19 posts categorized “Islam”

February 28, 2014

Syrian Christians Told: Convert, Pay or Face the Sword

Christian leaders in the city of Raqqah, Syria, have reportedly signed an agreement to pay the jizya protection tax and accede to the demands of radical Muslim rebels who now control their city.

The agreement was announced online by The Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), one of the radical Sunni groups fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. ISIS is attempting to put in place full Sharia law in the areas of Syria it controls, and has already enforced the wearing of veils by women in the area. Syria-map

Islamic law teaches that Christians and Jews living in areas under Muslim control must pay a tax known in Arabic as jizya in return for the protection of the Muslim rulers, known in Arabic as dhimma.

The Christians in Raqqah also agreed to a list of conditions, including making no repairs on any church building, no public displays of crosses or other Christian symbols, and not holding Christian services outside of the church building. Even inside the church buildings, Christians are told not to sing or read Scriptures loud enough that a Muslim standing outside the building could hear.

The ISIS statements said they had met with Christian leaders and offered them the choice of converting to Islam, accepting the terms of the dhimma agreement, or risking being killed.

“If they reject…nothing will stand between them and ISIS other than the sword,” the statement said.

Twenty Christian leaders reportedly signed the dhimma agreement, though online their signatures and names were shaded out so it is unclear the number or legitimacy of the signatures or the names of those who signed on behalf of the Christian community.

When the Syrian conflict started, Raqqah was a city of about 300,000 people, with only about 1% Christian. Many Christians fled the city and the area as the conflict grew, so it is unknown how many Christians are currently in the city.

Please pray for Christians in Raqqah and throughout Syria. Pray their faith will be strengthened, and that God will protect and watch over them. Pray also that radical Muslims, like the members of ISIS, will come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way.

Sources: VOM Sources, Middle East Concern, BBC, The Times of Israel


February 20, 2014

Diocletian's Dream

“I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Hagia Sophia - web
I recently traveled to Turkey, where I was honored to meet with some incredible brothers who are “fighting the good fight” in a very difficult place. Turkey has long been a distinctive junction, bridging Europe and Asia in the historic city of Istanbul, which was sometimes historically referred to as “Islambol,” meaning “City of Islam.”

These brothers traveled to meet with me in the shadow of the Hagia Sophia, the former church that witnessed the slaughter of Christian martyrs after the fall of Constantinople.  As we talked about their own experience of persecution in their city, they lit up with joy as they related how God continues to work in the very city where Emperor Diocletian’s palace was discovered following an earthquake in 1999. The brothers I met with are actively overseeing an indigenous-led community of Christians that meets just steps away from this palace.

Why is this so remarkable? The Roman Emperor Diocletian instituted an empire-wide persecution of Christians soon after he assumed leadership in 284 A.D. During a period that is now referred to as the “Diocletianic Persecution,” or the “Great Persecution,” he launched the most aggressive and far-reaching attempt to destroy Christianity in Roman history. He specifically issued four edicts in an attempt to destroy Christianity. Diocletian’s first edict fiercely forbid Christians to assemble and ordered the destruction of Bibles and meeting places.

The day prior to Diocletian’s first edict, he demanded that the church at Nicomedia, where he spent his winters, be burned along with all of its Bibles. Diocletian’s dream was to wipe Christianity off of the face of the earth. But, of course, that is not the end of the story.

One of the Turkish brothers I met with is now pastoring a church literally feet away from Diocletian’s winter palace. After foreign missionaries were forced to leave, he stepped up and is leading a thriving congregation in the same neighborhood where martyr’s blood once stained the streets. He has been directly targeted by his adversaries, and he and his family have endured much suffering.

When I asked him about his suffering, he reflected thoughtfully on the persecution that he endured and said, with a smile, “It was not a pleasing experience, but it was a powerful experience.”

Join with me in praying for our brothers and sisters who are earnestly contending for the faith in Turkey, and let’s pray that God will enable us to stand strong wherever He has called us.

Dr. Jason Peters serves in VOM’s International Ministries department, traveling frequently to meet with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. He lived overseas for five years and has ministered in more than 30 countries as diverse as Cuba, Nepal, Iraq, Nigeria and Indonesia. He and his wife, Kimberly, along with their five children, count it a great honor to serve with the persecuted church.


January 29, 2014

A Philippine Peace Deal: It’s What Christians Dreaded

An agreement between the Philippine government and the Muslim insurgent group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is intended to usher in long-awaited peace to the southern region of the Philippines, but it is what Christians living in this area have dreaded for years.

Since 1996, the Philippine government has been in talks with the MILF, an insurgent group that has terrorized those living in the Mindanao region and killed over 150,000 people since the 1970s. Those talks have led to what is being called the “normalization annex,” the last piece of the agreement, which is expected to be formally signed sometime in February or March of this year.

The so-called peace agreement between the government and MILF will include a deal that grants amnesty to those currently facing or already convicted of charges related to rebellion. While other serious crimes such as rape are not included in the deal, many insurgents will be released and pardoned of rebellion-related crimes. In addition to the amnesty, the Philippine government will grant more autonomy to a five-province area already controlled by Muslim insurgents. The area, which is to be called Bangsamoro, will be better funded and more powerful than before. Ph_locator_bangsamoro

In exchange for amnesty and more autonomy, MILF has agreed to deactivate their 11,000 soldiers from duty. Insurgents are expected to hand over weapons, and the government’s military forces will also be reduced. While security troops will still be allowed as a peace-keeping force, the expectation is that this will be a Muslim-controlled area operating under its own laws.

The upcoming VOM newsletter includes the story of a Christian woman living in the Mindanao area. Although divided between Muslims and Christians, her village was frequently invaded by rebel forces. Sometimes the rebels continued on to another village, but other times they occupied Christians’ homes for days or weeks at a time. Christians were then left homeless and became prey to rebel forces, which sometimes used them as a shield from the government’s military.

It is uncertain how this peace agreement will ultimately affect Christians, who will be subject to the new laws of Bangsamoro. It is suspected that Islamic law, known as Sharia, could be implemented at some point in the future. Rebel troops will no longer fear interference from the government, and Christians living in Muslim-controlled villages may face even more restrictions and harsher persecution.

In countries where Sharia is followed, Christians are often banned from proselytizing, owning Bibles or even attending church services. The penalty for such crimes often include harsh prison sentences and sometimes even death. Under Sharia, Muslims who convert to Christianity would risk being killed.

Unfortunately, this is not the sort of peace that Christians in the Bangsamoro area ever wanted. It is an agreement that will likely invite a wave of new persecution. Pray for believers living in the southern region of the Philippines. To read more stories of Christian brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith, watch for VOM’s upcoming March newsletter.

Sources: Philippine Daily Inquirer, Washington Post.  Image: Wikipedia

“Ann Kay” is a writer for VOM. She learned about VOM five years ago when she read Tortured for Christ and began receiving the newsletter. She is passionate about reaching the world for Christ and sharing stories of the persecuted church.


October 18, 2013

ISLAM: A Hidden Agenda

Last night we had dinner with a Syrian pastor. This man lives and serves full-time in Syria. He hasn’t left the country because of the war, and he’s experienced the full effects of the war, personally and through his congregation.

MosqueOne of the effects of the war that he’s lamenting deeply is the destruction of historic Christian churches and other sites. He told me that one mosque is host to an ancient New Testament manuscript. They’ve preserved it for years, but with the rebels’ animosity toward all things Christian, he’s afraid that manuscript will soon be lost. UNESCO has also expressed concern over the state of various World Heritage Sites throughout Syria, including many historic churches.

Christianity has a more-than-2,000-year history in Syria, going back to the time of Christ. But as this pastor expressed, the Islamist fighters, and Islam in general, seem to have an agenda to erase that history from memory. They want Syria to be remembered only as a Muslim nation, and they intend to drive out all Christians from Syria.

After the rebels destroyed a Christian village recently, they ransacked homes and then posted a sign at the entrance of the village. Beneath the sign, they placed one of the Bibles discovered in the village. The sign read, “The Bible is the biggest threat to our cause.”

This strategy of ridding the region of Christians isn’t limited to Syria. Muslim extremists in Egypt are pursuing a similar approach. Egypt also has a long tradition of Christianity – something the world seems to have forgotten. Alexandria was once one of the great centers of Christian teaching and culture which produced one of Christianity’s great thinkers, St. Augustine. But today in Egypt, Muslims are systematically driving the ancient Christian population out – attacking Christian villages, Christian homes and churches.

According to my Syrian friend and many of The Voice of the Martyrs contacts living in these countries, this agenda is at the core of Islam.

In a method of applying this agenda that hits closer to home, another worker in one of the hostile nations where VOM works told us she sees Muslims literally trying to change history—online. Muslims are logging on to Wikipedia, the user-edited web encyclopedia, and rewriting entries for basic historical concepts, such as who developed the first hospitals and which thinkers came up with the scientific method.

Do we notice? Do we as Christians have the necessary understanding of the details of history to prevent this from happening? The VOM worker I spoke with spent four days of intense research in order to rewrite one of the critical entries. She believes this is important because Wikipedia will influence a new generation. But she cautioned that it had to be done in a thoughtful, intelligent and unbiased way.

I write about this hidden plan not to make us fear, but to make us aware. The only real solution to this creeping Islamic agenda is to bring Christ into the heart of each person who subscribes to this philosophy. Our greatest calling is to share the gospel, but in the meantime we also need to speak up against the destruction of Christianity in Syria and Egypt and be wise enough to share the facts of history in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).

Dory P. has worked with VOM for six years. She grew up in Ecuador, met her husband while working with another mission organization, and now lives in Oklahoma. Between Dory, her husband and two-year-old son, they share five passports. Dory helps tell the stories of the persecuted through VOM's newsletter, and her husband serves with VOM's international department.


October 15, 2013

MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: The Momentous Sacrifice

Today, the Muslim world shifts its eyes to one thing: The lamb.

Today is Eid ul-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.

Marking the end of the haj, the pinnacle event of this feast is sacrificing a lamb — literally slitting its throat while reciting verses from the Quran. After reserving a portion of meat to give to the poor, Muslims will clean the meat and rub it with fennel seed, turmeric and other aromatic spices. Then they will braise or roast it until the tender meat falls off the bone. 

ISLAM_-_Haj-Pilgrimage
Last year Saudi Arabia reported more than 4 million pilgrims for the Haj. (Photo: AsiaNews)
In almost every country, new clothes are a must for this special day. In the Middle Eastern country where I live, local men attend prayers early in the morning, and then receive guests as early as 6 a.m. Women with henna-decorated hands pass out chocolates and money to children who knock on their doors. But the lamb takes center stage, and some Muslims don’t even know why.

The event behind Eid ul-Adha is Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son. Muslims know that God stopped Abraham as he raised the knife and sent a ram from heaven so the son could go free. But the deeper significance of this story — and how it points to Jesus — most will never know.

Several years ago I had coffee with a South Asian woman near the celebration of this meaning-packed holiday.

A few simple questions led to a topic most Americans would avoid: sin. As a Muslim, Hanna explained to me how she views sin: Everyone sins, at least a little. But the payment for sin is good works.

It gave me the entrance to share about the seriousness of sin, its penalty of death and that no amount of good works are good enough for God. Ever.

The table was silent. Suspension had sufficiently been built. Hanna appeared deep in thought when she looked up from her drink and asked, “So how can anyone go to heaven?”

I was so glad she asked! “You know about Nabi Ibrahim?” I ventured, referring to the Eid ul-Adha story. “The ‘ram from heaven’ was given in place of Abraham’s son, and this sign points us to Jesus.” (As a note, some Muslims insist the son was Ishmael, not Isaac, so I used “son” in general to avoid confusion or an argument.)

After relating the story to Jesus the spotless Lamb of God who gave his life so we could go free, I asked Hanna, “Have you ever heard this before?”

“No. Never.” At the end of our coffee date, Hanna thanked me for explaining about Jesus. She said, “I have always wondered why he came.”

The Quran ends the story of Abraham and his son with this: “And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice” (as-Saffat 37:107, Yusuf Ali Translation). So, every year on the occasion of Eid ul-Adha, astute Muslims are left wondering, What is the “momentous sacrifice?” Surely it means more than a ram caught in the brambles.

God in his wisdom tucked this meaning-packed story in the Quran and made it the focal point of the biggest feast in Islam. Having woven this account into the fabric of Muslims’ lives, God has prepared these precious men and women to hear about His provision of the “momentous sacrifice,” Jesus, the Lamb of God.

This Eid, may they not be left wondering.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever taken part in an Eid ul-Adha celebration? Do you know any Muslims who are celebrating today?

"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.


October 14, 2013

Saudi Arabia: No Religious Freedom

This week offers a tremendous opportunity for prayer that those of the Muslim faith visiting Saudi Arabia encounter Christ.

Saudi-mapThis week, men and women from as many as 190 countries will make the journey to Islam’s holiest city in order to complete haj — a pilgrimage that all Muslims are expected to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able. As over two million Muslims converge on Mecca, Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage that started on Oct. 13 and ends Oct. 18 this year, pray they might have dreams that point them to Christ or that they even meet Christians as they travel to the kingdom to fulfill their religious duty.

Saudi Arabia is ranked as the second-most oppressive nation for Christians. Even foreigners visiting the country risk jail, expulsion, lashings, torture and even death for sharing their Christian faith with Muslims or even practicing it.

In this country that allows no religious freedom, men and women who have decided to follow Christ do so despite the great costs. Some must flee for their lives. In May 2013, a woman known only as “the girl of Khobar” fled the country after her father threatened to kill her because she had converted from Islam to Christianity. The woman’s family accused two of her male coworkers of brainwashing her and helping her flee the country. One, a Saudi, received 200 lashes and two years in prison for helping her flee. The other, a Lebanese Christian, was sentenced by authorities to 300 lashes and two years in prison for converting her.

Like the Lebanese man, Christian expatriates from other countries, particularly Eritrea, India and the Philippines, are often targeted by Saudi religious police and face severe punishment for proselytizing or even meeting together for private worship.  Mussie Eyob, a 33-year-old Eritrean Christian and a convert from Islam, was arrested in Feb. 2011 for preaching to Muslims and sentenced to death. Numerous groups, including The Voice of the Martyrs’ readers, prayed and contacted authorities, and instead of death, Eyob was deported back to Eritrea in Nov. 2011.

On Jan. 21, 2011, just prior to Eyob’s arrest, Indian Christians were targeted by religious authorities who raided their prayer meeting. Four escaped, but Vasantha Sekhar Vara, 28, and Yohan Nese, 31, spent 45 days in prison and were subject to beatings and harsh conditions in the overcrowded prison. When pressured to convert to Islam, both men remained committed to Christ. Vasantha told his pastor, “If I have to die for my God, I will die for him here.”  Released and deported to India in July 2011, the two are examples of what Christians often face in Saudi Arabia. Their house church is still in danger of being discovered by religious police.

YOUR TURN: How will you pray for Christians and Muslims in Saudi Arabia during this week of heightened spiritual significance?  

Sources: VOM sources, Reuters

Ann Kay is a writer for VOM. She learned about VOM five years ago when she read Tortured for Christ and began receiving the newsletter. She is passionate about reaching the world for Christ and sharing stories of the persecuted church.


July 26, 2013

MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: Beyond Sports and Weather

In last month’s post, I encouraged you to overcome fear and perfectionism by extending hospitality to a Muslim. Because the home is a safe environment, your Muslim friend may feel comfortable opening up to discuss deeper issues. But how can you move conversations from sports and the weather to the Gospel and Jesus?

Muslims love to talk about religion. My new Muslim friends almost always give me a primer on Islam. Once they discover that I am a committed follower of Jesus—a mu’minah in their terminology—they are often curious to know more about my beliefs. I may be the first true follower of Christ they’ve ever encountered! A Muslim Woman in Egypt

Here are some ways I’ve found to steer conversations toward deeper things:

Spiritual décor. You may already have a quote or verse from the Bible hung prominently in your home. Muslims are accustomed to elaborately gilded verses from the Qur’an hanging high above a doorway, so they may be curious about your “spiritual décor” and may ask about its meaning.

A family I know framed the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic calligraphy and hung it in their entryway. You’d better believe every Muslim who walks through their door notices that work of art! “Where did you get this?” they exclaim. This gives my friends an opportunity to share Jesus’ prayer with Muslims for the first time.

Show a family photograph. The extended family is integral to Muslims, so many of my Muslim friends love to see pictures of my cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Whether I bring out an album or just flip through pictures on my phone, they love seeing that I belong to a larger network of people who love me. But don’t stop there: tell stories of God’s redemptive work in your family’s history. Family hardship, sin and suffering don’t ruin your witness. When told in light of God’s grace, they actually enhance it!

Holidays. Newcomers to the United States are trying to make sense of the new holidays and events happening around them. A week after Easter, one of my Muslim friends asked, “So what is this bunny holiday all about?” It was an obvious opportunity to explain that Easter has significance beyond all the bunnies and colored eggs she saw in the grocery store. Even a non-religious holiday like Independence Day could be a great opening to discuss true freedom, and what that means to your Muslim friend. You could even share Jesus’ words in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Ask good questions. This skill is probably the most crucial one when relating to Muslims. Questions like, “What is your dream for the future?” can give you insight into your friend’s aspirations and values. When a Muslim states a belief he holds, I like to ask, “How did you come to that belief?” to help him dig deeper and think critically.

Probably one of the best questions you could ask is, “What is your spiritual journey?” When a believer asked two Central Asian Muslims this question, they were so impressed that they returned the question to their Christian friend. They scheduled a second meeting just to hear his testimony!

Now for a heads up: When spiritual subjects are broached, some Muslims will revert to textbook answers about Islam. Be patient, hear them out respectfully and then try using sensitive questions to move the conversation on to matters found beneath the veneer of religion. What are your friend’s cherished hopes, crippling fears, and itching curiosities?

It is there—in the crucial matters of the heart—where the most enjoyable and fruitful conversations will begin.

Want more ideas? This little booklet  by Fouad Masri is a powerhouse of practical ideas on how to meet Muslims, deepen your friendship and begin to share about Jesus.

YOUR TURN: What questions have you found to be useful in sharing with unbelievers? With Muslims?

"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.


July 8, 2013

How to Pray During Ramadan

Several years ago Heather Mercer, former prisoner for Christ in Afghanistan, visited VOM's offices. Her visit happened during Ramadan, and we asked Heather specific ways that Christians should pray for Muslims during Ramadan.

This year, Ramadan begins on Monday, July 8. Please watch this video (and share it with your Christian friends) to help you pray specifically for Muslims during this Ramadan season.

 


June 21, 2013

MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: Hospitality 101

Did you know that the majority of Muslim international students living in the United States have never set foot inside a Christian home?

Muslim_GirlThe home can be a place where hospitality is offered and deep values are communicated. When a meal is shared, it ups the stakes even more. For Easterners, to share a meal is to commit to one another in friendship. You can hear similar overtones in Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (NLT, emphasis mine).

So what prevents us from sharing a meal as friends with Muslims? For me, it was the feeling that I wouldn’t “do it right.” My rented house was sparsely decorated and I didn’t know how to cook any Arabic dishes. And what about conversation – what would I talk about with students who were still learning English?

Your home will probably never be perfect for entertaining, and you’ll never say and do all the right things. But by learning some basics, you could drum up the confidence to invite a Muslim to your home.

Here are some basic guidelines when hosting Muslims:

On the table. Steer clear of pork products and all alcohol. Rice, curries, and roasted lamb or chicken will please almost any Muslim dinner guest. (Takeout from an ethnic restaurant is also a fabulous idea.) The larger the quantities of food you serve, the more honor you bestow on your guest!

What to wear. Modesty is important to all Muslims in differing degrees. Most will feel comfortable in your home if you dress modestly. For women, that could mean a long skirt or loose-fitting pants, and a high-necked shirt with sleeves. For men, long pants are more respectful than shorts.

In the doghouse. Dogs make some Muslims uncomfortable. If at all possible, keep your dog in another room while your guests are present.

Gender divide. Ask a Muslim couple if they prefer to segregate inside your home. If so, prepare a separate space for the women to sit - even an office or spare bedroom will do. (It should go without saying that single men and women should only invite Muslims of their same gender.)

I have found that Muslims almost always accept a meal invitation. Or you can begin gradually with tea or coffee together. They may bring a small hostess gift – chocolates or a trinket from their country – as a way of saying thank you. Don’t be surprised if they remove their shoes and take detailed notice of the room’s décor and pictures.

Perhaps the most important way you can prepare to host a Muslim is to bathe the visit in prayer. You could even place your hand on the chair your friend will sit in, praying for him or her to encounter Christ in a real way inside your home.

Don’t let fear or perfectionism hold you back. Can you think of a Muslim – a co-worker, an international student, or an employee at a store you frequent – that you might bless with the gift of hospitality? All you have to do is extend the invitation. In opening your home, you are sealing the bonds of friendship that can eventually point a Muslim to Christ.

Your Turn: Are there lessons you have learned from hosting Muslims? What holds you back from welcoming Muslims into your home?

Read More: Both men and women can benefit greatly from the cultural insights shared in Joy Loewen’s book Woman to Woman: Sharing Jesus with a Muslim Friend. (Also available for Kindle.)

"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.

Disclosure: VOM is a part of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on the links above and purchase a product, a small referral fee will be paid to VOM.


May 14, 2013

Deadline for Free DVD Extended

When VOM offered a free DVD about the church in Iran during the month of April, there was an overwhelming response! Thousands of believers across the United States requested the DVD, inspired by the hope of God’s amazing work in a culture dominated by Islam.

  • “My husband and I enjoyed the faith that just spilled out when they spoke with such passion and desperation for a new life.”  —Carly S. Iran-Alive-DVD-BLOG

Realizing the powerful effect of the Iran Alive DVD, VOM has extended this FREE online offer through the month of May.

  • “GREAT DVD that moved me to tears several times!! I will be passing these out to friends and family.” —Mike C.

Iran Alive brings to life the powerful testimonies of Muslims in Iran who are turning to Christ, as well as the challenges faced by the Iranian church.

  • “The testimonies were incredibly heart touching. It’s great to see God moving in Iran!”  —Brad E.

If you've already requested a free DVD for yourself, invite your Christian friends to request one, so that they too can be inspired by the faithfulness of Iranian Christians. You can also purchase a 10-pack of DVDs for only $10 to pass out to your Sunday School class, your pastor or other Christian friends.

Request your free DVD today.

Free DVD offer limited to U.S. residents only; one request per household please. Please allow 3–6 weeks for delivery.