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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Christians And Their Churches Targeted By Radical Muslims

Christians And Their Churches Targeted By Radical Muslims

January 20, 2011

By Emerson Vermaat

In December 2010 I reported that Christian asylum seekers in three thirds of the asylum seekers centers in Holland (so-called "AZC's") are seriously intimidated by Muslim asylum seekers. Too many Muslim converts to Christianity – often refugees from totalitarian Muslim societies – live in fear. However, the problem of harassing or attacking Christians is much more widespread. Many Christians in Iraq are persecuted by radical Muslims who bomb their churches, kill their pastors and priests. Many of them flee to the West. (Some them end up in Dutch asylum seekers centers where they once again face harassment by militant Muslims.) Coptic churches in Egypt have also been bombed. There was a major terror attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, on New Year's day, when 25 Coptic Christians were killed.

Iran's "Press TV", Lebanon's Grand Mufti, a Muslim Brotherhood official and an Egyptian lawyers group suggested that agents of the Israeli Mossad – "zionist fingerpints" – were behind the church blast. In a recent essay Raymond Ibrahim, author of the noteworthy book "The Al Qaeda Reader," points out that "Islamists accuse Egypt's Christians of behaving like… Islamists." "Islamists regularly abduct, abuse, brainwash, and compel Coptic girls to convert – and now Copts are accused of doing the exact same thing; Islamists regularly smuggle and stockpile weapons, including in their holy places – and now Copts are accused of doing the exact same thing. Islamists are constantly either trying to break away or conquer infidel nations – and now Copts are accused of doing the exact same thing; Islamic martyrdom means participating and dying in jihad – and now Christian martyrdom is defined as the exact same thing." "This recent batch of bizarre accusations is making Muslims more irate and paranoid, and bodes greater evil for Egypt's beleaguered Christians."

Just one day before the new year's day bombing in Alexandria a radical Salafi cleric named Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti posted a fatwa (religious decree) permitting the targeting Christians in Islamic countries. He "says that the decision whether to attack Christians is up to the jihad commanders in each country. If they decide to do so, it is obligatory to assist them." "An Egyptian police officer opened fire on a crowded train, targeting only the Christian passengers," IPT news reported recently.

Terror threats against Coptic churches in Europe and Australia have also been issued. Germany's Coptic Christians have received threats of attack by radical Muslims and asked for protection, Coptic bishop Anba Damian told a German newspaper early January. "The internet is full of threats against us," he said. "The police have alerted us several times against attacks by radical Muslims. I have written to the Interior Minister to ask for protection."

There were similar reports in Holland. The Dutch newspaper "Trouw," for example, reported on January 4, that Coptic Christians in the Netherlands fear terrorist attacks by Muslims. About one hundred Coptic churches have been mentioned on a black list – the Coptic church that was bombed by radical Islamic terrorists in Alexandria was on that list, too. What alarmed many Coptic Christians in Europe was the fact the Al-Qaeda linked website "Shumuk Al-Islam" praised the Alexandria attack, announcing that (many) other attacks would follow.

Thirty Coptic churches outside of Egypt are mentioned on the same black list. Three of these churches are located in the Dutch cities of Eindhoven, Utrecht and Amsterdam. Their addresses and telephone numbers are mentioned as well. "We ask the Dutch government to protect us," an anonymous Coptic church member from Eindhoven was quoted in "Trouw." There are about 6000 Coptic believers in Holland. Coptic archpriest Youssef Rizkalla, also from Eindhoven, said: "We will not be intimidated." Similarly, Miriam Yakob from Amsterdam's Coptic Church, told the Dutch press: "We are a close-knit community. We will not be chased away." They know that the Dutch anti-terror police are vigilant and alert. Fortunately, no attacks occurred during the Coptic Christmas festivities on January 7. (Two weeks after the Catholics and Protestants celebrate their Christmas, that is.) The three Coptic churches in the Netherlands received police protection that day. Three Dutch Muslim organizations distanced themselves from the threats isssued by Al-Qaeda against Coptic Christians in Egypt and the Netherlands. Last October, Coptic Pope Shenouda III paid a visit to the Netherlands. It was after that visit that militant Muslims began to issue threats against the Coptic community, a prominent member of the Coptic church in Amsterdam claimed.

Sweden and Australia

In the "multicultural" and "liberal" Swedish town of Gothenburg the Coptic church was closed down after receiving an internet threat. On Christmas Eve the community's pastor, Father Shenouda, was visited by four police officers who said there were calls on the internet for what the police called 'activities' against certain Christian churches in Europe. The church was closed for up to two weeks to enable police to search for possible bombs. In Gothenburg, too, more and more Jews are leaving the city because of resurgent anti-Semitism on the part of Muslim immigrants. Keep in mind that during World War Two neutral and Lutheran Sweden was a safehaven for many Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

Four Coptic churches in Sydney, Australia, were on the militant Islamic hitlist, too, "The Australian" reported on January 7, 2011. "Father Gabriel Yassa of Archangel & St Bishoy Church in Sydney told the Weekend Australian that the nation's Islamic leaders needed to speak out against the threats." "I just hope that the leaders in the Islamic community take their responsibilities well and crush out any of those elements in their community," Father Yassa said." He further stated that the terrorist group was "just throwing out a message to the Islamic community to hurt Coptic Christians and I suppose they then just wait to see whoever picks up on it and who goes with it." Many Copts had come to Australia because it was safe, they now feel less safe, though.


In still remember my visit to Algeria in 1998. Islamist terrorists then tried to overthrow the more or less secular government of president Liamine Zeroual. The terrorists committed bloody and brutal atrocities against civilians. (One of the most notorious terrorist groups, the "Group Salafiste pour La Prédication et le Combat" or GSPC, would later join Al-Qaeda and subsequently be renamed "Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.") A Dutch Catholic priest told me how the Islamists killed a bishop and a number of monks when they attacked their monastery. All these monks were foreigners and involved in strictly peaceful humanitarian aid. But I also learned in Algeria that the government did not allow any Christian missionary activity among the Muslims. Most Catholics in Algeria were of European origin and were strictly prohibited from making converts among Muslims. There were very few churches, the government did not allow building any additional churches. Foreign Catholic priests and monks were solely involved in humanitairian aid and education. (The situation is roughly the same in many other Muslim countries.)

Attacks on churches in Algeria did not quite stop in after the government largely prevailed over the Islamists in 2002. In January 2010, Algerian militant Muslims set fire to a Pentacostal church in the city of Tizi Ouzou in Northern Algeria. This church was located in a normal apartment building as the Algerian authorities refused to grant permission to the Pentacostalists to build a their own church. When their church was set on fire, churchgoers had to run for their lives as the police failed to protect them. Looters took Bibles and other Christian books and set them on fire as well.

Pakistan's "blasphemy laws"

Pakistan's so-called "blasphemy laws" are aimed at silencing as many Christians and "Ahmadiyyas" (a moderate and "heretical" Muslim group) as possible. Christians and Ahmadiyyas can easily be accused of having "offended" the Holy Muslim Prophet or of having defiled or desecrated the Koran. Any Pakistani Muslim who for some reason harbors a grievance against a Christian can easily take him (or her!) to court by accusing him (or her) of defiling the prophet or the Koran. Such an often defenseless Christian could even be sentenced to death as the courts are under increasing pressure from zealots. Moreover, Muslim Sharia law demands that Muslim converts to Christianity – so-called "apostates" – be sentenced to death. "Apostasy is liable to death punishment," says a Pakistani study on "Islamic punishments."

It was back in December 1993 that the Pakistani magazine "Newsline" took a really courageous position on the blasphemy law (Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code or PPC) which, the magazine claimed, "is increasingly being misused as a weapon of persecution." "Section 295-C does not define the offence in terms of deliberateness or wilfulness or any motive to hurt anyone's feelings. On this score alone the law is defective and liable to abuse," writes I.A. Rebman in "Newsline." "The fires of religious bigotry and intolerance are ravaging our society. It should be a matter of deep concern to all rational Muslims in Pakistan that a law ostensibly designed to ensure respect for the Holy Prophet of Islam had become, in the hands of unscrupulous men, a weapon of oppression, and even a weapon for settling petty scores."

Most victims of the blasphemy law(s) are Ahmadiyyas and Christians. There are about four million Ahmadiyyas and nearly three million Christians in Pakistan. Amnesty International's findings in a July 1994 report are still highly topical today: "The available evidence in all these cases suggests that charges were brought as a measure to intimidate and punish members of minority religious communities or non-conforming members of the majority community."

In September 1995, I met a Pakistani refugee named Anwar Masih. (Christians in Pakistan often adopt the surname "Masih" – derived from "Messiah" or "Christ.") Anwar Masih had previously been jailed for "blasphemy." The death sentence had also been pronounced against him, but due to strong international pressure he was eventually released. He told me that it was "thanks to God" that he had been released. But he decribed to me the case of another Christian named Javed Masih "who had been killed in prison." "This law is dangerous for us," Anwar Masih told me. "Muslim men in Pakistan marry Christian women and then force them to convert to Islam. We as Christians can't do anything about it. But if a Christian man wants to marry a Muslim woman, he can be sentenced to death."

Another example is the case of Gul Masih. He was also eventually released by a Pakistani judge and was later interviewed at a secret location in Germany. He said: "Every Christian was caught by the police there. In prison a Christian is forced by the police and the Muslims to become a Muslim. That's a very ordinary thing there. Some people do become a Muslim there because of the situation they go through. But I did not. I said: 'I am a Christian and I will die a Christian.'"

A Pakistani judge in the city of Lahore ordered the acquittal of Salamat Masih en Rehmat Masih, two Christians accused of "blasphemy" in 1995. This courageous judge was assassinated soon after the verdict. "It is, therefore, no surprise that blasphemy trials invariably result in convictions," M.J. Gohel and Sajjan M. Gohel, two British experts on Asia, write. "The death sentence is the only option that may be granted." A judge "must fear for his own security in the event of an acquittal verdict being passed in favor of the accused."

It is not only Pakistan's judges who must fear for their lives if they defend the right of a Christian to be just a Christian. Quite recently, on January 4, 2011, that is, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a Pakistani Sufi Muslim and "a trusted member of an elite counter-terrorism unit." Indeed, he was a member of the governor's own security protocol. M.J. Gohel and Sajjan M. Gohel describe the motive of the assassin: "After pumping 27 bullets into the governor's body, he calmly handed himself over to his colleagues whilst referring to himself as a 'slave of the Prophet,' and indicated that he had killed Taseer for his campaign against the blasphemy law."

Governor Salman Taseer was one of the very few senior PPP officials (the PPP is the current ruling party) who had the courage to publicly support Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who stands accused of allegedly having insulted the prophet Mohammed. This mother of five had been in jail since June 2009 and remains on death row now. M.J. Gohel and Sajjan Gohel: "Her husband, Ashiq Masih, a laborer, and their five children who are aged between nine and 20, are on the run between safehouses in Punjab. Slain governor Taseer appears to have been the last powerful person to hold out the hand of friendship to Bibi."

Moderate Pakistanis "have been reluctant to publicly condemn the murder for fear of being similarly targeted themselves," a Quilliam briefing paper says. Quilliam is Britain's first counter-extremism think tank. (Quilliam's co-founder Ed Husain is author of "The Islamist," an excellent study on Muslim extremism in Britain.) A number of high profile religious groups openly praised the killer.

It was in July 2010 that two Christians, Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid, were on trial for "blasphemy" in the city of Faisalabad. Before the judge could pass sentence, they were shot dead by two fanatical Muslims who somehow managed to escape. An accompanying policeman was injured. An angry mob subsequently attacked the Christian neighborhood of Waris Pura where they destroyed a church.

Some other Muslim countries and an interesting poll in France

The fate of Christians in quite a few other Muslim countries seems to be little better. This can easily be illustrated by the following more or less recent newspaper headings: "Church Massacre Stuns Iraqi Catholics: (The Guardian, November 2, 2010), "Iraq's Christians Flock to Lebanon" (Time, April 2, 2007), "Christians Tempted to Emigrate as Lebanon Grows Increasingly 'Islamized'" (The Daily Star, September 28, 2009), "Iran Rounds Up Christians in Crackdown" (The Associated Press, January 11, 2011), "In Morocco, a Crackdown on Christian Aid Workers" (Time, March 21, 2010), "Nigeria Violence: Muslim-Christian Clashes Kill Hundreds" (Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 2010), "Nigeria Seeks to Contain Violence after Christmas Attacks" (Christian Science Monitor, December 27, 2010), "Catholic Bishop was Stabbed to Death in Turkey" (Trouw, the Netherlands, June 3, 2010), "(German NRW Integration) Minister Urges Turkey to Build Churches" (Weltonline, October 27, 2008), "German President Wulff Urges Turkey to Respect Christians" (The Local, October 19, 2010), "Angst voor kristenisasi" (Elsevier, the Netherlands, September 25, 2010; on "a 50 percent increase of violence against Christians in Indonesia"), "Islamist Hard-liners in Indonesia Target Christians; Government at a Loss to Respond" (Fox News, July 3, 2010). In a remarkable article the leading French newspaper "Le Monde" recently quoted from polls in Germany and France which showed that there is a widespread feeling among native French and German citizens that the integration of Muslims into their societies has utterly failed. In France, 42 percent of the French see the presence of Muslims as a threat to the identity of the French nation (in Germany it is 40 percent). They see primarily Islam as threat to society. In France, 68 percent of French believe Muslims are not well integrated into society (in Germany it is even 75 percent). It is widely felt that too many Muslims simply refuse to do so ("leur refus de le faire"), in addition to the "vast cultural differences" ("les trop fortes différences culturelles") between Muslims and native French and Germans. These differences are even considered to be more important than the existence of so-called Muslim "ghettos" (37 percent in France, 32 percent in Germany) and "economic difficulties" (20 percent in France, 10 percent in Germany).

Concluding comments

As ever greater numbers of largely economic migrants from Muslim countries are settling in Europe, things are not likely to improve in the decades to come. In too many cases these Muslims do not distance themselves from the totalitarian outlook of the religious creed dominant in their home countries, nor are they willing to accept essential Western values. Many Somali immigrants in Europe, for example, prefer polygamy to being married to one woman. They also practice female circumcision. A lot of Muslim immigrants in Europe and North America espouse anti-Semitic views and even want the Jews to leave – Jews, by the way, who have lived peacefully in the West for centuries. These Jews really contributed to our culture and society. Six million European Jews were murdered by the Nazis for no other reason but their having been just Jews. New immigrants from the Muslim world certainly do not have the right to tell Europe's Jews to leave the old continent.

Emerson Vermaat is an investigative reporter in the Netherlands specialized in terrorism and crime.


Emerson Vermaat, Christian Asylum Seekers in Holland Seriously Intimidated by Muslims, in: Militant Islam Monitor/Pipelinenews, December 7, 2010.

Friesch Dagblad (Leeuwarden, the Netherlands), June 15, 2010, p. 1 ("Moslim die christen wordt leeft in angst").

IPT News, January 3, 2011 ("Islamists Blame Jews for Coptic Church Bombing"): "Mossad is behind Egypt church blast," Iran's official television outlet, Press TV, said."

Raymond Ibrahim, Islamists Accuse Egypt's Christians of Behaving Like… Islamists?, in: Hudson New York/meforum, October 28, 2010.

Memri Daily, January 7, 2011 ("Alexandria Church Attacks"). Salafi-jihadi cleric Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti

IPT News, January 14, 2011 ("The Middle East's Christian Onslaught").

Expatica.com, January 5, 2011 ("German Coptic Christians also threatened, bishop tells paper").

Trouw (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), January 4, 2011, p. 1 ("Kopten vrezen aanslag in Nederland"); de Volkskrant (Amsterdam), January 4, 2011, p. 3 ("Lijst van Al Qaida: Koptische kerken genoemd als doelwit"); De Telegraaf (Amsterdam), January 5, 2011 ("Beveiligde kopten bewaren de rust").

Spits (Amsterdam), January 5, 2011, p. 4 ("Wij laten ons niet wegjagen"). "De bedreigingen zijn begonnen na het bezoek van paus Shenouda III aan Nederland, afgelopen oktober, zegt Miram Yakop (26), het jongste bestuurslid van de koptische kerk in Amsterdam."

Göteborgs Posten, December 25, 2010 ("Hot pa internet stänger kyrka"); Islam in Europe, December 26, 2010.

The Australian (Sydney), January 7, 2011 ("Terror Threats Against Coptic Churches").

Reformatorisch Dagblad (Apeldoorn, the Netherlands), January 12, 2010, p. 1 ("Islamisten Algerije steken kerk in brand"). Pentacostal church in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria, set on fire by Islamists.

Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, Legal Character of Islamic Punishments (Lahore, Pakistan: Idara Minhaj-ul-Quran, 1988), p. 57. "Apostasy is liable to death punishment."

Newsline (Pakistan), November/December 1993, p. 26 ("The fires of religious bigotry"), p. 27 ("A vague law. The blasphemy law is intrinsically defective"). The same issue carries an interview with the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (pages 46-50). She was also opposed to the blasphemy law but failed to abolish it due to tough opposition from Pakistani Muslim militants.

Amnesty International, Pakistan: Use and Abuse of the Blasphemy Laws, London, July 1994, p. 1.

Author's interview with Anwar Masih, a Christian refugee from Pakistan in Ermelo, the Netherlands, September 22, 1995.

"Open Doors" Interview with Gul Masih at a secret location in Germany, January 10 and 11, 1995. "Open Doors" is a well respected Christian human rights organization in Holland.

M.J. Gohel and Sajjan M. Gohel, Assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and the Growth of Extremism (London: Asia-Pacific Foundation), AFP Analysis, January 10, 2011, p. 1 ("Qadri was a member of the non-political Dawat-e-Islami movement which follows the Sufi Barelvi branch of Islam."), p. 2 ('After pumping 27 bullets into the governor's body…'; Asia Bibi), p. 3, 4 (Salamat Masih), p. 9 (Asi Bibi and Ashiq Masih).

Quilliam briefing: The Assassination of Salman Taseer, January 5, 2011, p. 1 ("…by a trusted member of an elite counter-terrorism unit…"; "high profile religious groups openly praising the killer..."); IPT News, January 7, 2011 ("Disappointing silence on Pakistani blasphemy murder").

De Telegraaf (Amsterdam), July 24, 2010, p. 8 ("Christenen onder vuur in Pakistan"). The case of Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid.

Le Monde (Paris), January 5, 2011, p. 1, 9 ("Islam et intégration: le constat d'échec franco-allemand"). "On passe en outre d'un lien entre immigration et securité ou immigration et chômage au lien entre islam et menace identitaire." "L'islam est considéré comme une menace par 40% des Français et des Allemands." This highly important poll from the "Institut français d'opinion public" (IFOP) was not mentioned in the non-French media.

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