Wednesday, February 8, 2006

PRAYER: India -- Sharbri Kumbh Mela threatens 8000 Christians in Dangs


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 364 - Wed 08 Feb 2006


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INDIA: SHABRI KUMBH MELA THREATENS 8000 CHRISTIANS IN DANGS
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Over the weekend 11-13 February 06, Hindu nationalist groups and their militant factions will hold a major Kumbh (Hindu festival) in Dangs district, Gujarat, northwest India. Called 'Shabri Kumbh Mela', in future it is to be held every four years. Its official website openly declares the aim is to '...deal a death blow to such anti-dharmic and anti-national activities' as Christian missions. The central slogan for the Kumbh is 'Hindu Jago, Christi Bhagao' (Hindus arise, throw out the Christians). The two main aims of the Kumbh are to convert the tribals to militant Hindu nationalism, and to get rid of Christianity because it challenges the status quo and threatens to liberate the enslaved tribals. Dangs is being targeted because Gujarat is 0.05 percent Christian whilst Dangs is 5 percent Christian. Moreover, the Hindu elites have political and economic interests in either co-opting or ridding themselves of the despised, sub-caste tribals. So they will co-opt as many as possible into militant Hindu nationalism, and then set them against the Christians.

The strategy the Hindu nationalists use is to convince the tribals that, though they think they are indigenous animists or Christians, historically they are Hindu forest dwellers who will be better off returning to the Hindu fold. Hindu nationalists have been busy Hinduising tribal rituals by giving them Hindu names, saying they are just corrupted Hindu practices and then adjusting them to suit Hindu sensitivities. They have also invented a whole new mythology to justify creating a Hindu pilgrimage site and festival to the Hindu goddess Shabri in Dangs.

The Hindu nationalists have produced high quality CDs that exhort the tribals to kill Christians as the Hindu god Ram killed the demon Ravana. The NGO 'ANHAD' (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy) filed a petition concerning the CD, which suggests Christians should be attacked and beheaded.

On Friday 3 February, the Supreme Court viewed the CD and sought responses from the central government, the state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the Shabri Kumbh Mela organising committee. According to ANHAD, the disc has been widely distributed and openly sold in Gujarat, Maharashtra and in northeastern states. ANHAD states the CD 'makes constant references to the evil forces and foreign powers that are out to destroy the Hindu religion, while simultaneously flashing pictures of churches and the cross on the screen as if to insinuate that the Christian community is the evil force and the foreign power that the Hindu community has to reckon with'. They say it also encourages viewers to adopt aggressive attitudes and militant methods. The CD also has 'a caricature of a headless Christian priest wearing a cassock and holding a cross. In place of the head is a question mark symbol. The caption on the top of this picture literally translates into church: in the name of service'.

Swami Aseemanand, one of the key instigators of the Kumbh, believes the Shabri Kumbh Mela will '...end missionary activity in Dangs'. In 1999 Aseemanand told the Times of India, 'Dangs cannot know peace so long as even a single tribal remains Christian.'

The Hindu nationalist state government in Gujarat is actively supporting this initiative. They have given Hindus saffron coloured flags to fly outside their homes, making Christian homes easy to identify. While the government has refused to cancel the event, advocacy from Indian and foreign groups has forced them to increase security. However, when Hindus massacred Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, police with Hindu nationalist sentiments joined in the pogrom. The
Dangs population of 186,000 includes 8000 Christians. The Hindu nationalists plan to bring in some half million Hindus for the festival. Please fast and pray for the safety of the Dangi Christian community this weekend.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:
  • the Spirit of God to breathe great peace into the Dangi Christians and great spiritual wisdom into their Christian leaders; may he draw them into prayer and increase their faith.

  • God to spread his protection over each Christian family and individual, surrounding them with his favour as with a shield.
'Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Surely Lord you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favour as with a shield.' Psalm 5:11,12
  • God to intervene profoundly so that wicked, exploitative, violent schemes will be frustrated and scuttled. Psalm 146:9

  • God to bless the advocacy of Indian and Christians worldwide, working through the Supreme Court and central government, and putting an end to the crimes of the Hindu nationalists: their incitement to violence; their forced conversion campaigns; and their intimidation and violent persecution of religious minorities.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

The Persecution of Palestinian Christians

Date: Tuesday 7 February 2006
Subj: Palestinian Territories - 1.
The Persecution of Palestinian Christians.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


A detailed and scholarly description of the suffering of Palestinian Christians can be found in a recently published work entitled: "Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society" by Prof. Justus Reid Weiner, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs. (The monograph may be downloaded freely from this site, but it is also available through Amazon.)

Professor Weiner commences his monograph with a brief look at the wider issue of "Christians living in a Muslim world". He notes, "Despite the liberal and secular trends that gained strength from the middle of the nineteenth century, this statute [Islam] continues, to this day, to influence cultural, social, and legal practices. Moreover, the recent resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism entails a reversion to historical, cultural, and religious traditions that do not reflect modern social standards."

Pros. Weiner then narrows his focus to examine the plight of Christians under Palestinian Authority (PA) rule. He notes that the Palestinian Authority's Draft Constitution declares that "...in the State of Palestine... the religion of Islam will be the official religion", and "the Sharia will be the primary source of legislation".

As Weiner explains, the PA's promotion of Sharia (Islamic Law) immediately placed Christians in a precarious position, as Sharia does not afford them equality before the law. Escalating hardship and lawlessness, combined with the inequity of Sharia, makes Palestinian Christians exceedingly vulnerable, and their life increasingly unbearable. According to Prof. Weiner, while the intifada and the economy are significant factors forcing Christians to flee the Palestinian Territories, religious persecution at the hands of increasingly intolerant Muslims is the primary catalyst.

Prof. Weiner's research indicates that the present high rate of Christian emigration out of the Palestinian Territories is not normative, but a response to a phenomenon. He believes that the phenomenon that is driving Palestinian Christians from their homeland is the escalating hostility and persecution they are experiencing due to the dramatic escalation of Islamic extremism in the PA-administered territories. He says this is a direct result of the systematic and pervasive radicalisation of Palestinian Muslim society.

School curriculum in PA-run schools is infamous for its glorification of suicide bombers, its radical Islamic fundamentalism, its denial of Israel's right to exist, and its denigration of non-Muslims. As a pre-election Hamas video boasts, "We succeeded, with Allah's grace, to raise an ideological generation that loves death like our enemies love life." (Link 1)

For more information on the what Palestinian children and youths have been fed through PA-run schools and media, see links below.

Weirner describes the persecution of Christians as "diverse and widespread", adding that "institutionalised discrimination pervades virtually all realms of life and has become an inexorable part of Palestinian Christian existence".

In his monograph Prof. Weirner details the various forms this diverse, widespread, institutionalised discrimination and persecution takes. In summary, Christian communities and individuals suffer the following:

MARGINALISATION

The deliberate and strategic marginalisation of Christians in the Palestinian Territories is achieved by means of gerrymanders combined with Muslim immigration that alter the demographics of a formerly majority Christian area. This of course has drastic implications for local elections.

Bethlehem is a classic case. In 1990 Bethlehem was 60 percent Christian. After the PA acquired control of Bethlehem in 1994, Chairman Arafat extended the city's municipal borders to include the 30,000 Muslims living in nearby refugee camps. He also encouraged Muslims in Hebron to immigrate to Bethlehem. After nine Christians members of the Bethlehem City Council were driven to resign their posts in protest of Islamisationist policies, Arafat appointed a Muslim from Hebron as Governor of the Bethlehem District. The entire political structure of Bethlehem was then gradually cleansed of Christians. Christians are leaving. By 2001, Bethlehem was only 20 percent Christian.

BOYCOTTS AND EXTORTION

Christians suffer economic hardship as Muslims boycott their businesses. Islamic militants have also forced some Christians to close their businesses. The practice of extortion of Christian businesses is so widespread that one Christian businessman interviewed told Prof. Weiner, "There isn't a Christian businessman exempt." He said that around 90 percent of Christian businesses in Bethlehem have been forced to close. Those that remain in business are paying protection money to militants.

Christians in business in the Palestinian Territories are also harassed, beaten and robbed by PA police (Weiner cites examples). They are targeted simply because they are Christian. Refusal or inability to pay bribes can lead to torture and even death. These atrocities are committed with impunity.

NO PROPERTY RIGHTS

Prof. Weiner also explains that, in violation of international human rights norms, Palestinian Land Law prescribes the death penalty to anyone selling land to Jews. According to Weiner, Jerusalem's Arafat-appointed mufti, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri has issued a fatwa to the effect that death will be the penalty to anyone selling land to any non-Muslim. This law extends to Christians, so that they cannot sell land to each other.

In addition, adds Weiner, "...internationally recognised holy sites in the West Bank are threatened, being vandalised and desecrated by the PA without consequence." The impunity granted to those who attack Christians and Christian property only encourages Muslim criminals to break in to churches and monasteries to steal valuable items.

RAPE OF CHRISTIAN WOMEN

According to Weiner's research, violence against Christian women in the Palestinian Territories was rare before the PA took control. Christian women testify that before 1993, security was such that they could walk the streets in safety. However, after the PA took control, Christian women could be attacked with impunity. Weiner gives several reasons for the sharp rise in sexual violence against Christian women since the PA took control of the Palestinian Territories: the rise is Islamist attitudes (such as Muslim superiority and contempt of infidels); the denigration and relegation of Christians to dhimmi (second class citizen) status with limited rights and no equality before the law; combined with the PA's inaction, regardless of whether that is due to lack of authority or lack of will. Once again, Muslim criminals know they can rape Christian women without fear of retaliation or legal consequence.

Weiner reports that many Christian girls are being advised to dress as Muslims to avoid problems. "The abuse of Palestinian Christian women," writes Weiner, "extends well beyond verbal harassment and intimidation. The widespread occurrence of rape by Muslim men against Christian women exemplifies perhaps the most blatant denial of basic human rights as a result of religious identity."

One Palestinian Christian girl (aged 23) told Prof. Weiner that Muslim men often rape Christian women purely to render them undesirable to Christian men. "She can't get married, at all, after that," she said.

According to Weiner, Christian girls are also being forced into marriages with Muslim men. He retells the story of a wealthy Christian family man who had to resort to force to protect his daughter. A Muslim family came to his home, their son dressed for a wedding and accompanied by a sheikh and 15 Muslim men. They demanded that he hand his daughter over for marriage. After opening fire on the Muslim entourage, the Christian family had to immediately flee the Palestinian Territories. Other girls are less fortunate. There are even reports of PA officials leveling death threats at Christian families to force them to hand over their daughters for marriage to a Muslim.

PERVASIVE PA INCITEMENT

Prof. Weiner's research makes it clear that the negative attitudes held by Palestinian Muslims against their Christian counterparts are supported by the overwhelmingly Muslim PA leadership. Mosques broadcast sermons that drive home the Quranic injunction not to partner with, trust or befriend Jews or Christians, providing Muslims with religious justification for their religious intolerance.

Weiner quotes Joseph Farah, a Lebanese-American Christan editor of the WorldNetDaily online, as saying of Christians under the PA, "They are being driven out. They are being murdered. They are being raped. They are being systematically persecuted. They are being harassed. They are being intimidated." Weiner reports that Palestinian Christians under PA authority are discriminated against "...in the field of education, the receipt of medical benefits, and other government aid". A Lutheran pastor told Weiner, "...if food aid is brought in from Saudi Arabia, Christians are told that they are not entitled to receive any because they are not Muslims."

PA POLICE

According to Prof. Weiner, PA security personnel frequently combine ignorance of the law with Islamist sentiment to become persecutors rather than protectors. Christians are often imprisoned on trumped up charges of collaborating with Israel. Apostates can expect to be punished mercilessly through torture in PA prisons. Weiner writes, "The attitude of the police toward Christians constitutes one of the most egregious forms of institutional persecution... When subjected to harassment and worse by Muslim extremists, Palestinian Christians usually opt not to report incidents to the PA police... Palestinian Christians remain silent because they consider the PA police to be hostile to them."

ABUSE OF CHRISTIAN SITES

As has been well documented before, Islamic militants frequently choose to launch their attacks on Israel from Christian churches and homes, in order to draw the Israeli response to those sites.

CHRISTIAN DENIAL

Prof. Weiner's monograph contains material that will help people understand why Palestinian Christians are often quick to deny their suffering. Some Christian leaders deny the sufferings of Christians in order to retain privileges from the PA: for example, access to the media, or permission to travel – privileges that are granted in exchange of the dissemination of PA propaganda. Some deny the sufferings of Christians because they are simply blinded by Palestinian nationalist aspirations. But most are simply acting (or rather, not acting) out of fear of violent retribution – they are paralysed into silence by threat of terror, crippled by dhimmitude.

Weiner reports that one Christian cleric in Jerusalem compared the behaviour of Christian dhimmis to that of battered wives and children. A vulnerable, trapped, battered wife knows she cannot afford to provoke her abuser's wrath. For the victim it is easier, psychologically, to blame oneself (or to gain the approval of the abuser, blame the abuser's "enemy") and it is easier, physically, to avoid confrontation all together.

PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS: "SACRIFICIAL PAWNS"

Weiner recounts one horrific case of a Palestinian apostate and persistent evangelist named Ahmad El-Achwal, a married father of eight, who struggled for seven years with persecution that included severe torture in PA prisons (the horror of which is described in Weiner's text), as well as frequent severe beatings and death threats from Hamas. Ahmad El-Achwal was murdered on his doorstep by Islamic militants, on 21 January 2004. US State Department officials, who were fully informed, had persistently refused to address his case.

Weiner regards Palestinian Christians as the sacrificial pawns of the Middle East peace process. He writes, "The importance of monitoring the PA's record, even during the ongoing violent intifada, cannot be overstated... The future of the Palestinian Christian community and any other religious minority living under the PA will rest on the potential for religious tolerance...," something Weiner fears is unlikely, at least in the short term.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

Teach Kids Peace. http://www.teachkidspeace.com/
Teach Kids Peace is affiliated with Middle East Media Watch. It
monitors and documents progress in children's education for peace.
This site contains analysis of Israeli and PA educational materials.
ALSO
2003 Palestinian Authority Textbook Calls for Jihad and Martyrdom
http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sr&ID=SR2203
Incitement in the Palestinian Authority After the Aqaba Summit
http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sr&ID=SR2003

What now for the Christians of Hamastan?

Date: Tuesday 7 February 2006
Subj: Palestinian Territories - 2.
What now for the Christians of Hamastan?
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Question: What sort of life are Palestinian Christians to expect now that Hamas has been elected to govern the Palestinian Territories? Answer: more of the same, and worse.

MORE OF THE SAME...

Hamas' electoral win is not a surprise result that cannot be explained. Hamas will not radicalise Palestinian Muslims. Hamas won the elections because the Palestinian Authority has already radicalised Muslim society to the extent that it freely elected a terrorist organisation as its government. Hamas' win is the culmination of decades of growing discontent – with the economy, violence and corruption – coupled with the increased radicalisation of Palestinian Muslim society.

Institutionalised discrimination, inequality, and pervasive persecution of Christians have been escalating in the Palestinian Territories for decades. When the Palestinian Territories came under Palestinian Authority (PA) administration after the Oslo Accords, security deteriorated and Islamic zeal and radicalisation increased. This has made life in the Palestinian Territories increasingly difficult for Christians. They live in a state of fear. Those who are able, emigrate. For a detailed scholarly description of the conditions suffered by Christians in the Palestinian Territories see "Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society" by Prof. Justus Reid Weiner. (Link 1)

..AND WORSE
SECULAR ARAB NATIONALISM IS DEAD – ISLAM RULES


In a 31 January Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report, George Friedman comments on Fatah's loss of power in the recent Palestinian National Authority (PNA) elections. "It was not simply internal Palestinian politics that drove the Hamas victory. A wave of Islamist politics is sweeping the Muslim and Arab worlds, and the Palestinians are far from immune. The Islamist movement is doing far more than simply challenging the West: It is challenging the secular Arabists who were the heirs of the Nasserite tradition... In many ways, Fatah was the embodiment of secular Arabism -- the purest form of Nasserism. The Palestinians were among the most secular in the Arab world. Therefore, challenging and defeating Fatah represents a critical moment in the history of the Arab and Muslim world. It represents a new high-water mark for Islamists."

Friedman suggests that Hamas will be primarily concerned with internal, not international politics, as it works to consolidate its position. Hamas will therefore say and do those things that will increase the fervor of their followers and discourage their opponents. They will look to the Islamic world while provoking the West. The West will react to the benefit of Hamas which, as Friedman says, "benefits from a sense of embattlement – the sense that it is confronting the enemies of Islam. As it backs the Israelis and Americans into a corner, and both start reacting, Hamas will increase its strength and authority."

Even before its election victory, Hamas was preparing to further the Islamisation of the Palestinian Territories. In December 2005 the leader of the Hamas contingent at the municipal council of Bethlehem, Hassam El-Masalmeh, told The Wall Street Journal that Hamas intends to re-institute the "jizya", a tax mandated by the Qur'an (sura 9:29) to be imposed on non-Muslims who have chosen not to convert to Islam and must now pay for their right to life. (Jizya is a form of systematic religious humiliation, persecution and extortion). (Link 2)

On 3 February 2006, Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al gave a fiery speech at a mosque in Damascus that demonstrated clearly Hamas is not interested in peace or any dilution of Sharia (Islamic Law). In his speech Mash'al warns that "...the law of Allah cannot be changed or replaced", and threatens that Hamas is prepared "...to place the entire Palestinian people at the disposal of the resistance and its weapons". (Link 3) We need to ask: what will this mean for Palestinian Christians who do not support Islamic jihad?

SO WHAT NOW?


For years, the institutionalised discrimination against and persecution of Palestinian Christians has been covered up by Christian leaders who are either afraid of the consequences of upsetting the status quo, or afraid of losing their good standing with the PA; and by Western nations and human rights organisation that are only interested in appeasing and coaxing the Palestinian Authority into peace negotiations. Well the "status quo" (as intolerable as that was) has ended, and peace is not on the table.

Writing prior to the elections, Professor Justus Reid Weiner called on the PA to crack down on Hamas and eliminate its influence and role as an enforcer of Sharia. It is too late for that now that Hamas controls the PA. But as Friedman notes in his Stratfor commentary, "Since peace is always made with enemies, better to deal with your worst enemy than with hapless moderates." This is as good a time as any to commence advocacy on behalf of the persecuted Christians of the Palestinian Territories.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) "Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society"
by Prof. Justus Reid Weiner, Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.

2) "Democrats" For Jihad and Jizya
by Andrew G. Bostrom. 30 Dec 2005
http://www.americanthinker.com/articles.php?article_id=5116

3) Hamas Leader Khaled Mash'al at a Damascus Mosque
MEMRI (No 1087). 7 Feb 2006
http://www.memri.org/bin/opener_latest.cgi?ID=SD108706

Thursday, February 2, 2006

NIGERIA: The central government fiddles while the north burns.

Date: Thursday 2 February 2006
Subj: Nigeria: The central government fiddles while the north burns.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


For decades after independence Nigeria was ruled by a succession of military dictators who were predominantly northern Muslims. In 1998 the death of dictator General Sani Abacha paved the way for democracy to be restored, and in February 1999 Olusegun Obasanjo was democratically elected President of Nigeria after winning 63 percent of the vote.

However, the election of the southern Christian inflamed many northern Muslim elites and former power-brokers. To regain their status, power and influence, northern governors exploited the poverty, hardship and ignorance of their constituents and re-invented themselves as religious reformers raising Islam and Sharia (Islamic Law) as banners of hope. (Note: these same "religious reformers" had not been concerned about Islam or Sharia while Nigeria was ruled by northern Muslims.) All across predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria, the flames of Islamic zeal were fanned. In the northern states of Kano and Kwara, moves were made to relocate and raze churches, while Zamfara, led by governor Alhaji Ahmad Sani, declared itself to be an Islamic state. In January 2000, Zamfara became the first Nigerian state to officially implement Sharia Law.

President Obasanjo and Nigeria's attorney general declared the implementation of Sharia Law "unconstitutional and illegal". But that did not prevent other norther states following in Zamfara's footsteps. The central (religious fault-line) belt of Nigeria tore apart as riots and conflicts erupted over Sharia and claimed thousands of lives. By August 2000, eight northern states had defied Nigeria's secular Constitution and implemented Sharia Law.

Today, in what is essentially a defiant act of secession, Nigeria's 12 northern states are all under Sharia. What's worse, the Sharia states are able to exploit and abuse their citizens and deny them their constitutional rights, without consequence, as the central government timidly acquiesces, surrendering religious liberty and Christian security in exchange for peace with northern Muslim elites.

Nigeria's central government needs to move decisively to protect the lives and restore the constitutional rights of Christians in the north, and bring the northern Muslim masses on side so that justice, equity and national unity can be restored with minimal bloodshed.

The following posting is a Compass Direct Flash News written by Obed Minchakpu in Nigeria. It is an excellent article and I am forwarding it in full. Minchakpu details some of the severe persecution faced by Christians in the northern state of Zamfara, including the systematic discrimination against them, the systematic demolition of their churches, and the suffering they caused by the imposition of Sharia Law which is enforced by the state's Hisbah Commission. This includes a moving testimony from one Christian convert from Islam.

Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

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FLASH NEWS from COMPASS DIRECT
Global News from the Frontlines

Summary:
GUSAU, Nigeria, January 31 (Compass) – On October 10, 2003, the local Bakura town government gave notice to the pastor of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Zamfara state that his church would be demolished the following day. That marked the beginning of an assault by Islamic fundamentalists in Zamfara under the leadership of Gov. Alhaji Ahmed Sani through imposition of sharia (Islamic law). At present 14 churches have been marked for demolition in Gusau town alone. "We have been served with demolition notices and even then, there have been announcements over the radio and television on the churches to be demolished," said Rev. James Obi, secretary of the Zamfara chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria. "It is just a matter of time, and these churches will be no more."

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Nigerian Churches Marked for Demolition in Zamfara State
Draconian decrees – including killing "infidels" – come with sharia.
by Obed Minchakpu

GUSAU, Nigeria, January 31 (Compass) – "For your information, the state Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Sani, has ordered that your church should be demolished before his arrival in this town tomorrow. So, we shall carry out this directive tomorrow morning."

On October 10, 2003, the Rev. Seth Saleh, then pastor of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Bakura town in Zamfara state, received a Bakura town councilor as an unexpected guest in his house with the above message. The following day, the local government demolished St. Peter's Anglican Church.

The demolition of that church in Bakura marked the beginning of an assault by Islamic fundamentalists in Zamfara under the leadership of Gov. Sani through imposition of sharia (Islamic law). In Gusau town alone, 14 churches have been marked out for demolition.

Those 14 churches have already received demolition notices, according to Rev. James Obi, pastor of Channel of Blessings Church and secretary of the Zamfara state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria. They include Eternal Life Bible Church, Christian Faith Bible Church, Chapel of Grace, Christian Evangelical Fellowship of Nigeria, National Evangelical Mission, Assemblies of God Church, Channel of Blessings and Living Faith Church.

Other Zamfara state churches earmarked for demolition are the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Christ Embassy, Church of Christ in Nigeria, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church, Colgate Church and Deeper Life Bible Church.

The government demolished Rev. Obi's Channel of Blessings church in 1997, and it has marked his rebuilt church for destruction as well.

"We have been served with demolition notices and even then, there have been announcements over the radio and television on the churches to be demolished," Rev. Obi lamented. "It is just a matter of time, and these churches will be no more."

Champion of Jihad

John Garba Danbinta, Anglican bishop of Gusau, said the demolition of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Bakura came on Gov. Sani's orders.

"The governor is from Bakura, and because he is the champion of Islamic jihad in Nigeria, he felt it will be unwise for a church to be seen in his hometown," Bishop Dabinta said.

The bishop pointed out these arbitrary demolitions to refute those in Nigeria who declare Christians face no opposition from the state.

"The news outside Zamfara state is that everything is okay with Christians here," he said. "Some claim that the governor is good and treating Christians well, that Christians do not have problems – but this is false. The problem of persecution of Christians here is a reality. It is a major problem facing us today in Zamfara state."

St. Peter's Rev. Saleh, now pastor at St. John's Anglican Church in Kaura Namoda, recalled how officials often had promised that sharia would only be applied to Muslims. Sharia had long been in effect in civil matters, as in all of Nigeria, but its imposition in criminal matters in 12 northern states has thrown the country into a constitutional crisis.

"When sharia was introduced by the government of Zamfara state, we were told that it is meant to guide Muslims in their faith and that it has nothing to do with us Christians," Rev. Saleh said. "Surprisingly, sharia is now a weapon being used against the church in Zamfara state."

Killing Infidels

Sharia as a weapon has been particularly sharp on Kabiru Lawal, a former Muslim who four months ago received Christ. The Hisbah Commission, Zamfara state's agency for the enforcement of the sharia, is gunning for his life.

In late December and early January, agents of Hisbah invaded the Lawal family's house three times looking for the 29-year-old man. Agents told family members that whenever Lawal is found, he should be prepared to pay the supreme price of abandoning Islam – death.

Each time the Hisbah arrived, Lawal was at the Federal Medical Centre in Gusau town due to illness.

He is now in hiding, no longer free to walk the streets of Gusau. His father, Mallam Lawal, comes from a family of Islamic clerics.

In 2002, Lawal read in the Quran about the second coming of Jesus into the world. Lawal, who holds a diploma in business administration from Kaduna Polytechnic in northern Nigeria, said his decision to investigate the life of Christ was informed by his desire to know whether "Jesus was coming as a Muslim or a Christian."

Tunde Adebayo, a relative, gave Lawal a pocket size New Testament in 2003, which he hungrily read.

Lawal said the Holy Spirit revealed to him that Jesus is coming back not as a Muslim, as Muslims believe, but to take those Christians who believe in Him. He began to attend church services. Last September 3, he went to the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) church in Gusau town and asked to receive Christ into his life.

"The Bible clearly presented who Jesus Christ is and provided answers as to why he will be coming back into the world," Lawal said. "The Spirit told me that unless I receive Christ into my heart, I will perish with other Muslims because they do not know the true God."

His family stiffly opposes his conversion, but Lawal said there is no returning to Islam.

"Nothing on earth will make me turn away from Christ," he said, "not even if I will be slaughtered like a ram."

Draconian Decrees

Since the introduction of the sharia in January 2000, Zamfara authorities have banned Christians from sharing their faith or building churches, said Anglican Bishop Danbinta.

Officials are keeping Christians from building churches, he said, by making it impossible for them to acquire land. "We cannot get land, because there is a deliberate government policy to deny Christians land to build churches," Bishop Danbinta said.

There are about 4,000 Anglicans in Zamfara, yet Bishop Danbinta said that in almost all parts of the state the government has refused to allow the church land to build places of worship.

"Sharia, it would seem, is being implemented to curtail Christianity, since it is only targeted at Christians," he said.

70 Mosques, 0 Churches

The Rev. Barnabas Sabo, pastor of the ECWA church in Gusau town, concurred that local governments are using sharia to deny churches land.

Towns denied lands for building churches include Mada, from which Rev. Sabo's church members have to trek more than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) to Talata Mafara to attend worship services.

Other towns and villages where the ECWA church has been denied land are Kasuwa Daji, Dansadau, Tsibiri in Talata Mafara, and in the Bakura area.

"Gov. Sani, in six years of introducing sharia in the state, has used public funds to build well over 70 mosques," Rev. Sabo said. "Yet no single church has been built by this same government. How fair is this?"

Apart from denial of lands to churches in Zamfara state, Christians have encountered difficulties in other sectors, such as education, where discriminatory school fees have been forced on Christian students and pupils, and there is no teaching of what is known in Nigerian schools as Christian Religious Knowledge.

There is no employment for Christians in the public service, and a ban has been placed on Christian radio and television programs.

The imposition of sharia in criminal matters in 12 northern states has resulted in numerous conflicts bringing death to thousands of persons, most of them Christians.

"If there is anything anybody can do to hurt me, it is for such a person to stop me from serving God the way I want and to stop me from sharing my faith," Bishop Danbinta said. "This is precisely what we as Christians are experiencing in Zamfara state."

END

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Copyright 2006 Compass Direct

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