Christians in the Muslim world: growth and persecution
December 4, 2013 (BreakPoint) - It’s time for another pop-quiz about the persecuted Church: How many Christians reside in Saudi Arabia? Hundreds? Thousands?
The answer is an estimated 3 million of the kingdom’s 28 million residents.
The key words here are “reside” and “resident.” Virtually all of these Christians are guest workers from countries such as the Philippines and India. The Saudis may be dependent on their labor, but this dependence doesn’t translate into decent treatment, especially when it comes to religious freedom.
In his new book, “The Global War on Christians,” John L. Allen tells us that although “in theory, the state tolerates private expressions of alternative religious belief… in practice the religious police in Saudi Arabia . . . sometimes harass and detain Christians even for private ‘house church’ observances.”
And, “worshippers who defy the ban on public religious expression risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture.”
The Saudi campaign against public expressions of Christianity can go to absurd lengths: “One year, in an American school, a Santa Claus barely dodged the religious police by escaping through a window,” he writes.
While it’s true, as Allen tells us, that the global war against Christians isn’t only, or even primarily, driven by Islamic fanaticism, it’s also undeniable that after North Korea, the next nine worst places to be a Christian, as measured by Open Doors, are Islamic countries.
Similarly, Allen says, “in the 2012 report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, ten of the sixteen nations designated as ‘countries of particular concern’ have a Muslim majority.”
In these countries, the threat to Christians comes both from state actors, for instance, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and non-state actors, such as in Egypt, working with the active or passive connivance of local officials.
Thus, “According to statistics maintained by the Coptic Church, eighteen hundred Christians were murdered in Egypt during Mubarak’s rule and two hundred acts of vandalism were perpetrated, with few arrests and convictions.”
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If the story of Christian persecution is under-reported, the reasons behind persecution are even less reported. BreakPoint listeners are familiar with the stories of Iranian pastors Youcef Nadarkhani and Saeed Abedini and their treatment by Iranian authorities.
However, their stories are part of the larger story of Iran’s growing Christian population. According to Open Doors, forty years ago there were only 200 Muslim converts to Christianity in Iran. Today, they estimate that there are 370,000.
Whatever the exact number, the phenomenon has caught the attention of the Mullahs who run Iran. “In October 2010, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a speech in which he warned of a growing Christian presence in the country, blaming ‘the enemies of Islam for establishing and encouraging the expansion of Christianity.’”
And it isn’t only Iran. As Allen writes, “Christianity is experiencing phenomenal growth around the world, especially its evangelical and Pentecostal forms, and much of that growth is coming in dangerous neighborhoods such as parts of the Asian subcontinent, sub-Saharan Africa, and even regions of the Middle East.”
Thus, the persecution is a sign—a tragic sign, but a sign nonetheless—that the Great Commission is being fulfilled. Our fellow believers are in harm’s way in part because they’re being faithful to the call Jesus gave to all of us. The least we can do is emulate their faithfulness here at home and support them.
Reprinted with permission from BreakPoint