Feb 22, 2015

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Open Doors: Worst Persecution Yet To Come

Last year brought a rising tide of persecution against Christians around the world, according to a new report Open Doors USA released Jan. 7.

Open Doors, a group that advocates for persecuted Christians, unveiled its annual World Watch List ranking the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians. North Korea topped the list for the 13th straight year, but conditions worsened the most across Africa, where eight of 12 ranked countries moved up the list.

“The 2015 World Watch List documents the greatest rise in violence against Christians in the world in the modern era,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors. “Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and violence.”

Although conditions worsened in a host of nations, signs indicate the worst is yet to come. Curry pointed to Iraq, where a decade of increasing persecution led to a major geopolitical problem: the Islamic State.

“Now, that ideology and the tactics used by the Islamic State are being adopted and used in Africa,” he said. “We think it portends big problems to come in that region.”

Kenya rose on the list more than any other country, jumping to No. 19 from No. 43 a year ago. Sudan (No. 6) and Eritrea (No. 9) both moved back into the top 10, and Nigeria (No. 10) moved into the top 10 for the first time ever.

Open Doors found conditions significantly deteriorated in Nigeria, where more than 2,400 people died for their faith in specific, targeted attacks—a number that doesn’t include the scores who have died as collateral damage in Boko Haram attacks. This week The Wall Street Journal reported Boko Haram now controls a swath of land the size of Belgium.

Wednesday’s event featured Damaris Atsen, a Nigerian Christian whose husband was killed by Islamic militants. Atsen, a single mother of four, brushed away tears as she told her story and pleaded for prayers of peace: “We have so many widows in Nigeria.”

Open Doors estimates some 100 million Christians are persecuted globally each year. Islamic extremism is the prime culprit, accounting for most persecution in 40 of the 50 countries on the list, including much of the top 10: North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, and Nigeria.

“This is a strong religious belief that is held by these people—an extremist version of Islam,” Nina Shea, a Hudson Institute senior fellow, told me after the event. “It’s very hard for our secular media and political leaders to accept that.”

Colombia (No. 35) and Mexico (No. 38) were the only two nations in the Western Hemisphere to make the list. Colombia moved down 10 spots from last year, but Mexico had been unranked in 2014.

The threshold for making the 2015 list increased, meaning worldwide persecution rose between Nov. 1, 2013, and Oct. 31, 2014, the timeframe used to compile the report. Bahrain, Morocco, and Niger dropped off the list, but Open Doors reported conditions in those countries remain mostly unchanged.

Open Doors uses a variety of metrics to determine how much Christians are able to live out their faith, including spheres of private, family, community, national, and church life. The process also counts violent incidents, which were most intense in Nigeria, Syria, and Iraq.

Curry and Shea stressed the need for American Christians to get involved to help the persecuted church, including prayer and material support. Shea cited Christians in Mosul, Iraq, where the Islamic State forbade Christmas and shut down, destroyed, or repurposed churches, and 120,000 Christians are living in nylon tents. She said if no one acts to help them, “They’re going to be eradicated, and a 2,000 year-old Church will be gone.”

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who attended the event, urged Americans Christians to contact their elected officials, many of whom he said do not make religious freedom a priority.

“What we know in Congress is that for one person who speaks out there may be 100 out there who are silent on the issue but feel the same way,” Aderholt told me. “One person speaking out speaks for a multitude of people.” -Source: Christian Headlines

Top Five Toxic Religion Stories Of 2014

At this time of year one can still imagine that somewhere up above, angelic hosts are still singing “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace and goodwill to all.”

Regrettably, most of the earthbound ones who claim to heed heavenly voices still only seem to hear the “glory to God” part while remaining deaf to the rest. At least that is my contention in considering the ways in which religion fueled still more enmity and exclusion during this anno domini 2014. I will offer five examples of religion playing the devil’s part in earthly affairs.

You will see that I follow the good grey John Gray in seriously doubting that all we Western liberals need to do is wait long enough and these things will right themselves, that fear-based hatred and religious fanaticism will inevitably give way to rational thinking. That belief in enlightenment’s ineluctable reign bears its own religious stamp. It’s not magical thinking so much as it is premillennial thinking. And we know how reliably predictive other forms of premillennialism have been.

Without further ado, then, let us take our little tour of religious maleficence as a not-so-great year winds down.

1. This land is my land: the widening arc of 21st century religious warfare

Call it the Temple Mount or the Noble Sanctuary, it is by far the most contested bit of real estate in the world. The decades-long arrangement under which the site was administered by a special trust in Jordan is coming unglued under unrelenting pressure by ultra-orthodox Jews who want to see a Third Temple erected there. Leading Israeli politicians pander to these pressures, making their own provocative statements. Worse, these same politicians backed versions of a proposed nationality law—hugely controversial in Israel and among American Jews, including the ADL’s Abe Foxman—that appears to privilege religion over democracy and that would, among other things, codify the second-class status of non-Jewish Israelis—most notably, Arabs.

You can say, if you like, that this is about ethnicity, not religion, but without the strong religious claim that Jews have a divinely-bestowed right to all of Jerusalem and all of ancient “Judea and Samaria,” this move toward creating a full-on apartheid state would not be happening.

Not that militant Islam is without its own aggressions. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to keep track. In their pursuit of a new caliphate, the Islamic State butchers have already obliterated the hated Sykes-Picot line between Syria and Iraq. Thanks in part to what is widely viewed in the region as a hamfisted U.S. intervention, the Taliban are staging a fierce comeback in both Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. The slaughter of children in Peshawar won’t be the end of it. In Northern Nigeria Boko Haram is determined to eliminate all non-Islamic schools and drive out the Christians. DIY jihadists commit random acts of violence everywhere from Ottawa to Sydney.

And are there Christians anywhere who still wage war on non-Christians? We don’t see it, but in the eyes of many, that would be us Americans with our thousands of armed “advisors” still bunkered down in Afghanistan and Iraq and with our bombs and drones striking from the sky anywhere we want them to strike. Not to mention the fact (as noted by Sarah Posner in these pages) that white American Christians are more approving of torture as an instrument of foreign policy than is any other segment of the U.S. population. This finding comes as no surprise to those targeted by our War on Terror.

The usual assertion that violence and aggression are, in fact, un-Islamic or alien to the true spirit of Judaism or Christianity just won’t hold up. You can call the aggressors “extremists” if you wish, but you cannot deny their religious devotion. You can argue, as Karen Armstrong argues in her new book, that violence is not an “inherent” part of religious faith, but I don’t believe you can really argue that the world’s most violent actors today aren’t religious.

2. A still-raw rift over government’s role that has deep religious roots

There’s no end of bloviation about divided government in the U.S., but I want to suggest that the deeper source of conflict is religious or at least religiously infused.

Competing religious visions about how life among Europeans in North America should be ordered go way back to the late 17th century, when the commonwealth vision expressed so clearly in John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” was undercut by rising commercial fortunes among seafaring merchants. Puritan preachers in port cities like Salem and Newburyport began suggesting that unlimited private wealth and rising social inequality were just fine in God’s eyes.

Eventually, their wealth-friendly theology prevailed, and it remains the dominant American theology, including the important tenet of faith that enough wealth will trickle downward to ensure social comity and stability.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the debate is much the same. And it’s not that all Democrats hew to the commonwealth ideal. The most intense ideological conflict today isn’t between Democrats and Republicans but between Warren Democrats who want to resist wealth’s domination and Clintonistas who are quite comfortable with the way things are trending. The related religiously-rooted rift in national politics is between leaders who still pledge their allegiance to the old “redeemer nation” idea and those in both parties (e.g., Rand Paul) who see the claim of American exceptionalism to be both deluded and dangerous.

3. Two nations, one black and one white

It’s not just that Sunday morning at 11 remains the “most segregated hour” in the American week. It’s that black Americans and white Americans have profoundly different visions of what equal justice means and of the extent to which equal justice has been achieved.

All polls suggest that white Americans are satisfied with what we might call formal equal justice or “procedural” equality, whereas the vast majority of black Americans are deeply committed to substantive justice and economic equality. The difference reflects the different religious visions about what government should do, with African-Americans still attached overwhelmingly to the old commonwealth vision. But it goes much deeper, inasmuch as blacks both see and experience the brutal underside of the “redeemer nation” mythology. For centuries they have seen and experienced American trimphalism as a parallel triumph of white supremacy.

These competing visions come into sharpest focus during that segregated hour on Sunday. It oversimplifies the case, but not by much, to say that black Christians identify with those whom God delivers from the house of bondage, whereas white Christians are conflicted about whether to identify with the oppressed Israelites or with Pharoah and Pharoah’s enforcers. You needn’t take my word for it. You can ask Walter Brueggemann about the degree to which imperial religion has effectively colonized white American Christianity. Or you can ask any black Christian whether Dr. King was right to say that America “is in danger of becoming a ‘thing’ society,” and he or she will answer that, if anything, King was understating the case back in 1967.

All this was brought home to me earlier this year. I was in a black church in South Los Angeles, beta-testing a new criminal justice curriculum. Toward the end of the three-hour conversation an older woman confided that “we never did think of white people as Christians” when she was growing up. And why would she have? All she could see was cruelty and greed. Not her idea of Christian conduct.

4. Ritual purity in responses to Ebola and toward immigrants

While the rest of the world could hardly believe that major U.S. cities were mandating long quarantines for anyone returning from West Africa (thereby impeding medical relief efforts), most Americans were far more upset by the Obama Administration’s refusal to follow suit. Obama’s calls for “science, not fear” to prevail in regard to Ebola fell on mostly deaf ears in this country.

Deep fear of contamination from the outside has always been reinforced by religious notions of what is clean and unclean. “We” become pure and undefiled before God as long as we remain militant about enforcing boundaries between us righteous ones and those corrupted aliens. European anti-Judaism rests on this foundation. Fourteenth century Christian lamentations linking the Black Plague to alien contamination differ very little from late 20th century Christian pronouncements linking AIDS to homosexual degeneracy.

Now comes Ebola, and why are we surprised that a majority of Americans would rather let the African millions perish than let this alien contamination cross our boundaries?

Loathing of the immigrant hordes also expresses a kind of religious fastidiousness. For every U.S. religious leader who speaks up for humane immigration reform, there are ten who fret either privately or out loud about the dangers of letting “them” enter and/or stay here. And the publicly discussed dangers (to white political power, to cultural cohesiveness, to environmental sustainability) are but the tip of a vast impassable iceberg that is kept perpetually frozen by fear-based religious ideation.

5. Encroachments at the intersection of Church and State

The Hobby Lobby decision isn’t the end, folks. There’s more, much more, litigation being cooked up in the glowing ovens of the Becket Fund, the Alliance Defense Fund, and other well-furnished reactionary kitchens.

You can say (and if you do I will quickly concur) that the First Amendment has always been contested territory. The difference, I would say, is that in days past you would find many of the religious standing up for a strong secular civil state, whereas today the vast majority of the self-described faithful in this contest are among those demanding greater deference to religious “liberty.” On the other side, worried about the new encroachments, you will find precious few who say their worry is grounded in part in their robust religious faith. This spells more setbacks for secularism, in my view. At least until the encroachers go too far. But they are not stupid. They are not Taliban. Not quite.


Alas, dear reader, by now you must imagine that I relish painting a grim picture of religion’s role in contemporary affairs. I do not. And I remain acutely mindful of religion’s potential to heal deep wounds and to free people from every form of oppression. I merely want us to take the full measure of what we are up against. In my own Christian tradition we talk about doing actual battle with powers and principalities. Not to see toxic religion among the powers we must contend against means we will be missing the mark. –Source: Religious Dispatches

Why Some Men Prefer A Dog To A Wife

1. A dog is always excited to see you, especially if you come home quite late or away for a long time.    

[NOTE: To prove the above, lock your dog in the garage for an hour, then lock your wife in the garage for the same amount of time, and see who would be happier to see you.]       
2. A dog doesn't notice if you call it by another dog's name.   
3. A dog likes it if you leave a lot of things on the floor.   
4. A dog's parents never visit.   
5. A dog knows that you sometimes have to raise your voice to get your point across.   
6. A dog find you amusing when you're drunk.   
7. A dog likes to go hunting and fishing.   
8. A dog will not wake you up at night to ask, "If I died, would you get another dog?"   
9. If a dog has babies, you can put an ad in the paper and give them away.   
10. A dog will let you put a studded collar on it without calling you a pervert.   
11. If a dog smells another dog on you, it doesn't get mad. It just thinks it's interesting.   
And last but not least. . .       
12. If a dog leaves, it won't take half of your stuff or completely clean your bank account!   

~Author Unknown/Contributed by Ralph

ISIS Declares Christians No. 1 Enemy

In an updated version of its propaganda booklet, “Dabiq,” ISIS clearly identifies its No. 1 enemy – Christianity.

The cover photo shows a black ISIS flag flying over the Vatican. The booklet describes the terrorist army’s desires to conquer Rome and “break the cross,” according to Arutz Sheva, an independent Israeli news network.

According to some Islamic traditions, the Islamic prophet Muhammad predicted that the occupation of Istanbul, Jerusalem and Rome would pave the way for the Islamic messiah or mahdi.

The declaration surfaces amid growing concern over the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East. ISIS has executed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Christians throughout Iraq and forced many to flee the country. Up to 100,000 Christians remain in the capital of Baghdad, as ISIS is now within eight miles of the city.

A joint conference between the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem was held earlier this week to discuss the dire situation for Christians.

“Across the Middle East, in the last 10 years, 100,000 Christians have been murdered each year. That means every five minutes a Christian is killed because of his faith,” Father Gabriel Nadaf, who has campaigned for Christian Arab rights and for local Christians to support Israel, told the United Nations Human Rights Council in September. “Those who can escape persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists have fled. … Those who remain, exist as second if not third-class citizens to their Muslim rulers.”

An estimated 12 million Christians lived in the Middle East, according to a July estimate in the London Guardian. But that number has been thought to have decreased drastically since the ISIS summer takeover of nearly half of Iraq, including the city of Mosul, which had been home to Christians for 2,000 years.

As Islam jihadists have gained ground throughout the Middle East over the past three years, the Christian community has faced persecution in a number countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been targeted by violence from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups. There have been reports of church burnings and killings of Christians.

In Syria, al-Qaida-linked rebels have threatened to kill Christians who do not join the fight against President Bashar Al-Assad.

Iran has persecuted Christians relentlessly as well, recently making headlines for burning the lips of a Christian man caught eating during the Ramadan fast. –WND

"We Need Your Head": Muslim Persecution Of Christians

Mosul's 1800 year-old church*
    "The United States did not come out to say anything about Boko Haram. They kept talking about economic problem. That is not true... The United States deliberately ignored the fundamental issues of religious ideology." — Nicholas Okoh, Primate, Church of Nigeria

    A judge in Iran sentenced a Christian man to have his lips burnt with a cigarette for eating during the day in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

    A church member added that members of the Muslim group had said they wanted to transform Uganda into am Islamic nation and would kill anyone who refused to convert.

The purge of ancient Christian communities throughout Iraq that started in June culminated in great intolerance in July.

Among other Islamic attacks, a Christian church that had stood Iraq for 1,800 years -- a church that was erected less than 200 years after Christ -- was reportedly torched by the Islamic State, according to countless news agencies, including Al Arabiya.

Islamic State jihadis also stormed and took over an ancient monastery in northern Iraq. St. Behnam monastery had stood since the fourth century and was one of Iraq's best-known Christian landmarks. It was built by an Assyrian king as a penance for executing his children Behnam and Sarah for converting to Christianity.

The jihadis expelled its few monks; they said, "You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately." The monks pled to be allowed to save some of the monastery's ancient relics, but the jihadis refused and ordered them to walk miles along a deserted road with nothing but their clothes.

The Islamic State issued a July 19 deadline for Mosul's Christians either to convert to Islam or face execution. Islamic State members also singled out Christian homes by placing the Arabic letter for "N" -- based on the Arabic word Nasara, or "Nazarenes," the Koran's pejorative for Christians -- on the sides of their homes. The result, in the words of Patriarch Louis Sako, is that, "For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians."

In response to the Islamic State's latest atrocities against Iraq's Christian minorities, the Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Mount Lebanon and Tripoli, George Saliba, denounced not just the Islamic State but Muslims in general for their long "history of violence and oppression against Christians":

    What is happening in Iraq is a strange thing, but it is normal for Muslims, because they have never treated Christians well, and they have always held an offensive and defaming stand against Christians.... We used to live and coexist with Muslims, but then they revealed their canines [teeth].... [They don't] have the right to storm houses, steal and attack the honor of Christians. Most Muslims do this; the Ottomans killed us and after that the ruling nation-states understood the circumstances but always gave advantage to the Muslims. Islam has never changed...

Islamic organizations responded by denouncing the Syriac bishop's words as "hateful" and Islamophobic, demanding an apology.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also made some telling remarks concerning the plight of Christians, especially in those Mideast countries the U.S. is involved in. When asked if he was "troubled" by the Presbyterian Church USA's decision to withdraw $21 million worth of investments from Israel on behalf of the Palestinian people, the prime minister said:

    You know I would suggest to these Presbyterian organizations to fly to the Middle East, come and see Israel for the embattled democracy that it is, and then take a bus tour, go to Libya, go to Syria, go to Iraq, and see the difference. And I would give them two pieces of advice; one is, make sure it's an armor plated bus, and second, don't say that you're Christians.

The rest of July'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 Churches and Carnage

Afghanistan: According to BosNewsLife, the central Asian nation's "tiny Christian community was left in shock Friday, July 25, after two Finnish Christian aid workers were shot dead." The attack "underscored the dangers faced by Christian aid workers." The two women were slain by motorcycle riding gunmen in the western city of Herat, "the latest in a series of attacks targeting Westerners, including Christian believers. The Christians, who represented International Assistance Mission (IAM), had been working in Afghanistan since the 1990s… They both spoke Dari well and knew and respected the culture of Afghanistan." Among those the aid workers were helping were people with mental disabilities and illiterate women.

Central African Republic: At least 27 Christians were slaughtered during a July 7 attack on the St. Joseph's Cathedral compound in Bambari, where thousands of people, mostly Christian, were receiving sanctuary. The attackers were fighters from the Islamic Seleka rebel movement and Muslim civilians. The armed attackers entered the grounds at around 3pm and began shooting indiscriminately. Women and children were among those killed; over 20 people were injured. The Islamic attackers burned down 20 buildings within the church compound, set fire to three cars, and stole two others as well as a number of motorbikes. Weeks earlier, on May 28, another attack on a church compound in Bangui, the capital, left around 20 people dead.

Kenya: On July 5, Muslims attacked the Covenant Church, three kilometers north of Hindi, just as Bible study was closing. As the Bible study participants fled, two men chose to hide inside the church building -- and were burned alive after the Islamic attackers set the building on fire. On the same night, a Catholic church building in the village of Gamba, in neighboring Tana River County, was also destroyed by attackers. Two days earlier, 15-20 assailants armed with guns and knives attacked Gamba and the village of Hindi. The assailants killed at least 13 people, including a 12-year-old student and a 30-year-old man, "who was found in a pool of blood with a Bible on his back," according to Morning Star News. One survivor of the attacks said the invaders were heard "saying non-Muslims should get out, and if not they should convert to Islam." Another survivor said, "I was removed with my daughter from the house while the attackers tied my husband to the bedside before setting the house on fire. The attackers, who spoke mainly in Somali, targeted non-Muslims, whom they tied with ropes before slitting their throats." (Gamba is about 28 miles from Mpeketoni, another Christian town where gunmen killed at least 57 people in a June 15 attack.)

Lebanon: A shadowy group known as the Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade, which had only recently pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State, announced on its twitter account that a "specialized group of free jihadists were tasked with cleansing the Islamic state of Bekaa in particular and in Lebanon in general from the churches. We will target crusaders in the state and in Lebanon to silence the ringing of the bells." (According to Islamic Sharia law, churches under Islamic authority are forbidden from ringing their bells.) The Brigade has claimed responsibility for several rocket and bomb attacks inside Lebanon, the last of which were the suicide blasts in Dahr al-Baydar and Raouche's Duroy Hotel.

Nigeria: A bomb blast inside the Saint Charles Catholic Church left five people dead and eight injured. The attack came shortly after Sunday mass ended, when an improvised explosive device was thrown in the city of Kano, which has a strong presence of Boko Haram, the local Islamic terrorist organization. On the same Sunday, also in Kano, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up outside a university after police prevented her from carrying out an attack. Five officers were injured. According to a police spokesman, "A female suicide bomber was isolated (by police) as she was walking towards the gate of the university." She had hidden the bomb under her "long black hijab" and was singled out for behaving strangely, said the spokesman. Police were about to ask a female colleague to frisk the woman when she detonated the bomb, killing herself and injuring the police officers. Also in July, Nicholas Okoh, primate of the Church of Nigeria, said in an interview that, despite Boko Haram's nonstop attacks on Christians and their churches, for long "the United States did not come out to say anything about Boko Haram. They kept talking about economic problems, [saying] that Boko Haram is fighting because of economic problems. That is not true ... The United States deliberately ignored the fundamental issues of religious ideology."

Sudan: In adherence to Islamic law, the east African nation formally announced a ban on the construction of any new Christian churches in the country. This move came after the authorities bulldozed several churches to the ground. Some had been in existence for decades. The most recent one destroyed was the Sudanese Christ Church at El Izba residential area in Khartoum North, on July 1. According to Pravoslavie, "The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Religious Endowments Shalil Abdullah announced that the government will henceforth not issue permits for the building of churches in the country. Minister Shalil Abdullah told the press on Saturday [July 12] that the existing churches are enough for the Christian population remaining in Sudan after the secession of South Sudan in 2011." Since 1989, Sudan has been governed by an Islamic regime that enforces Sharia law. Reverend Kori El Ramli, the Secretary-General of Sudan Council of Churches, criticized this move as contradicting the nation's Constitution, adding, "Yes, we are a minority, but we have freedom of worship and belief just like the rest of the Sudanese as long as we are Sudanese nationals like them."

Turkey: A band of Muslims attacked the Saint Stephanos Church in Istanbul during a baptismal service held on July 15. Yelling obscenities, and with one waving a knife and threatening to stab a parishioner, they pushed their way into the baptismal service. The attack occurred during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which often sees a rise of intolerance in Muslim majority areas. Two months earlier, men in their late teens and 20s had entered the church at night, ripped out most of its audio equipment and destroyed what they could not carry away. They also took some of the ceremonial candles, lit them and started setting items in the back of the building on fire. They stacked all remaining candles into a pile, lit them and left.

Uganda: A gang of Muslims armed with machetes stormed a church during services. They hacked one 18-year-old woman to death and left three others, including a one-year-old baby, injured. A group of approximately 20 Christians had gathered at Chali Born Victory Church in Kyegegwa district for their regular Friday night prayer session when armed Muslims burst into the building around 2 am. Pastor Jackson Turyamureba was preaching when he saw somebody looking through a window. According to the pastor,

    I thought he was a drunkard and told him to either enter or go away. Shortly after that I heard doors being banged and men shouting 'Allahu Akhbar' ('Allah is Greater') as they stormed the church brandishing pangas (machetes) and beating worshippers…. One of the attackers followed me and threw a panga which went over my head. I ran through a garden and the man who was pursuing me fell down and gave up the chase.

The Muslim attackers then fled to a nearby mosque. Police surrounded the mosque; one officer was killed when the attackers opened fire. Two suspects were arrested. According to the pastor, the church has had problems in the area with a group of Muslims who had unsuccessfully tried to convert its members to Islam. Church member Polly Tashobya added that members of the group had said they wanted to transform Uganda into an Islamic nation and would kill anyone who refused to convert.

Muslim Attacks on Christian Freedom and 'Dhimmitude'

Iran: Authorities detained a pastor and two other members of the Church of Iran, one of the country's largest house-churches. Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, Mohammad Roghangir, and Suroush Saraie were arrested on July 5 by security forces at the pastor's home in the city of Bandar-Anzali. According to BosNewsLife, "Their detention comes amid an ongoing government campaign to halt the spread of Christianity in the Islamic country. Especially converts from Islam, many of whom visit the Church of Iran, have been targeted." Security forces reportedly confiscated the pastor's belongings, including his Bible, and several other books. That loss would be just the latest setback for Pastor Matthias, who was jailed for his faith on three other occasions between 2006 and 2011.

Separately, a judge sentenced a Christian man to have his lips burnt with a cigarette for eating during the day in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink during daylight. The punishment was carried out in public in a square in the city of Kermanshah. Five Muslim men were also flogged in public with 70 lashes for not fasting during Ramadan. A spokesperson from The National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political coalition which opposes the government, denounced the treatment as 'savage' and called on Western countries to respond: "The silence of the world community, especially of western countries, vis-à-vis these medieval punishments under the excuse of having nuclear talks with Iran has intensified the brutal and systematic violation of human rights in Iran."

Somalia: Muslim converts to Christianity who fled Somalia and reside in Kenyan refugee camps remain in mortal danger. One convert, known only as "Abubakr," and his wife reportedly held each other under their bed in their refugee camp as gunmen suspected to be from the Islamic terrorist organization Al Shabaab pounded on their door. They ordered the man to come out and called him an "infidel" (in both the Arabic and Somali languages), saying, "We need your head." When the apostate refused, they opened fire through the spaces of the poles of the couple's hut, striking their legs. Then they heard the attackers say, "We have killed the infidels" as they shot into the air while leaving. The Christian couple was found two days later lying in their own pool of blood. According to Abubakr, far from providing security for the hiding apostates, Muslim guards at the refugee camp actually help Al Shabaab militants locate them. Another Somali convert from Islam, Abdikadir, saw Muslim relatives and other Somalis burn down his home in one of the Dadaab refugee camps in April. In the course of destroying his home, they took away his wife and four children. He fled the camp and is now living elsewhere.

United Kingdom: According to the Telegraph, "Children were taught that all Christians are liars and attempts were made to introduce Sharia law in classrooms as part of an alleged 'Trojan Horse' takeover plot of Birmingham schools, an inquiry has found." Commissioned by Birmingham City Council, the inquiry found "evidence of religious extremism in 13 schools as school governors and teachers tried to promote and enforce radical Islamic values." Among other anti-Christian and pro-Islamic measures, schools canceled Christmas festivities, put up posters warning children that they would "go to hell" if they did not pray, and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be "punished" by angels "from dusk to dawn." The report found that the extremism went unchecked because the council "disastrously" prioritized community cohesion over "doing what is right."

About this Series

While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians is expanding. "Muslim Persecution of Christians" was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month.

It documents what the mainstream media often fails to report.

It posits that such persecution is not random but systematic, and takes place in all languages, ethnicities and locations. –Gatestone Institute

*A fire rages in the compound of Mosul's 1800 year-old church, July 2014

Bill Warner, PhD: Jihad vs Crusades

Beautifying Islam

    Many people are understandably asking: What is the true nature of Islam? Is it that although there are many peaceful Muslims, Islam itself is not peaceful?

    Classical Islamic law, developed over the history of Islam, is definitely not peaceful or benign, and therefore not suitable for this age; neither are its violent and grotesque progeny, such as Islamism and jihadism.

    If Islam is a religion that stands for justice and peaceful coexistence, then this policy of jihad cannot be justified as sanctioned by a just and merciful creator.

    Religious traditions have changed and evolved over time, therefore it is the duty of us Muslims, using reason and common sense, to reinterpret the scriptures to bring about an Islam that affirms and promotes universally accepted human rights and values. It is our duty to cleanse the traditional, literalist, classical Islam and purify it to make it an Islam that is worthy to be called a beautiful religion.

Looking at a year of beheadings by ISIS, child grooming abuses in the UK, the hanging judges of Iran, slaughtering and enslaving of Christians in Egypt and Africa, and various murders justified in the name of Islam throughout the world, many people are understandably asking: What is the true nature of Islam? Is it that although there are many peaceful Muslims, Islam itself is not peaceful?

If, for us Muslims, Islam is a religion of peace, justice, and mercy, how come the militants, who claim to be staunch Muslims -- who are ready to die for Islam and who claim to have established a state in the name of Islam in Iraq and Syria by sacrificing blood and lives -- are beheading journalists and aid workers, and enslaving religious minorities, all by citing Islamic Sharia Law?

The Taliban (literally "students") in Afghanistan have persecuted religious minorities and inflicted human right abuses against women -- and men who disagreed with them or who have fallen afoul of their laws. Boko Haram has also carried out human rights abuses in the name of Islam and Islamic law. In Malaysia, where "moderate" Islam is practiced, Christians cannot call God "Allah." In Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and supposedly an ally of the U.S., the policies and practices carried out by the state, and the Wahhabi religious scholars in the name of Islam, are woefully anti-humanitarian. Many Muslims from around the world perform the religiously required pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina; a number of them are on the dole of the petrodollars provided by the Saudis, but do not show much concern for the human rights abuses carried out in the name of Islam by the Saudi establishment.

Many devout Muslims, like monks in monasteries, are busily trapped in performing rites and rituals, and ceding ever more ground to extremists, without adequately reflecting on the history of Islam, the nature of God and the nature of revelation from God.

We Muslims commonly believe that God sent prophets and messengers to every corner of the world since the beginning of creation to guide humanity, but that most, if not all, of the messages got corrupted and adulterated, one way or another, except the message of Islam. But it seems natural that most people, Muslims or not, also see their own religion as the only true religion. But there are religious traditions, both in Islam, such as many Sufi sects, and in other religions, that affirm the transcendental unity at the core of almost all religious traditions, and that are inclusive and universalistic in nature.

Also, Muslims learn from the Qur'an that hubris, or arrogance, is the greatest sin committed by the Satan, and that it was arrogance that led him to disobey God. God asked him to bow to Adam, the first human, but Satan refused out of arrogance.

The current question seems to be: Did Muslims go astray very early on, when they conquered many lands and developed a massive doctrine and theology of intolerance (it took about 300 years to solidify Sharia after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad), due to pride and quest for power -- the very arrogance that is prohibited? Although many conversions to Islam did not occur by the sword, the first four caliphs (the so-called "Rightly Guided") and their successors did in fact send out armies to conquer the world. If Islam is a religion that stands for justice and peaceful coexistence, then this policy of jihad -- and the idea that peace and justice can be achieved only under Islamic sovereignty -- with Muslim rulers subjugating non-Muslims, cannot be justified as sanctioned by a just and merciful Creator.

The Islamic tradition is not monolithic; there are countless variants. Many of the Islamic Sufi traditions, for instance, that are often relentlessly condemned by the extremists, who likely see them as a threat to their own power -- are notable for their pluralistic and humanistic nature, even though, historically, some orders may have been more martial than spiritual.

There have been many individual Muslims throughout history who are truly freedom-loving and who respect the rights of all human beings. Also, historically, a number of Muslim kings, sultans and emperors in Andalusia, Spain -- and in the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, as well as in Mughal India -- who treated their non-Muslim subjects kindly, albeit not with full equality. The Ottoman Sultans established a system of "millet" whereby people of other religious communities were allowed to live in the Empire in peace, although as second-class "protected" citizens, had to pay a head tax called jizya, but were otherwise freely allowed to follow their own personal laws and religions (Canon law for Christians and halakha for the Jews), without attempting to convert them by compulsion.

Maimonides, the early medieval Jewish scholar, for example, makes it clear that even in the "golden age" of Islamic rule in Spain, it could be a bit nightmarish for the non-Muslims; but if the rulers were reasonably kind and tolerant, and if the intolerant religious leaders were not in control, non-Muslims could live restrained but reasonably comfortable lives, as dhimmis (protected people), under Islamic suzerainty.

When Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, died in the year 632 CE, the Qur'an had not been compiled as a book. The messages said to have been revealed from God, or Allah, to Muhammad during a period of 23 years, during his prophetic career, were either orally passed down or written on animal bones, leather and scraps of parchment, without systematic collection or any adequate background or context.

The Prophet Muhammad himself did not provide any authoritative narration or explanation for the Qur'anic verses while he was alive. He also did not provide a method for selecting his successor, nor did he authorize his companions to record the Hadith (his actions and sayings) while he was alive. Later, therefore, subsequent generations would have to sift through mountains of dubious material, in an age of primitive record keeping -- and during a period of discord, partisanship and violence, even among those who were close to the Prophet.

The Qur'an and the six canonical Hadith collections primarily formed the twin pillars of the sources from which the scholars of Islam developed the principles of Sharia and the commandments of the Islamic laws. These try to give prescriptions and proscriptions for all human conducts imaginable.

But is it not possible that God wanted humans to use their brains and rational faculties, and that He did not provide step-by-step instructions for all the questions in life simply to be obeyed by humans without reflection or questioning? Although in Islam, there exists an important concept called ijtihad -- independent reasoning in legal matters -- the literalist, textual fundamentalist scholars declared this principle to be inoperable whenever there are clear-cut, decisive textual statements in the sacred texts on the issue in question. There is also a debate as to whether the gates of ijtihad were closed after the 10th century CE. While most traditional Islamic scholars and jurists still consider ijtihad to be the exclusive domain and prerogative of the preeminent religious scholars (mujtahid), and not for the general public, other scholars do not.

In the early days of Islam, right after the passing away of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims splintered into many sects and factions. There were endless debates on the issues of religious doctrine, theology, and religious law, due to divergent interpretations of the Qur'an and the Hadiths. During that period, a group of theologians called the Mutazila, who based their theology on reason and rational thinking in conjunction with the sacred texts, waged an intellectual battle with the traditionalists, who gave absolute primacy to strict literal interpretations of the revealed texts: the Quran and the Hadith. Unfortunately for the future of the Islamic tradition, the literal traditionalists won the struggle, and went on to establish among the Sunni Muslims the four legal schools of Sharia, which became the dominant form of Islam from then onwards.

This mainstream, legalistic, text-bound, literalist Islam -- now the dominant strain and controlled by the traditional Muslim scholars -- is a mixture of both humanistic ethical values, combined with supremacist ethos, as it developed throughout the centuries. Due to its literalist tradition, it does not have the flexibility or the ability to overcome interpretations of the scriptures that are inimical to pluralistic and humanistic values.

Many equate this literalist, legalistic, text-bound Islam to be the "true" Islam. But just because it is the dominant form of Islam does not mean that it is the "true" Islam. A careful study of the history of Islam indicates that this view is utterly unwarranted. Religious traditions have changed and evolved over time, based on the understandings, interpretations, and practices of their adherents. Therefore, it is the duty of us Muslims, using reason and common sense, to reinterpret the scriptures to bring about an Islam that affirms and promotes universally accepted human rights and values.

Classical Islamic law is a synthesis and deduction of rulings from the Quran and Hadith by the medieval scholars from when Muslims were powerful. Beheadings and enslavement at that time were widespread among many societies, not unique to the practice of Islam. Muslims believe that in the Quran we have a document from God that provides ethical guidance and moral lessons from the Prophet and his followers in the language many at the time understood. They allude to the practices and conduct suitable for the time and place in which the Prophet lived and was trying to influence people.

There were many actions of the Prophet recorded in the "authentic" Hadith, such as holding slaves, carrying out beheadings and so on, which are not easy to accept according to the present day norms, to say the least. But for the textual literalists, there is no question that whatever the Prophet did, as recorded in the approved texts, must be accepted and emulated without any question or hesitation. And in order to strengthen their text-based legal methodology, the textual literalists elevated the status of the so called "authentic" Hadith to the status of the divine scripture, almost equivalent to the status of the Qur'an, believed by almost all Muslims to be the literal word of Allah relayed to the Prophet.

For the rest of us, however, first, we need to realize that the "approved" texts were recorded by early methods and at least after a century or two after the passing of the Prophet in an age of violent sectarian conflicts. Therefore, it might be wise to take with a big grain of salt, the accuracy of these so called "approved" texts. Second, if the actions of the Prophet were so important as exact examples, then, why didn't he or his God make sure that authoritative, unambiguous, contemporary recordings of the actions were written down for posterity to follow? Either the Prophet or his God, or both, did not have foresight, or more than likely, these actions were not meant to be exactly copied and emulated, especially in different times, different places, and under vastly different circumstances.

While it is true that there are eternal principles in the Qur'an and the Hadith, such as peace, justice, and mercy, which are universal values, and therefore, incumbent on everyone to believe and practice at all times and at all places, it is also true that it is a betrayal of the true spirit of Islam to assume that God wanted Muslims to follow the Prophet blindly, slavishly, without thinking and reflecting. Is it possible, therefore, that the close-minded, literalist and text-bound tradition is a betrayal of the true spirit of Islam?

The pitfalls of the literalist methodology can be illustrated by looking at any textual document. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example, affirms freedom of speech. But we know that, to "shout fire in a crowded theater" (when there is no fire), for example, endangering public safety, does not fall under the protection of the First Amendment. Any text by its very nature is finite and limited, and therefore cannot be comprehensive. Therefore, to be a strict literalist is to live in constant conflict with common sense and with practical reason. According to the literalist classical scholars of Islam, "justice" is achieved only by being obedient to God and reason by itself is not to be trusted to decide what is just and unjust.

For these literalist, text-bound scholars, there are no objective standards of right or wrong by using reason alone. In the mind of the literalists, the killing of innocents, for example, is wrong not because we learn from experience or reason, but because that is what God says in the Qur'an and the Hadith. According to them, God could just as well have said, for example, in the scripture that the killing of innocents is right, and therefore that makes it right.

The god of these scholars is not therefore a merciful and rational God but a god of power whose motto is: "Might is right!" In order to preserve the absolute omnipotence of God, these scholars sacrifice rationality as an essential attribute of God.

As Prof. Robert Reilly writes in the article, "The Formidable Philosophical Obstacles to Islamic Constitutionalism":

    "There is a realm within which man is legitimately semi-autonomous and sovereign. Through his reason, he is called upon [to] figure out how to rule it and himself ... God [in the Judeo-Christian tradition] speaks to man with equal force through his reason, as He does through revelation. Reason, therefore, is morally legitimate as a source of law. What is reasonable is morally good."

If we Muslims want to stand up and challenge the literalism of the text-bound scholars and the militants who are beheading, enslaving and persecuting people around the world alike, we need to develop an interpretative methodology that balances revelation with reason as in other rational, religious traditions.

The militants are idealistic and impatient, and part of an ideology that has essentially become frozen in time, while the other Muslims are more careful, patient and circumspect, and dwell in a tolerant society without resorting to violence.

That is why many of these literalists believe that peace, justice and mercy (all interpreted according to the classical Sharia) can be achieved only under the sovereignty or hegemony of Islamic rule. And that is also why the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference, since renamed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), in 1990 came up with its own version of a human rights declaration, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam -- based on Sharia law -- to supersede the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by the UN in 1948.

So the vital question is: Can't we Muslims also learn from all of human history and all of nature -- the arts and the sciences -- which are also created and originated from God, as in "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," as stated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence?

There are signs and hints in the natural world that provide guidance from the Creator on a continuing basis, even after all the textual revelations. Although God has stopped sending His messages (revelations) through human messengers, He is still providing messages, in the form of natural phenomena in the world He created, so that human beings can experiment and learn, and benefit -- using reason and reflection.

Slavery and beheadings may have been suitable at some time in human history. But just because it is in the scriptural texts, it does not mean that we need to follow them to the letter so literally, for eternity -- unless we happen to agree with the literalists, and reject using reason and thinking to learn from the natural sciences and the experiences of human history.

A religion that prescribes killing or criminalizing apostates; condones institutionalized slavery, stoning, beheading, flogging, and amputations; which restricts and criminalizes freedom of speech and freedom of religion; commands the stoning of adulterers; develops a theory of constant state of war with non-believers; discriminates and demeans women and people of other religions is not only "The Religion of the Bigots" but it is also the Religion of the Bullies.

Classical Islamic law, developed over the history of Islam, is definitely not peaceful or benign, and therefore not suitable for this age; neither are its violent and grotesque progeny such as Islamism and jihadism.

If we Muslims believe that "true" Islam, which is genuinely aligned with the will of the Creator, must be fundamentally peaceful, comprehensively merciful and objectively just, then it is our duty to cleanse the traditional, literalist, classical Islam and purify it to make an Islam that is worthy to be called a beautiful religion. –Gatestone Institute

A Very Present Help

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.” (Psalm 46:1-3)

The modifier “very” in this verse is a strong word. God is an intensively present helper in time of trouble; “let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Those who hold a deistic philosophy argue that God is far away, leaving the earth and its inhabitants to work out their own evolutionary salvation after He first started it going billions of years ago. But they are wrong, for God is right here, right now! “The LORD of hosts is with us” (Psalm 46:11).

There had, indeed, been a time when the earth was removed (literally, “the ground was changed”), and even the mountains had been eroded away and washed into the oceans. The waters swelled higher and the mountains quaked until finally, in the words of the apostle Peter, “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3:6).

This was the great Flood in the days of Noah—the greatest “trouble” in the world’s history.

Even then, God had provided a refuge for His people—the Ark which He instructed Noah to build. When the Flood came, “the LORD shut him in,” and throughout the height of the cataclysm, “God remembered Noah, and every living thing” (Genesis 7:16; 8:1). There are great judgments coming on the earth in future days as well (Psalm 46:6-9), when the earth itself will be melted (literally “dissolved,” 2 Peter 3:10).

Again, the Lord’s people in that day can still say: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:7). From the beginning of creation to the end of the age, God is a very present help to His people. HMM –Institute for Creation Research