Reports have appeared in recent weeks indicating that COVID-19 is furnishing a new pretext in the Islamic word to discriminate against and even persecute religious minorities, chiefly Christians.
According to an April 29 report, “in countries such as Ethiopia Christians are denied the resources of the community, which is mainly composed of Muslims. These minorities are excluded from society, making it difficult to provide them with help or support.” A separate report notes that in Muslim-majority Uzbekistan, Christians “have been denied aid because of their religion.”
Pakistan, as usual, offers several examples. According to a March 30 report:
A Karachi [based] NGO has denied [COVID-19 related] food aid to poor Hindus and Christians, who like Muslims are suffering from coronavirus…. The Saylani Welfare International Trust has been operating in the Korangi area since 1999, handing out aid and meals to homeless people and seasonal workers. Two days ago, the welfare organisation refused to give ration cards to non-Muslims, saying that only Muslims are entitled to them. The reason for this is that Zakat, Islamic alms giving (one of Islam’s five pillars), is reserved for Muslims. The Christian man said he begged for food to no avail. Farooq Masih, a 54-year-old Christian in Korangi, said that last Saturday, Abid Qadri, a member of Saylani Welfare, with other NGO members, handed out food cards in his area. But, when they got to Christian homes, they just moved on.
“A few days back there was an announcement made through a mosque’s loud speaker in the Sher-Shah neighborhood of Lahore inviting citizens to collect the government’s announced foodstuffs,” a pastor explained concerning another similar incident in Pakistan. “When Christians reached the distribution point and presented their national identity cards, they were asked by staffers to get out of the line claiming the foodstuff was only for Muslim citizens.” This same pastor received numerous phone calls from his flock, all of whom experienced the same denial. “Christians often face religious hatred and discrimination,” a Christian woman, aged 50, said of her experience. “However, we never thought of this biased behavior by the majority people at this critical time of COVID-19.”
Others are using this pandemic to win converts to Islam. According to a May 8 report, “an Islamic cleric claims his organization is using COVID-19 food aid to convert non-Muslims to Islam.” Speaking on Pakistani television, the cleric boasted of how when a destitute Christian man came for aid, the “staff of the organization offered him conversion against food which he accepted.” The man was subsequently renamed Muhammad Ramadan, signifying his conversion had occurred during the holy month. According to the cleric, Muhammad is now fasting (which is ironic considering hunger is what prompted him to convert in the first place).
The issue in Pakistan is apparently so bad that on April 13, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USIRF) denounced its discriminatory and abusive measures as “simply reprehensible,”adding:
As COVID-19 continues to spread, vulnerable communities within Pakistan are fighting hunger and to keep their families safe and healthy. Food aid must not be denied because of one’s faith. We urge the Pakistani government to ensure that food aid from distributing organizations is shared equally with Hindus, Christians, and other religions minorities.
While “reprehensible,” Pakistan’s conduct towards its non-Muslim minorities is certainly consistent. The USCIRF’s own 2019 Annual Report notes that Christians and Hindus in Pakistan “face continued threats to their security and are subject to various forms of harassment and social exclusion.”
Among other “uncharitable” acts connected to COVID-19 in Pakistan, a Christian man was tortured to death for “defiling” a Muslim well; and, after another Christian man asked his employer if he could leave early to attend church, he was told to “clean our toilets [first] and take our germs to your church so that they can suffer”—and then given a sound beating.
At the other end of the Muslim world, in “Shariah-governed areas” of Nigeria, “the government is discriminating against Christians,” also in the context of COVID-19, said an April 17 report. Millions of Christians living in northern Nigeria’s Kaduna State, “report they get six times smaller rations from the state than Muslim families. Believers we talked to shared that a Christian family of four receives a grossly inadequate ration of a single packet of noodles and one small plate of uncooked rice.”
The same report highlighted how “hundreds of thousands of believers all throughout sub-Saharan Africa … are not only persecuted for their decision to follow Jesus but are now doubly vulnerable to the impact of a global pandemic”:
Specifically, four of the five most virus-vulnerable countries—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Sudan and Cameroon—also count among the places in sub-Saharan Africa where life is hardest for Christians… For Christians who are already persecuted, the pandemic gives way to even more ways believers can be discriminated against, exploited and attacked for their faith.
“We are facing persecution because of our faith and we are also facing a global pandemic,” Rev. John Joseph Hayab, a pastor in Nigeria explained. “We run away from our persecution … or we run away from the global sickness that we are facing. We have a double problem.”
“We lie down at night, not knowing if we’ll wake,” another pastor said concerning the ongoing terror attacks, particularly by Fulani Muslim herdsmen, who, if anything, have only increased their deadly raids on Christian villages, thereby compromising their immune system with more stress and trauma. “In the midst of this coronavirus challenges and situation, the attacks on Christians have not stopped,” he said.
The situation for sub-Saharan Christians is further exacerbated by the fact that “[s]pecific targeting by Islamic radical groups like Boko Haram, ISIS, Fulani militants and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) across the region has displaced many thousands of Christians.” Such Christians are now living in crowded and hard to reach refugee camps where they are “suffer[ing] intensely without water, sanitation and hygiene,” making them extra susceptible to contracting the deadly virus.
“We are only at the dawn of the unfolding of this pandemic in this part of Africa,” a human rights observer said in words that apply to Christians all throughout the Muslim world: “There are many causes for concern for Christian minorities, like the economic impact of continued violence against Christians amid lockdowns, marginalization of Christians, especially [converts], and Christians being blamed to have caused the virus.”
In other words, at a time when COVID-19 is showing the best of people—countless doctors, nurses, health care providers, philanthropist institutions and churches in America have stepped up beyond the call of duty, and certainly without consideration for things like race or religion—in the Muslim world COVID-19 has merely occasioned more of the usual: hate for and persecution of contemptible “infidels,” particularly Christians.