“Convert, Marry Me, or Die”: Persecution of Christians, July 2019

On June 27, unidentified armed individuals entered the village of Bani, Burkina Faso, looking for Christians. When they found four men wearing crosses, "the assailants singled them out. All four were taken aside and executed." Pictured: Bani, Burkina Faso. (Image source: Adam Jones/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Source: Gatestone Institute, by Raymond Ibrahim, 

  • “How ready is the government to go up against certain groups that try to impose their own will on others.” — Reverend Timotheus Halim, head of the Family of God Church ucanews.com, July 25, 2019, Indonesia.

  • Fatemeh Azad, a 58-year-old Muslim woman who had converted to Christianity against her Muslim husband’s will and fled to Germany, was denied asylum there and deported back to Iran. There she was immediately arrested by authorities waiting for her plane to land…. “When Fatemeh made her asylum appeal, her lawyers argued that apostasy (conversion away from Islam) is punishable by the death penalty in Iran.” This, however, was insufficient for Germany…. — Persecution.org; July 25, 2019, Iran, Germany.

  • Finally, a 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, forced to marry a Muslim man, and then taken before a Muslim judge to sign a statement saying she had acted on her own free will….”[G]irls often give such statements because they are already living with their kidnappers,” and “death threats are made towards their family, and therefore the victims have no choice but to say what their kidnapper wants them to say in court…..” — Lawyer, AsiaNews.it; July 26, 2019; Pakistan.

Slaughter of Christians

Syria: Islamic jihadis gang-raped a 60-year-old Christian woman before stoning her to death. When no one in Yaqoubiya, a small Christian village in Idlib governorate, saw Susan Grigor (or “Gregory”) on July 9, the worried priest sent parishioners to search for her. They eventually found her mangled and bloodied corpse on the ground of a field adjacent to her home.

The autopsy revealed that Susan had been repeatedly raped and tortured over the course of nine hours before finally being murdered by stoning. The men responsible are believed to be members of the al-Qaeda-linked jihadi group, al-Nusra. Described as a pious Christian, Susan had never married and lived her entire life as a virgin. Although she never children, Susan reportedly loved them and, after retiring, volunteered much of her time helping educate the youths of her local church.

Before that, Susan was an Arabic language schoolteacher for more than 30 years. According to one Arabic report, some of her murderers “are from the area. In other words, those who raped and stoned her might have been from among her former students, whom she taught Arabic in school over the course of 30 years…. Surely she never dreamt to see such depraved savagery in the eyes of her former students…. Nonetheless, they preyed on her like wild beasts — even though wild beasts do not rape their mothers.”

Burkina Faso: Lethal Islamic terrorist attacks targeting Christians that had begun in earnest in February 2019, continued throughout July. In one instance, the slain were identified and killed for wearing crucifixes. According to the report,

“unidentified armed individuals entered the village of Bani (about six miles from the town of Bourzanga), looking for Christians… [T]he militants told everyone to lie down and proceeded to look for Christians by asking for first names or looking for anyone wearing Christian insignia (like crosses). The deadly search yielded four men…. They were all wearing crosses…. [W]hen they saw crosses, the assailants singled them out. All four were taken aside and executed.”

Before leaving the village, the terrorists torched a shop that belonged to one of their victims. They then moved on to another village, Pougrenoma, where “They also told Christians to convert or risk execution.” Between February and July 27 Christians have been killed under similar circumstances, including instances when “the armed terrorists challenged Christians to convert or die.”

Nigeria: The jihad on Christians, which has widely been described as a genocidecontinued to claim more lives. A pregnant woman, a mother of two children, was among those slain when Muslim Fulani herdsmen raided the Christian village in the early hours of July 15, and torched 75 Christian homes and two churches. On the same day, the jihadis raided another Christian village. Among those slain in that attack were a father (46) and his young son (7), who had been returning home from church. The father was beheaded. “We have been experiencing daily attacks by these Fulani herdsmen in our communities, most especially on Sundays during worship hours or Thursdays when church activities are held,” a local Christian said.

Attacks on Churches

Syria: On July 11, the Islamic State detonated a car bomb just outside the Virgin Mary Church in the city of Qamishli. More than ten people, including an 8-year-old child, were injured in the blast. An intercepted communication indicated that the terrorists were targeting a gathering of “belligerent Christians.” Photos and videos of the explosion and its aftermath show substantial damage, including from fire, which spread throughout the street. Another terror attack the same day in the village of neighboring city of Afrin claimed thirteen lives.

Pakistan: A Muslim mob attacked Internal Salvation Church in Bhiki village, Punjab district, on July 23. The mob charged in, in the middle of prayer services and began beating members of the congregation. A local human rights organization described the incident:

“There were over a hundred of individuals praying in the church when Muhammad Azam, Muhammad Ijaz, Muhammad Amjad and Muhammad Zafar, along with other armed Muslim men, intruded into the church. They forcefully seized the prayer service and reportedly thrashed both men and women.”

During the beating, the Muslim men used abusive language, disparaged Christians and Christianity, and demanded that the church “stop this circus.” The church submitted a complaint to local police; it was rejected. The human rights group continued:

“There has been a sharp rise in the number of incidents violating the religious freedom rights of Christians in Pakistan. Their churches are being attacked, properties are being grabbed, forced to stop their prayer services and other church activities, and are forced to convert to Islam. This is alarming for Christians in this country.”

Indonesia: Following protests from Muslim locals, the Bantul regency government revoked and canceled the building permit of a Pentecostal Christian Church in Sedayu district on July 26. The congregation was subsequently banned from meeting and performing worship service in the building. Although authorities said the church had failed to meet building codes, “the administration seems to have created a made-up reason to stop the church operation,” according to the commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights.

In a separate situation, Muslim protests caused a Protestant church to stop holding services, even though it had the required governmental permit. Protesters claimed that the church was in a predominantly Muslim region and in close proximity to an Islamic boarding school and a mosque. Church administrators rejected the claim and said there was no mosque or school nearby. Reverend Timotheus Halim, head of the Family of God Church, said the same Muslim protesters—particularly the Islamic Defenders Front—had hounded them out of their last church building in West Jakarta: “We have moved here, and have met similar opposition…. I will fight and not give up because we have a legal permit and have fulfilled all requirements from the government.” Indonesian law states that, in order to build a place of worship, a religious community must have at least 90 congregation members, as well as the approval of at least 60 people from other religious communities (namely Muslims) living in the vicinity. Halim said he and his 150-strong congregation were eagerly looking forward to their first prayer meeting in the church on July 7, when the Muslim threats began. “How ready is the government to go up against certain groups that try to impose their own will on others,” he asked.

Egypt: On July 17, a Christian community was again forced to hold its fourth funeral in the street since the police shuttered its church in December 2018. The funeral was rushed in part due to the extreme heat of the summer day (110 degrees Fahrenheit). Although the village has about 2,500 Christians, repeated requests to build a church have been turned down; when Christians began to use a home, Muslims rioted, prompting officials to shut down the unregistered building.

Attacks on Apostates

Iran: On July 1, “Eight converts to Christianity, including five members of one family, were arrested in the southwestern city of Bushehr,” according to a report:

“The arresting officers introduced themselves as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS). They stormed the Christians’ homes in a coordinated operation at around 9am, confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures carrying Christian symbols, along with laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards and other personal belongings…. The officers are reported to have treated the Christians harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests.”

Later the same day, one of the arrested women “whose arrest came after six cars carrying security officials turned up outside her home, was released the same day due to her age.” The rest of the “Christians remain detained, with no access to lawyers, and are being held in solitary confinement…” From the start of 2019 to July, the total number of Christians arrested in similar circumstances grew to at least 34. “Reporting suggests that Christianity is on the rise in Iran, along with other non-Islamic religions,” a human rights organization, explained.

“This is a threat to the Islamic republic, a regime based on a narrow and totalitarian view of Islam. As the regime faces more internal unrest, the more it’ll crack down on religious minorities it views as threatening its stranglehold on religion.”

A month before this latest incident, Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, openly admitted to apprehending and questioning apostates because mass conversions to Christianity were “happening right before our eyes.”

Separately, on July 27, another Christian woman Mahrokh (Roksare) Kanbari (65) was sentenced by the Karaj Islamic Revolutionary Court to one year in prison, on the charge of “propaganda against the system.” Friends present at her sentencing said that the “judge was very rude and tried to humiliate” the woman, who was apparently an apostate. She had been initially arrested just before Christmas, 2018, when three agents had raided her home and taken her away for ten days of extensive interrogation before releasing her on bail.

Finally, Fatemeh Azad, a 58-year-old Muslim woman who had converted to Christianity against her Muslim husband’s will and fled to Germany, was denied asylum there and deported back to Iran. There she was immediately arrested by authorities waiting for her plane to land. She has since been released on bail and awaits her trial. According to the report, “When Fatemeh made her asylum appeal, her lawyers argued that apostasy (conversion away from Islam) is punishable by the death penalty in Iran.” This, however, was insufficient for Germany — which has taken in millions of Muslims who are not being persecuted in their homelands — to provide her with asylum.

Uganda: Muslims harassed, threatened, and displaced a former Muslim woman who embraced Christianity to return to Islam or face the consequences. Sharifa Nakamate began receiving threatening text messages after she had a Christian pastor bury her husband, 65, who had died on June 15. “It is now clear to the clan that you and your deceased husband abandoned Islam, since Hajji was buried by Christians,” read one text. “We are giving you a few days to recant the Christian faith or face the wrath of being an apostate.” Her 29-year-old son was among those threatening her. Finally, on July 11 she fled her home. “I realized my life was now in danger, so I sought refuge at the church,” said Sharifa. Although she has since relocated to another undisclosed location, last reported she was preparing to flee again. “Two days ago a Muslim from my home village came and bought items from me,” she explained.

“I am afraid that she will go back and spread news of my new place of residence. This new place is not safe for me…. I never expected such thing to happen to me. I have lost everything that I did in developing the homestead for more than 30 years of our married life, only to lose everything just like that because of following Jesus.”

The church that helped her has since also been targeted; a member received an anonymous text message that read, “Please let Nakamate return to her religion to avoid any negative repercussion of your church.”

Another Muslim apostate in Uganda, a 20-year-old man, was beaten and disowned by his family after they learned that he had embraced Christianity. Asuman Kaire’s stepfather, who called him a “disgrace to the family,” nearly beat him to death. When local Christians rushed to the young man’s cries for help, his stepfather and other Muslims fled, leaving him unconscious. “After recovering, I feared going back home because I knew they were going to kill me,” said Kaire, so he began living in the streets. When a church took him in, and local Muslims learned of it, in mid-June, when Kaire was in the church, a mob and tried to storm it. They cried out, “Allahu Akbar” and said that the apostate must die. Kaire has since moved again, lives in hiding, and is unable to finish his last year in high school: “I fear my classmates who are Muslims, as they might plan something bad for my life,” he said.

Abduction, Rape, and Murder in Pakistan

On July 10, a Muslim man shot and killed a Christian woman because she refused to convert to Islam and marry him. Problems began a few months earlier when Muhammad Waseem began accosting Saima Sardar, 30, often on her way to and from a hospital in Faisalabad, where she worked as a nurse. The harassment got so bad that she asked her brother to walk her to work. According to another family member:

“Saima was in [a] healthy and friendly relationship with Waseem. However, when he continuously insisted Saima convert [to Islam], she decided to keep distance from him and prove her loyalty to her Christian faith. Therefore, Saima very boldly refused his proposal even though she was threatened with consequences.”

When Muhammad learned that she was set to marry a Christian man in November, he got more aggressive and threatened that “if you do not convert and marry me, you will die.” Finally, on July 10, the Muhammad managed to get into the hospital, even though Saima had warned guards about him, and shot her dead, before taking his own life. “Converting to another religion or marrying someone is a personal choice,” said a local human rights organization concerning this incident. “Unfortunately, in Pakistani society Muslim men who like minority girls think that the latter should obey them and that their offer cannot be refused.”

On a separate occasion, a Muslim parliamentarian, his wife, and two sons repeatedly beat and raped their domestic worker, a 15-year-old Christian girl. According to Riaz Masih, the girl’s father,

“I am a poor person living in a rented house with my children whereas, my daughter Saima who is 14-15 years old, was working at the MPA’s [Member of the Provincial Assembly] house for the last six months. A couple of days ago, she told me that the MPA raped her twice and his sons have been harassing her while his wife beats her over petty issues besides making her work day and night. They had warned my daughter of beating her up more if she ever dared to tell me anything…. They pressurised me to not go to the police but I need justice because my underage daughter has been tortured and raped several times.”

A medical facility “confirmed that she had been raped many times.” The First Information Report which was lodged against Mian Tahir Jamil, the parliamentarian, offers more insights:

“Tahir Jamil had forcefully raped his [Masih’s] daughter after threatening her to remain silent or risk losing her life. Samia also reported that Tahir’s sons also sexually abused her. In fact, a week before the incident, Tahir had made sexual advances at her but she locked herself in the restroom to protect herself. When the family was finally able to retrieve her, Tahir’s wife, Bano Bibi, beat her mercilessly and cut her hair as a punishment for hiding. Thankfully, Samia was able to run away from the family to her home this week. She recounted the story of her abuse to her father, highlighting that besides the rape incident on June 19, 2019, Tahir’s sons consistently molested her while his wife, Bano Bibi verbally abused her.”

In a similar incident, a Muslim family accused their 14-year-old Christian domestic worker of robbing the household as a way to cover up the fact that she was raped thereAccording to the mother of the teenaged victim:

“Razia, a Muslim woman, hired us for a week to clean her house and to take care of guests during the wedding ceremony of her daughter. Suneha [the daughter] stayed at the employer’s house for a night due to late-night parties and the load of work…. During the wedding week, on July 6, one of the men of the family sexually assaulted Suneha. When Suneha resisted and threatened to make a complain[t] to the elders of the family, she was locked up in a room and beaten frequently.”

Her rapist subsequently accused the girl and her mother of stealing jewelry, gold, and other valuables to members of the Muslim household, who joined in the thrashing. “It was unbearable torture and a heartbreaking situation,” Suneha explained.

“They abused us stating ‘you Christians – Chooras, you are thieves’. We resisted and assured that we have done nothing, however after four days of ‘in house’ investigation and torture, the Muslim family reported us to the police.”

Responding to this incident a human rights activist said :

“Christian women face double vulnerability as of a woman and as a segment of the Christian community. They are the softest target for rape. The Christian domestic workers are often threatened to keep their mouth shut after rape attempts otherwise are alleged for steeling [sic] valuables or committing blasphemy against Islam.”

Finally, a 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, forced to marry a Muslim man, and then taken before a Muslim judge to sign a statement saying she had acted on her own free will. According to the report,

“The girl, Benish Imran, went missing from home on 2 July, after she was kidnapped by Waheed Ahmed, who then forced her to deny her Christian faith and marry him. The following day, Imran Masih, the father of the 14-year-old, went to the police station and filed a complaint against people unknown, unaware of what had happened to his daughter. A few days later, the police informed him that they had received Benish’s conversion and marriage certificates, and that the latter was going to go before the district magistrate in Lahore on 12 July to register her statement.”

Her father hired a lawyer, who pointed out to the judge that, whatever the case may be, the girl is, according to Pakistani law, underage, and therefore could not be legally married, even if she wanted to of her own free will. The judge refused to relent and had the girl’s statement recorded. According to the lawyer, the entire fiasco “is a normal practice,” as “girls often give such statements because they are already living with their kidnappers,” and “death threats are made towards their family, and therefore the victims have no choice but to say what their kidnapper wants them to say in court….. [W]e have seen in the past that many girls flee whenever they get a chance.”

General Abuse of and Hate for Christians

Turkey: A number of successive fires broke out in as many as eight Christian villages, nearly turning them to ash, near the nation’s southern border. “Local activists,” said one report, “claim that the fires were intentionally started to eliminate the Christian heritage in the region”:

This part of Turkey borders both Iraq and Syria. In these two countries, arson has become a recognized insurgent tactic which targets the agricultural resources of villages. In Turkey’s case, these fires also targeted agriculture, as an estimated 7-800 olive trees were damaged. It is these kinds of similarities between this situation and the fires in Iraq / Syria that have caused concern that these fires were also started by arson.

An investigation was said to be underway.

In a separate incident, two Muslim men beat a Christian teenager in the street after they noticed he was wearing a crucifix around his neck. They initially stopped him and pulled on his cross-necklace while asking him if he “knows what this means?” When the youth responded, “Yes, I know. I’m a Christian,” they beat him and fled. The Protestant Association of Churches said in response that “This attack is a result of the growing hatred against Christians in Turkey. We invite government officials to take action against hate speech.”

Sri Lanka: Before the Islamic suicide bombing of churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, which claimed more than 250 lives, Sri Lanka, a Buddhist majority nation, with Muslim and Christian minorities (9.7% and 7.4% of the total population, respectively), was not seen as a nation where Muslims persecute Christians. Since the spotlight has been placed on it, however, more information is appearing. According to a July 11 report, “Many Tamil Christians and Hindus in Sri Lanka are being ordered by Muslim extremists to convert to Islam or leave the villages where their families have lived for generations.”

Egypt: Sarah Atef, a Christian college student, was kidnapped while standing near her church. “When her mother knew that her daughter was kidnapped,” a family neighbor said, “she got out to the balcony and screamed to [sic] loudly. She was hitting her face. All of the neighbors got out of their houses to monitor.” After the family contacted police, many websites, including some affiliated with the Islamic State, claimed that the girl had called her mother and informed her that she had willingly converted to Islam and married a Muslim man. The local Coptic bishop, who met with the family, confirmed that no such phone call ever taken place, nor has anyone from the Christian community heard from the girl. “This is a trap for Christian girls,” one of her teachers elaborated. “This girl is very religious and believes in Jesus. It is hard (for her) to convert to Islam.”

About this Series

While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by extremists is growing. The report posits that such persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location.

Previous reports