Whether we’re religious or not, most of us take it for granted that we’re allowed to believe whatever we want to believe.
Whether we’re religious or not, most of us take it for granted that we’re allowed to believe whatever we want to believe. Perhaps those of us who are open about our faith (or lack of) may have to put up with the odd workplace jibe or comment from a colleague who doesn’t share our view.
As well as this, there are undoubtedly some issues surrounding religious symbols in schools, for example, which sometimes make the news or cause a mild outcry.
In stark contrast, we’ve recently heard that ISIS have threatened Christians in Mosul (an ancient city in northern Iraq) with a terrifying ultimatum; they must either convert to Islam or pay a “protection tax”, otherwise they will be killed. Faced with very little choice, many Christians in the city have decided to flee to relative safety.
But is this kind of extreme religious persecution an anomaly? A quick online search reveals the answer to be a very resounding “no”. Below we shall take a look at the top five worst places for Christians to live, the majority of which will be very familiar to you if you even vaguely keep up with the news.
It’s now a fairly well-known fact in the West that Kim Jong-Un is idolised to the extremes, meaning that there is little room left for any other kind of worship. With this kind of political ‘brainwashing’ going on, Christians in North Korea are afraid to share their faith with their families, let alone with friends and colleagues.
As a communist country where the leader is treated like a god, it is hardly surprising that North Korea has the highest rate of religious persecution (towards Christians) in the world. What may be surprising however, are the horrendous methods of torture used to punish those whose faith is exposed.
If North Korean Christians wish to hold meetings together, they must do so in secret, whilst hoping (and praying) that they will not be discovered. If they are, then the punishments include being sent to a death camp, being shot in front of their children and being flattened by a steamroller; atrocities that are reminiscent of Auschwitz. Despite these horrific consequences, around 300,000 people in the population of 24.5million are Christians.
Unlike in North Korea where persecution is the result of a communist dictatorship, the oppression in Somalia stems from Islamic extremism. With only a few hundred Christians, it is made clear by the authorities that there is no place for Christianity in the country, meaning that the minority group live in constant fear.
The source of this terror is the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab, who reportedly publicly beheaded two females in March this year after discovering that they were Christians. Their intentions were declared before the barbaric execution when one of the militants announced their aim was to “wipe out” Christians in the area.
In this turbulent country, where the on-going civil conflict increasingly dominates our front pages, the religious persecution also results from Islamic extremism. In the violent clash between Islamist protestors and government forces, Syrian Christians are targeted to the extent that they are afraid to leave their homes on a Friday (the most holy day of the week for Muslims) for fear of rape, kidnap or death.
However before the war began, Syria was one of the last Middle Eastern countries to have a large number of practicing Christians, a fact demonstrated by the 45 churches in Aleppo and the 1.3 million Christians who do remain. Despite this number, today Christianity is at risk of being completely wiped out in the country, as believers flee to neighbouring Lebanon or are murdered by the Syrian opposition.
At number four we come to the country whose Christians have recently faced that alarming ultimatum: conversion, “protection tax” or death. Being another country where Islamist extremism is the force behind the religious persecution, the terrorist groups in Iraq are being influenced by the conflict in neighbouring Syria. This meant that the threat to Christians grew in 2013 as the situation nearby worsened.
Only a few days ago, the majority of Mosul’s 5,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes with little other than their clothes. They are now seeking shelter as refugees in the Kurdistan Region, which is the only section of Iraq that remains peaceful. The aim of the Islamist groups is identical to that of the extremists in Somalia and Syria: to purge the country of Christians.
In this unstable country, Christianity is seen as a ‘Western’ religion by the Afghan people. This results in a lot of prejudice and hostility towards believers, as with anything else that is associated with the West. As well as this underlying opposition from society and the government, the influence and power of Islamist extremists continues to grow.
Life is especially dangerous for those who convert from Islam, as in 2013 the death penalty was called for by an Afghan MP for anyone converting to Christianity. With no public churches and the threat of harassment or death, some sources believe that the conditions for Christians under the current government are no better than when the country was ruled by the Taliban.
This claim in itself highlights the severity of the persecution experienced in Afghanistan today.
The above list merely skims the surface of the religious persecution that is going on around the world today.
Here in the UK, we can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be threatened, shunned or punished simply for what we believe. But for the people in these five countries, as well as many more, this oppression is very real.
Yet the faith of those who continue to uphold their beliefs despite such extreme danger is remarkable, and I believe that there is something to be learned from their incredible strength, regardless of what country we live in.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.