26 May 2017

Ramadan worries for Christians at risk of persecution

This Saturday, in about 50 countries across the world, some 1.6 billion Muslims will begin fasting from sunrise to sunset for the 30 days of Ramadan. It occurs every year during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and as much as it's celebrated by those who choose to participate, it also brings a heightened pressure for non-Muslims if they do not fast. Some pretend to fast to avoid persecution; sometimes those who are found eating face physical attack.

As the festival approaches, a Christian living in Egypt shares what life is like during this month long festival: "When I walk down the streets of Cairo today, I can tell that Ramadan is near. The general atmosphere looks and feels very festive. The famous, colourful Ramadan lamps are hanging from balconies, and street lights and colourful paper begin to appear, streaming across narrow streets and alleys. Most of the shops have put out special decorations and nice displays of lamps, sweets, dried fruits and nuts in preparation of the holy fasting month.

"As much excitement as the Islamic holy month brings to Muslims, it does carry a great deal of burdens and concerns to the Christian community in Egypt. It is a very long 30 days during which Christians in schools, work or public spaces will receive harsh looks and verbal harassments from extreme Muslims because of their faith. They are ridiculed for not fasting like Muslims. There have even been a few some cases where Christians have faced physical violence because they were caught eating their lunch by their fasting Muslim co-workers or neighbours!

"These types of incidents mean that it's not uncommon for Christians to hide somewhere to eat their lunches away from the eyes of the Muslims. I remember as a young boy having to eat and drink in the school toilet to avoid trouble with Muslim classmates and teachers."

Last year, Nigerian carpenter Francis Emmanuel, 41, was stabbed as he sat outside a restaurant eating during Ramadan. He had gone to buy wood and decided to buy food while he was waiting for the wood to be packaged.

He said, "I sat outside eating when six Muslim youths approached me. They asked why I was eating (and not fasting). At first I didn't reply, but when they asked if I was a Christian or a Muslim, I said I was a Christian. They got furious and started beating me up. One of them brought out a knife and stabbed me in my neck, on my right arm and around my right eye. A Joint Task Force (JTF) member rushed over to help me, and they all ran away. The JTF member took me straight to hospital."

For those who do not dare to openly admit being Christian, they must pretend to take part in Ramadan fasting to avoid persecution. A Christian from Southeast Asia said: "Being a secret believer, I have to pretend I am fasting in front of my Muslim colleagues. To do otherwise would result in suspicions and questionings. It is only when I'm alone or with other secret believers that I can be myself. It is not easy to live such a double life.

"Many secret believers like me dare not reveal our faith because if we are caught we will be sent to Islamic rehabilitation centres. I've heard stories of brainwashing, torture, and mental abuse to make believers from Muslim backgrounds recant their faith in Christ."

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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.

Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List - a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life - plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.

The Open Doors World Watch List is the only instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually. Its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas - private life, family life, community life, national life and church life - as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: "It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all. You may find very low levels of violence as a result, because incidents of violent persecution are often a response to acts of witness."