‘Crimes in the name of religion’: The persecution of Christians – opinion

The persecution of Christians by extremist Muslims is growing. The following report, which includes incidents that occurred during November 2021 alone, posits that such persecution is not random.

By Raymond Ibrahim, Gatestone Institute

“The United Nations has estimated that since 2011, Boko Haram has killed more than 15,200 Nigerians and forced 1.7 million others from their homes as it has sought to turn Nigeria into an Islamic nation ruled by Sharia law.” — Catholicherald.co.uk, November 5, 2021; Nigeria.

Nigeria is not alone. In recent years, more and more countries throughout Africa and Asia, as well as in the Middle East, have unwillingly joined the infamous list of nations that experience large-scale persecution of Christians by Muslim extremists. November 2021 has not been unusual in this aspect in comparison to previous months, but when realizing that the incidents in the report below have all taken place within its 30 days, perhaps one can begin to grasp the scope of this phenomenon.

The Muslim Slaughter of Christians

Uganda: Muslims murdered a Christian leader for refusing to remove his church from a Muslim-majority region. Pastor Stephen Lugwire, 58, was working on his farm with one of his daughters when three men dressed in Islamic attire and waving long knives shouted at them. One yelled that Pastor Stephen was a “kafir” (infidel) who had harmed the religion of Allah. Another, coming closer, said, “We have told you to remove the church which is near our mosque, but you have not heeded our message. Today you will face the wrath of Allah.” According to the daughter, “There and then one of the assailants hit my dad with a big stick on the head, and he fell down.” Before fleeing in terror, she saw another of the Muslims slashing her father with a knife. She ran and informed her family, who reported it to the police; Lugwire’s body was later found thoroughly slashed, with deep cuts to his throat and chest. Police arrested a wealthy Muslim woman, Shamimu, after it was learned that the murderers were hiding in her home. Apparently unrepentant, the Muslim woman told police:

“The servants of Allah entered my house in order to remove the clothes which they were wearing, because they were soaked in blood, and said that they had killed an infidel, hence Allah will reward them as they were following the footsteps of their prophet. Furthermore, the pastor didn’t honor Allah by refusing to demolish the church which was close to the mosque, along with his activities of winning their members to Christianity.”

In another incident, Muslims finally managed to murder one of their brothers, a former sheikh who had converted to Christianity. Earlier, on October 19, Mustafa Obbo’s family had beaten him when he returned to the village to visit his sick mother. As Obbo had then explained:

“As I arrived home, my dad and uncles ambushed me, tied me up and flogged me with several long sticks, and said they were going to kill me if I did not recant my Christian faith. But by grace, as they were sending someone for petrol to burn me up, a Toyota vehicle was approaching the homestead. When they saw the vehicle entering the compound, they took off each in his direction.”

Two weeks later, on November 2, police recovered the body of Obbo “burned beyond recognition.” Ismail, one of the brothers who had beaten him on October 19, had called him feigning repentance and saying he too had embraced Christ and wanted to meet. It was a trick to lure him to a distant and empty place where Ismail and another of Mustafa’s brothers, along with several other Muslims, beat and murdered the Christian. According to one of Obbo’s friends:

“Later [Ismail] Odwori called me and said that Allah has killed my friend, and I that I should be wise and careful. He was thanking Allah for enabling them to throw an infidel into an agony of death. Then the phone call ended.”

In another incident, Muslims decapitated Alex Mukasa, a 60-year-old Christian man, for sharing the Gospel. After learning that Alex was missing, according to his brother,

“I got information that his motorcycle was abandoned along the Bukoova road and that his body was beheaded and dumped in a sugarcane plantation. The assailants carried away his head.”

Farmers came across the Christian man’s head in a swamp days later. Earlier, local Muslims had begun to threaten Alex for leading three Muslim men to Christ. “He was given two weeks to vacate the place before he would meet his death,” his brother said. As of last reported, two Muslim men had been arrested, although several more are believed to be connected to the murder. According to a Muslim convert to Christianity:

“He [Alex] was a peaceful man whose murder shook the community members and the Church of Christ at large. He was a very respectable elder and leader who frequently offered timely advice and God’s messages to warring parties within our community. We were shocked to find out that he had been butchered by Muslim extremists.”

Nigeria: The Islamic jihad against the West African nation’s Christian population continued unabated. According to one report, 44 Christians were slaughtered in one region; according to another, 10 Christians were killed and 100 homes torched by militants screaming, “Allahu Akbar”. “I lost my grandchildren for the sake of Christ,” said one of the survivors, Sibi Gara, in tears, from her hospital bed.

“This is the sad reality Christians have been forced to live with—total carnage and genocide against us,” said Samuel Achie, president of the Atyap Community Development Association in Kaduna state.

“These horrific experiences have virtually become a daily affair with hardly any intervention from the Nigeria government, as in all these attacks against Christians there’s been a complete absence of security intervention.”

According to Celina John, yet another survivor from one of November’s attacks:

“Life here is miserable for Christians, I must confess. The herdsmen came and attacked us, and because we are helpless, we’re unable to defend ourselves. Our houses have been obliterated, and we have been forced to flee to other areas.”

In one attack, Islamic gunmen stormed the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Kaduna State, murdered one Christian worshipper, and abducted more than a hundred others. According to the November 5 report:

“The kidnappers are demanding a ransom for the release of the Christians. The family of one victim said the kidnappers told them that they had to pay more because the gunmen had to go the extra mile for network service before they were able to contact the families of their victims… Some attacks on Christians in the north of the country are carried out by a minority of Fulani herdsmen, an ethnic group of 20 million Muslims… The United Nations has estimated that since 2011 Boko Haram has killed more than 15,200 Nigerians, and forced 1.7 million others from their homes as it has sought to turn Nigeria into an Islamic nation ruled by Sharia law.”

On November 17, the U.S. removed Nigeria from its list of Countries of Particular Concern, meaning nations that engage in, or tolerate violations of, religious freedom. Nigeria was the country with the most Christians killed (3,530) for their faith in 2020. Discussing this shocking reversal, John Eibner, president of Christian Solidarity International, said:

“The State Department’s decision to de-list a country where thousands of Christians are killed every year reveals Washington’s true priorities… Removing this largely symbolic sign of concern is a brazen denial of reality and indicates that the U.S. intends to pursue its interests in western Africa through an alliance with Nigeria’s security elite, at the expense of Christians and other victims of widespread sectarian violence, especially in the country’s predominantly Christian Middle Belt region… If the U.S. CPC list means anything at all – an open question at this point – Nigeria belongs on it.”

Burkina Faso: On November 1, Islamic terrorists murdered ten civilians. “Most of the victims,” an official stated, “were murdered in a cowardly manner, their throats slit.” According to a separate November 5 report:

“[T]he security situation in northern Burkina Faso drastically deteriorated in recent months. Armed groups are creating a reign of terror targeting the whole population, demanding taxes, and pillaging and robbing people in many parts of the country.”

Many are “the object of severe persecution,” the report adds, “specifically because they are Christian”:

“[I]n recent weeks there have been cases in which the terrorists have first been asking whether the owner [of cattle] is a Christian or a Muslim. Witnesses who have lived through the latest attacks in the Sahel Region in northern Burkina Faso have told ACN: ‘If the owners were Christians the attackers didn’t consider it necessary to count their animals, because they said that they didn’t just want to take their animals, but also to kill the owners.’… [I]n the last week of October a total of 147 persons—among them eight pregnant women and 19 children under five—had to flee from two villages… The displaced people… explained that many of them had been identified as Christians and that the terrorists were expressly seeking them out to kill them because of their faith.”

One of a group of 17 Christian refugees—nine elderly people, a woman, and seven children—reported that they had fled in the middle of the night “because the extremists were looking for them”:

“The terrible thing is that when someone gave us refuge, we were denounced as Christians, and this put the person who had accommodated us in danger. We had to sleep at a distance from the villages. Not all the Christians in the area have been able to flee. We are concerned about the fate of our sons and wives who remain there.”

Democratic Republic of Congo: At least 38 men, women, and children in the Christian-majority nation were murdered during the course of several attacks in November by Islamic terrorists of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which, despite its name, is affiliated with the Islamic State. “Most of the bodies were tied up and their throats were slit by machetes,” a Red Cross official said. “For now it’s hard to have the exact number of men and women killed because we haven’t finished searching for bodies in the bush,” he added. Speaking of an earlier attack on his village, when the ADF slaughtered about 20 people, a Christian clergyman shed light on their Islamic motivations:

“They tried to force some of our Christians to convert to Islam. They also tried to force my wife and our four children to convert to Islam, but when they refused to convert, they shot my wife in the head while our four children were cut into pieces with a Somali sword… the rebel militants intend to establish an Islamist state ruled by sharia [Islamic law].”

Generic Abuse of and Attacks on Christians

Pakistan: Yet another Christian girl, 12-year-old Mareeb Abbas, was abducted by a Muslim man, Muhammad Daud. According to the report:

“She disappeared on 2 November, in all likelihood taken to Balochistan to be forced to convert to Islam and marry Daud. So far, police have arrested two suspects, but the girl remains in the hands of her abductors.”

Her mother, Farzana, a 45-year-old widow, and domestic worker “is suffering greatly from her daughter’s abduction to the point of requiring admission to a local hospital (see picture 2). Her mental state is critical.” Discussing this incident, Pastor Zahid Augustine said:

“[The mother] already has many challenges to face in her life. We call upon the government to consider these abductions and forced marriages as a grave issue and adopt strict laws to protect minorities… Mareeb is only 12 years old, and she cannot marry. The perpetrators commit these crimes in the name of religion. We just want justice.”

Another human rights activist, Ashiknaz Khokhar, said that “The government is not taking this issue seriously and parliament recently refused to pass the bill on forced conversion.”

According to a separate, November 19 report, in just the first half of 2021, in Pakistan’s Punjab Province alone, 6,754 women were abducted. Out of those, 1,890 were raped, 3,721 were tortured and 752 children were raped. The same report notes that “over 1,000 girls belonging to Hindu and Christian communities are forcefully converted to Islam every year in Pakistan.”

Separately, an armed Muslim mob opened fire on a group of Christians as they were watering their land, in an effort by the attackers to seize that land. At least nine Christians were wounded, three were hospitalized in critical condition. “They wanted to kill us,” said Raja Masih, one of the Christians. “They fired straight at us, so I got a bullet that almost hit me in the heart.” According to the report:

“Muslim landowners demanded local Christians to sell their land. Uttering threats, they told them if they refused, they would face ‘serious consequences.’ This is not new. Local Christians have already resisted selling their land in the past because ‘they are the history and legacy of our ancestors and allow families to earn a living. The village was originally founded by missionaries and farmland was donated to the poorest families, who handed it down through the generations. ‘In any case, the Muslim offers do not reflect the real market value of the fields,’ Masih told AsiaNews.”

Saleem Iqbal, a human rights activist who visited the hospitalized injured, said, “It is sad to see how Muslim landowners use their influence to target Christians.” This is the second attack of its kind in that region; in a nearby village, “two brothers were killed and several Christians wounded from gunshots over-irrigation,” said Ashiknaz Khokhar. “It is frustrating to see, on the one hand, Christians fighting for their survival and, on the other, the culprits on the loose, pre-released on bail without being arrested.”

Egypt: Christian elementary school students were “beaten up by teachers and fellow students after the headmaster ordered all Christian students to remove any jewelry bearing a cross [and they refused],” according to a November 21 report. In one incident, a female teacher “attacked a Christian student, then encouraged other students to do the same, take his cross pendant from him and destroy the cross.” Violence prompted by the crucifix is not uncommon in Egypt. Earlier, 17-year-old Ayman, a Christian student, was strangled and beaten to death by his Muslim teacher and fellow students for refusing to obey the teacher’s demand that he cover his cross. An off-duty Muslim policeman once boarded a train and, while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” opened fire on those passengers who had cross tattoos on their wrists (an ancient practice upheld by many Copts, who are Egypt’s indigenous Christian minority). One elderly Christian man was killed and four others seriously wounded. In 2014, Muslim Brotherhood members mauled and murdered a young Christian woman named Mary after they saw her cross.

Separately, Ramy Kamel, a Christian activist arrested two years earlier for reporting on the persecution of Copts, remained under arrest—mostly in solitary confinement, and sometimes under torture—beyond the maximum amount of time permitted by law. Kamel was detained in November 2019, and his detention has been repeatedly renewed, even though under Article 143 of the Egyptian Penal Code, authorities are not to hold citizens in pre-trial detention for more than two years—and that is only if the crime in question merits the death penalty or life imprisonment. As the report states:

“Strictly speaking, if Ramy Kamel were to be accused of a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty, the maximum pretrial detention period – according to Egyptian law– ended on November 23, 2021. Yet, the Egyptian judiciary has failed to make any formal accusations against Mr. Kamel, much less shown any indication of ending his illegal and abusive detention… This kind of brutal behavior by Egypt’s authorities is egregious. Furthermore, Ramy Kamel’s case is not unique. There are many other Egyptian activists, journalists, politicians, and regular citizens who are suffering under Egypt’s sham of a judicial system.”

Iraq: On Sunday, November 28, an unknown motorcyclist hurled an explosive at the home of a Christian man and shopkeeper.

In a statement on the fire-bombing, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said, “Fortunately, no one was killed or wounded, but the act sparked terror in the family and the Christian community because it brought back memories of past violence.” After highlighting “the rise in violence against the country’s Christians since the US-led invasion in 2003,” the patriarch continued by saying that “the country has become like a jungle” and placed the most recent firebombing “in the context of the ongoing hemorrhaging of Christians which has been prompted partly by attacks like this one and other extremist activity”:

“There is the seizure of the property of Christians despite the efforts of some good people, as well as the harassment of Christians in their jobs, and the exclusion of their employment despite the existence of a law to compensate them with jobs for Christians who have retired or emigrated… I hope that everyone understands the ongoing suffering of Christians.”

This particular attack is believed to have been motivated because the Christian man sold alcohol in his store — an act banned under Islamic law.

Malaysia: Based on a new law that came into effect on November 1, converting out of Islam has become illegal in Malaysia’s Kelantan state. Apostates now face prison, fines, and/or caning. Other sharia-compliant mandates that also came into effect in November include laws against disrespecting Ramadan, misrepresenting Islam, getting tattoos or plastic surgery, engaging in sexual intercourse with corpses and non-humans, and witchcraft. Ahmad Yako, chief minister of Kelantan, said the new bans will help strengthen Sharia in Kelantan, which he hopes will serve as a model for other Malaysian states. Responding to these developments, a women’s rights group, Sisters in Islam, “expressed concern that these developments violate fundamental principles of democracy because they suppress critical thought and expression.” According to one report:

“The new enactment comes as the case of Malaysian Pastor Raymond Koh remains unsolved. Koh has been missing since he was abducted in a well-organized, military-style operation more than four years ago after being accused of preaching to Muslims.”

Indonesia: A “group of unidentified Islamic radicals,” according to a November 18 report, attacked the house of a Christian man on the rumor that he was using his home as a church for other Christians in which to meet and worship. His home, which was “never used as a place of worship,” was “extensively damaged” from the jihadist assault. The report adds:

“Christians in Indonesia often turn to house churches, as they face great difficulties in constructing real churches since there are many government rules and criteria at play. For instance, interested parties need to submit the authorization of at least 60 residents to get the process moving forward. Even if they have the authorization, construction can still be interrupted and permits can still be revoked by the government, which faces pressure from Islamic extremists.”

Turkey: On November 2, Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey’s parliament, submitted a proposal to increase resources for Christian and Jewish minority schools so that they are on a par with those allocated to Muslim ones. Paylan stated in parliament:

“I am sure that both the Minister and the AKP deputies who claim that there is justice and equality, will support our proposal and minority schools will get their due from the budget in this country.”

The proposal was rejected by both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the Nationalist Movement Party of the ultra-Islamist so-called Grey Wolves.


While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by extremists is growing. The report posits that such persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location. It includes incidents that take place during, or are reported on, any given month.

Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again and Sword and Scimitar, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.