THE MAGAZINE OF BARNABAS FUND HOPE AND AID FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
barnabasaid MARCH/APRIL 2007
• Gifts of Hope: how you can bring a smile to a Christian child this Easter • Iran: persecuting Christians while awaiting the mahdi • Islam and slavery: will the link ever be broken?
From the New Zealand Chairman
barnabasaid MARCH/APRIL 2007
Contents To guard the safety of Christians in hostile environments names have often been changed or omitted. Thank you for your understanding.
3 Project News Oxen and donkeys make all the difference for Christians in West Africa
4 Gifts of Hope Helping Christian children brings hope and aid for the next generation
8 Newsroom Celebrating a school you helped to build
Information pull-out Islam and slavery
10 Country Profile: Iran What happens to Christians when a Muslim president wants to hasten the End Times
14 In Touch Have you seen our new DVD on Christians in Iraq?
16 Campaign Update Looking back on a year of campaign achievements Cover: A Christian boy from Bethlehem. Turn to page 8 to read about the official opening of the school there, funded by Barnabas Fund, which was visited four days later by a delegation of British church leaders, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The girl in the small picture attends a Christian school in Chad which Barnabas Fund assists. Barnabas Fund supports many projects which help specifically children and young people growing up in contexts of discrimination and persecution. Read more about “Gifts of Hope” which you could give them (pages 4 to7).
Let justice roll on like a river One of the great Biblical themes is justice – giving the rightful place to God and respecting His order for humankind both in our individual relationship with God and in our relationship with one another in the community. One way in which God’s justice is expressed is in how those the Old Testament calls “the stranger” or “foreigner” are treated. Do not exploit the foreigners who live in your land. They should be treated like everyone else, and you must love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God. Leviticus 19:33 – 34 (NLT) To love the stranger as you love yourself requires at least equal treatment as compared with the way you treat your own people. In modern terms the “stranger” would include immigrant and other minority groups including ethnic and religious minorities. It was as a minority community that Israel lived for several generations in Egypt. One of the issues so-called “Western” societies have faced since the watershed date of 9/11 in 2001 has been the treatment of Muslim minorities. New Zealand, along with other governments, has taken a firm line in assuring Muslim minorities that their rights will be respected and they will not be allowed to become a scapegoat for the actions of some Muslim extremists. Muslim leaders for their part have spoken out against what has been called Islamophobia - the harassment of a minority group simply because they are members of the Islamic faith. As the passage from Leviticus shows, the Biblical understanding of justice also requires respect for the rights of minorities. This involves, however, not only ensuring justice for the Muslim minority in countries like New Zealand but justice for minorities in countries where Muslims are the majority. In many such countries Christians do not enjoy equal rights or the freedom to openly express their faith. According to traditional Islamic law – shari‘a – they are classified as
dhimmi. Furthermore there is no freedom in shari‘a for a Muslim to convert to another faith, and apostasy from Islam carries the death penalty. Elements of shari‘a are increasingly being put into practice in many Muslimmajority countries. Although the death penalty is not often carried out today, converts to Christianity can suffer persecution and harassment of many kinds including loss of employment, disinheritance, physical threats, the removal of children and the dissolution of their marriage. Since 9/11 pressure on Christians has increased with Christians being targeted as supposedly supporting the United States’ war on Islamic terrorism. In countries that have had a history of tolerance such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Jordan there has been increased pressure to introduce shari‘a with its discriminatory approach to non-Muslims. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the abolition of the slave trade, the result of years of tireless effort by William Wilberforce and a small group of other Christians, who wanted to see this terrible injustice righted. As 21st century Christians we need to have a similar passion to that which motivated those who worked so hard to see the end of slavery and the slave trade. For us the issue of justice will be to work for the removal of discrimination against Christian minorities in Muslim countries, and in doing so encourage those Muslims who are seeking for a more open interpretation of the shari‘a. “Don’t forget about those in prison. Suffer with them as though you were there yourself. Share the sorrow of those being mistreated, as though you feel their pain in your own bodies.” Hebrews 13: 3 (NLT)
Peter McKenzie QC Chairman of the Trustees of Barnabas Fund New Zealand
Turn to the pull-out supplement in the centre of this magazine to read more about what Islam and the shari‘a say about slavery. This editorial is adapted from an article first published in the New Zealand Treasury magazine of 1st February 2007.
Gifts of Hope 2007
A hope and a future for Christian children in places of persecution As Easter approaches and we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is good to remind ourselves of the sure and certain hope we have in Him. Because of His atoning death on the cross we can be confident that one day we shall be with Him in glory. At last we shall see His face, in a place where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, and He will live among His people. (Revelation 21:3-4) This hope is surely an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19) in our turbulent, storm-tossed world where in human terms the outlook seems so bleak. Hope is linked to truth, to faith, and also to love. Have you ever noticed how the apostles Paul and Peter both wrote of love for our fellow-believers in connection with hope and the truth on which that hope is based? We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. (Colossians 1:3-5) Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart. (1 Peter 1:21-22) Maybe you will be giving chocolate eggs to your friends and family this Easter. Perhaps you could also give a gift to someone from your Christian family overseas, someone living in a place where Christians are under pressure for their faith? In these pages we describe some current projects you might like to support. Keeping to the theme of hope, we have chosen ministries and projects which help Christian children and young people – the next generation, the future of the Church. The pressures on children from Christian homes in Muslim countries can be very great. They face discrimination, indoctrination and abuse. Projects like these bring encouragement to young people, and make them strong, mature believers, bringing hope for the future. You may like to choose to support a ministry or project as an alternative gift for a loved one, perhaps for Easter, or for some other occasion. For donations in lieu of a gift Barnabas Fund is able to supply you with an attractive card for your friend or relative to tell them how the donation on their behalf has helped and encouraged Christian children. You can use the order form on page 15 to send your gift and tell us what you would like to have written on the card. 4 BARNABAS AID MARCH / APRIL 2007
CARING FOR ORPHANS
here are many commands in the Bible to care for the orphans and fatherless, those who have no one to provide for them. Barnabas Fund helps to support orphaned Christians in a variety of different contexts. Twenty-five children who lost their parents in the catastrophic tsunami on 26th December 2004 are being cared for in India. The cost per child is £29 per month. Barnabas Fund is currently contributing £20 per child per month, as local support increases. Ratnam lost his parents in the tsunami. Barnabas Fund is helping to support him and 24 other Indian Christian orphans from the tsunami
Santhi Samson Karuna
The tsunami orphans in India celebrating Palm Sunday 2006
Gifts of Hope 2007
Some of the Central Asian orphans last December
Special projects help Christian school-children in very difficult situations, for example, Iraqi Christian children in Syria. They have fled with their families from the terrible situation and anti-Christian hostility in their own country. It is next to impossible for their parents to find work, so school fees cannot be paid unless there is outside help. Currently we are funding Lebanese Christian children whose parents cannot afford their school fees this year, because of the conflict in their country last July. Many people fled their homes during the conflict and could not gather in that summer’s harvest. So until the 2007 harvest they need extra help.
In a certain country of Central Asia where Christians are facing much pressure and persecution, a church is caring for 11 Christian orphans. Barnabas Fund covers the cost of their food, clothes and education, which amounts to £21.50 per child per month. Reference XX-610
In the Arab world we also support children’s homes which care for Christian youngsters. Some are orphans but others are living there because of different and equally tragic circumstances. For example, perhaps one of their parents has converted to Islam and the remaining Christian parent has sent the couple’s children to a churchrun children’s home to protect them from being forcibly converted to Islam.
In some places there are not enough Christian schools, or those that exist are not large enough for all the children, or they are in a very ramshackle state. On page 8 you can read about the new extension added to a Christian school in Bethlehem last year. It was through Barnabas Fund that the original school was built and also through Barnabas Fund that the extension has been added. We have also helped with new buildings for schools in Chad, Gambia, Nigeria, Sudan and Uganda. School building projects currently in progress include a complete new school for the desperately poor children of one of Egypt’s infamous “garbage cities”.
School buses Getting to school can be difficult. In Mosul, in northern Iraq, Barnabas Fund is helping with the costs of hiring six school buses to take Christian children to school. Reference 20-227 (helping needy Iraqi Christians)
hildren need to go to school! But in contexts of anti-Christian persecution, it can be a severe ordeal for Christian children to go to government schools, especially at primary school age. As well as the mocking from their class-mates which Christian children in any country may suffer, their teachers too may belittle them and may tell grotesque lies about the Christian faith. The Christian children may be given low grades or even failed in their exams. Barnabas Fund has many projects which help to give Christian children a good education, whenever possible in a secure, Christian environment. Our School-Place Sponsorship Fund enables Christian schools to offer places at reduced fees to needy Christian families. At the moment the Fund is helping 1,580 children in India, Pakistan, Egypt and the Holy Land.
In some countries children have to travel a long way to go to a Christian school and it is normal for them to stay in a nearby hostel during term. Here they are cared for in a Christian environment. Currently we are assisting with a purpose-built hostel building in Faisalabad, Pakistan, which will be able to accommodate up to 40 boys aged 10 to 16. Reference 41-667
Teacher training Schools need teachers, and teachers need training. A church-run project in Sudan is helping to train headteachers, teachers and educational coordinators, with assistance from Barnabas Fund. Reference 48-494 Training Christian schoolteachers in Sudan
Reference 00-514 These Pakistani Christian girls can go to a Christian school, thanks to help from Barnabas Fund
MARCH / APRIL 2007 BARNABAS AID 5
Gifts of Hope 2007 This Christian girl in the Middle East would have died from a spinal problem but Barnabas Fund assisted with the necessary surgery. Her father refused to convert to Islam and get free medical care for his daughter that way. We are so thankful that God used Barnabas Fund to reward this family’s courage and faithfulness.
fter school, what next? Barnabas Fund helps Christian young people in contexts of discrimination to study at university or college. This will enable the individuals to support themselves and their family in the future. For example, we are helping a young Christian in Pakistan to learn welding. Pakistani welding student - Reference 41-401
Some skills could also be a great benefit for the whole Christian community. We are currently supporting a law student in Bangladesh; when she is qualified her skills can be an asset to the whole Christian community in her country, which is increasingly beleaguered. Bangladeshi law student - Reference 04-658
Other projects which support Christian students: Bethlehem and Jerusalem (32 students studying a variety of subjects) – Reference 65-589 Pakistani medical student – Reference 00-316
University Christian Fellowships Another way in which to help young Christians in further education is by resourcing Christian Unions or similar fellowships whereby they can encourage and support each other as Christian students in a hostile environment. Barnabas Fund has been helping such organisations in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon.
Student hostels This academic year we are assisting Christian students in Chad with the costs of building a student hostel so that they can live in a Christian environment while they are studying. Christian Student Hostel, Chad - Reference 08-661
Barnabas Fund is currently assisting with the building of a Christian centre for disabled children in upper Egypt. Reference 11-612
GIRLS AT RISK
sick or disabled child touches everyone’s heart. Some conditions can be very expensive to treat or care for in countries where all health care must be paid for. Imagine how it feels for impoverished Christian parents in some contexts who have to watch their children suffer, knowing that if they converted to Islam the necessary treatment would be provided for them free of charge. Barnabas Fund can sometimes help in individual cases, which church leaders bring to our attention. Last year a grant of £1,000 went to help a baby girl with cancer of the eye, the daughter of a Christian couple in Iraq. A Christian clinic in Islamabad, Pakistan, specialises in caring for babies and their mothers. Much of their work is preventative, including vaccinations. But the families in this Christian community are too poor to pay more than a token amount for their treatment. Barnabas Fund covers the difference enabling the clinic to continue to function.
n certain Muslim countries, Christian girls are at great risk of being kidnapped, raped, forcibly converted to Islam and forcibly married to a Muslim (perhaps the kidnapper himself). Although rape is forbidden in Islam, there is a widespread cultural belief in certain Islamic contexts that it is all right to rape Christian girls. Barnabas Fund seeks to help girls and young women in these contexts by funding refuges and other forms of care for the victims or those who know themselves to be in particular danger. To help support such a refuge in a Middle Eastern country, you can give to project reference XX-096. We are also supporting a refuge in Kenya for Christian girls at risk in the context of traditional African religions. The Cana Girls Rescue Home is located in an area where traditional African religions are strong. Many young Christian girls seek help to escape from situations such as being forced into a polygamous marriage with a much older man, or female genital mutilation at puberty. Some are brought by mothers who have become Christians and want to protect their daughters. Sometimes the girls are themselves converts to Christianity.
MEDICAL NEEDS OF CHILDREN
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Gifts of Hope 2007 CHILD SLAVES
CHILDREN’S CHRISTIAN LITERATURE
ou have probably read and prayed about the Pakistani Christian boys, aged 6 to 12, who were seized from their villages and advertised for sale in Quetta, Baluchistan Province. They would have been sold by their Muslim abductor for domestic servitude or the sex trade, if they had not been rescued by two Christian missionaries. (Turn to page iv of the pull-out supplement for more details.) The boys had been beaten and half-starved during their months in captivity. Barnabas Fund gave a donation to help with medical costs for the 20 boys, as well as for 15 other redeemed child slaves in Pakistan.
ow blessed we are in the West with so many kinds of children’s Bibles for our youngsters. It is a privilege for Barnabas Fund to help provide Bibles for children growing up in contexts of discrimination and harassment. Barnabas Fund paid for the printing of this children’s Bible
Reference 00-345 (Victims of Violence Fund)
SPIRITUAL NEEDS OF CHILDREN
erhaps the most basic way of meeting children’s spiritual needs is through Sunday schools. Barnabas Fund helps to provide Sunday school materials, for example in Sudan. We also help to train Sunday school teachers, for example, Armenian Christians in Iran.
Christian magazines for children are tremendously popular in certain parts of the world. Where Christians are poor and needy, as in so many places where the Church is persecuted, these magazines must be given away free or sold for a very tiny sum. Barnabas Fund is helping to cover the cost of some of these children’s magazines, which bring so much encouragement and hope to young people. Middle East - children’s magazine - Reference XX-207 Kazakhstan and Tajikistan - children’s magazines Reference 80-664
A week or two at a Christian camp when school is closed for the summer can have a life-long effect on a child. It is often at camps that children and young people come to a deeper understanding of their faith and make their own personal decisions to follow the Lord Jesus. Camps can also be a source of great encouragement, as children meet to worship the Lord in large numbers and realise that they are not alone as they face the hostility of society at large. Over the years Barnabas Fund has supported Christian camps in a number of contexts, for example, Jordan, the Caucasus, Pakistan, Russia and Central Asia. Currently our focus is on supporting Christian summer camps for children in Muslim-majority parts of Russia. Reference 43-646
Many Christian children in Central Asia wait eagerly for their copy of this Christian magazine for children. Literature like this brings encouragement and helps to strengthen their faith
aybe you would love to help some Christian children through Barnabas Fund this Easter but do not know which project to choose. A gift to our Children’s Fund will be used to help any of the above projects which do not have sufficient support, or else for other children’s needs. Reference 00-665
Happy faces at a Christian summer camp in Russia
Above all, the most important thing is to pray for these young believers that they may be firmly grounded in their faith and that the Lord will fill them with His joy and peace, despite the difficult, degrading or dangerous situations in which they are living. Pray that they will be bold witnesses for their Lord, both now and when they grow up. May their lives be used for His glory and His purposes in the contexts where He has put them.
MARCH / APRIL 2007 BARNABAS AID 7
Newsroom birth, peace and joy were brought into the world. So is our school shedding the light of hope for a brighter future, giving love and care, bringing joy and happiness, and spreading peace and reconciliation.” A further encouragement came four days later when the Archbishop of Canterbury paid a three-hour visit to the school, along with other senior church leaders from the UK who were on a Christmas pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The head teacher, Amal Behnam, at the entrance to the school on the day of the official opening
Bethlehem’s neediest Christians rejoice at the official opening of their school WHAT A JOYFUL DAY IT WAS ON MONDAY 18H DECEMBER 2006 when St Aphrem’s Syrian Orthodox School in Bethlehem was officially opened. Although it had been running for three years already as a fourclassroom kindergarten, an extension built during the summer of 2006 provided another 10 classrooms to allow it to cater for children up to the age of 12. It was time to celebrate with an official opening which was attended by church leaders of many denominations as well as representatives from local schools and dignitaries from the Palestinian community. Being the poorest of the Christian communities in Bethlehem, the Syrian Orthodox had never before had their own school, and until recently had scarcely dared to hope they ever could. As the head teacher, Miss Amal Behnam, said in her speech at the opening, “It is an occasion that only a few years ago seemed so far fetched - a dream and a wish longed for, for ages.” Yet with funding from Barnabas Fund their hope has become a reality. “We give thanks to the Lord for this blessed gift,” said Miss Behnam. She also spoke of the fact that the date of the opening was so close to the time when we celebrate “the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ in the little town of Bethlehem, where 2,000 years ago with His 8 BARNABAS AID MARCH / APRIL 2007
The children performed songs and dances for the visitors at the official opening
he divided his time between his work as an electrician and caring for his eldest daughter, who has terminal cancer. Then one morning masked militants arrived at his door. They sacked and looted his house, took all his savings, and told him to leave the country if he wanted to live. George had no reason to doubt that they would carry out their threat. He had seen many Christians in his neighbourhood die at the hands of the militant gangs. NOT FAR AWAY MARIAM WAKES in the small room she shares with her family and another couple. When her husband disappeared in April 2006, she feared the worst. His bullet-riddled body was later discovered, half buried under rotting rubbish on the wasteland outside Mosul, the city where they used to live. Unable to provide for her children (aged 14, 11 and 10) and fearing for their lives, Mariam took them and fled with her meagre savings and what they could carry.
Pakistani Christians tortured for refusing Islam Four days later the Archbishop of Canterbury visited the school, with a delegation of senior church leaders from the UK
IRAQ: two personal stories of Christians who have fled As thousands of Iraqi Christians continue to flee their homeland, in response to the campaigns of anti-Christian violence and intimidation, we bring you stories of two families who have sought safety in Syria. The names have been changed to protect them. AS THE DAWN LIGHT STRUGGLES to illuminate the tiny one-roomed apartment in a run-down suburb of Damascus, George begins the daily struggle to provide for his daughters. He arrived last December, bringing just the clothes on his back and the family he so nearly lost. Until late 2006 George had lived in Baghdad. A widower and father of three,
A Christian mother and daughter employed as domestic servants by a Muslim couple in Sialkot were imprisoned and tortured by their employers in a bid to force them to convert to Islam. Nasreen Pervez and her 13-year old daughter, Razia, had been working for a month at the home of Muhammad Ikram and his wife when the couple who had hired them refused to pay their wages, and chained them at night to prevent them escaping. They tore the crosses from the Christians’ necks, and forbade them to pray. When the mother and daughter consistently refused to convert, they were cut and burned, and threatened with acid and a syringe. Nasreen and Razia were released from their ordeal of many weeks on 7th December 2006 by a bailiff acting on the orders of the Lahore High Court. The authorities had been alerted after Nasreen’s eldest daughter tried to visit her mother and younger sister, but was told by Muhammad Ikram and his wife, “Don’t come back unless you want to see them dead.”
The enslavement of human beings was practised by all the ancient civilisations of the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Africa. People became slaves – the property of others – through debt, by being sold into slavery by family members, by being captured in war, or through kidnapping by slave raiders and pirates. O prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts who migrated (from Mecca) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her this only for thee and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess in order that there should be no difficulty for Thee. And Allah is OftForgiving Most Merciful Q 33:501 This verse clearly shows that, according to the Qur’an, taking slaves in war was a God-given right. These slaves were considered spoils of war, and the women were usually destined to be concubines of the victorious warriors. Muhammad received his share in enslaved women. The right of Muslims to have sexual intercourse with female slaves is indicated in Qur’an 23:1-6 which gives Muslims Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, kept slaves. One of his sexual rights over their wives and over those “whom their right biographers, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, states that he had four hands possess”. slave girls and adds a list of 27 male slaves (some of whom he Many texts indicate that slaves can be used as a sort of freed). currency to pay penalties imposed for the misdemeanours Many slaves were gained as booty after victorious military of their owners. Qur’an 4:92, for example, explains that the campaigns. After defeating a Jewish tribe called the Banu manslaughter of a Muslim could be paid for by freeing a Qurayza in 627, Muhammad executed all the men (numbering believing (i.e. Muslim) slave and paying compensation to the 600 to 900), and divided the women and children among his relatives. If a slave cannot be afforded then the penalty is a people as slaves. On this occasion, he took Rihana, the wife of two months’ fast. the leader of the tribe, as a concubine. This story indicates the While the Qur’an does not condemn slavery, it does close linkage in classical Islam between prisoners of war, slaves encourage kindness to slaves. Qur’an 24:33 instructs Muslims and concubines. A prisoner of war was automatically a slave, to allow a slave of good character to buy their freedom if and if female she was potentially a concubine as well. they so request, and even tells the slave-owner to contribute Muhammad not only kept slaves and enslaved captives towards the sum to be raised. This verse also prohibits but also traded in slaves, as did his companions and many compelling unwilling slave girls into prostitution. other people in the Arabian Peninsula at that time. He also … And if any of your slaves ask for a deed in writing (to received slaves as gifts. One of his concubines, Mary the Copt enable them to earn their freedom for a certain sum), give (apparently a Christian), was given to him by the ruler of Egypt. them such a deed, if you know any good in them; yea, give The example of Muhammad, who is traditionally considered them something yourselves out of the means which God has by Muslims the perfect model for their own behaviour, has given to you. But force not your maids to prostitution when made any Islamic opposition to slavery difficult. The argument they desire chastity…. that what he did was normal and acceptable in society of that The freeing of slaves is included in a list of virtuous acts time but not in the modern world carries little or no weight (Q 90:12-13), and elsewhere the Qur’an commends spending with conservative Muslims, who are interested only in copying money to ransom slaves (Q 2:177). Muhammad’s example. Nowadays, when slavery as such is banned in almost every country, there are still situations where people are effectively trapped in employment under harsh conditions. For example, they may be “bonded labourers” in Pakistan, unable to change jobs because of debts to their employer. Another scenario is that of expatriate domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, whose employers have seized their passports, and who are locked in the house to prevent them escaping. Such individuals are slaves in all but name. There are also still true slaves in some countries. The European slave trade is well known, but that of Islam is not. Furthermore, Islam even played a part in the European slave trade, as Arab traders were involved with African chiefs in the business of providing Africans for the Europeans to enslave. In the past, religions sought to justify the practice of slavery. Whilst, thankfully, most have rejected this now, Islam stands out as the exception.
Islam and Slavery
Muhammad and slavery
The Qur’an and slavery
Shari‘a and slavery
The shari‘a (Islamic law) has much to say about slaves, The existence of slavery is accepted uncritically in the Qur’an, including the acquisition of slaves, slave-trading, freeing and slaves are often mentioned. Captive women could be taken slaves, the status of female slaves, and how to deal with as concubines, special permission being granted to Muhammad runaway slaves and lost slaves. In wars against non-Muslims, to allow him to do this in a Qur’anic verse: 1 Quotations in this article are taken from The Holy Qur’an: Text Translation and Commentary by A. Yusuf Ali (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1975). Please note that the verse numbering varies slightly between different translations of the Qur’an so it may be necessary to look in the verses just before or just after the reference given to find the same text in another translation.
As well as domestic duties, agriculture and concubinage, some were used as soldiers. These slave-soldiers included the Turkic Mamelukes who eventually became a powerful force within Islam and set up their own states. High prices were paid for eunuchs, and the practice of castration persisted from the 9th century until the early 20th century. Islam prohibits physical mutilation so many eunuchs were castrated before entering Islamic territory. The slave trade became a great source of wealth and power to Muslim states, and remained an important part of the economy of parts of the Muslim world well into the 20th century.
Slavery in Africa Slave caravan
prisoners of war were to be killed, exchanged for Muslim prisoners of war, freed for ransom, or enslaved. The women and children were to be similarly exchanged or enslaved. Many rules concerning the practice of owners marrying slaves and taking slaves as concubines were outlined in order to determine paternity and ownership of children born to a female slave. A slave concubine who bore children to her master would be elevated to the status of um walad (mother of his child) and her children would be equal to the legal offspring. She could not be sold and was freed on her master’s death. If a concubine was freed she could not have legal status as a wife, but would live with her master as his mistress and her children would be illegitimate. There were also rules about slaves marrying each other. The four caliphs who came after Muhammad discouraged the enslavement of Muslims and it was eventually prohibited, but the enslavement of non-Muslims continued apace. If a non-Muslim slave converted to Islam he or she remained a slave. As an act of charity by the owner, however, a slave could be emancipated – but only a believing slave deserved freedom. In Muslim lands, a slave had few civil or legal rights: a slave had no right to be heard in court; no right to property; any goods he did manage to accumulate would be inherited by his master not his children. He could marry only with the permission of the owner; he could not give alms or make a pilgrimage; he was considered a mere piece of property. As in all contexts where slavery was practised, the actual treatment of slaves varied: some masters were kind, and some were cruel.
Islamic expansion and slavery
As Islam expanded by conquest (jihad), extending within a few centuries from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian subcontinent, and spreading to south-east Asia, central Asia and Africa, large numbers of people were enslaved. The supply of slaves had to be constantly replenished because there was a high death rate amongst them. Furthermore, marriage amongst slaves was not encouraged, and in any case many male slaves were castrated (an operation which was often fatal). But Muslims and non-Muslim minorities living under the protection of the Islamic state could not be enslaved. So the need for more slaves became a motive for continuing to expand and conquer non-Muslim territories. A vast network of slave trading developed. Within Islamic territories there were slaves from central Asia, from the Byzantine Empire, from sub-Saharan Africa and from Europe. As far afield as Indonesia the business of seizing and selling slaves flourished, with the Muslim Acehnese active in “manhunting” even in the early 20th century.
Black slaves were imported into the Muslim world from Africa by a number of routes northward across the Sahara desert, and by sea into Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Estimates of the number involved vary greatly but it seems that there may easily have been 10 million, perhaps even twice that number. Two-thirds of African slaves were female. The males were considered to be troublesome. An uprising of slaves from West Africa, the Zanj, who had been imported into the TigrisEuphrates delta to reclaim salt marshland through their backbreaking labour, lasted from 869 until 883. The mortality rate was very high because of the harsh conditions, but the trade was so lucrative that merchants were not deterred by the numbers who died. Harrowing eye witness accounts tell of the vast scale and miserable conditions of the slave trade in Africa. In the 1570s many thousands of black Africans were seen for sale in Cairo on market days. In 1796 a caravan was seen by a British traveller leaving Darfur with 5,000 slaves. Black eunuchs became favoured for the royal harems. Even after Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807, a further 2 million Africans were enslaved by Muslim traders. The Arabic word abd which means “slave” or “servant” is used as an insult to black people in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
Slavery in the Ottoman Empire The enslavement of captives taken when the Ottoman armies raided Christian countries was part of the state system of the Ottoman Empire. After he conquered Constantinople in 1453 Sultan Mehmed wrote to various Muslim rulers boasting of the enslavement of its Christian population. The Ottomans engaged in slave trading from Gibraltar to Central Asia. The Balkan Christians of the Ottoman Empire suffered cruelly, particularly under the brutal and bitterly resented child-levy, the devshirme. From the 15th century to the early 17th century the Ottomans would seize a certain proportion of Christian boys from their villages every few years, forcibly convert them to Islam and train them for the elite fighting force known as the Janissaries or for the state bureaucracy. The devshirme was sternly enforced. If any Christian parent tried to prevent the taking of his child he was immediately hanged from his own door frame. It is estimated that between 500,000 and one million boys, from the ages of 8 to 20, were taken in this way. Occasionally, armed uprisings against the system took place, but they were quickly crushed. Some children ran away, only to return and give themselves up when their parents were tortured. Many resorted to bribery to escape recruitment. In the early 17th century the devshirme was abandoned and the Ottomans obtained their slaves from new sources – Georgians and Circassians of the Caucasus and Slav and Central Asian slaves captured and traded by the Crimean Tatars. By the early 19th century this supply was reduced and the Ottomans turned to Africa.
1952, Saudi Arabia and the Yemen Arab Republic in 1962, the United Arab Emirates in 1963, South Yemen in 1967, and Oman in 1970.
Slavery in India
After abolition in 1962, about 10,000 slaves were freed out of an estimated 15,000 -30,000. In 1965 the Saudi royal family still kept hundreds of slaves. Many in Saudi Arabia advocate slavery even now. Sheik Saleh Al-Fawzen, a leading scholar and author of a religious textbook for schools, has said, “Slavery is a part of Islam”, and that those Muslims who oppose slavery “are ignorant, not scholars”. In Saudi Arabia, the plight of migrant workers often amounts to slavery. Domestic workers are often exploited, forcibly confined, beaten, underfed, and sometimes raped. The lives of these workers are complicated further by deeplyingrained gender, religious and racial discrimination in Saudi society. Government policies, the practice of private employers, and unfair legal proceedings all combine to oppress large numbers of poor and desperate foreigners trying to earn a living in Saudi Arabia.
The Arabs were the first invaders of India to capture and enslave large numbers of its inhabitants. In the 7th and 8th centuries, and later under the Ghaznavids (962-1187), huge numbers of Hindus became slaves. Many more were enslaved under the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526), the Timurid jihad (1398), and the Mughals (1526-1857). K.S. Lal claims that the slave-taking added significantly to the growth of the Muslim population in India: “… every slave captured in war or purchased in the market or sent in lieu of revenue or tribute was invariably converted to Islam, so that slave-taking in medieval India was the most flourishing and successful missionary endeavour.” The nobility owned huge numbers of slaves and maintained large slave armies. For example, a 14th century sultan kept 180,000 slaves of whom 40,000 were palace guards. In this situation of abundance the price of female slaves was very low. The large numbers of slaves captured in campaigns were either sold in local markets or sent to markets in central Asia.
Enslaving western Europeans Muslim pirates from the Barbary (North African) coast, authorised by their governments, were active in seizing and enslaving white Christians from western Europe from the 16th to the 18th century. They attacked not only ships but also coastal villages. While Spain and Italy bore the brunt of these attacks, the Barbary pirates – often called corsairs – would also go to Portugal, France, England, Ireland and even Iceland. The slaves were kept in wretched conditions and many were worked to death, especially those unfortunate enough to be chosen to row the corsair galleys. Between 1530 and 1780 at least a million white Christian Europeans were enslaved on the Barbary coast. Around the year 1600 there were estimated to be some 35,000 in captivity there at any one time. Many records of the letters sent home, telling of the terrible sufferings the slaves were enduring, still exist. Some converted to Islam in order to get easier duties or, in the case of women in the harems, to stay with their children who were being brought up as Muslims. The slaves’ only hope lay in being redeemed by payment of a ransom. Churches collected offerings for this purpose. Many of those who went to North Africa with funds to negotiate the release of the slaves were church leaders. In Spain and Italy ransoming slaves was considered an act of great merit: “Their [only] fault, their crime, is recognising Jesus Christ as the most divine Saviour … and of professing Him as the True Faith.” English slaves were largely neglected by their home country, especially in comparison with those from southern European countries. They knew this, and were demoralised. An “Algerian Duty” was set aside from the customs income in England to redeem slaves, but much of it was diverted to other uses. Many English slaves died in captivity.
Slavery in modern times Although Tunisia, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire abolished slavery in the 19th century under pressure from the West, in east Africa and other places it persisted into the 20th century, prompting the League of Nations and later the United Nations to condemn the practice. The nations of the Arabian Peninsula were among the last to outlaw slavery: Qatar in
Eunuch slaves were in high demand in the Ottoman Empire, principally as guardians of the harems. Prague became an important centre for the castration of European slaves being imported to the Ottoman Empire.
Mauritania In ancient times slavery was common in Mauritania. In the 8th century Mauritania came under Islamic authority. From this point onward, only black Africans have been enslaved in Mauritania. The old practice of forming slave armies was revived after the end of colonialism. Black Mauritanians were forced into military units and sent into African villages to subdue and kill the inhabitants. The soldiers were then settled on the lands of the villagers, and authorised to defend themselves and undertake punitive campaigns against the population. There have been several legal/constitutional rulings to outlaw slavery (in 1905, twice in 1961, and in 1981), but they have not been effective. In 1994 there were still an estimated 90,000 black Mauritanians (Harratin) in the possession of their Arab/Berber masters. It was also reported that some 300,000 freed slaves were still serving their former masters because of psychological or economic dependence. The 1981 ordinance abolishing slavery granted compensation to slave holders for the loss of their slaves, but the money was not forthcoming, which may be one of the reasons why most slave owners continued to hold their slaves. Although some try to defend the institution by noting that many families of slaves have worked for the same family for generations, and claiming that they are merely servants working for their keep, the testimonies of the small number who have managed to escape tell of brutalities and hardship which seem more like slavery. There do not seem to be any firm figures on the number of slaves in Mauritania currently, but it is clear that slavery still continues there.
Sudan With the imposition of Islamic law in 1983 by the Northernbased Arab Islamic government, the age-old practice of slavery in the Sudan gathered momentum. During the civil war which raged from 1983 until 2005, captured Southerners were frequently enslaved. The men were often shot, the children were made slaves (herding cattle or performing other unpaid tasks) while the women became the sexual slaves of their owners. Such slavery was abolished in the 2005 peace treaty which ended the civil war. Since 1986 more than 200,000 people of the Dinka tribe are estimated to have been enslaved in a complex network of buyers, sellers and middlemen, with many of the slaves brutally treated and some forcibly converted to Islam.
Pakistan In Pakistan, many lives are blighted as enormous numbers of people eke out an existence as “bonded labourers” unable to leave their desperately hard and low-paid jobs. A high proportion of these are Christian workers with Muslim employers. Evidence came to light in 2006 of the kidnapping and enslavement of young boys from Christian villages in the Punjab, an operation coordinated by a leading member of a militant Islamic group, the Jamaat-ud Daawa. The children, aged between 6 and 12, were held in unspeakable conditions, beaten, barely fed, and forbidden to talk, play or pray, before being sold for approximately $1,700 each into the sex trade or into domestic servitude.
Conclusion Many Muslims agree that there is no place for slavery in the modern world but there has as yet been no sustained critique of the practice. The difficulties and dangers of confronting the example of Muhammad, and the teaching of the Qur’an and shari‘a (which most Muslims believe cannot be changed) have dampened any internal debate within Islam. While slavery still exists in many Islamic countries, few Muslim leaders show remorse for the past, discuss reparations, or show that repugnance for the scourge of slavery which eventually led to its abolition in the West. It is time for Muslims to emphatically and publicly condemn the practice of slavery in any form and ensure that their legal codes supporting it are changed.
Christianity and slavery The Bible does not treat slavery as divinely ordained but rather as reflecting the condition of man. Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 (NIV) specifically condemn slave traders; he tells slaves to gain their freedom if they can (1 Corinthians 7:21); and he encourages Philemon to welcome the runaway Onesimus who had now become a Christian, no longer as a slave, but “as a dear brother” (Philemon 15-16). Paul had exposed himself to punishment by sheltering Onesimus, and he makes it clear that Philemon ought to free Onesimus. There is no endorsement of slavery as an institution; rather the goal of freedom pervades the New Testament. In western Europe slavery was virtually extinguished by the 11th century, until 1450 saw the rise of the evil and brutal transatlantic slave trade which lasted for nearly four centuries. It is strange that slavery and the slave trade during this period were approved by some senior church leaders in Europe and North America, some of whom owned slaves. They even sought to justify the practice by theological arguments. However, it was also Christians – a small group of them in 18th century Britain - who took a leading role in the long hard struggle against slavery. The best known name is William Wilberforce who was motivated by the Biblical teaching about humans being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and by Jesus’ command to treat others as we would like them to treat us (Matthew 7:12). Their struggle eventually achieved the abolition of the slave trade (1807), and then the abolition of slavery itself throughout the British Empire (1833). Other countries then followed suit.
© Barnabas Fund, 2007
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Newsroom AUSTRALIA: appeal of two pastors against charges of “vilifying Muslims” is upheld
Cotton growing in Uzbekistan. Isolated Christians living in rural areas are on the receiving end of a wave of hostile threats after anti-Christian programmes were shown on television. Because they are few in number, rural Christians are very vulnerable
Anti-Christian TV in Uzbekistan Prompts Backlash against Rural Christians In late 2006 Uzbek television broadcast programmes which accused Christians of corrupting people, especially young people, of using drugs, and of gathering to meet in unregistered places. They also said that missionary activity is funded from overseas and carried out by foreigners. Christians were accused of breaking the law, distributing religious leaflets and making converts by force. It was even implied that Christians would kill any church member wanting to leave. If the programmes were intended to incite hatred against Christians they certainly succeeded. Within a couple of weeks , Barnabas Fund was informed of a surge of hostility against Christians, especially isolated Christians living in rural areas. Some have been told by their Muslim neighbours that they must leave their villages. One Christian, who had converted from Islam more than 10 years ago, began receiving threats from local Muslims after the programmes were aired. They told him that he and his family must attend the mosque and renounce Christ. A newspaper reported a mullah as saying that Christians will not be buried when they die.
On 14th December 2006 an appeal court in Victoria State upheld the appeal brought by Pastors Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah against their 2004 conviction for what has often been described as “vilifying Muslims”. The two were accused in a case brought against them by the Islamic Council of Victoria who had secretly infiltrated a seminar for Christians on Islam led by the two men in March 2002. The appeal court ruled that the case must be reheard with the same evidence as before but with a different judge. It also ruled that the penalties previously imposed on the pastors when they were found guilty should be set aside. These penalties had included publishing large (and therefore expensive) advertisements in several newspapers to acknowledge their guilt and agreeing never to make similar statements about Islam again. While rejoicing at the appeal court ruling, the two pastors must now brace themselves for yet more court proceedings. Observers have commented that it is to be hoped that this appeal court ruling will cause the Victoria State government to look at amending its Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001) under which the two pastors were convicted. Intended to promote harmony between different groups in the state, it is in practice doing the exact opposite.
Hope for Christian School-Children in Pakistan Pakistan’s Ministry of Education is working to reform the country’s school curriculum and text books to remove any bias against non-Muslim minorities. For example, history books will start to include the fact that, when Pakistan was created in 1947, all citizens of the new state were meant to be equal, irrespective of their religion or caste. Conservative Muslim parties were quick to condemn the proposed changes, accusing the government of acting on orders from Washington. Education Minister Javed Ashraf Qazi rebutted these charges on television, saying, “We are reforming our text books for the development of our children, and the people who are involved in this process are Pakistanis – we don’t have any American expert with us and we have not received any money from the US for reviewing our curriculum.” Liberal Muslims and Christian leaders welcomed the proposed changes. Pakistan is one of many Muslim-majority countries where children are taught at school to despise non-Muslims. This is one of the reasons why Barnabas Fund does so much to help Christian children in such contexts get an education in a Christian environment. (See page 5.) Christian children in Pakistan may find it easier at government schools if proposed new changes to the curriculum and text books mean there is less bias against non-Muslims
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The Islamic Republic of Iran Introduction Iran is a unique country. It is one of the oldest centres of world civilisation and empires. It has maintained a distinct identity within the Islamic world by retaining its own language - Farsi - and adhering to Shi‘a Islam. Iran is the only Muslim state with Twelver Shi‘a Islam as the official state religion. Indeed it is the only country where Shi‘ism is unchallenged as the dominant form of Islam. Iran is one of the most ethnically diverse states in the world. It holds some 9% of world oil reserves. The area to the north of the Persian Gulf, which is currently known as Iran, has had several other names in the past. While Iranians have always called their country Iran (land of the Aryans) others used different names. For many centuries it was called Persia (from the Greek Persis), and under this name (in Hebrew Paras) it appears in Old Testament books such as 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ezekiel and Daniel. Fars (Parsa in Old Persian) is the region that was the ancient core homeland of the Persians from which they expanded to found their empire. The word Farsi (or Parsi) is used to denote
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the Persian language. Elam, the oil-rich coastal region now known as Khuzistan, was the homeland of the ancient Elamites mentioned in the Bible. To the north of Elam were the regions of Fars, Media and Parthia.
History In the 6th century BC the Persians under Cyrus the Great conquered a large part of the ancient world, including Media and Babylon, creating the vast Achaemenid Empire stretching from the Indus to the Nile. Its state religion was Zoroastrianism, which taught that a good creator god (Ahura Mazda) and an evil god (Angra Mainyu) were locked in a perpetual cosmic battle. At the end of time the good god will finally prevail. After conquering Babylon in 539 BC, Cyrus gave permission for all the foreign captives who had been living there to return to their homelands. Amongst those who benefited were many Jews who returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt it. There is much recorded in the Old Testament about the help, funding and protection given by various Persian emperors to the Jewish people over the next hundred years or so.
The Achaemenid Empire was followed by the Seleucid (333-223 BC), the Parthian (223 BC-226 AD) and the Sassanid (226-642 AD) Empires. Weakened by incessant wars, the Sassanid Empire was quickly overrun by the Arab Muslim armies in 636-642 AD. As the Persians were gradually Islamised they made great contributions to Islamic culture. In the 9th and 10th centuries Farsi replaced Arabic as the dominant language of the eastern part of the Islamic Empire. From the 10th century onwards there was an infiltration of nomadic Turkic tribes into Iranian territory. The Turks formed a new military class that soon took over real power as the Grand Seljuks nominally under the Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad. The Mongols overran Iran and the Abbasid domains, sacking Baghdad in 1258. Cities and countryside were devastated and their populations massacred. The Mongol rulers were eventually converted to Islam at the end of the 13th century. In 1501 Sheikh Isma‘il, head of the Turkmen Safavi order (a type of Sufism or mystical Islam), conquered Azerbaijan, establishing the Safavid Empire (1502-1736). He soon gained control of most of Iran and declared Twelver Shi‘a Islam the state religion in an effort to unite his empire against the Sunni Ottomans. For two centuries there was warfare between the two Muslim empires until the border between them was stabilised. In 1781 Agha Muhammad of the Turkic Qajar tribe seized the throne founding the Qajar dynasty (17811925). Under the Qajars Iran faced Russian expansion into its Caucasian provinces whilst the British sought commercial domination of Iran’s Ghorban Tori: a convert from Islam who led a small house church of other converts. He was stabbed to death on 22nd November 2005, apparently by the security forces
Country Profile trade and economy. Iran became a pawn between the two empires who divided it into Russian and British spheres of influence. This resulted in an intensification of Muslim distrust of Christians.
The Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979) In 1925 Reza Khan, an officer of the Cossack Regiment, seized power and proclaimed himself shah (king). He imposed central authority on the unruly provinces and tribes and weakened the power of the Shi‘a Islamic clerics. He modernised Iran by creating westernised military, educational and judicial systems, promoting anti-clericalism, secularism and a modern Iranian national identity based on the glorification of pre-Islamic Iran. His son Muhammad Reza Shah (1941-1979) continued his father’s policies of centralisation, secularisation and modernisation. Growing oil revenues helped the shah push his modernisation drive on at an ever accelerating pace, antagonising the clerics who saw it as anti-Islamic.
Iranian Islamic Revolution and Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini (1900-1989) introduced a new interpretation of traditional Shi‘ism, the vilayet-ifaqih doctrine, which maintained that political leadership in the Islamic state belonged to the leading cleric as the representative of the Hidden Imam. Following huge demonstrations against the shah, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran in 1979 to establish the Islamic Republic. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) served to consolidate the regime, as nationalistic fervour was added to Islamic rhetoric. Most Iranians united under the regime against the foreign enemy. With the election of Mohammad Khatami as president (1997-2005) moderate reformist Islamists seemed to gain the ascendancy. The reformists however were kept on the defensive by powerful conservatives in the government and judiciary and failed to make good on their promises. Khatami’s liberal ideas put him at odds with the supreme leader,
Ayatollah Khamene’i, and the Islamic hardliners around him. The hardliners managed to keep the reformists at bay and eventually made a comeback with the election of the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005.
President Ahmadinejad and the mahdi In Shi‘a Islam the supreme leader is called the Imam (equivalent to the caliph in Sunni Islam). Twelver Shi‘a Muslims believe that their twelfth Imam, who disappeared in 874, exists today in an invisible spiritual mode as the Hidden Imam and will return as an End-Time deliverer (mahdi) to set up God’s Kingdom of peace, justice and harmony. The mahdi will purify Islam and establish it as the global religion, implementing shari‘a (Islamic law). Non-Muslims will be killed unless they convert to Islam. (More details in the box below.)
What does Islam say about the End Times? Islamic eschatology, both Sunni and Shi‘a, predicts a period of great cosmic conflict before the final resurrection and judgement. During this period there will be natural catastrophes as well as terrible wars. An Antichrist figure (al-dajjal) appears who causes corruption and oppression all over the world for a limited period of time, deceiving many by his miracles and false teachings. A heaven-sent saviour, the mahdi, then appears to fight the forces of Satan, restore Islam to its original perfection and glory, and set up God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus returns to earth as a Muslim, defeats the Antichrist and helps the mahdi. While Sunni and Shi‘a beliefs concerning the End Times have many similarities, they differ from one another on several points. In a speech to senior clerics on November 16th 2005 the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that his government’s main task
Issa Motamedi Mojdehi: a convert from Islam who got in trouble with the authorities seven years after his conversion when he gave his baby son a Biblical name. Issa was detained for a month on concocted drugs charges, then released on bail on 24th August 2006 (Photo: Compass)
was to “pave the path for the glorious reappearance of Imam mahdi”. He also urged that Iran be turned into a “mighty, advanced and model Islamic society” so as to prepare for the mahdi. Reports allege that after his accession to the presidency in 2005, Ahmadinejad told regime officials that the Hidden Imam would return in two years’ time (i.e. 2007). Ahmadinejad seems to consider that creating the perfect powerful Islamic state is part of the necessary preparation for the return of the mahdi. The state can then be handed over to the mahdi for use to fulfil his programme. President Ahmadinejad is reported to be linked to the Hojjatieh, a mahdist group that believes in generating chaos in order to hasten the return of the mahdi. It could be that his reckless foreign policies, which seem to envisage nuclear war with Israel and the USA, are all part of a deliberate chaos-creating plan.
Christianity in Iran The Christian communities in Iran go back to the Book of Acts where we read of Parthians, Medes and Elamites hearing the apostles speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). Soon churches
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Country Profile were established which even to this day use the Syriac (Aramaic) language in their worship: the Ancient Church of the East, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Syrian Orthodox Church. These Eastern churches expanded vigorously and by the time of the Muslim conquest in 642 some 25% of the Iranian population were Christians. The Christians were persecuted severely by the Zoroastrian majority before the arrival of Islam. Later, under the Muslim Abbasid Caliphate the Eastern churches were recognised as protected religious communities. Many of the Christians attained high government positions as well as contributing to the new Islamic culture by translating Greek and Syriac texts into Arabic. The Assyrian and Syrian churches were great missionary churches who by the 8th century had spread to Arabia, southern India, Central Asia and China. The Muslim conquest of the Christian country Armenia caused the displacement of many Armenians into areas now in Iran. Armenians suffered much persecution by various Muslim states starting with the Seljuk conquest of the Armenian heartland in 1071 and culminating in the Ottoman genocide which peaked in 1915. Shah Abbas moved many Armenians from Eastern Anatolia to Esfahan (in Iran) in the 17th century. The Armenian community gradually became the largest Christian community in Iran. Missionary efforts since the 18th century in Iran resulted in the growth of a small Protestant group of churches. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, many Muslims have become more open to the Gospel, and some have decided to follow Christ. There are no authoritative statistics on the number of Iranian converts from Islam to Christianity, but the number is growing both within the country and amongst Iranians living in other countries. Under Islam, the status of the Christian minorities was regulated by the discriminatory dhimmi
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system laid down in shari‘a, in which Christians were second-class subjects who submitted to Muslim rule, and paid a special poll tax (jizya). There were limitations on public expressions of their faith, and sharing Christianity with Muslims was forbidden. Various humiliating rules were enforced to emphasise the superiority of Islam. Once large, relatively powerful and missionary-minded, the Iranian Christian communities have gradually dwindled due to devastating wars, massacres, and long-term Muslim pressure. The majority Muslims see the Christian communities as not truly Iranian, due to their ethnic, linguistic and religious differences. In the colonial era Assyrians, Syrians and Armenians were tempted to look for protection and support to the Christian Western powers who manipulated them but could not deliver on their promises. Many Muslims saw this as inappropriate “assertiveness” by the Christian minorities who – according to the teachings of Islam – were supposed to behave in a very submissive way. Therefore the Muslims became more aggressive towards the Christians. This aggression was one of the causes of the terrible genocide inflicted on Armenians (and Assyrians and Syrians) in the Ottoman Empire which spilled over into the Iranian north-west territories.
Christians under the Islamic Republic Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution the shari‘a forms the basis of the Iranian constitution and legal system. In the Islamic Republic Christians form a separate electorate, not eligible to vote for Muslim representatives, but only for three Christian representatives to the Majlis (parliament). This effectively denies Christians any political power. While the constitution theoretically guarantees freedom of belief, various laws place limits on religious freedoms. These restrictive and often contradictory laws are found in the Penal Code, the Theologians’ Law (a body of law dealing with offences committed by clerics) and in the
Public and Revolutionary Courts’ Procedural Law. Under Article 513 of the Penal Code offences classified as “insult to religion” can be punished by death or prison terms of between one and five years. Articles 6 and 26 of the Press Code forbid writings containing apostasy or anything against Islamic standards or Islam. In cases where there are no specific codified laws, judges can deliver fatwas based on authoritative Islamic sources, and this has allowed them to give death sentences for apostasy from Islam (see below). In recent years there have been many cases of arbitrary detention, unfair trial and imprisonment under these laws. Under the present Islamic regime, Christians and their institutions are intensely regulated, and subjected to intrusive interference by the Ministry of Information and Islamic Guidance, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments, and the Ministry of the Interior and its notorious State Secret police. Many Christians are emigrating to the West, and the Christian population is now thought to be as low as 0.2% of the total population, although it was 1.5% in 1975. Persecution of the churches operates in a variety of ways: 1. Control by secret police. The secret police regularly infiltrate church meetings and services, often pretending to be converts from Islam. Church leaders and ministers who refuse to collaborate with the secret police are threatened with arrest, indefinite detention and even death. Church leaders’ telephone lines are tapped and their mail frequently intercepted. Haik Hovsepian Mehr: a prominent Armenian church leader who mysteriously disappeared on 19th January 1994, and was tortured and killed the following day. He had stood up to the Iranian authorities for the rights of Christians and had played a major role in the campaign for the release of Mehdi Dibaj who had been sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam in December 1993 Photo courtesy of CSI
Country Profile What is an Ayatollah? Ayatollah (meaning “sign of God”) is a high-ranking title given to the best qualified Shi‘a Muslim clerics (jurists) with outstanding scholarship. A few of the most prestigious Ayatollahs are granted the rank of Grand Ayatollah.
2. Restrictions on church worship and membership. The authorities actively restrict church activities and freedoms, demanding churches and leaders get permits for almost any activity such as weddings, preaching and travel. Churches are obliged to sign a document promising not to allow Muslims to attend their services. They also face pressure to proclaim that there is no religious persecution in Iran. Church services are not permitted to be conducted in Farsi, the language of the Muslim majority. All members must be issued with membership cards and membership lists must be submitted to the relevant authorities. 3. Discrimination. Christians are discriminated against in admittance to universities and in public employment. No Christian religious teaching is allowed in public schools for Christian children. Some Christian public sector employees have been dismissed. 4. Closure of churches and institutions. A number of churches and house groups have been closed down, as have Christian training centres and other institutions. 5. Bureaucratic obstacles. Government authorities refuse to renew registration of some churches or to register new ones. They have also refused various requests to print Bibles, construct Christian places of worship, or engage in registered charitable activities. 6. Suppression of Christian Scriptures and literature. Despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, it remains an offence to sell a copy of the Bible in Iran. The offices of the Iranian Bible Society were closed in 1980 and all its stocks
confiscated. The Iranian government has refused permission to print or import Farsi-language Christian Scriptures and Christian literature. 7. Attempts to enforce the Islamic apostasy law. Article 167 of the Constitution provides the judge with the discretion to “deliver his judgement on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources and authentic fatwas. This opens the door for implementation of the shari‘a apostasy law which specifies the death sentence for adult male converts from Islam. The most recent case of execution for apostasy was Hossein Soodmand in 1990.
Hamid Pourmand: a colonel in the Iranian army who was arrested in 2004, decades after he had left Islam to become a Christian. In the end he was not charged with apostasy but with failing to inform the army of his new faith before he got promoted. Despite evidence that the army had been well aware he was a Christian, he was found guilty in February 2005 and sentenced to three years in jail. He was released early, on 20th July 2006
8. Other ways of persecuting converts from Islam. Since the hanging of Hossein Soodmand, there have been no known executions of apostates. When Mehdi Dibaj was sentenced to death for apostasy in December 1993 there was a great international outcry and he was released the following month. Nowadays it seems that the authorities choose other methods to persecute converts from Islam, for example, concocting drugs charges against them. Last year, for example,
Issa Motamedi Mojdehi was charged with drugs offences and held in prison for one month. He had converted from Islam seven years earlier and seems to have riled the authorities by giving his baby son a Biblical name, thereby identifying him as a Christian from birth. This would ensure that the child could never in later life be accused of apostasy from Islam. 9. Assassination of Christian leaders. A number of prominent Christian leaders have been violently attacked and several have been mysteriously murdered. There was a spate of such killings in 1994, one victim being the evangelist Mehdi Dibaj, whose death sentence for apostasy had been set aside a few months earlier, apparently in response to international pressure. It is alleged that the assassinations of Christian leaders were carried out by a deathsquad operating within the Iranian security structures on orders from the highest political levels. The election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August 2005 has put Christians in Iran under renewed pressure. In an open meeting with regional governors in November 2005, Ahmadinejad reportedly vowed, “I will stop Christianity in this country.” Christians believed this statement would be seen as a green light for security services to clamp down on Christians. Shortly after the meeting a convert to Christianity, Ghorban Tori, was stabbed to death by security forces on 22nd November 2005 and since then there has been a definite increase in anti-Christian harassment and persecution.
Helping Christians in Iran Barnabas Fund has helped with a variety of needs in Iran. Most are too sensitive to publicise. If you would like to make a gift to help your Iranian brothers and sisters, please mark it for our Iran General Fund (reference 19-940).
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