ground is considered to be an insult to the object. Therefore, something on the sole of a shoe is going to be constantly insulted as the person walks. The designs are considered very offensive by some local Christians, who feel that they are intended to insult believers, to express hatred towards them, and to try to stir up tensions between Christians and their Muslim neighbours.” This is not the first case of its kind. In 2011 a similar case was lodged against a Muslim shopkeeper in Lahore for selling shoes with crosses on the top, although the police did not investigate the incident further.

Syria: Father Hanna Jallouf, a Franciscan priest and around 20 other Christians—among them young boys and girls—were kidnapped by brigades linked to the Islamist Nusra Front from a village near the border with Turkey. Members of the Franciscan order had been present in the village for more than a century.

United Kingdom: An otherwise successful Christian school was warned that it would be downgraded by inspectors and might even face closure after failing to invite a leader from another religion, such as a Muslim imam, to lead assemblies.  According to the Telegraph, “In the latest case inspectors are understood to have warned the head that the school, which was previously rated as “good” that it would be downgraded to “adequate” for failing to meet standards requiring it to “actively promote” harmony between different faiths because it had failed to bring in representatives from other religions. They warned that unless the school could demonstrate how it was going to meet the new requirements there would be a further full inspection which could ultimately lead to it being closed. A Government consultation paper published in June, explaining the new rules, makes clear that even taking children on trips to different places of worship would not be enough to be judged compliant.”

About this Series

The persecution of Christians in the Islamic world has become endemic.  Accordingly, “Muslim Persecution of Christians” was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month. It serves two purposes:

1)          To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, persecution of Christians.

2)          To show that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Islamic Sharia.

Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; apostasy, blasphemy, and proselytism laws that criminalize and sometimes punish with death those who “offend” Islam; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam;  theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed dhimmis, or third-class, “tolerated” citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination thereof.

Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the West, to Indonesia in the East—it should be clear that one thing alone binds them: Islam—whether the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, or the supremacist culture born of it.