Pakistan (MNN) — The decreasing Christian population in the Middle East has led to concerns over the religion’s survival in the region of its birth.
Despite the obvious human rights violations, murder rates, and worse, the topic of “persecution” just hasn’t gained much traction from international leaders.
However, a door opened recently, courtesy of the Prince of Wales. The heir to the British throne added his voice to those calling for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
Prince Charles said he was “deeply troubled” by the “growing difficulties” faced by Christians in the region. Echoing the recent words of Louis Raphael I Sako, the Archbishop of Baghdad, the Prince added that the decline of Christians in the region represents a “major blow to peace, as Christians are part of the fabric of society, often acting as bridge-builders between other communities.”
Although his remarks were initially about the Church in Syria and Egypt, they rang true for the rest of the region. “For twenty years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding,” he said, adding, “Surely we have now reached a crisis where bridges are being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so. This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation, and organized persecution including to the Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time.”
The Prince’s comments were welcomed at a time when the Arab Spring uprisings have led to an upsurge in violence with many Christians fleeing the region to avoid attack. Todd Nettleton is a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA. He says this is also the pattern in places like Pakistan, where Christians face severe opposition from militant Islamic groups, including imprisonment, torture, and even death.
Most Pakistani Christians labor under the country’s restrictive Blasphemy Law, or Law 295. Law 295a–blaspheming Islam, and Law 295b–blaspheming the Qur’an, are criminal offenses. Law 295c makes blaspheming Mohammed a crime punishable by death.
Courtrooms packed with militants have often pressured judges into returning a guilty verdict or continuing trials indefinitely. Christians are regularly barred from jobs or face troubles from their employers and co-workers. Christian merchants are often harassed.
Yet, says Nettleton, “Christmas is a national holiday.” While the government acknowledges it, he warns that “it’s also a time where it is well known that Christians are going to gather together, they’re going to have worship services on Christmas Eve, on Christmas morning, and so it can be a time when churches are targeted.”
History bears that out in Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, he explains, adding, “Earlier this year, we saw that on the attack on the Peshawar.” Yet, it doesn’t appear to have dampened Christmas observations. Preparations went on, and in certain areas, Christmas is in full swing. Nettleton notes, “All of the Christians know, ‘if we go to church on Christmas morning, there’s the potential of danger.’ That’s particularly true in the Northwestern part of the country which is more of a hotbed for radical Islam.”
With Christmas Day observations coming, could there be a rash of blasphemy accusations next? Nettleton says there’s no way to tell. However, “They know that it’s a danger there. They know that their government is not going to protect them. Those types of charges, they will go to jail. Maybe they’ll be exonerated, but they will have spent six or seven or eight years in jail waiting for that exoneration to come through.”
Pray for the safety of believers as they gather on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Christ. Pray that those imprisoned for their faith will know the presence of God and will grow in their faith. Pray that Christians in Pakistan will have a bold testimony to those around them.