Persecution: Sign of the Times
On 21st April 2013 CNN reported, “at least 566 ... killed over a six-day period across Syria” – the highest single death toll in a conflict that has so far killed 100,000. While Islamic sects in Syria are killing one another at a horrifying rate, another sectarian conflict continues unabated in Iraq, indeed, across much of the Muslim world.
People in the west struggle to understand how Muslim brothers can be so hateful to each other. However, it is not just outsiders who are puzzled, insiders also struggle. Many Muslims are perplexed and deeply distressed, if not disillusioned.
As difficult as it is to make sense of these things, Muslim preachers offer meaning and hope by fuelling a Messianic expectation, i.e. an era of worldwide peace ushered in by Al Masihu Isa (and the Mahdi). They find it reassuring that the Ahadith says this golden era will be preceded by much internal fighting and killing between Islamic sects.
As terrible as these trends are, they are only one aspect of the violence which pervades the Muslim world. Another common occurrence in Muslim majority countries is seeing Muslims attack other religious minority groups – not just Muslim political rivals. Such minorities include Christians who suffer the brunt of much persecution across the Muslim world.
But Christians who know their Bible should not be taken aback by all this since Jesus warned his followers that they would be widely hated and persecuted. Unfortunately, stories of persecution are seldom reported in the secular media. One rare example is an article by Salim Mansur, entitled, Arab spring becomes Christian nightmare. Mansur, a political science professor, raised an outcry on behalf of persecuted Christians. He describes their plight across the Middle East as 'catastrophic' and 'scandalous.' Recent developments, since Mansur wrote this article, show that Christians in Syria are being severely persecuted by Islamist 'freedom fighters.'
Mansur is to be commended and yet he is not alone. In April 2013 three Christian scholars collaborated in writing Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians. This book decries the "scandalously underreported fact, that Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today." Not only so, they conclude, "it is in the Muslim world where persecution of Christians is now most widespread, intense, and, ominously increasing."
Let us look at Egypt which was governed for a year by Morsi, a so-called moderate Islamist. In spite of his regime's reputed moderation, persecution accelerated. Indeed, under his regime, Christians suffered increasing persecution. Islamists blatantly attacked churches with impunity. For example, on the weekend of April 6th,7th (2013) Muslim hatred erupted against Egyptian Christians resulting in ten being killed as well as the wounding of hundreds.
Raymond Ibrahim, a leading researcher of persecution, details what happened after the initial outbreak of violence:
The next day, after the funeral of the slain Christians, Muslims again attacked and opened fire on Christians, this time in the St. Mark Cathedral, one of the most sacred spots for Copts. Worse, various elements of Egypt’s military, police, and security, have not only failed to protect the beleaguered Christians, but, according to numerous sources, have even joined in the attack on the cathedral.
This attack on the most important Cathedral in Egypt shouldn't surprise us. Just 18 months earlier, 3,000 Muslims attacked St George Coptic Church in Edfu. Raymond Ibrahim believes that this story illustrates
the plight of churches in Egypt. Built nearly a century ago, during the Christian “Golden Age,” St. George was so dilapidated that the local council and governor approved its renovation and signed off on the design. Soon local Muslims began complaining, making various demands, including that the church be devoid of crosses and bells—as stipulated by the Conditions of Omar—because they were “irritating Muslims and their children.” Leaders later insisted that the very dome of the church be removed. Arguing that removal of the dome would likely collapse the church, the bishop refused. The foreboding cries of “Allahu Akbar!” began; Muslims threatened to raze the church and build a mosque in its place; Copts were “forbidden to leave their homes or buy food until they remove the dome of St. George’s Church”; many starved for weeks.
Then, after Friday prayers on September 30, 2011, some 3,000 Muslims rampaged the church, torched it, and demolished the dome; flames from the wreckage burned nearby Christian homes, which were further ransacked by rioting Muslims. Security, which was present, just “stood there watching,” according to Christian eyewitnesses. Edfu’s Intelligence Unit chief was seen directing the mob destroying the church. Even the governor of Aswan appeared on State TV and “denied any church being torched,” calling it a “guest home.” He even justified the incident by arguing that the church contractor made the building three meters higher than he had permitted: “Copts made a mistake and had to be punished, and Muslims did nothing but set things right, end of story,” he proclaimed on TV.
It was this incident which caused Egypt’s Christians to protest in October 2011, leading to the Maspero Massacre, when the Egyptian military intentionally targeted and killed dozens of Christian protesters, including by running them over with armoured vehicles—even as state media lied by portraying the Christians as the aggressors and the military as the victim, a narrative which the Western mainstream media gullibly disseminated.
In his 'January 2013' report, Raymond Ibrahim describes how the sharia-driven agenda of Morsi does not tolerate religious freedom:
A court sentenced an entire family—Nadia Mohamed Ali and her seven children—to fifteen years in prison for converting to Christianity. Seven other people were sentenced to five years in prison, primarily for facilitating the formal conversion of the family. A born Christian, Nadia had earlier converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man; reconverting back to Christianity after the death of her husband, she attempted to reflect this change formally on her identity card and her children’s, which created suspicions among security, who arrested the family, followed by the subsequent fifteen year prison sentence.
This story is reminiscent of what happened to Muhammad Hegazy five years ago. In that case an “Egyptian judge ruled that a Muslim who converts to Christianity cannot legally change his religious status, although he may believe what he wants in his heart.” (Ethan Cole in the Christianpost)
Muhammad Hegazy filed a historic case to seek official recognition for his conversion from Islam to Christianity. Because of persecution, converts to Christianity usually hide their new religious beliefs and only practice their faith secretly. Hegazy was the first convert to sue Egypt for rejecting his application to officially change his religion on his identification papers. He explained that his wife, who is also a Muslim convert to Christianity, was expecting a baby and wanted his daughter to be raised in an openly Christian environment.
The reporter explained that “Hegazy and his wife, Zeinab, have gone into hiding since filing the case because of the numerous death threats they received, including one from Hegazy’s father if he does not return to Islam.” The situation five years later is that Hegazy is still unable to confirm his legal status as a Christian!
In light of the increasing outcry from reputed scholars warning that Christian persecution is on the rise globally shouldn't we consider if this trend correlates with apocalyptic prophecy?
Jesus preached a sermon on the end times in which he warned of a coming “great persecution.” (Luke 21:12) Indeed, he prophesied that suffering, of one kind or another, would engulf the whole world. “For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God's chosen ones [elect].” (Matthew 24:21-22) Elsewhere Christ specifically foretold that persecutors will think they are even doing God a service by killing Christians. (John 16:2)
In a similar way, the prophet Daniel foretold God's people will suffer intense onslaught in the end times by a Satanically empowered ruler. This mighty tyrant will wage war against believers, overpowering and even killing many of them. (Daniel 7:21; 11:33-35) The apostle John, also foretells that many Christians will be martyred. In fact, martyrdom pervades the book of Revelation. (see chapters 2,6,7,12,13,16,17,18 & 20)
People who have even a basic awareness of global news are aware that Christians are suffering serious persecution, although such stories are admittedly underreported.
The above-mentioned examples from Egypt – a 'moderate' Islamic nation – pale in comparison to the persecution happening in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, etc. Seeing these gathering storm clouds of persecution across the Muslim world, one asks rhetorically, like Christ did, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8, ESV)
A word to Christian readers
This unfolding scenario in Egypt (indeed, globally) brings to mind a conversation Jesus had with grief-stricken women who walked behind him on the way to his crucifixion,
A large crowd trailed behind including many grief-stricken women. But Jesus turned and said to them:
Daughters of Jerusalem don't weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, 'Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not born a child and the breasts that have never nursed.' People will beg the mountains, 'Fall on us', and plead with the hills, 'Bury us.' For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23:27-31)
The apocalyptic implications behind these words resonate with Matthew 24:19-22, where Christ warned:
How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God's chosen ones [elect]. (compare Hosea 10:8; Revelation 6:16)
Whoever has ears to listen will be ready to “endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12) Already during his life on earth, Jesus gave a similar warning, “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold but the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:12)
A word to Muslim readers
Jesus Christ predicted terrible events in the end times including widespread persecution of true believers and significant numbers of martyrs.1 Many God-fearing people will agree that such atrocities fit an end-of-the-world scenario. Perhaps you have even glimpsed occasional stories of Christians being persecuted in Muslim countries? If you are in doubt about this, I suggest you read Raymond Ibrahim's reports which are available online.
Also, you may like to read the story of a modern day African martyr named Hasmir, briefly summarized below. A more visually appealing version of Hasmir's story is available online.
Hasmir lived in a predominantly Muslim community in Africa. One day a devout Muslim (we will call him Ismail) was approached by Hasmir, a former Muslim, who enthusiastically shared his new-found faith in Jesus Christ. As you might expect, Ismail did not accept Hasmir’s message. Over the next few months he became more hostile towards Hasmir as he saw several other Muslims accepting Hasmir’s witness to Jesus and even being baptized. Efforts to bring Hasmir back to Islam failed. Finally, Ismail became so provoked about this whole situation that he invited Hasmir to come over to his home, suggesting he wanted to hear more. But this was a cunning trick.
Ismail pretended to listen but then he betrayed and killed him. He believed he was doing Allah a service. The tactic he used minimized the chance of anyone in the community knowing he was the murderer. Several months went by. Somehow Ismail was able to continue with his life pretty much as normal. But then disaster hit. He was struck down with a mysterious disease which left him paralysed. In the days that followed, Ismail was shown love by a friendly Christian. Others who he expected to be there for him didn’t care for him. The testimony of this Christian resonated with what Hasmir had told him a year earlier. His conscience (which had been hardened) was somehow re-ignited and he spent many sleepless nights under a cloud of shame and guilt. The mental agony and weight of this burden dragged on for months. Life was miserable. Finally he decided to unburden himself by talking to Salim who he recognized as a friend of Hasmir. This Christian showed neither suspicion nor a desire to avenge Hasmir’s blood, as Ismail expected. Instead he genuinely listened as Ismail shared his painful story. He encouraged Ismail to humbly confess his sin to God who freely pardons through Jesus, the Lamb of God who died in his place on the cross. (Isaiah 55:7; 52:5-7) This new friend also counselled Ismail to confess to Hasmir’s friends. He agreed and that night Ismail slept peacefully for the first time in many months.
It is encouraging to know there are Muslims with a sensitive heart, like Salim Mansur, who empathize with persecuted Christians. But let me ask you a personal question. Having seen how Hasmir was murdered, can you empathize with the heartache and suffering his wife and children had to endure?
Think also about Hasmir's Christian friend, Salim. Isn't it amazing how he showed kindness to Ismail instead of holding a grudge or hating him? 2
Have you ever experienced kindness and love from a Christian? Do you realize the reason they act this way is because they seek to follow Christ's example. Take a moment and read his instructions to his followers:
But to you who are willing to listen I say love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other also... And when things are taken away from you, don't try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! Love your enemies do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6:27-36)
If you want Jesus to forgive your sins, call out to him and he will save you. Acknowledge Jesus as God's true Messiah and believe that he came to bring God's salvation as foretold in Isaiah 49:6. Think about it and you'll realize that the name Jeshua/Jesus, as given by the angel means, 'God is salvation.'
If you want to discuss these themes write me here.
All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.
1. Someone may ask, “Christians aren't the only ones being martyred! What about Muslims?” In recent years there has been much discussion of martyrdom in Muslim circles mainly because of the escalating death toll pertaining to homicide (suicide?) bombers. This horrific blood-letting has evoked no small debate among jurists. Is it legitimate to take one's own life while waging war against Satan, i.e. the 'Great Satan' – America, and the 'little Satan' – Israel? What makes this issue even more complicated is that in many cases bombers (inadvertently?) kill fellow Muslims. Space does not permit us to discuss these ramifications. However, two other articles shed some light on it; Escalating Ramadan Death Toll and When Nations Shake: A Prophetic Perspective. These articles make a thought provoking observation in relation to Islamic martyrs. Most of these mujahideen die in Muslim-on-Muslim violence. Nearly all Muslim martyrs die 'suicidally' whereas followers of Christ die at the hands of non-Christians. It is important to bear this in mind as we look at Christ's prophecy, “and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.” (John 16:2) The fact that virtually no Muslims are martyred by hostile outsiders, but by Muslims, i.e. suicidally, is inconsistent with Christ's prophecy.
Very relevant to this subject is an article by Thomas Schirrmacher discussing the question, “How many Christians are being martyred each year?” His article appears on pg. 9, IJRF Volume 4, Issue 2. Another relevant read is a new book by Raymond Ibrahim, Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians.
2. You recall that Salim graciously overlooked Ismail's evil deed. Also, it is noteworthy how this attitude reflects the forgiveness which Christ voiced while praying to his Father about his persecutors. On the other hand, we mustn't read too much into this: because Christ showed forbearance does not mean that those who persecuted him (or his followers) will go unpunished at the final judgement. Scripture declares that God,
In his justice will pay back those who persecute you. And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted...” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7) We read a similar statement in another Scripture:
I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters – their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred – had joined them. (Revelation 6:9-11)
Are God's people survivors or victors?
Earlier we noted a prophecy foretelling the rise of a Satanically empowered ruler in the end times who will wage war against God's people, even “defeating them” (Daniel 7:21) But then 'the Ancient One' comes (this is a Messianic title). Scripture says he “came and judged in favour of his holy people. Then the time arrived for the holy people to take over the kingdom.” (Daniel 7:22)
It is true: today we see troubling trends of intensifying persecution which could raise doubts as to whether the church will survive. But we mustn't forget: the final outcome is in God's hand. He is able do what we think is utterly impossible. He will snatch victory from the jaws of apparent defeat!
In the final analysis the victory belongs to God – not Satan. As it is written:
Praise the LORD. Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. His judgements are true and just. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality. He has avenged the murder of his servants. ... Then I saw the heavens opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a rob dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven dressed in the fines of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a wine press. On his rob at his thigh was written this title, King of all kings and Lord of all lords... Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast – miracles that deceived all who accepted the mark of the beast and who worshipped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse... (Revelation 19:1-2,11-16,19-21)