Persecution of Christians in the Muslim world: We are what we tolerate

The erosion of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa region daily escalates.

January 30, 2014 04:45
3 minute read.
Arab Christians

Arab Christian worshippers enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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During my first visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, a quotation caught my eye.

Attributed to German Jewish essayist Kurt Tucholsky, I scribbled it down: “A country is not only what it does, it is also what it tolerates.”

I found myself thinking not of collaborators during the Nazi era, but of Muslims during the Islamist era.

Christian persecution in the Muslim World goes unremarked upon in the Muslim world. Yet Christian existence in the Middle East, the very region where Christianity first arrived to world, is today imperiled to a degree formerly unseen in its history.

The erosion of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa region daily escalates. Rabid political Islamism, which both calls for the elimination of Christians from formerly pluralistic societies and seeds a climate ripe for sectarian violence, drives the exodus of Christians from the region.

Visiting persecuted Christians in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, it’s the silence that strikes me most. British nurses hide crucifixes from view; Filipino nurses furtively read banned Christmas catalogues; Christian physicians whisper their weekend plans, referring to church services as “gatherings” at diplomatic compounds; Christian Pakistani matrons scheduling the nursing rota risk false accusations of blasphemy – charges which could result in death.

All these Christians, my colleagues and friends, live in dire peril for expressing their religious observation.

While Saudi Arabia is religious oppressor par excellence, intolerance of Christians elsewhere has exceeded even this kingdom. Recent atrocities against Christians culminated in the triple bombing of Christians in Iraq on Christmas Day, just as mass graves in Central African Republic were uncovered, the sites of Islamist rebel massacres of predominantly Christian communities.

Syrian Christians, long protected by Syrian President Bashar Assad, bear the ultimate price at the hands of rebel Islamists. Egyptian Islamist have destroyed 43 Orthodox churches and attacked 207 churches in the past year alone. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, where there is no Arab Spring, where democracy is mature, Christian persecution is as integral to daily Pakistani life as the weather. In 2013 alone, Pakistan witnessed the razing of 178 homes in Christian residential area Joseph Colony in Lahore and the execution of 82 Christians at worship at Peshawar’s historic All Saints Church, leaving another 200 congregants wounded.

Instead of sheltering minorities, Pakistan has become their de facto executioner. Across the wider MENA region, religious intolerance is becoming a sentinel part of Muslim identity.

Observing the daily carnage befalling Christians I return to my memories of Father Edward Joseph at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest Catholic diocese. Walking around the empty cathedral, Father Joseph showed me the damage from a 1998 bombing. A Pakistani jihadist had detonated the device in the congregation just after mass. While no one was injured, many stained-glass windows were blown out.

Fourteen years on, the congregation remains unable to afford restoration.

In such a hostile climate of persecution, where congregants could be charged with blasphemy at any time and face grave charges, incarceration, lynching or worse, I asked how he galvanized his flock. “I tell them very simply: just as Christ had his cross to bear, so too do we,” he said. Father Joseph considers Islamist persecution his personal cross.

Islamism imperils not only Christians, but all minorities.

Islam, which reveres Mary the mother of Jesus, which values the Injeel (Gospel) and the Torah as the Word of God, and holds holy Jesus, Moses and Aaron is itself in jeopardy from the Islamists who would have us deny our brotherhood with Christianity.

Is this what we tolerate, Muslims? Is this who we are? It’s time we respond to the suffering of our fellow Christian and shelter him from persecution. The persecution of Christians whether in body, or of soul, is not the Cross of his devoted congregations, but our own Cross. As Muslims we must ease this burden, or risk becoming ourselves that which we tolerate.

The writer is the Author of In the Land of Invisible Women, and a Templeton Cambridge Journalism Fellow.

Follow her on twitter  @MissDiagnosis

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