Christianity Under Fire in the Middle East
According to the US State Dept., there is not a single Christian church left in Afghanistan.
The last public Christian church in Afghanistan was razed in March 2010, according to the State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report. The report, which was released last month and covers the period of July 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010, also states that “there were no Christian schools in the country.”
“There is no longer a public Christian church; the courts have not upheld the church’s claim to its 99-year lease, and the landowner destroyed the building in March ,” reads the State Department report on religious freedom. “[Private] chapels and churches for the international community of various faiths are located on several military bases, PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams], and at the Italian embassy. Some citizens who converted to Christianity as refugees have returned.”
In recent times, freedom of religion has declined in Afghanistan, according to the State Department.
“The government’s level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals,” reads the State Department report.
“Negative societal opinions and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity," said the report. "The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.”
And in Egypt, with the power vacuum left after the exit of Mubarak, the lid is coming off anti-Christian hatred there, too.
Now many fear that the power vacuum left after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak is giving Muslim extremists free rein to torch churches and attack Coptic homes in the worst violence against the community in decades.
An assault Sunday night on Christians protesting over a church attack set off riots that drew in Muslims, Christians and the police. Among the 26 people left killed in the melee, most were Copts. For Coptic scholar Wassem el-Sissi, it was evidence that the Christian community in Egypt is vulnerable as never before.
"In the absence of law, you can understand how demolishing a church goes unpunished," he said. "I have not heard of anyone who got arrested or prosecuted."
Once a majority in Egypt, Copts now make up about 10 percent of the country’s 85 million people. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Their history dates back 19 centuries and the language used in their liturgy can be traced to the speech of Egypt’s pharaohs. Proud of their history and faith, many Copts are identifiable by tattoos of crosses or Jesus Christ on their right wrists, and Coptic women do not wear the veil as the vast majority of Muslim women in Egypt do.
But then, it wasn’t all that wonderful under Muarak, either.
Under Mubarak, the problems of Copts festered even if they faced less violence than they do now. Their demands for a law to regulate construction of churches went unanswered and attacks on churches went unpunished.
There was some hope at the start of the Arab Spring, but it didn’t last long.
Copts shared in the euphoria of the 18-day revolution that ousted Mubarak and like so many other Egyptians their hopes for change were high. Mainly, they wanted to be on equal footing with Muslims.
At Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution against Mubarak, there were glimpses of a fleeting utopia where coexistence and mutual respect between Muslims and Christians was the rule. The iconic image of Christians forming a human shield around Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers to protect them from thugs and pro-Mubarak loyalists spoke volumes to the dream.
But shortly after Mubarak’s ouster, a series of assaults on Christians brought home a stark reality: The fading of authoritarian rule empowered Islamist fundamentalists, known here as Salafis, who have special resentment for Christians.
Pray for the persecuted church. It really still does exist, and in more places than you may think.
Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!