A study from the Europe-based Center for Studies on New Religions recently confirmed that “Christians continue to be the most persecuted believers in the world, with over 90,000 followers of Christ being killed in the last year ,” which computes to one death every six minutes. The study also found that as many as 600 million Christians around the world were prevented from practicing their faith.
Which group is most prone to persecute Christians around the world? The answer to this was made clear by another recent study; it found that, of the ten nations around the world where Christians suffer the worst forms of persecution, nine are Islamic, though the absolute worst—North Korea—is not.
What is it about Christians that brings the worst out of some people, Muslims in the majority? Three main reasons come to mind, though there are more:
- Christianity is the largest religion in the world. There are Christians practically everywhere around the globe, including in much of the Muslim world. Moreover, because much of the territory that Islam conquered throughout the centuries was originally Christian—including all of the Middle East, Turkey, and North Africa—Muslims are still confronted with vestiges of Christianity. In Egypt alone, which was the intellectual center of early Christendom before the Islamic invasions, at least 10 million Christians remain. In short, because of their sheer numbers alone, Christians in the Muslim world are much more likely to suffer under Islam than other “infidels.”
- Christianity is devoted to “proclaiming the Gospel” (literally, “the good news). No other major religion—not Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism—has this missionary aspect. These faiths tend to be coextensive with certain ethnicities and homegrown to certain locales. The only other religion that has what can be described as a missionary element is Islam itself. Thus, because Christianity is the only religion that actively challenges Muslims with the truths of its own message, so too is it the primary religion to be accused of proselytizing, which is banned under Islamic law. And by publicly uttering teachings that contradict Muhammad’s—including Christianity’s core message—Christians fall afoul of Islam’s blasphemy law as well. Hence why most Muslims who apostatize to other religions—and get punished for it, sometimes with death—apostatize to Christianity.
- Christianity is the quintessential religion of martyrdom. From its inception—beginning with Jesus, and followed by his disciples and countless others in the early church—many Christians have been willing to accept death rather than to stop spreading the Gospel—or, worse, renounce the faith; this was evident in ancient times at the hands of the pagan Roman Empire and in medieval (and modern) times at the hands of Muslims and other persecutors. Practically no other religion encourages its adherents to embrace death rather than abjure the faith. Thus, whereas Christ says “But whoever denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:33; see also Luke 14:33), Islam teaches Muslims to conceal and even publicly renounce Muhammad, rather than die. Moreover, other religions and sects approve of dissimulation to preserve their adherents’ lives. A nineteenth-century missionary observed that in Iran “Bahaism enjoys taqiyya (concealment of faith) as a duty, but Christianity demands public profession; and hence in Persia it is far easier to become a Bahai than to become a Christian.”[i]
Of course, Islam’s oppressive laws target people of all or no religions. Many outspoken Muslim apostates in the West who never converted to Christianity must fear execution should they ever fall into the hands of their former coreligionists. However, they are here now, alive and well in the West and warning us, precisely because they were not challenging the spiritual truths of Islam then, when they were living under its shadow—and why should they have been? If life is limited to the now, as it is in the secular worldview, why risk it, especially when merely not rocking the boat, as many “moderate Muslims” do, will save it?
It is in fact Christianity’s penchant to refuse to toe the line that, from its beginnings till now, has caused fascists[ii] and supremacists of all stripes—from the ancient Roman Empire (whence the word fascist is derived) to modern day North Korea—to persecute Christians. The latter have a long history of refusing to be silent and paying the sort of lip service that everyone else is willing to offer to get by.
Just as Jesus irked Pilate by refusing to utter some words to save his life—“Don’t you realize I have the power either to set you free or crucify you?” asked the bewildered procurator (John 19:10)—his disciples and countless other ancient Christians defied the Roman Empire, prompting several emperors to launch what, at least until now, were deemed history’s worst persecutions of Christians; and today, countless modern day Christians continue grieving and thus being punished by their totalitarian and supremacist overlords—from North Korea to every corner of the Muslim world—for the very same reasons.
[i] Samuel M. Zwemer, The Law of Apostasy in Islam: Answering the Question Why There are So Few Moslem Converts, and Giving Examples of Their Moral Courage and Martyrdom (London: Marshall Brothers, 1916), 25.
[ii] I use the term “fascist(s)” here in the popular sense – as in a non-Christian regime that “forcibly suppress[es] opposition and criticism” — and not in reference to any particular fascist party or government of history.