Thursday, November 8, 2012

Egypt: what Salafis want from Coptic girls

-- a call to pray for an end to the abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of Coptic girls

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 184 
Special to ASSIST News Service
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- In Islam, a child is given the religion of the father the day he or she is born. In Egypt, as in most Muslim countries, when children turn 16 they receive a State-issued identity (ID) card with their State-designated religion stamped on it. Those born to fathers registered as Muslim are deemed Muslim regardless of the actual belief of the father or the child because identity / affiliation is far more important than faith in Islam. As Muslims, they are not permitted to leave Islam and they are obliged to live according to Sharia Law: observing food and clothing restrictions, remaining separated from Jews and Christians, and other stipulations. Furthermore a Muslim woman must marry a Muslim man.
Christians who wish to convert to Islam -- as nominal Christians sometimes do, mostly for pragmatic reasons -- find getting a new ID card is easy. However, as Muslims are not permitted to leave Islam, their religious identity may not be changed. In recent years two extremely courageous Egyptian fathers, both converts from Islam, have sued the Interior Ministry for their right to change their religious identity. Both were motivated by concern for their children whom the State deems Muslim. Both cases failed because the courts would not permit apostasy from Islam. Death threats forced both families into hiding. Because their children are deemed Muslim, their daughters will be obliged by law to marry Muslim men and their sons, though free to marry a Christian, would be obliged by law to raise those children as Muslims.
It is well known that fundamentalist Muslim men are being encouraged to seduce and marry Christian girls. When married to Muslim men, the Christian girls are not only prevented from increasing the Christian demo graphic, they are actually used to increase the Muslim population. Fearing the influence of Christians, Salafi Muslims (hard-line Sunni fundamentalists) oppose all interfaith marriage and want it criminalised; they also want the legal marriage age for girls dropped from 18 to nine. It is well known that Salafis kidnap Coptic Christian girls for forced conversion and forced marriage to Muslim men to ensure Christian wombs are producing Muslim babies. In these cases the Salafis always insist that the girls have converted freely, ensuring that the girls cannot be rescued. As soon as the Salafis assert the girl is a convert who deserves freedom of religion, the police, local officials and wider Muslim community will rally to hold on to her as one of their own.
Born on 1 August 1998 in the town of el-Dabaa, 130km south of Mersa Matrouh (north-east of Cairo), Sarah Ishaq Abdelmalek is only 14. She was last seen on 30 September, enterin g a stationery shop near her school. After her father filed a missing persons report with the police, he received a call telling him that he will never see his daughter again. According to a school friend, the 27-year-old shop owner -- a Salafist and the son of a local Salafi leader -- had been pursuing Sarah for some time. He now stands accused of abducting her. On 28 October the Salafist Front issued a statement that Sarah, who they maintain is not under-aged, has converted to Islam freely and married a Muslim man.
The case should prove a serious test for President Morsi, for Sarah is under-age according to Egyptian law which states the marriageable age for girls is 18. Will President Morsi bend for the Salafis out of respect for fundamentalist Islam or will he demand that Egyptian law be upheld and Sarah returned to her parents? Will he follow other precedents and have Sarah placed in a secure Muslim girls home until she is of marriageable age or will he allow Sarah the opportunity to freely declare her true faith and the n protect her? Egyptian human rights organisations, including the National Council of Women, are lobbying for Sarah to be reunited with her family without delay. Still the prospects are not good. Surely a more obscene abuse of human rights would be hard to find.
* comfort, strengthen, preserve and ultimately rescue Sarah Abdelmalek (14); may he have mercy on this family and all families likewise grieving the loss of their abducted daughters.
* redeem this case to draw international attention to the plight of hundreds of Coptic Christian girls who have been abducted, raped and trafficked across religious lines; may the LORD of hosts expose and destroy this obscene trade.
* enlighten many -- Muslims included -- to the terrible implications of Islam's apostasy law: not merely that it mandates death but that it forces people to live their whole lives as prisoners of Sharia, with no means of escape, generation after generation.
'The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him . . . ' (From Isaiah 59:15b-16.)

In Islam, a child inherits the religious identity of the father. If that is Muslim, then it is inescapable because rejecting Islam is a capital offence. This religious designation has huge implications as Sharia covers all of life, including whom you can marry. A girl deemed 'Muslim' must marry a Muslim man so that the fruit of the Muslim womb is always Muslim. However, a Muslim man may marry a Christian. Afraid of Christian influence, Salafis disapprove of all interfaith marriage. Salafis are known to abduct Coptic Christian girls who are then fo rcibly converted and married to Muslim men. Furthermore, by claiming the girls have freely converted to Islam, they say the case is about religious freedom and not abduction across religious lines. May God bring justice to Egypt.
To view this RLPB withall hyperlinks, visit Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 
With persecution escalating and intensifying globally, please consider participating in International Day of Prayer(IDOP) for the persecuted church on 11 November. 'For we wrestle not against flesh and blood . . .' (Ephesians 6:12).See Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) 

Muslim Egyptian Woman Cut Hair of Christian Schoolgirl in Subway

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
CAIRO (ANS) -- A 13-year-old Coptic girl filed a police complaint in Zaytoun, a suburb of Cairo, against a veiled woman who secretly cut her hair during their journey on the subway.
Maggie Milad Fazez
According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), Maggie Milad Fazez said that as she entered the crowded train car she accidentally pushed the veiled woman to go inside, which led to a heated exchange between them. The veiled woman told Maggie, who has long hair, "You don't know what I will do to you."
AINA said when the girl left the train, she was shocked to find her hair cut off and lying on the collar of her jacket. The incident took place yesterday morning as Maggie was on her way to Zaytoun Preparatory School.
Her father said that Milad Fazez has not been eating, and is suffering psychologically because of this incident.
AINA said that Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization, said that this was the second time in a week that a schoolgirl has had her hair cut off. The first was a girl in first grade at Saray el Koba High School, he said.
AINA said Gabriel asked the Minister of Interior to quickly find this veiled women who is cutting the hair of students and bring her to trial.
AINA said this is similar to the veiled school teacher in Luxor who is standing for trial for cutting off the hair of two of her students last month because they did not wear a Hijab.

The Plight of the Marginalized Communities in Pakistan

By Zakaria Khan
Special to ASSIST News Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- My country of Pakistan got its independence from British rule on August 14, 1947; and emerged as a sovereign Muslim country in the region; making the dream of a "separate Muslim state" a reality.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Though Pakistan is a majority Muslim country, it also has a miniscule, but significant, presence of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmedis, Scheduled Castes, and some others, who follow different religious beliefs, cultures, social systems, traditions and norms.
They are termed as "minority" and the minority community also stood behind Mohammed Ali Jinnah, our country's founding father's vision, playing a pivotal role in the movement and soon after the creation of Pakistan, in its development process, but unfortunately now they are treated as de facto second class citizens in today's Pakistan.
Jinnah always promoted and valued the concept of diversity in our society. He had a dynamic vision to build a modern, democratic and civilized society in the newly built country, where religious bigotry and caste based discriminatory social system of the Indian sub-continent had no room to flourish. He said on August 11, 1947, while he was addressing to Pakistan's first Constituent Assembly, "We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State".
A poor Pakistani child
Mohammed Ali Jinnah died on September 11, 1948 without establishing country's constitution and, after his untimely death, it was generally believed that his successive governments would translate his vision into the state policy, and would apply it to make further policies, and enact laws beneficial to the citizens without any discrimination, but unfortunately all the successive leaderships, during so-called democratic rules and military regimes, contrary to his vision, attempted to impose their own ideological dogmas, and deliberately made discriminatory laws such as Hudood Ordinance, Law of Evidence, Blasphemy Laws and policies to fulfill their selfish interests, which systematically marginalized and oppressed around 8.00 millions of people who belong to different religious minorities in Pakistan.
Those fell prey to marginality include Christians, Hindus, Ahmedis, Sikhs, Scheduled Castes, and a small portion of Muslim population. They have been enduring marginality both societal and spatial, on the grounds of their religious beliefs, minority status, and centuries old in practice caste based social order of this pre-partition Indian sub-continent.
Pakistan's discriminatory and regressive state laws, policies and civil society's negative attitude towards these un-privileged communities further developed an environment over the decades where today they are enduring worst discrimination, intolerance, vigilante violence and ever increasing exclusion, vulnerability, and a growing feeling of alienation.
A woman ekes out a living on a garbage dump
The process of marginalization has worst impacts on millions of marginalized people; it has stunted their growth, and blocked their vision to wonderful opportunities in life. They have been excluded from the existing systems of protection and integration, and have very limited access to mainstream social, economic and political activities.
They are compelled to live at the receiving end, where they can hardly take any advantage of valued social resources such as education, health services, and housing, income and leisure activities. They live in slums in small towns to highly developed metropolitan cities in the most unhygienic conditions; engage themselves in menial jobs, and earn very meager incomes to survive. As a result of this oppression a vast population of these communities is struggling in the jaws of poverty, and lacks almost all basic amenities of life.
Some of the poor people of Pakistan
The plight of these marginalized communities is a long standing, and complex national phenomenon; it calls for a long term strategic planning with huge physical, financial, and human resources to resolve this issue. Pakistan's government should not further ignore its constitutional obligations towards these communities, and explore alternatives to provide them relief from marginality.
* It should revisit its practice of discriminatory state laws and policies to address marginality by exploring options to reduce social, economic and political disparities between marginalized and mainstream class.
* It should launch development programs exclusively for these communities to empower them at grass root levels, to reverse disadvantages into potentials by improving their livelihood options and bargaining power.
* It should eliminate widespread negative attitudes towards marginalized communities at private and public levels, promote cooperation and appreciation of differences, restore their dignity and give them a right place in society to work and live effectively as equal citizens.
We hope that these steps would not only help raise the image of Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a democratic country in the region, but also ameliorate sufferings of millions of human beings who eke out an existence on the soil of Pakistan. Long live Pakistan!
Note: Pakistan's estimated population in 2011 was over 187 million making it the world's sixth most-populous country, behind Brazil and ahead of Nigeria.

Does Church Registration in Kazakhstan Make a Difference?

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
KAZAKHSTAN (ANS) -- Kazakhstan continues its attempt to make exercising the freedom of religion or belief dependent on state permission.
Kazakhstan is a country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
According to a story by Forum 18 News Service's Mushfig Bayram, Council of Churches Baptists face possible confiscation of their homes if they continue to meet.

Pastor Dmitry Yantsen of the Council asked rhetorically, "What difference does it make whether you are registered or not?"
Forum 18 said Yantsen also said that raids are continuing against both registered and unregistered communities. An independent mosque has been threatened with demolition by a bulldozer.
Imam Kinayat Ismailov told Forum 18 that he thinks criminal allegations against him are to "create the grounds for his firing or closing the mosque."
Forum 18 said other independent mosques are being pressured into joining the state-backed Muslim Board.
In addition, Forum 18 reported, the state Agency of Religious Affairs continues to find a number of excuses to refuse to reregister churches belonging to Grace Presbyterian Church.
For more information go to

Well-known Pakistani editor in hiding as he 'fears for his life'

He had been standing against the country's controversial blasphemy laws

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- According to a Lahore-based Christian rights activist, Zakaria Khan, a well-known Pakistani journalist, Muhammad Kamran, who has been facing blasphemy charges "is in a very possible danger of extra judicial killing by the extremists, and has gone into hiding to save his life."
Muhammad Kamran with his family,
all of who are now in hiding
Mr. Khan told the ASSIST News Service ( that Muhammad Kamran holds the office of Editor In Chief of the daily Merit News, Lahore.
"He is one of the most vibrant and tolerant journalists in the country," said Khan. "For a long time, he has been working for the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan and he has made several appeals to repeal the ruthless Islamic blasphemy laws which are being misused against them."
He went on to say, "Muslim religious extremist put Muhammad Kamran on their hit list because of his bold stance on the Islamic blasphemy laws and have already made several attempts on his life.
"A Muslim fundamentalist. recently accused him of criticizing the Islamic blasphemy laws."
Mr. Khan added that this man had recently approached a local Lahore Mufti and got a formal Fatwa [an opinion handed down by an Islamic scholar about some aspect of Islamic law) issued against the editor on October 13, 2012.
"After the issuance of this Fatwa, the situation turned even more dangerous for Muhammad Kamran; he received multiple threats from the fanatic activist and as he sensed his life liberty and physical wellbeing is in danger and he immediately abandoned his home and went into hiding along with the members of his family," stated Mr. Khan.
Christian activist Zakaria Khan
"It is notable that no serious step has been taken by the government to provide security and protection to this fine journalist, and his family."
He then said, "Please highlight the situation of Muhammad Kamran to raise the voice of international community against this inhuman treatment."
Zakaria Khan was born on Feb.1, 1956 in Rahimyar Khan in Southern Punjab and he says that he belongs to a middle class Christian family. He holds a MBA degree with a major in human resource management and states that he has been "fighting for the rights of religious minorities" in this Muslim majority country.
He concluded by saying, "This critical situation being faced by religious minorities in Pakistan is a source of grave concern for me. I have been raising a voice against the state's regressive laws and discriminatory policies which have isolated them from the existing system of protection and integration. These people are living at the receiving end they are struggling in the jaws of poverty, facing discrimination, exclusion and vulnerability to multiple threats across the country."

Pakistani Christian Pastor Arrested for Blasphemy

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
SANGHLA HILL, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Pakistani pastor was arrested and accused of blasphemy after police took him into protective custody when a Muslim mob attacked his home.
Two days after the Oct. 13 arrest, a First Information Report was filed against Pastor Karma Patras.
According to a story from International Christian Voice (ICV), Patras was praying in the house of a Christian family when some people asked questions about the meaning of the Muslim feast of sacrifice Eid -al- Adha, and its meaning and legitimacy for Christians.
According to a story in the International Business Times, Eid - al-Adha commemorates the Muslim God Ibrahim's sacrifice of his only son, Ishmael, to Allah as an act of obedience.
The International Business Times said the three-day festival also marks the end of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to Prophet Muhammad's birthplace. Muslims typically make the pilgrimage once in their lifetimes.
ICV said Patras answered their questions from a Biblical perspective, and said the feast was forbidden for Christians. However, Muslims were also listening to his explanation. They gathered other Muslims and told them what the pastor had said.
According to ICV, when Patras went home after the prayer meeting, he heard appeals on mosque loudspeakers by area Muslim clerics calling for Muslims to punish him for prohibiting the celebration of this feast for Christians.
ICV said area imams said the pastor was an infidel and should be killed, at which point hundreds of Muslims attacked Patras' house.
ICV said area police rushed to the scene and saved Patras from the mob that was beating and kicking him and destroying his house. However, under pressure from the crowd, authorities arrested the pastor for blasphemy.
ICV said the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance is now involved in the case.

400 Percent Increase in Persecution of Christians in '10/40 Window' Prompts Urgent Call for Prayer

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church -- Nov. 4 and Nov. 11 -- Unites Christians in Earnest Intercession

Gospel for Asia
For Immediate Release
CARROLLTON, TX (ANS) -- With persecution of Christians increasing by 400 percent in India alone and similarly throughout the "10/40 Window" over the past 10 years, Christians everywhere are called to pray with urgency for these brothers and sisters in Christ.
K.P. Yohannan
The "10/40 Window," a geographic designation that encompasses the least-reached with the gospel, will be a unified focus for believers everywhere on Nov. 4 for the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
"Americans who have not experienced persecution do not fully understand what it means to have their lives threatened, homes destroyed, rights violated and loved ones imprisoned, all because of embracing faith in Jesus Christ," said K. P. Yohannan, Gospel for Asia (GFA) founder and president. "In the 14 countries we serve, persecution of this sort has become a normal way of life, especially for those directly involved in mission work."
In a single state of one 10/40 country, thousands of Christian homes have been destroyed or damaged by anti-Christians. In another, three Christian brothers are currently in prison under accusations of forced conversions, an offence punishable by law. Six women are raising their children alone, their husbands killed because of their belief in Christ. In one nation of 17 million people, an estimated 2,000 or fewer Christians must operate underground for fear of their lives.
"The increase of this kind of persecution should not be surprising where the gospel is going forth in unfriendly world areas," said Yohannan. "Jesus sent His disciples out as sheep among wolves (Matt. 10). Historically and biblically, persecution is an anticipated part of serving God."
In turn, the biblical response of the church to persecution is immediate and urgent prayer. Believers in remote parts of the world who feel alone in their struggle are divinely strengthened and encouraged by the prayers of others to remain faithful in the face of extreme persecution, Yohannan said.
GFA is encouraging Christians to make International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church more than a "nod" to persecution. Those who are physically able are urged to fast as well as pray. Rather than waiting for Sunday's one-day emphasis, those who can take a day off work could be alone or together as a family in a full day of prayer.
Rather than simply making an announcement or spending a few moments in prayer, churches are urged to devote the entire worship time to prayer for the persecuted church individually, collectively and in small groups.
To facilitate this prayer effort, GFA has prepared "International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church," a free downloadable video for churches to view together on Nov. 4. The video and other print resources are available
"Suffering is forced upon our brothers and sisters. To those of us not experiencing the normality of persecution, Jesus is asking that we participate willingly in their suffering and chains," said Yohannan. "Through our prayers, we can be agents of God's divine healing, hope and help."
For more information on Gospel for Asia, please go to: To schedule an interview with K. P. Yohannan, contact Taun Cortado at 972-300-3379 or

Gospel for Asia is an evangelical mission organization based in Carrollton, Texas, involved in sharing the love of Jesus across South Asia.

Pastor Killed in Church Blast in Garissa, Kenya

Several others injured in attack by suspected Islamic extremists.

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
NAIROBI, KENYA (ANS) -- Chaplain Julius Mukonzi was killed and 11 others were injured today when suspected Islamic extremists cast a grenade or other explosive at a church in Garissa in eastern Kenya, sources said.
According to a story by Morning Star News, at least three of the 11 injured had wounds so serious they were air-lifted to Kenyatta General Hospital in Nairobi, the sources said.
A source who visited the site told Morning Star News that a grenade or stronger explosive device hit the church in the Administrative Police compound at 10 a.m.
"The explosion was so loud, beyond that of a normal hand grenade," Morning Star News reported the source said. "Church worship services in Garissa ended prematurely, then followed several gun shots."
The grenade was launched through the sheet-iron roof of the church building, he said. It was said to have "landed right at the podium where the chaplain was delivering a church sermon, hitting him right at the forehead, and he died immediately," said the source.
The force of the explosion uprooted a nearby tree, he added.
Morning Star News reported most of the injured suffered head and chest injuries, said one of several pastors who visited four of them at Garissa General Hospital. "Those at Garissa were not seriously injured," he said. "We had the opportunity to pray for them."
Morning Star News reported that home to a church of 100 worshippers, the Administrative Police Church building is located in Garissa's town center in a predominately Muslim area.
The grenade or other device was said to have been launched from behind a fence five meters from the building. Police suspected Islamic extremists from the Somali rebel group Al Shabaab.
Kenya is nearly 83 percent Christian and 8.32 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, but Garissa is rife with Islamic extremists, with a large presence of Al Shabaab rebels.
Morning Star News said Kenyan churches and other facilities have been the target of several bombings and shootings since Kenya sent troops into southern Somalia in Oct. 2011 in response to Al Shabaab kidnappings and other attacks in Kenyan territory.

According to Morning Star News, no information was available at press time about whether suspects had been arrested. The provincial commissioner noted that the concentration of both illegal guns and Al Shabaab rebels in Garissa was high.

The Garissa Pastors Fellowship released a statement saying that more than 20 Christians in the city have recently lost their lives to Islamic terrorist attacks.

"But what concerns us as a church is that to date no commission of inquiry has been set up to carry out investigation of these deaths," Morning Star News reported the statement read.

Al Shabaab presence and attacks on churches and government posts have increased throughout Kenya since the Kenyan-led U.N. intervention force's capture last month of Kismayo, Somalia, formerly a key stronghold of the rebels.

Morning Star News reported that Al Shabaab, which is said to have ties with Al Qaeda, is also suspected in attacks in Nairobi.
On Sept. 30, suspected militants from the group threw a grenade into an Anglican church that killed 9-year-old Ian John Maina. Several other children attending a Sunday school class were seriously injured in the attack on the Anglican Church of Kenya St. Polycarp in the Pagani area, next to Nairobi's largely Somali-immigrant area of Eastleigh.
Al Shabaab, which has been designated a terrorist organization by several Western governments, wants to impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on Somalia.
Morning Star News said the transitional government in Mogadishu fighting the insurgents, however, also treats Christians harshly. President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed already embraces a version of sharia that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.

Egypt’s Copts can’t rely on new pope to secure their rights

A conversation with Youssef Sidhom

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Nov. 5 (Open Doors News) — Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church found its 118th pope on Sunday. During a televised mass rich in tradition and drama at Cairo’s St. Mark Cathedral, the fingers of a blindfolded boy reached into a crystal chalice, wrapped around one of three transparent spheres, and pulled it out.

The small, clear globe was opened, revealing the name of Bishop Anba Tawadros, one of three finalists in the church’s search for the successor to Pope Shenouda III, who died in March after a 40-year reign.

When he takes the throne Nov. 18, Bishop Tawadros will move from oversight of a bishopric in the Nile delta northwest of Cairo to the head of the Coptic Church, whose estimated 10 million members comprise the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East.

Educated in Egypt and Britain, and a manager of a pharmaceutical company before entering monkhood, Tawadros, 60, will fill a leadership vacuum that opened at a precarious moment for Egypt’s Christians. Long living at the margins of the country’s overwhelmingly Islamic society, Christians have been especially pressured since the January 2011 revolution that deposed President Hosni Mubarak. The rise of Islamic representation in the government, an increase in anti-Christian violence, and the ongoing debate over a new Egyptian constitution have intensified the pressure on Christians to secure a place for themselves in the post-revolution Egyptian society.

To learn more about Bishop Tawadros and what his selection means for Egypt’s Christians, Open Doors News spoke at length Sunday with Youssef Sidhom, chairman of Watani, a news website and weekly newspaper published in Cairo that circulates to more than 50,000 Egyptians, most of them Copts. Sidhom was a member of a committee of lay Copts who helped the church assemble its early list of potential papal candidates. He is a frequent editorialist on Coptic issues.

What follows is an edited transcript of Sidhom’s comments to Open Doors News. The conversation began with his description of the ceremony at St. Mark Cathedral:

Sidhom: It was a regular mass, and it extended around a couple of hours. And then, amid the excitement of everybody, the acting patriarch got the transparent jar, put it on a table in front of all the attendees, and said Now I will invite the little boy to come. The little boy stepped beside him, and he opened the seal of the jar, and he blindfolded the boy, and he prayed, and then he asked the boy to pick one of the transparent spheres holding a name of the three, and then while everybody was gasping for breath out of excitement, he opened it and he unfolded the paper and there it revealed the name of the second runner-up Bishop Tawadros. And everybody cheered. And that was it.

Yousef Sidhom
(Used by permission)
. . . I’m really proud and honored that it came out this way. The media did a good job because they expressed extreme care to viewers, to all Egyptians and to worldwide.
Open Doors News: Was this a moment that many Christians across Egypt really tuned into? Or was this a background event to the day?

Sidhom: No. I suppose that not only the Copts but a good portion of Muslims sat to watch what’s taking place and they were excited also, because the feedback that came by phone calls and by email and by SMS messages in all the programs on TV stations covering the event came from both Christians and Muslims, from both public figures and laymen. It revealed that a good part of Egyptians were knowing what’s taking place and were excited and were congratulating the church for an extremely decent and sacred organization of the whole process, which ended up in seeking the last say from heaven today.

OD News: What sort of expectations, both in regards to matters of faith and to the Coptic place in Egyptian society, will be placed on Bishop Tawadros?

Sidhom: This is the transitional period which Egypt is passing through, and they had to make sure the coming pope will be wise enough to tackle all these aspects, whether inside Egypt or outside Egypt.

I sense, very much, great respect and appreciation among Christians and among Muslims for the pope, and lots of things are expected of him. And this is what I was, all day, commenting about [on television during coverage of the selection of the new pope]. Because everybody asks what are the responsibilities put in front of the pope, and what are the challenges in the new atmosphere which Egypt is passing through; and with the rise of political Islam, what is he keen to do?

In that regard, I say there are several levels. The first is the church as an institution.

We look forward that the pope, with his scientific mind, with [his] experience, is expected to change the whole manner of administration in the church. The church, for centuries, and until Pope Shenouda, relied mainly in its administration upon its leadership, upon the sole figure of the pope.

Of course, the pope has had his secretarial office, had his aide, but there were no professionals to administer the departments, to lead, and to draw policies in the church as an institution, especially when Pope Shenouda left the church with considerable expansion in all the world.

[T]he church needs [adequate] administration to take care of all of this and, of course, the policy of decentralization. I think Pope Tawadros is the best of the three to adopt such an approach to reform the administration of the church.

(The second level of challenges, Sidhom said, concerns the relationship between the church and its members, especially the “very sensitive” debate over the possibility of expanding the legal grounds for divorce. Within the church, he said, the tension is between Copts who favor liberalizing divorce law and those, including Bishop Tawadros, who adhere to a more stringent, Scripture-defined justification for divorce.)

Sidhom: This moves to another very important legislation which the pope has to continue fighting for with the state. And when I say “fighting for,” I don’t mean violence and I don’t mean confrontation. . . . [I]t is a long-awaited piece of legislation [concerning] building and maintaining churches. Because legislation governing building and maintaining churches makes the procedure of getting a building permit for building or maintaining an existing church or building a new church lengthy and tough, and in part, humiliating for the Christians. So this is a church issue which the pope has to continue asking the state to [address].

The last level of responsibilities and this is creating a good deal of opinions and discussions among the Christians, among the Muslims, among the media, and in the political arena, which is: What will be the level of representation that the pope will take in his hands representing Christians in front of the state? Because during [reign of] the late pope Shenouda, there was a very intimate relation connecting Pope Shenouda with our [former] president, Mr. Mubarak. And that intimate relation enabled Pope Shenouda, with acceptance of the president, to speak for the Copts in every single political matter related to the Copts.

. . . [W]hereas most of the Copts [approved of] this situation, the elite and the [politically active] Copts . . . regarded that as a sick situation. Because, politically, the head of the church can’t speak for the Copts, except if we think the Copts are a separate, sectarian part of the Egyptians, which is something that is not true and is not accepted. So, if the Copts are suffering from inequalities [in] their citizenship rights, they should take this [opportunity] and join the political arena and deal with these things with their fellow Muslims, and be supported by their fellow Muslims, and fight for these rights in front of the state.

But to put their citizenship rights in the hands of their religious leaders in order to present something in front of the state? First of all, this harms their citizenship, and secondly, our Copt experience in that regard did not yield any considerable results that we can rely upon. It was left to what favors the president may give the Copts from time to time, but the president never reformed legislation or set legal principles achieving [equal rights] for the Copts.

Luckily enough, after the January revolution, the political arena has been opened, and several liberal parties were introduced where the Copts stepped into and joined and participated. The church and Bishop Tawadros himself indicated that this is a considerable change that the church encourages, and that the church, rather than representing the Copts in front of the state, will continue encouraging its congregations to step by themselves into the political arena and take things in their own hands.

OD News: What do you think the new pope will do to provide Copts the encouragement they need to take things in their own hands?

Sidhom: Well, the church after the revolution has already encouraged Copts to participate in all levels of elections. . . . Despite the fact that there are some clergy joining the steering constitutional committee writing our new constitution, they are there representing the church as an institution, but not representing the Copts, because beside them, in the steering committee, there are laymen Copts. But the most significant thing that the pope will do in order to encourage his congregation to take things in their own hands will be simply to stop taking things in his hands.

OD News: What are some of the ways that the millions of lay Copts judge to be the proper role of the pope in advocating the rights of Christians in Egypt? Which parts of the Coptic population consider him the proper person to do this work, and which parts consider him to be more properly concerned with internal matters of the Church?

Sidhom: Normally, the middle and high income groups of the Copts, who are in better social and economic situation, will be favoring themselves participating rather than the pope representing them. Of course, if we go down to the lower income groups, and the less educated Copts, they will be more helpless and favoring relying upon the pope to do their homework for them.

Also there is another very important factor, and this applies to any income group: The portion of the Copts which does not helpfully intermix with Muslims in daily life will always feel isolated and helpless and will want the church to do their homework. But the portion of the Copts who integrate helpfully with Muslims and deal with them in daily life, and again I repeat this does not follow segregation socially or economically, will be encouraged and confident that they can do themselves this homework and not rely upon the church.

OD News: How quickly, if at all, do you expect the new pope will make it known publicly the Coptic view of Islamic influence in the creation of the news Egyptian constitution?

Sidhom: That has already been expressed, not by the pope himself, but when I referred to the clergy . . .  joining the membership of the steering committee writing the constitution, let me tell you that one of the most enthusiastic members in that regard, doing a great job, and gaining the respect of everybody in the committee was [a bishop] who at the same time was heading the electoral committee of the pope, and talked to the press a lot during that month. So the [work] of the church [members] and their views and opinions in the steering committee writing the constitution is not far from the pope himself, and I expect if the issue is raised in the coming weeks in front of the pope, he will be able to comment reflecting his views upon this issue.

OD News: Setting aside any role the pope might have, how will ordinary Egyptian Copts advocate for their rights as citizens of Egypt? Where will that leadership come from?

Sidhom: It can’t be a Coptic leadership [because] this, again, is sectarian. The near, natural presence among their Muslim counterparts in all levels of the political arena, in political parties, in syndicates, in human rights organizations, in NGOs, they have to be there, and there they will always find fellow Muslim citizens who would like very much to support them . . . . [T]his is how citizenship, real citizenship, can be served.

OD News: Are there any natural elements of the Coptic population who are ready to step into these roles? Or is this something that Copts from wide variety of backgrounds will get involved with?

Sidhom: This is something that will take time, but we are not in square one. Because since the referendum of March 2011, the Copts were quite enthusiastic to get out and participate and it is moving onward, slowly but surely. It will take time, but it is already on the move.
OD News: Is this a youth movement? Or does this involve a wider spectrum of Copts across Egypt?

Sidhom: It is a wider spectrum. I’m very happy and proud that is always motivated by the youth.

Copyright 2012 Open Doors News

Monday, November 5, 2012

Muslim Pressure Closes Church in Indonesia

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
KARTA, INDONESIA (ANS) -- Authorities in Bandung, West Java sealed shut the worship building of an Indonesian Christian Church (Huria Kristen Indonesia, or HKI) congregation on Oct. 23 after prominent Muslims persuaded residents to withdraw their signatures of approval for it, a pastor said.
According to a story by Morning Star News, Rev. Hari Hutagulung said that the church had gathered the signatures of 77 area Muslims in order for the 20-year-old church to apply for the proper building/use permit.
Sixty non-Christian signatures are required under Indonesian law. However, prominent Muslims persuaded many of them to withdraw their signatures, and police sealed the building last week, he said.
The building permit application process involved neighborhood discussions of the church even after the signatures had been gathered, and it was then that influential Muslims urged residents to withdraw their approval, Morning StarNews reported the pastor said. Those opposed to the presence of the church formed a group called the Gathering of the Citizens of Neighborhood 25 Forum.
"The problem arose when HKI officials began contacting all the citizens regarding the church," Hutagulung said. "There were citizens who rejected the presence of a church."
While other churches in West Java have faced loud protests from Islamists dedicated to close them down, last week's closure took place quietly in 10 minutes, according to weekly Tempo Media.
"This building at number 35 Siliwangi Street is sealed," read a sign that the Bandung police chief and another area official signed, the weekly noted.
Morning Star News reported when the church was built 20 years ago, there were no houses nearby, Hutagulung said. Since then homes have sprung up around it, and the Revised Joint Ministerial Decree of 2006 requires approval from area residents.
The church had quit activities the previous week after receiving a letter from the local government ordering it to quit worship, he said.
Morning Star News said Police Chief Teddy Kusidana reportedly said that the closure was not a ban on worship, but an enforcement of a Bandung Regency decree requiring the building to have the proper permit.
However, Hutagalung said he hoped the government would grant freedom to worship to every citizen in accordance with Article 29 of the 1945 Constitution.

He added that he still hoped the regional government would grant permission for the HKI building.
"If we are not allowed to worship in the building which was sealed, then we hope that the local government will help us so that HKI can worship again in accordance with the Joint Ministerial Decree," Morning Star News reported he said.
Protestors had demonstrated against the presence of the church in 2003 and 2008, he said, and protests from the Neighborhood 25 group flared again several weeks ago, claiming that the building's original permit was for a warehouse.
Morning Star News said the Islamist protests forced the Bandung Regency government to order the building owner to halt church activities temporarily until the proper permit is granted. But without the signatures of approval from area residents, the permit is unlikely.

Aceh Closures
In Aceh Province, a pastor of one of the nine churches forbidden to worship there last month said he hasn't dared hold services in the shop-house where they normally take place.

Morining Star News said Rev. Nico Tarigan of Gereja Bethel Indonesia (GBI) Peunayong in Banda Aceh said the nine churches closed - on the pretext of not having official permits highly unlikely for any small church to obtain - have agreed to meet in the buildings of four churches that have permits.

"We wish to follow the agreement that we were forced to sign with the Banda Aceh city government," Tarigan said. "The agreement says that we must cease all worship because they feel that we do not have permission (to operate) as churches. Furthermore, the agreement is intimidating, because it states that if we hold services, the municipal government will not be responsible for any anarchical actions (mob violence or attacks)."

Morning Star News reported an Islamist mob of hundreds had attacked the GBI Peunayong church on June 17, objecting to worship services in the shop-house, he said. The mob entered the building, forced services to stop and broke church equipment.

Rev. Tarigan said that, as the congregation was using the shop-house for worship and was not erecting a church building, they were acting in accordance with the 1945 Constitution's guarantees of freedom of worship.

Morning Star News said the city government closed the nine churches and five Buddhist Temples on Oct. 15 after pressure from area Islamists.
The legal pretext for these closures was Governor's Decree No. 25 of 2007. That states that for a house of worship to obtain a permit, there must be agreement of 120 neighbors and 120 congregation members and the recommendation of the village chief, along with the recommendation of the local Department of Religion.

According to Morning Star News, these conditions are stricter than those in the Joint Ministerial Decree's requirement of approval from 60 neighbors and 90 congregation members. Tarigan said the church activities were in accordance with the Joint Ministerial Decree but not the governor's decree.

Morning Star News said about 98 percent of the population in the city of Banda Aceh is Muslim. Aceh Province has 4.4 million Muslims, a little over 50,000 Protestants and about 3,300 Catholics, according to the Central Statistics Agency.

Christians in Laos told: perform animist rituals or face eviction

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
LAOS (ANS) -- Christians from several villages in Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, are being threatened with an ultimatum: perform acts of spirit worship or face eviction.
Young Christians praying during service in Laos
According to Barnabas Fund (, in Vongseekaew village, Savannakhet province, 13 Christian families were ordered in early October to take part in traditional animist rituals of oath-making and drinking "sacred water" that had been through ritual incantation by a spirit medium. Doing so would be viewed as a public statement that they were returning to the village's traditional religion and renouncing their Christian faith.
"The Christians were told that performing the rituals was necessary for them to be allowed to remain in the village. When they refused, the families were ordered to leave immediately. A few days later, the pressure on them intensified when the authorities threatened to seize and tear down their homes," said a spokesperson for Barnabas Fund.
"But the district chiefs intervened and declared at a public meeting that residents of Vongseekaew could follow any religion of their choice and that no one should stop them.
"The tactic is however being used against Christians elsewhere. In Allowmai, which is just eight kilometers away from Vongseekaew, six Christian families, along with their pastor, Bounlert, were ordered on 18 October to take an oath with sacred water in order to be allowed to remain in the village."
Christians in Laos are frequently threatened with eviction from their homes (Photo: Prince Roy)
The group went on to say that Pastor Bounlert was detained in September along with four other Christian leaders; two of them were released after two days. The provincial authorities subsequently ordered the release of Bounlert, Adang and Onkaew, saying that their arrest by the district police was unjustified. But the police have kept the pastors in custody and threatened to imprison them for two to three more years if Christians in Allowmai do not perform the rituals.
Christian leaders in Savannakhet province believe that the police are trying to force Christians to recant their faith through taking part in the spirit rituals because they were unsuccessful in pursuing legal action against the pastors.
Elsewhere in the same province, a public meeting was organized on October 19, 2012, in Kengsaiyai village to which residents, both Christian and non-Christian, from the surrounding villages were called. They were all told to take an oath stating that they would adhere to the traditional, spirit-cult religion.
The 30 or so Christian families were required to sign documents as proof that they had returned to these practices and had renounced Christ. They were told that without performing the ritual, they would no longer have the right to stay in their villages. But the Christians have refused to participate.
Background on Laos from Barnabas Fund: In its 2008 "Hall of Shame" report, which lists the ten worst persecutors of Christians in the world, International Christian Concern described Laos as a severely underdeveloped country, where "Christians continue to be hunted, imprisoned and murdered", while no one seems to be taking notice of their plight.
The country of Laos is one of the ten worst persecutors of Christians in the world and Less than 2% of the Lao population is Christian. Buddhism is the majority religion, supported by the government, and a considerable number of people are practicing different forms of animism. The Christian faith is often decried as an "American religion" and therefore as an enemy to the state. The Lao Government is fearful of any Western influence and has made clear its intention to "eliminate Christianity".
Since 2004 reports have started to surface about the persecution of Christians in Laos. In particular, local authorities often monitor and harass the Christian community, frequently detaining and arresting believers on false charges. In one incident a village church formerly of 2,000 members was reduced to only 20 after Government officials imprisoned more than 200 of the Christian men, accusing them of being separatist rebels.
The authorities subsequently intimidated and threatened the remainder of the congregation until there were only 20 who found the courage to meet together privately to pray. On August 3, 2008 two 18-year-old Christians and a pastor were arrested after they refused to sign papers renouncing their faith. The church leader faces lifelong imprisonment; the two teenagers will be released only if they agree to deny Christ.