The so-called Arab Spring has brought good news to Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is celebrating the rise of a former member, Mohammad Morsi, as president. But the political upheaval has been bad news for many of the region’s Christians. The response of the West has largely been one of indifference.
According to a new report commissioned by the rights group Christian Solidarity International, Coptic women and girls have become increasing targets for kidnappings, forced marriages and conversions to Islam. The document, “Tell My Mother I Miss Her,” was highlighted during a recent hearing of the Helsinki Commission, chaired by Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.). The commission focuses on religious rights outside of U.S. borders.
One documented case details the abduction of a 23-year-old woman. On Feb. 4, 2011, while attending an evening church service with her mother, the two became separated, and an eyewitness said that a bus carrying other young women whisked her off the street. She has not been seen since.
The father of the missing girl said that he knows of other incidents, adding that “because we are Christians, we are slaughtered.” The report seems to agree with him, noting, “The Egyptians [government officials] are not particularly concerned with following up with this. They don’t take complaints of disappearances seriously, they don’t prosecute the cases and there has not been a single conviction of the abduction or forced conversion of Coptic women.”
This latest CSI report follows a similar one in 2009. Apparently little has changed for Coptic women in Egypt, no matter who is running the country. "Unless the Copts and Coptic women and girls are protected,” Smith said, “Egypt will not be strong, Egypt will not be stable and Egypt will not be a successful democracy.”
Unfortunately, abductions and forced conversions of Christians are occurring in other parts of the Muslim-majority world, often with little response from governments, which usually turn a blind eye to the oppression.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that 1,800 Christian and Hindu girls were forcibly converted to Islam in 2011. The commission says that police registered almost no cases against the Muslim captors and sometimes even co-operated with them. Religion Today and the Pakistan Christian Post report:
• Police in Rawalpindi refused to register a father’s complaint against two kidnappers of his daughter.
• Police in Faisalabad failed to provide any information to a Christian man about his kidnapped wife.
• Police in Chunian have refused to follow up a report that a pastor’s sister was raped and forcibly converted to Islam after her abduction while returning home from college. The Pakistan Christian Post says, “She was held for days, suffered sexual abuse, threats and violence. In such a state of terror and exhaustion, first she was coerced into converting to Islam, and then marriage.”
Abductions of Christian girls and boys have also been occurring for years in Nigeria, the scene of escalating religious violence this year. Christian leaders there have reported that abductions of teenage Christian boys and girls have become commonplace in majority-Muslim Sokoto state, for instance. In Sudan, there have been cases of fathers forced to convert because their families were threatened by Muslims.
These are all widely dispersed countries in the Muslim-dominated world, with many social and political differences between them. Yet they exhibit very similar traits when it comes to Muslims defending what they see as the dignity of Allah. There is little concern in these areas for concepts such as religious liberty or human equality. Muslims unabashedly believe that Allah has given them first place in society, and that — in many cases — they can take what they want from religious minorities: wives, slaves, whatever.
These kinds of human rights violations are occurring every day at the family and community level in the Muslim world, largely outside our view in the West. The view of religion or faith in the Muslim world doesn’t allow for freedom of choice. This brew of social pressure and threat, combined with official indifference, has led to many Christians suffering in silence.
What can we Christians in the West do to help our fellow Christians around the world? First, we can pray. The Open Doors USA website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org provides constantly updated news and information to fuel our prayers.
Second, we can stand with them. Let me suggest that you check out www.OneWithThem.com. This is an Open Doors USA call to action to unite believers in the West with persecuted Christians around the world. It will help you identify with the persecuted and spread the word to other believers.
Third, we can advocate. For whatever reason, the U.S. State Department has not made global religious liberty a top priority. Perhaps it needs to hear more about this from you.
We Christians in the West have so far escaped the horrors that our fellow Christians in the Muslim-dominated world are facing every day. But that freedom should stoke our compassion and action, not our indifference.
Carl Moeller, Ph.D., is the former president and CEO of Open Doors USA, based in Santa Ana, Calif., the American arm of Open Doors International. Open Doors is a worldwide ministry supporting the religious and humanitarian rights of Christians since 1955.
Publication date: September 4, 2012