Why Christians are dying in Nigeria: understanding Boko Haram

By August 1, 2012
(Photo courtesy Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram.  (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram.
(Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Nigeria (MNN) — They’re responsible for murdering 32 people on Christmas Day. They set off 10 car bombs in 24 hours to kill over 250 people. They’ve owned up to bombings, drive-by shootings, anti-Christian and anti-government warfare. For the last several months, they’ve aimed deathly explosives at churches on an almost weekly basis.

Hundreds have died at the hands of this terror group, but who exactly are they?

After all the talk on Mission Network News about Boko Haram targeting Nigerian Christians, we wanted to give our readers and listeners a profile of this terror sect. With Ramadan still in its beginning days, this is a crucial time to understand and pray.

Findings vary about when the Boko Haram (translated “Western education is a sin”) was started, but dates vary between the mid 1990s and 2002. In a special report on the threats of Boko Haram to the United States, the U.S. House of Representatives noted that Boko Haram began as a religious study group. But when Nigerian civil service worker Mohammad Yusef took over, the group made a radical shift. In no time, they were calling themselves the Nigerian Taliban.

From 2002 to 2009, Boko Haram laid moderately low, engaging in only small scale run-ins with local police. But in July 2009, Boko Haram members launched an attack against a police station, resulting in a five-day stand-off and over 700 deaths.

Although the group was forced underground after that pestilent encounter, in 2010 they re-emerged more radical and violent than ever before. Most agree the group has gained a great deal of outside funding, and violence has been escalating ever since.

But the “why” questions still loom.

Why, for instance, does this group exist at all? And why target Christians? How do they benefit from killing Christians, government officials, and innocent by-standers?

Rae Burnett with Christian Aid Mission says the motivation for all of these things is, unsurprisingly, religious.

"Boko Haram" translates to "Western education is sinful".

“Boko Haram” translates to “Western education is sinful”.

“Their agenda is Sharia. It is to establish Islamic rule in Nigeria,” says Burnett. “If you look at the Quran, what you see is that there are two ways Muslims are instructed to deal with non-Muslims: that is to convert them, or to kill them.”

Burnett says it’s not so much that Boko Haram is against Christians, specifically, as they are against anyone who is not Muslim. In a nation like Nigeria with a 50-50 Muslim-Christian split, those who aren’t Muslim happen to almost inevitably be at least nominal Christians.

So some attacks are geared at ridding Nigeria of non-Muslims. But Burnett says others are merely scare tactics. She likens some of their behavior to that of Rwandan rebels in the 90s.

“They were trying to take over, to intimidate, to make everyone afraid. So they didn’t care if out of the blue they would blow up a school bus. They weren’t targeting the school bus, but the school bus was available; and they knew if they blew up the school bus, everyone would be afraid of them,” says Burnett.

Paul Filidis with WorldChristian.com — the group responsible for the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World Ramadan prayer guide — says another reason for attacks is the threat that evangelical Christians pose to Islam.

“I think the fact that so many Muslims are becoming Christians fuels some of these radical elements as well. [Radicals] are afraid to lose out to Christianity,” Filidis explains.

Obtained via Pinterest

Obtained via Pinterest

Jihad. Power. Fear. Whatever the combination of reasons each Boko Haram member acts, their violence must be met with prayer. During Ramadan in particular, even the hearts of radicals are searching. Pray that Jesus would reveal Himself in any way possible to Boko Haram members and those who are tempted to join. Pray that their hearts and minds would be transformed.

Prayer for Christians is also crucial. Burnett says Christians are desperate for wisdom on how to respond to the numerous attacks on their congregations. Dozens have died in bombings, and many Christians, especially those more nominal than evangelical, are ready for revenge. Pray for discernment on how believers should respond to attacks by Muslims as well by Christians.

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” So may this knowledge about Boko Haram provide you with the power to pray more pointedly for our suffering brothers and sisters in Nigeria and for those who have yet to be added to the Kingdom.

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