by Rami Dabbas
Christianity in the Middle East is under violent assault. The following is a brief survey by Jordanian activist Rami Dabbas of how Christians are faring in various Middle East countries.
Christians would rather stay out of the Middle East’s raging conflict, but they invariably become the most prominent victims. Even in the region’s quieter countries, Christians face routine persecution. And it’s been that way for millennia.
We received the following letter from Iranian Christian activist Karim Irani, host of a popular program on the Arama- ic Broadcasting Network (www.abnsat.com): “It is impossible to convey in one short article all the suffering of Christians in Iran. I converted to Christianity in 2013, but it took me a long time to find other Christians since there is no true freedom of religion. It’s very difficult even to find a Bible. Many Christians won’t openly acknowledge their identity for fear of being reported to the authorities by their Muslim neighbors. There are no Christian schools, so Christian children are being forcibly converted to Islam at the Muslim schools. Anyone caught evangelizing is publicly executed. We love our country, but the Iranian authorities do not allow us to be Christians and practice our faith freely.”
Lebanon was once a Christian country, but waves of Christian emigration have resulted in a Muslim majority today. Iran has slowly been taking over Lebanon via its proxy, Hezbollah. “Those Christians remaining in Lebanon are living in fear and acknowledge now that they are second-class citizens,” Lebanese journalist Brigitte Gabriel, who today lives in the US, recently wrote. Many don’t under- stand that in addition to fighting Israel, Hezbollah is a jihadist organization seeking to establish Sharia Law, under which Christians will inevitably be persecuted.
Syrian activist George AlKaser insisted in remarks to Israel Today that Christians are the indigenous people of his country who were forcibly Arabized and converted to Islam. Pockets of these native Christians remain in what’s known as the Assyrian Church. The Syrian regime prevents a reversal of this situation by punishing any Muslim who converts to Christianity.
Often portrayed as the most moderate of Arab Muslim countries, Jordan still legally prohibits Muslims from converting to Christianity and forbids Christian men from marrying non-Christian women. Christians in Jordan, while they are free to worship in churches, must submit to various aspects of Sharia Law.
Egypt has by far the largest Christian population of any country in the Middle East, but that hasn’t helped them in terms of quality of life or national influence. Egypt’s Coptic Christians are prohibited from holding certain high- level government positions, and are routinely discriminated against in society. For instance, many sports clubs will not admit Christians unless they convert to Islam. Young Christian women are often kidnapped and forcibly converted, with little or no intervention by the authorities, and the destruction of Christian property more often than not goes unpunished.
Christians in Iraq say mass persecution began immediately after the fall of Sad- dam Hussein, when, among many other violations of human rights, Muslims started forcing Christian women to wear the hijab. According to Wafa Abdallah, an Iraqi Christian today living in Australia, the situation for Christians in the city of Mosul became intolerable as many local Muslims began supporting groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. And forget about open evangelism. Converting from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death in Iraq. And if the authorities fail to carry out the sentence, then the many Sunni extremist or pro-Iranian militias will.
Palestinian Christians suffer discrimination and persecution at the hands of the local Muslim population and the Palestinian Authority government. For example, in 2015 Muslims set fire to the Saint Charbel Convent in Bethlehem. The law prohibits Muslims from converting to Christianity.
Israel is today the one place in the Middle East where Christians enjoy equal rights and are able to practice their faith openly without fear of violent or legal repercussions. Many of the Christians from the above countries with whom we spoke privately acknowledged as much, but were too afraid to openly say so for fear of their Muslim neighbors and authorities. Some said that while they respect Israel, they still view it as an enemy due to the education they received and the societal pressures of living in Muslim countries.