Saturday, August 6, 2011

Muslim Extremists in India Attack, Threaten Christian Women


Convert from Islam, others threatened with burning.
By Mahruaii Sailo
 
New Delhi street
NEW DELHI, August 5 (Compass Direct News) – Four months after a recent convert to Christianity from Islam in eastern India’s West Bengal state was stripped and beaten, about 50 Muslim extremists yesterday disrupted a prayer meeting held in her home, threatening to burn it down if she did not return to Islam, area Christians said.
 
The extremists warned Selina Bibi of Motijil village in Murshidabad district that if she did not return to Islam, then she must either leave the area or see her house burned down. At her baptism at Believers Church four kilometers from her home on March 29, a large crowd of Muslim extremists disrupted the service, said a pastor identified only as Bashir.
 
“I pleaded with them to let me at least finish the worship service before they attack us,” he told Compass.
 
When word of her conversion to Christianity reached her village, another extremist group from Motijil led by Jamal Shaike disrupted the service. Shaike and the others verbally abused the Christians, and he ordered his son who was present at the service to leave immediately, Bashir said.
 
The pastor said that on April 5, two Muslim women along with members of the extremist group summoned Selina Bibi to one of their homes and forcefully stripped her naked.
 
“The radicals believe that when any person from the Muslim community becomes Christian, they get Christian marks on their body,” Bashir said. “When the radicals could not find such marks, they started beating her up.” 
 
The Muslim extremists later gathered at the local mosque and resolved to ostracize her until she returned to Islam. She lives only with her two teenage sons.
 
Selina Bibi told Bashir that her body bore the marks of suffering for the sake of Christ, and that she was being treated like a criminal.
 
“She was not allowed to buy goods from the store, nor was she allowed to sell any vegetables,” he said. “They have also restricted her from procuring water from the village well. In spite of the persecutions she constantly faces from the radicals, she has started conducting a Bible study for ladies every Thursday at her home.”
 
After the extremist threats yesterday, study member Naseema Bibi said she and some of the other women attending the meeting went to the Murshidabad police station to file a complaint. Police called both parties, and they agreed in writing to allow each other to practice their respective faiths, and that police would prosecute any further attacks or disturbances, she said.
 
Burn Threat
In Natungram, Murshidabad district, Muslim extremists held three Christian women for an hour on July 21, threatening to beat and burn them alive if they continued worshipping Christ, area Christians said.
 
Moyazan Bibi and Aimazan Bibi of Believers Church told Compass that at 5:30 p.m. they had set out to visit a widow, Suryja Bibi, to share the message of Christ at her invitation. As they reached her house, a large mob of Muslim extremists led by Fakir Shaike, Sajahan Shaike, Manuwar Shaike, Samsul Shaike, Ahamed Shaike and Jalal Shaike blocked their way, pushed them around and verbally abused them for their faith in Christ as they threatened them.
 
“The extremists called us infidels and held us captive, threatening that they will call a public meeting to socially boycott us,” Aimazan Bibi said. “The extremists angrily shouted that we should not return to our homes, while they continued to mock and push us around.”
 
The extremists rushed Suryja Bibi, asking her why she invited “infidels” into her home as they were pushing her. One of the assailants twisted her hand, the Christian women said.
 
“She was injured, but by God’s grace it was not broken,” said Bashir, founder and pastor of the Believers Church. “They warned Suryja Bibi never to call the Christians to her home again or leave the area and they also threatened all the villagers with the dire consequences they will face if they attend Christian meetings or talk to any one of them.”
 
Suryja Bibi tried to file a police complaint the next day, July 22, but the local Muslim head and other extremists stopped her, threatening to harm her, area Christians said.
 
Bashir said Suryja Bibi showed interest in hearing more about Christ, and that he met her and her daughters Mamoota and Darju at his house church fellowship on July19.
 
“Since then, the radicals have warned them not to attend any Christian service or talk to any Christians or else they will be burned alive,” he said. 
 
Naseema Bibi informed Bashir of the incident by phone, and he called police, he said.
 
“I also tried to call Aimazan,” he said. “At that time she could not take my call, as some radicals were trying to snatch her mobile phone from her.”
 
Moyazan Bibi said she pleaded with the assailants.
 
“I asked the attackers what crime have we done for them to torture us in this manner?” she said. “But the enraged extremists brutally pushed us around, furiously shouting at us to convert back to Islam or face dire consequences.”
 
After holding and harassing the Christian women for about an hour, the extremists fled in fear after they learned that Bashir had contacted the police, the women said.
 
The area was still tense at press time, with Suryja Bibi and her family unable to attend any Christian meetings as the extremists are closely monitoring them and are prepared to pounce on them at the slightest opportunity, Bashir said.
 
“We are trying to contact Suryja Bibi, but the radicals are not allowing any Christian to contact or meet her,” he said. “But we are praying for her safety.”
 
Aizama Bibi and Moyazan Bibi, who two years ago began trusting Christ as their Savior, told Compass that last December the extremists tried to chase them away from the village, threatening to burn them and their houses. They were not allowed to sell and buy in the area and were kept from using the public bathroom and the water well. 
 
The extremists also burned the crops field of Aimazan’s husband, Gaffar. The Christians reported the matter to police, and officers warned the Muslim extremists not to disturb the Christians again.
 
The Evangelical Fellowship of India last year reported that Muslim extremists in Natungram on Nov. 28, 2010, ostracized another member of Believers Church, keeping Chanda Bibi and her family from selling and buying. They also warned the family to stop attending church services and threatened to impose a fine on her if her family continued to follow Christ.
 
 
END
 
**********
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ramadan attacks hit, more expected





(Story photo by Chris Brown) [Cover photo by Joe Coyle]


International (MNN) ―Reports of violence and threats of violence have come from all over the Muslim world since the start of Ramadan on Monday August 1.

In Pakistan, at least 10 have been killed since the Muslim holy month began. A Singaporean news source reports that a sect of minority Muslims in Indonesia fear for their lives in the face of Islamic extremists during Ramadan.
Christians throughout the world are at high risk.

It's typical for violence to heighten during Ramadan throughout Muslim cultures worldwide, but the flare-ups have been worsening year by year. One expert on Islam told Mission Network News that there are two main reasons for this: religion and politics.

Fouad Masri, founder of the Crescent Project, says devout Muslims spend the month of Ramadan fasting daily, praying, chanting the Qur'an, reading the Qur'an, taking trips to the mosque, and proving their devotion to God. Masri attributes much of the violence to a sense of cleansing that some Muslims feel necessary during what's considered the holiest of months.

"Because it's a holy month, if you (as a Muslim) touch someone who is not Muslim, that defiles you," explains Masri. "Now the violence happens because you want to cleanse the society. These non-Muslims are probably eating while they're supposed to be fasting. You want to show God that you are so zealous for Him and for Islam, that you are willing to kill them or expel them from your community."

Masri says it is a matter of seeing impurity as external and religion as external, rather than an internal, heart devotion.
That's the religious aspect, but it doesn't seem to explain why violence would be increasing over the years. For that issue, the tables turn to politics.

"Islam is a political system," says Masri. "They need to take charge of the political structure, and as they see themselves losing in the political arena, they need to bring up political issues across the Muslim world--from Morocco all the way to Indonesia."

Unlike Christianity, says Masri, Islamic communities bring up more political issues as opposed to moral. "The whole system there is in upheaval, politically. So you have the mosque or the elders of the religion siding with one group or the other. In the recent decade, they've seen that there is the concept of jihad on the right, through terrorism--groups like al Qaeda who are propagating jihad more and more."

As the rift between Sunni and Shiite deepens, violence is increasingly used as a solution, as well. Masri says there are no verses in the Qur'an that allude to reconciliation, and "violence is an easy way to get rid of things. Communication, discussion, dialogue takes time."

The increase in violence is enough to cause believers in Muslim nations to lay low, and with good reason. They have often been the subject of extremists' cleansings or have been scapegoats for other matters during Ramadan.

Masri, who grew up during wartime in Lebanon, says that the Lord uses His people during Ramadan, as well as other times, to share the Good News.

"The way you share the Gospel, and your activities, change. But you find that the Holy Spirit opens more doors.
 Sometimes you'll be sharing the Gospel when bombs are flying. Or maybe there's a car bomb that explodes, and then you're able to minister to the neighbors and to the injured people," notes Masri.
The amazing thing, especially during Ramadan, is that many Muslims seem to be open to hearing the Gospel. They are drawn to the peace that characterizes the believers around them.

"So many times we look at the situation through temporal eyes, and we say, ‘Wait a second, there's violence. We should lay low. We should probably not share.' And suddenly, the Holy Spirit opens huge doors for us, maybe through these activities around us," says Masri. "The violence proves that Islam has not solved the human problem."

Pray that believers in Muslim nations would be bold this month. Pray for God to cause many to hunger for the Truth during Ramadan. Pray that those who are seeking another truth would find the only Truth.

For a full prayer calendar during the month of Ramadan, click here. 

Crackdown in Uzbekistan

By Jeremy ReynaldsSenior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service


LOVES PARK, ILLINOIS (ANS) -- The Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) is asking for prayer for Christians in Uzbekistan.

The request came after SGA received word of yet another government crackdown against evangelical churches.

Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia.
According to a news release from SGA, for some time the organization's contacts in Uzbekistan have expressed concern about increasing government pressure against churches and religious groups.

SGA said Forum 18 News Service is reporting that Baptist pastor Konstantin Malchikovsky has been officially indicted on charges of "not paying in monies from church offerings and book sales."

Konstantin is pastor of the registered Hamza District Baptist Church in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. The case was filed on July 15, and a local judge began hearing the case on the week of July 27.

SGA said the current case stems from events in the spring, when authorities raided the church. They confiscated money and tens of thousands of Christian books, as well as printing equipment. At the time, Malchikovsky and three other church members were fined between 50 and 100 times the minimum monthly wage. In the current indictment, the pastor could receive up to two years in jail if convicted.

SGA said this is in line with other troubling events in Uzbekistan, including the 2009 crackdown against the Baptists' Camp Joy for children, followed by the removal of the Baptist Union's leadership and heavy fines. Baptist leaders say in each case, the charges are completely false and have been fabricated by the authorities.

SGA President Bob Provost said in the news release, "We have asked our local Congressman's office to look into this situation, and have also asked Advocates International to investigate as well. Thus far, the Uzbek government has ignored appeals and criticism from Western governments and human rights groups, and continued with their crackdown."

For more information about the Slavic Gospel association go to www.sga.org



Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter,http://www.joyjunction.org He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."


Additional details on "Homeless in the City" are available at http://www.homelessinthecity.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds atjeremyreynalds@comcast.net.

Christian Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ in Pakistan Granted Rare Bail


Move usually considered too dangerous in face of Muslim hostilities.
By Brian Sharma

LAHORE, Pakistan, August 4 (Compass Direct News) – In a rare move in Pakistan, a lower court in Punjab Province on Tuesday (Aug. 2) released on bail a young Christian man accused of blaspheming Islam.

The Magisterial Court of Chichawatni, Sahiwal district, granted bail to Babar Masih, who suffers from a psychiatric disorder that causes him to shout in fits of rage for as long as an hour without knowing what he is doing or saying. In the face of Islamic extremist threats, generally lower courts in Pakistan do not dare grant bail or acquit a Christian accused of blasphemy, leaving such decisions for higher court judges who enjoy greater security measures.

The complainant in the case, Zeeshan Arshad, states in the First Information Report (FIR) that Masih was addressing the stars and calling names of Muslim sages and holy personages” when he made the alleged remarks blaspheming Islam. The FIR itself states that Masih never intended to hurt Arshad’s religious feelings, and that no sane person would draw the ire of area residents by talking in this way.

On the day he made the alleged remarks (May 2), however, a large Muslim mob gathered that refused to hear that Masih was suffering any mental disorder. They demanded he be turned over to them so that they could kill him publicly. Chichawatni City police intervened and took Masih into custody.

At the Aug. 2 hearing, the courtroom was packed with bearded, hard-line Muslims and a tense calm prevailed, said Niaz Aamer, an attorney for the Center for Law and Justice-Pakistan (CLJ-P), which is representing Masih. Aamer said that the judge asked him to read the FIR, but the attorney requested that the judge read it himself, silently, due to the sensitive nature of the case. After arguments, the judge awarded bail.

Masih could not be released until the next day, however, because court orders arrived late to the police station. Sensing danger at the main entrance of the jail yesterday, staff members released him from a more inconspicuous “family gate.”

During his time in jail, Masih was attacked, Aamer said. On May 26, as Masih was brought to court in a police van, an officer asked in a loud voice, “Where is the blasphemy accused?” As soon as Masih was identified, a bearded man among the accused in the van repeatedly hit Masih’s face and head with his handcuffs before police intervened. The assailant was never brought to justice, Aamer said, though since that time Masih has been brought to court hearings in a separate van.

The judge granted bail even though a medical examiner declined to confirm Masih’s mental condition. Though Masih’s outbursts were witnessed several times while in jail, the Sahiwal Central Jail superintendent’s medical examination report states, “He is a young man of average health. He gives history of some psychiatric illness before coming to jail. Inside jail he is vitally stable and well-oriented. However, to know the exact situation regarding his mental condition, he may be examined by the District Standing Medical Board at DHQ Hospital Sahiwal.”

Masih’s family provided doctor’s prescriptions and medicine wrappers he used, but a police report presented in court on May 17 did not mention Masih’s medical treatment.

His brother, Amjad Masih, previously told Compass that he had learned from witnesses that the accused was walking by the Canal Mosque looking upward and calling out names as the mosque leader was coming out and allegedly heard him using abusive language about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Amjad Masih arrived home to find a large number of Muslim clerics gathered outside who told him Babar Masih had used insulting language about Muhammad, which can be punishable by death in Pakistan.

Immediately after Masih was arrested, all three Christian families living in the area fled, including those of Masih’s brothers, James Masih, and Amjad Masih. Since fleeing, James Masih’s son Robin James has had to drop his engineering studies, and his daughter Sana James was unable to finish college exams, Aamer said. James Masih is still looking for work, and his other two daughters, eighth-grade students Shanza James and Sahira James, have also been forced to abandon their studies.
Amjad Masih was allowed to return to his residence after long negotiations with area clerics and a promise that he would never legally support his brother or else he would face similar charges, Aamer said.

“After Masih’s release, Amjad Masih did not go home to meet with him or any of his family members, because it will be a danger for them,” Aamer said. “Amjad cannot stay in the area if ever seen with Babar Masih.”

The CLJ-P, an affiliate of European Center for Law and Justice, plans to file an application under Section 540-A of Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure Code to exempt Masih from court appearances on grounds that it would be too dangerous, Aamer said.
“Babar Masih, who is mentally ill, was accused of blasphemy on May 2, 2011 and is released on bail within three months, while there are hundreds languishing in jails for years on blasphemy charges,” Aamer said.

Christians make up only 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is more than 95 percent Muslim, according to Operation World.


Indonesia: Dangerous Days for Christians

-- especially in West Java & Papua. Please pray.

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 119 
Special to ASSIST News Service


AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- China is not landlocked, but it might as well be. China's coast does not open to the Pacific Ocean (where the US Navy is supreme) but opens to the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. To get to the Pacific Ocean, Chinese ships must navigate through archipelagos controlled by various US allies: Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia is especially strategic, straddling the Pacific and Indian Oceans and controlling some of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Indonesia's geo-strategic value is rising in line with China's economic and military ascendancy. Because Beijing is aggressively courting Jakarta, the US is reluctant to challenge Indonesia over declining religious liberty. Because President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is dependent on Islamist support in parliament, he is reluctant to challenge Islamists over escalating and increasingly violent Islamic intolerance. All this leaves Indonesia's Christian minority increasingly vulnerable.

On 24 January an Indonesian court sentenced three soldiers to eight, nine and ten months imprisonment for insubordination after video footage emerged showing the soldiers torturing Papuan civilians -- beating, burning, knifing and suffocating them. Whilst the US expressed regret over the leniency of the sentences, they praised the fact that the soldiers were tried at all, hailing it as 'progress'. (Without the trial, the US would have been obliged by its own laws to withhold military aid.)

On 6 February a 1500-strong Muslim mob attacked a house in Cikeusik village, Banten Province, West Java, where a small number of Ahmaddiya Muslims -- regarded as heretical by mainstream Muslims -- were meeting for worship. Video footage posted on Youtube and broadcast worldwide shows Muslims hacking and bludgeoning the 'infidels' to death as the assailants' supporters cheer and shout 'Allahu Akbar' (Allah is great). Three Ahmadiyya were killed and five we re seriously wounded, and Ahmaddiya property was torched. On Thursday 28 July Serang District Court in Java sentenced 12 of the instigators and killers to prison for between three and six months. As the deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, notes: 'The Cikeusik trial sends the chilling message that attacks on minorities like the Ahmadiyya will be treated lightly by the legal system.'

Religious liberty is seriously threatened in Indonesia and Christian security is increasingly tenuous. West Java is a hotbed of militant Islamic fundamentalism where Christians are less than two percent of the population. As tensions escalate and protection diminishes, Christians in West Java and restive Papua become increasingly vulnerable. In June last year, at the second Bekasi Islamic Congress held in Al-Azhar Mosque, Bekasi, West Java, Muslims there were instructed to form Islamic paramilitaries in readiness for a war against Christians.

See 'Bekasi, West Java, Indonesia: Dhimmitude or death' (By Elizabeth Kendal, 12 July 2010)
On 23 July 2011 Fides [Catholic] News Service reported they had received an 'SOS' appeal from The Indonesian Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Indonesia -- GKI), a Protestant denomination. This warned of such tension that 'the Christian faithful are at risk of mass persecution'. The GKI cites impunity as a major factor fuelling the Islamic fundamentalist trend towards violence. In Bogor and Bekasi, suburbs of Jakarta, West Java, local authorities are defying the law (including Supreme Court rulings) at the expense of Christians to appease belligerent Islamic fundamentalists. At a recent City Council meeting in Bogor, authorities threatened 'mass mobilisation' against 'the Christians of the GKI'. In other words: submit in silence or risk suffering and death!

Islamic zeal and belligerence will escalate as Ramadan progresses during August. These are dangerous days for the vulnerable Christians of West Java and restive Papua. Though the world's powers abandon them, our supreme and sovereign God never will.

THEREFORE, LET US PRAY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw his people into prayerful dependence, that they might 'wait for him' (Isaiah 30:18) and see his salvation; through it all, may the Indonesian Church -- in grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit -- be light, salt and yeast for the glory of God.
* intervene for the protection of his people and the advance of the gospel in Indonesia.
* expose the intolerance of Islam, while frustrating the schemes of the wicked (Psalm 146:9).
~~~~
SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
---------- ---------------------------------------------------
DANGEROUS DAYS FOR CHRISTIANS IN INDONESIA
Because President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono depends on Islamist support in parliament, he is reluctant to challenge the issue of increasingly violent Islamic intolerance. Because the ascendant China is courting Indonesia, the US is reluctant to challenge Indonesia over its serious decline in religious liberty. West Java is a hotbed of militant Islamic fundamentalism where Christians are less than two percent of the population. Last year Muslims there were called to form Islamic paramilitary forces in readiness for jihad. As tensions grow and protection diminishes, Christians in West Java and Papua become increasingly vulnerable. Islamic zeal and belligerence will escalate as Ramadan progresses during August. A city council has threatened 'mass mobilisation' against the Christian population, for whom these are dangerous days. Please pray for God's intervention and for divine protection.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC).

Elizabeth Kendal's blogs:
Religious Liberty Monitoring and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Church bombing in Iraq reveals the vulnerability of Christians

Story photo by Tamra Hays: Iraqi
 church. [Cover photo from Google
 Maps]
Iraq (MNN) ― A car bomb shattered hopes for peace during Ramadan. It exploded outside a church in central Kirkuk, Iraq on August 1.Officials say 23 were wounded in that attack. The blast damaged the church as well as neighboring structures, police noted.

Since 2003, attacks by insurgents and religious extremists against Christians have driven more than half of Christians out of the country, leaving a remnant church, says Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA.

More violence is likely. Moeller explains, "When a church is bombed like this in Iraq, or anywhere else, we have to look at those precipitating opportunities. Here, on the very first day of Ramadan, to have a church bombed in a country that is known for violence against Christians, I think there's an opportunity to link those two things together."

Ramadan is the 30-day annual Islamic fast which began August 1. From dawn till dusk, Muslims seek to shed their sins through acts of restraint as they believe this is a time of purification accomplished through good deeds and self-control.

There are concerns that the fervor stirred may expose Christians to an increased risk of persecution in Muslim-majority countries. "The fact is: the extremists in that country are still bent on extermination of the church," Moeller says. "I think the animosity is always there, the daily pressure is always there," he addds," but during Ramadan in particular, we see a heightened intensity of those that are extremists against Christians."

Describing Monday's attack as normal sectarian violence versus a connection to Ramadan specifically is hard to differentiate because the ideology is the same. "Predisposition of violence in a country like Iraq means that the expression of that hostility against Christians is going to take the form of church  bombings, or kidnappings or killings of Christians."

According to Open Doors, some governments in Islamic countries forcibly enforce observance of Ramadan, and extremist groups increase their vigilante activities against both non-abiding Muslims and non-Muslims, tending to become more intolerant toward them. But it's not all bad, says Moeller. "During Ramadan when Muslims are praying and intensely seeking God during this spiritual month for them, we can pray that the Spirit of God penetrates the lives of Muslims."

At the same time, the remnant church sees this time as an excellent opportunity to share the hope of Jesus. "The church itself, in these situations, sometimes actually grows stronger. That doesn't mean it grows larger, necessarily, but it does grow stronger, that those who are strengthened by the Holy Spirit are able to stand with greater conviction."
 
Pray for protection for Christians during this time of upheaval and danger. Pray for wisdom as they respond to the fear surrounding them. "They are the ones who end up witnessing to neighbors who look at their situation and ask, ‘Why?' They get a chance to testify to the reality of Jesus Christ in their life."


Emotions running deep two years after anti-Christian riots in Pakistan

By Michael IrelandSenior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service


GOJRA, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A celebration of Holy Mass was led on August 1 at the Catholic Church in Gojra, Pakistan, by Rt. Rev. Bishop Joseph Coutts of the Diocese of Faisalabad, on the second anniversary of the tragic incident of Gojra in which seven members of a Christian family were burned alive, along with dozens of houses raised to the ground, and hundreds of Bibles destroyed.

Gojra is located 30 miles (50 km) from Faisalabad, the third largest city in Pakistan after Karachi and Lahore.
During his message, Bishop Coutts said that "the blood of the martyrs is seed of the church.

"The early Christians were persecuted by the Romans and Jews, (and) before conversion, Paul also persecuted Christians, but Christianity flourished very fast. There is injustice in society, and efforts must be made for a just and peaceful society in Pakistan," Coutts said.

A home in which seven Christians
were burned alive.



Several Christian and Muslim speakers expressed their views, with many of the speakers condemning the acts of brutality that caused both loss of human life and loss of property belonging to Christians.

One speaker said: "These innocents are not only Christian martyrs, but also of Pakistan. The blasphemy law has caused severe damages to the soft image of Pakistan in the comity of nations."

According to an ANS correspondent in Pakistan, only seven blasphemy cases were registered between 1926 and 1985, but after the promulgation of this law by late dictator Zia ul Haq, more than 4,000 cases have been registered so far.

Another speaker said that, "A number of Pakistani people have shed their blood. They have been the target of extremists who have taken the lives of innocent Pakistanis, but Christians are the main target of these terrorists and extremists. They are the enemies of humanity and their acts must be condemned from all corners. It is utmost need of the day to create a culture of peace and interfaith harmony in Pakistan, otherwise the enemies of humanity can be a serious threat to Pakistan as well."

Father Yaqoob Yousaf, the parish priest of Gojra, told ANS that local Christians of Korian and the Christian Colony in Gojra are "still in a state of fear." He further said that he has good communication with both the local administration and the Muslim clerics and has been making efforts to calm the state of fear among local Christians. Yousaf organizes seminars and other activities to build a bridge between both of the communities.

A documentary, "Burning Alive, the fate of Pakistani Christians," which was prepared by a local organization called SHADOW, was also shown to the audience during the program. It revealed the tragedy from a Christian perspective. Many watching could not control their emotions, and they wept openly while watching the horrible scenes of brutality.

Professor Anjum James Paul, Director of the SHADOW Organization which made the film, said that he visited the city to see how much of the tragic incident people there still remember. He said that life was virtually back to normal there.

He told ANS that only Christians, who were experiencing much grief and whose faces were clouded in dismay, were at the location where two years ago many fellow believers were brutally attacked. He added that although many of the houses have been rebuilt, he recalled the burning alive of those who were killed.

All the residents of the Christian Colony in Gojra have returned to their houses, he said, but there remain damaged houses without any residents.

A cross is all that is left after a church was burned down.


He stated that hundreds of Bibles and many churches were burned to ashes, but nothing has been done to those who were responsible, and all the culprits have been released. He added that the social, political, religious and economic plight of Christians is worsening day by day. "They are waiting for a Messiah to come who may heal them," he said.

The celebration of Mass came on the anniversary of the day, two years ago, when a group of Islamists set ablaze some 60 Christian houses in Korian village in Toba Tek Singh district at 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 30, 2009, after an accusation of blasphemy was leveled against a young Christian boy, Imran Masih, and his father Talib Masih.

Local Muslim clerics accused the father and son of committing blasphemy and made inflammatory statements against them, thus inciting Muslim residents of Korian and adjoining villages to attack the Christians of the village in order to avenge the alleged blasphemy.

Some 500 Muslims from nearby villages, who were armed with firearms and explosives, attacked the Christians of the village. The Christian residents fled to safety as Muslim clerics announced their verdict to "kill the blasphemers."

The chemical used by the Muslim mob to set fire to Christian houses was so flammable that it utterly destroyed the houses the rioters targeted. The Muslim mob also took away cattle belonging to the Christians living in the village.

Even after taking out their revenge, the extremists were still angry and became involved in conspiracies against the local Christians. On August 1, 2009 thousands of Muslims of all ages and from different locations gathered. They were again armed with firearms and explosive devices to attack the residents of the Christian Colony in Gojra from all sides. According to eyewitnesses, the police, and the local governing administration, remained silent because they were afraid of the attackers.

Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs who was martyred on March 2, 2011, made a speech in parliament on the issue of violence against Christians.

After the violence, he said: "Minorities are sons of the soil. Their forefathers made a sacrifice for the development of Pakistan and minorities have been playing a significant role in the prosperity, development and integrity of the country," he said.

"The decisive vote of minorities in partition of Punjab contributed towards creation of Pakistan," he said, adding, "The leadership of Pakistan studied in Christian educational institutions. Christian hospitals have also played a vital role in serving suffering humanity."

He went on to say, "Considering minorities as their easy and soft targets, extremist elements are targeting them. Minorities always struggled for peace, and no minority member has ever been involved in any act of terrorism and violence -- instead they (themselves) become victims of terrorism and violence.

"The incident of Gojra has hampered efforts to promote interfaith harmony and national unity and has tarnished the image of country abroad."

Bhatti said that the rumor of Christians desecrating the Quran,"had been unnecessarily blown out of proportion."
Almost two years after the Gojra riots, victims of the violence that erupted there "watched in horror,(as) those accused of causing the mayhem were garlanded and feted in the city's main market in May as they returned to the town after their acquittal," the local The Express Tribune (TET) newspaper reported on July 3, 2011.

The newspaper says the acquittals "were the result of a compromise to 'maintain law and order' in the area and to 'move on from the 2009 riots.'

"The witnesses were pressurized (sic), threatened and paid off by an influential politician belonging to the PML-N," victims and residents allege.

As a result, according to the newspaper, they withdrew their names, changed their stance, or simply refused to testify.

"Peace committee member Adeel told TET that police officers forcibly took witnesses to court hearings and made them change their statements," the newspaper said.
Apparently, the acquitted suspects are now back home, and residents say it is a matter of time before there is a repeat of the Gojra killings.

The town experienced another "close call" a few weeks ago after a fight between two school-aged boys - a Christian and a Muslim - turned ugly.

The outcome of the trial has only cemented the anger. "This is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan," says one resident. "There is no place for us here."

"There is not a single day where we are not reminded of what happened," says Pastor William, whose residence and the church were burned down in the Gojra violence. "We were only left with a glass that my daughter was drinking from when she escaped," he said.

For others, the scars are deeper. One man and his older brother were
A family lives in a tent after the attacks on Gojra.
picked up by the police after the riots. While he says his older brother fired at the attackers and killed one of them, one of them was in Sahiwal during the rioting. 


The brothers were transferred to the custody of intelligence agencies in Lahore, who tortured the youngest brother for 14 days and asked him to admit that he had fired at the attackers.

The newspaper says the brothers question the state's involvement and complicity in the riots. One of them pointed out a lane where police officers were reportedly enjoying soft drinks while houses burned, and wondered why Christians from nearby villages were not allowed to enter Gojra, yet masked men from nearby Jhang entered the city and helped attack Christian Colony.

According to the Catholic Church's Father Yaqoob, cooperation with the local police has improved since the Gojra riots.



** Michael Ireland is Senior Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Ne wswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior Reporter


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blast Near Church in Kirkuk, Iraq Injures 13

Christian leaders say senseless violence designed to confuse, shock.
By Damaris Kremida
 
ISTANBUL, August 3 (Compass Direct News) – A car blast outside a Syrian Catholic church in Kirkuk, Iraq yesterday morning left 13 wounded as police located and disarmed two more car bombs targeting churches in the city, according to area sources.
 
Online video images of the attack against the Holy Family Church showed one of its walls blasted open and all its surfaces covered with broken glass, rubble and dust from the entrance where the explosion took place to the sanctuary on the far end of the building. The explosion occurred on the second day of the month-long Muslim fasting period of Ramadan.
 
Nearby houses in one of Kirkuk’s oldest quarters, where Muslims and Christians had lived together peacefully, were seriously damaged, and cars on the street were left in twisted piles of metal. Shattered glass wounded 13 residents as they slept, area sources said.
 
“We are sad because this is nonsense, and people are discouraged,” the archbishop of Kirkuk, Monsignor Louis Sako, told Compass. “We try to encourage them and give them hope. We have asked the mayor-governor to help the families that lost their houses and cars before thinking to restore the church.”
 
Today all but one of the wounded residents in the church’s neighborhood – an elderly man who was seriously injured – reportedly had been released from the hospital. The Rev. Imad Yalda, the parish priest, was in the church building at the time of the blast and was also slightly wounded.
 
Though Yalda and the community were sad about yesterday’s events, a local pastor who requested anonymity told Compass such attacks have become a normal part of the lives of Christians in Iraq.
 
“He accepted what happened, but he was very sad for the building of his church,” the pastor said. “But this has become ordinary for us, and we expect that any minute something will happen here. When you are living in this situation, you are used to accept what is happening.”
 
No terrorist or extremist group has taken responsibility for yesterday’s attack in Kirkuk, and local church leaders said it seems Christians in Iraq are trapped in a senseless game of power and intimidation.
 
“Sometimes we feel there is some pressure over the Christians all over Iraq to make them leave their cities and go to the northern part of Iraq, to Kurdistan,” said the pastor, “but who knows? I can’t say those who did this want us to leave our city.”
 
Sako said the perpetrators, whether they are Islamic extremists with anti-Christian motives or terrorists with political motives, are trying to create an atmosphere of confusion by attacking Christians during the Muslim holy month of fasting, Ramadan.
 
“They are using this to shock people,” said Sako. “They are getting the attention of politicians in Kirkuk and in Iraq and saying, ‘We are here and powerful, and we can do whatever we want.’ It’s just confusing – [they want to] say they are here and create a chaotic situation and make a panic among the people.”
 
Car Bombs Defused
Authorities also located two other cars full of explosives in the area. One was parked in front of the church building of Mar Gourgis, of the Assyrian Church of the East. A school is located next to the church building.
 
Another vehicle packed with explosives was parked in front of a Protestant church in the neighborhood. When the church pastor and others in the neighborhood heard the blast at the Holy Family Church at 5:30 a.m., they came out to see what had happened.
 
In front of the Protestant church complex they saw a suspicious car filled with containers of gas. Before noon, special forces confirmed the car was full of explosives and disarmed it. In the process there was a small explosion that broke 21 windows of the church complex.
 
Kirkuk’s Christian leaders said they fear more Christians will decide to migrate abroad after this attack. The Protestant church that was targeted yesterday has 70 members, of which nine will be leaving the country in the next two months, according to its leaders. Yet they hope that Christians will remain in Iraq.
 
“We continue to witness to Jesus Christ and our Christian values; we are not afraid,” Sako said. 
 
Kirkuk, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, is a culturally diverse city with about 10,000 Christians.
 
There have been at least 45 abductions in Kirkuk since the start of the year, with most victims coming from well-to-do families, Agence-France Presse (AFP) reported last month.
 
A special report prepared for U.S. Congress last month stated that Iraq’s security is declining and is less safe than it was a year ago.
 
AFP also reported that June was the deadliest month in Iraq so far this year, with 271 people killed in attacks according to a government count.
 
A Baghdad court found four men guilty of “planning and preparing” an attack on the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation last October in which 58 people were killed. The judge handed three perpetrators the death sentence and a 20-year jail term to another, according to The Associated Press. The men, whose names authorities did not release, have one month to appeal.
 
Last year’s attack was the deadliest one against the country’s Christians since Islamic extremists began targeting them in 2003. On Oct. 31, 2010, during evening mass, al Qaeda suicide bombers stormed the church building and held some 100 worshipers hostage for hours after detonating bombs in the neighborhood and gunning down two area policemen.
 
The militants sprayed the sanctuary with bullets and ordered a priest to call the Vatican to demand the release of Muslim women whom they claimed were held hostage by the Coptic Church in Egypt. When security forces stormed the building, the assailants started to kill hostages and eventually blew themselves up.
 
It is estimated that more than 50 percent of Iraq’s Christian community has fled the country since 2003. There are nearly 600,000 Christians left in Iraq.
 
 
END
 

Kidnapped Christian Girl in Sudan Escapes, Traumatized

Muslim abductors tried to force her to convert to Islam.
Special to Compass Direct News
KHARTOUM, Sudan, August 3 (Compass Direct News) – Hiba Abdelfadil Anglo, 16, has escaped from a gang of Muslims who kidnapped her last year, but it may be a long time before she recovers from the trauma.
As she told Compass how the kidnappers beat, raped and tried to force her to convert from Christianity to Islam, she broke into tears for nearly half an hour.
“They did many bad things to me,” she said, tears streaming down her eyes.
Abducted on June 17, 2010, she was reunited with her family on July 10.
“Several times I was warned that if I do not convert to Islam, then I risk losing my life,” she said. “The man who put me in his house on several occasions tortured me and threatened to kill me. He did not allow me to pray Christian prayers. He even insulted my family as a family of infidels.”
Hiba said that after a year of captivity, she had given the unidentified man who housed her enough of an impression that she had converted to Islam and accepted her fate that he left her unguarded. She was able to leave the house in the Soba Al Aradi area south of Khartoum and beg a motorist to take her to her home two hours away, she said.
“I had tried to escape three times before, but they captured me every time and beat me a lot,” she said, sobbing.
Her widowed mother, Ikhlas Omer Anglo, told Compass the kidnappers targeted them because they are Christians, members of Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Khartoum. The girl’s mother said that when she went to a police station to open a case, officers told her she must first leave Christianity for Islam.
“Right after my daughter was kidnapped, one officer told me, ‘If you want back your daughter, you should become a Muslim,’” she said. “I thank God for enabling my daughter to escape before the start of Ramadan, though she is now traumatized.”
Hiba said the kidnappers moved her to various locations in Khartoum over the initial eight months, threatening to kill her if she tried to escape.
“Even if you call the government, they will not do anything to us,’’ her abductors warned her, she said.
She was initially locked in a room and beaten until she was unconscious. The leader of the group raped her, and she is still suffering pain in her right eye from a blow he recently dealt her, she said.
“Apart from abusing me sexually, he tried to force me to change my faith and kept reminding me to prepare for Ramadan,” she said. “I cannot forget this bad incident, and whenever I try to pray, I find it difficult to forget. I ask believers to pray for me for inner healing.’
At the same time, Hiba said prayer was the only effective option while in captivity.
“I was praying to God to keep me and my family safe,” she said.
Last year the then-15-year-old Hiba was kidnapped while going to the Ministry of Education in Khartoum to obtain her transcripts for entry into secondary school.
“One of the kidnappers was monitoring me as I was going to the Ministry of Education,” she said. “He pretended to have been working in the Ministry of Education.”
Two days after she was abducted, the family received threatening telephone calls and SMS (text) messages from the kidnappers telling them to pay 1,500 Sudanese pounds (US$560) in order to secure her return.
“Don’t you want to have this slave back?” one of the kidnappers told her mother from an unknown location by cell phone, Anglo said. She lost her job after taking time off to search for her missing daughter last year, she said, as her employer initially gave her time off in order to seek her daughter but later used the absence as a pretext for firing her.
“It is good that those who prayed for us to know that their prayers were answered, and that my daughter is back at home with me,” Anglo said. “I also need prayers because I am jobless since the time my daughter was kidnapped.”
Hoping to study to be an accountant after missing an academic year, Hiba said her future is unknown as her family is unable to afford school. She also fears the Muslim criminals might still be trailing her.

Militants prevent aid to famine victims

Africa (MNN) ― While almost 13 million people are on the brink of starvation in the Horn of Africa, relief agencies are frustrated that they may be unable to help those most desperate. It's not because they don't have the food. It's because terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda are preventing the aid from getting there.

Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says Somalia is the biggest challenge. "The al-Shabaab militant terrorist group has made it a stated goal to completely rid the country of Christians. They literally are hunting down Christians, and anyone who is thought to be Christian or rumored to be a Christian is a potential target."

Well-known Christian aid groups have been forced out of the country in areas where al-Shabaab cell groups are in power. Nettleton says, "There's so much lawlessness. And in the midst of that, you have so many people who are starving to death. But the reality for someone who identifies themselves as a Christian to go in: they really paint a target on their back just to go into the country."

While VOM isn't a famine-relief organization, they are helping Christians who are struggling there.
Despite the threats, World Concern is working there, says Chris Shaech. He just returned from an area along the border of Somalia and Kenya where Somalis are trying to get out of rebel-held areas. "We met refugees traveling out of the hardest-hit areas of [Africa's Horn] -- some of them [walking] up to 250 miles on foot just to try and find food and water for their families."

Sheach says it's always difficult working in a conflict zone, and in this case, "It's heart-breaking knowing that people who are really suffering and dying cannot receive any aid. The only way they can get aid is to walk."
Many of them physically can't do it. For those that can, "some of them travel at night to increase their own safety; but they do run the risk of being attacked by lions and other wild animals."

Since World Concern is a Christian organization, they're doing everything they can to aid those in need. "Where we have permission and where we have the capacity, we will continue to reach the people who are needy and try to get into areas wherever possible."

While they're helping those who are hungry physically, they're also reaching those who are hungry spiritually. "There can be opportunities to talk about our faith. One of the important things for us is that our faith is not just in word, but in deed."

World Concern needs your support during these difficult days. The United Nations says the crisis will worsen before it gets better. Pray that God will protect those working in these difficult areas and that many will support their work financially.

Car Bomb in Northern Iraq Injures at least 20 People Outside Church Building

By Michael Ireland
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service


BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- A car bomb exploded outside a Catholic church in central Kirkuk, Iraq, early Tuesday, wounding at least 20 people, authorities said.

According to CNN, the attack took place in Kirkuk's Shatterlo neighborhood around 5:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m. Monday ET). The network cited a police official who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

CNN said the wounded included staff from the Holy Family Church and people with homes nearby. The Interior Ministry stated 23 people were injured.

The CNN report said police told the network the explosion damaged the church and a number of nearby houses. Kirkuk is an ethnically-divided city located about 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Baghdad.

In the past few years, extremists have carried out major attacks against churches. An October 31, 2010 attack on the Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral, or Our Lady of Salvation Church, left 70 people dead and 75 wounded, including 51 congregants and two priests.

CNN said the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes a number of Sunni Muslim extremist organizations and has ties to al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the Baghdad church siege.

CNN expalined that religious minorities, such as Christians and Yazidis, make up less than 5 percent of Iraq's population, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Since 2003, attacks against these minorities by insurgents and religious extremists have driven more than half of the minorities out of the country, according to UNHCR statistics.

Ivana Kvesic, reporting for the Christian Post at www.christianpost.com , said that in a coordinated effort to generate fear among Iraqi Christians, the attack occurred in the ethnically- and religiously-diverse city of Kirkuk outside a Syrian Catholic Church on Tuesday around 6 a.m.

In an online report, The Christian Post said at least 23 people were wounded in the attack, mostly from surrounding homes. The church's parish leader, Imad Yalda, was inside the church during the bombing and was also among the wounded.

Following the attack, two other car bombs were also found outside Kirkuk's Christian Anglican Church and the Mar Gourgis church.

The bombs were defused by security forces prior to their explosion, the website said.
Kirkuk's Deputy Police Chief, Torhan Abdulrahman said of the attack, "It was a coordinated attack to target churches at the same time."

The Rev. Haithem Akram, of one of the targeted churches in today's attacks said, "The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail. We are staying in our country."

According to the Christian Post, Iraqi's Christian minority, formally standing at around 1.4 million, has been significantly downsizing its presence in the country since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with close to 1 million having fled to other regions in Iraq or leaving the country to seek refuge.

The website explained that Christians in Iraq are targeted predominately by Sunni extremists who find Christians in the country to be "non-believers." Christian pastors in Iraq have spoken out against Christian persecution in their country arguing for more government support and protection.

Canon Andrew White, who leads the St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, has spoken out against the violence, but has also argued that the violence has only served to strengthen Christian unity in the country.

Violence directed at Iraq's Christian minority hit an all-time high last October when 52 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church.

The website said an al-Qaida affiliated group claimed responsibility for the attacks that saw gunmen and suicide bombers storm the church and kill worshipers.

It was the most deadly attack on Christians in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country.

The wesite said that today's attacks come on the same day that a Baghdad court convicted three Iraqis to death for their role in last year's church siege.


** Michael Ireland is Senior Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Ne wswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior Reporter

Two Bombs Explode Near Churches in Jos, Nigeria

Police probe motives for weekend blasts in areas where Islamic sect leaders live.
By Obed Minchakpu
 
JOS, Nigeria, August 2 (Compass Direct News) – Security officials are trying to determine suspects and motives for two weekend bomb explosions in predominantly Muslim areas of Jos where three churches and the residences of Islamic sect leaders are located.
 
The explosions led many Christians to remain indoors on Sunday (July 31). One bomb exploded on Saturday night (July 30) in the Angwan Rimi area of Jos near a Baptist Church building no longer in use because of previous damage by Muslim extremists. A second bomb exploded early Sunday morning near a Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) building on Sarkin Mangu Street and an Assemblies of God sanctuary in the Kwarrarafa Area, according to police reports obtained by Compass.
 
No one was hurt in either of the explosions.
 
Prominent Islamic leaders residing in the area of the Sunday morning blast include Sheik Balarabe Dawud, chief imam of Jos Central Mosque, and Sheik Sani Yahaya, leader of the Izala Islamic sect.
 
The churches near both blasts are located in areas that are predominantly Muslim because of displacement of Christians during religious conflict earlier this year. Christians have been forced to relocate to safer areas of the city.
 
Fears that large-scale violence by the Islamic extremist Boko Haram sect would seize Nigeria at the end of July, on the two-year anniversary of the death of the group’s leader, were not borne out.
 
The explosion on Saturday (July 30), from a bomb disguised as an empty can of groundnut oil, occurred in an area of Jos where Sheikh Saidu Hassan, deputy leader of the Izala Islamic sect, lives. The bomb exploded in the Angwan Rimi area at about 9:30 p.m., according to police.
 
An incident report obtained by Compass at the Angwar Rogo police station states that the bomb caused no death or injury but shattered the windows of a parked taxi.
 
The explosions occurred a week after five persons were killed in violence that broke out on July 26 between Muslims and Christians in the Angwan Rukuba area of Jos.
 
“Five people have been confirmed dead and 12 seriously injured,” said Capt. Charles Ekeocha, spokesman of the Special Task Force of a Special Military Operation in Jos to restore peace.
 
The Angwan Rukuba area became a hotbed of violence in Jos following multiple bomb explosions there last Christmas Eve. The bombs went off in three different locations in the area, killing over 100 Christians and injuring many others. Security agencies confirmed they were planted by members of the Boko Haram sect.
 
Emmanuel Dipo Ayeni, commissioner of police for Plateau state, called for calm over the explosions and said police were working hard to discover those responsible.
 
 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Muslim Extremists Torch Churches in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Worship buildings burned on east African archipelago’s Zanzibar, Pemba islands.
By Simba Tian
 
 Charred remains of the Free Evangelical
 Pentecostal Church in Africa building.
NAIROBI, Kenya, August 1 (Compass Direct News) – Muslim extremists on Saturday (July 30) burned down a church building on Zanzibar island off the coast of Tanzania, church leaders said, just three days after another congregation’s facility on the island was reduced to ashes.
 
In Fuoni on the south coast of Zanzibar (known locally as Unguja), Islamic extremists torched the building of the Evangelical Assemblies of God-Tanzania (EAGT) at around 2 p.m., said Pastor Leonard Massasa, who oversees Zanzibar’s EAGT churches. The assailants were shouting, “Away with the church – we do not want infidels to spoil our community, especially our children,” Pastor Massasa said.
 
The EAGT church is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Zanzibar town.
 
“Tomorrow is Sunday, and my members numbering 40 will not have any place to worship,” Pastor Paulo Magungu of the Fuoni EAGT church said. With fear in his voice, the pastor added, “We have reported the case to the police station. I hope justice will be done.”
 
He reported the case at Fuoni police station immediately after it happened, he said.
 
In Kianga, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Zanzibar town, another church building was burned down on Wednesday (July 27) at about 2 a.m., said Pastor George Frank Dunia of Free Evangelical Pentecostal Church in Africa. The fire destroyed 45 chairs.
 
“I have 36 members, and it will be very difficult for them to congregate tomorrow,” the pastor said on Saturday (July 30). “The members are afraid, not knowing what other plans the Muslims are out to do. We request prayers at this trying moment.”
 
Church officials have reported the case to the chief of Kianga, as well as to police.
 
Tanzania’s Zanzibar archipelago is 99.9 percent Muslim.
 
Fire Islands
On neighboring Pemba island, suspected Muslim extremists in Konde on June 17 razed a Seventh-day Adventist Church building, a witness said.
 
“It was at 1 a.m. when I saw the church burning,” said a neighbor who requested anonymity. “There have been issues that the Muslims have been raising about the existence of the church.”
 
The Seventh-day church owns a large property near Chake-Chake town but has been unable to erect a building due to hostility from Muslims, sources said.
 
“If we do not stop the growth of the churches here in Pemba, then soon we are going to lose our people to Christianity, especially the children,” Sheikh Ibrahim Abdalla of Chake-Chake Mosque reportedly said.
 
The June 17 attack took place at about 1 a.m., the witness said. Konde is 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Chake-Chake town.
 
A case has been filed in Konde police station, but at press time no suspects had been arrested.
 
Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) Pastor Yohana Ari Mfundo said he has witnessed a series of attacks on Christians on Pemba island.
 
“It is even becoming extremely difficult for Christians to exercise their faith like praying or singing in a Muslim-owned rental house,” Pastor Mfundo said.
 
The pastor had bought a half-acre of land for a church building some three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Chake-Chake town, but when area Muslims learned of it they arranged for a road to be built through it, he said. The smaller size made it fit only for residential use. The road passing through the land today makes it impossible to erect a church building, he said.
 
Pastor Mfundo then bought another site, close to the town center, on which to construct a church building in 2005. After making the necessary agreements and payments, he had placed boundary markers on the site when he received a court injunction against beginning construction, on the pretext that the area was waterlogged. When Compass recently visited the site, there were other structures that had been built on the land supposedly too wet for construction, and new buildings were being erected.
 
“It is not true that the area is waterlogged, but a calculated move to stop the church being set up in this location,” Pastor Mfundo said. “We are here in Pemba because God wants us to be. But Muslims always point a finger at us – especially at my house, and we have been receiving several threats. But great is our God who is always ready to protect us.”
 
He added that Muslims have openly vowed in their meetings not to make friendship with “infidels.”
 
Another church building on top of a hill about 20 meters from the site where Pastor Mfundo wanted to build is also facing government obstruction. A court case challenges the existence of the Redeemed Gospel Church, said Pastor Yohana Shigalile, on the basis that the site was intended to be a burial site. Compass found only three graves there.
 
The church had reached an agreement of 20 million Tanzania shillings (US$12,750) with the seller to purchase the land, but Muslims have offered 50 million schillings, the pastor said, and therefore the land is likely to be sold for the construction of a mosque.
 
Pastor Mfundo said this is one example of how difficult it is to buy land for churches in Pemba.
 
Pemba has a population of about 500,000, and Zanzibar island’s population is estimated at 700,000. There are only 60 Christian congregations on the archipelago, according toOperation World.
 
Zanzibar is the informal designation for the island of Unguja in the Indian Ocean. The Zanzibar archipelago united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania in 1964.

Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf had settled in the region early in the 10th century after monsoon winds propelled them through the Gulf of Aden. The 1964 merger left island Muslims uneasy about Christianity, seeing it as a means by which mainland Tanzania might dominate them, and tensions have persisted.