Published: 13:00 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 31 May 2012
Prayer Focus 06/12
- Pakistan - Christian couple cleared of blasphemy
- Egypt - Islamist candidate tops first presidential poll
- Syria - Christians forced to flee as militants wreak havoc
- Burma - Children from Christian ethnic group gunned down
- Kuwait - Parliament approves death penalty for blasphemy
- Indonesia - One church to re-open; others closed
- Uzbekistan - Christian gathering raided; Christians fined
- India - Names of Christians disappear from electoral roll
“Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.”1 Kings 8:28, NIV
Pakistan - Christian couple cleared of blasphemy
A Christian couple in Pakistan who were sentenced to life imprisonment for “blasphemy” have been cleared on appeal. Munir Masih and his wife Ruqqiya Bibi, who have six children, were acquitted on 17 May following a three-and-a-half year ordeal.
A false blasphemy allegation was levelled at the couple in December 2008, following an argument between their children and some local Muslim children. The Muslim father had Ruqqiya and Munir accused of blasphemy under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, which concerns desecration of the Quran. Although the prosecution failed to produce a single witness to support the charge, the couple were convicted and given the mandatory life sentence. Munir was granted bail in November 2010, but Ruqqiya was kept in custody.
After their acquittal, a tearful Munir thanked God and, quoting from Psalm 94, said, “But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.”
The couple were assisted throughout their ordeal by CLAAS, a Christian legal organisation in Pakistan supported by Barnabas Aid. CLAAS helped with their defence, provided the family with their basic needs and arranged for the children to visit their mother in prison.
The Pakistani “blasphemy laws” are often used by Muslims to settle personal disputes, and Christians and other non-Muslims are particularly vulnerable to malicious, false accusation (for which there is no penalty). Thomsena Anjum, who had to flee Pakistan to the UK after being shot at by a Muslim cleric following a false blasphemy allegation against her son in 2009, has recently said, “The blasphemy laws of Pakistan hang over Christians and other minorities like a sword on their necks.”
- Pray for the safety of Munir, Ruqqiya and their children. People accused of blasphemy in Pakistan remain vulnerable to attack by Islamists even after they have been acquitted.
- Pray for Christian mother Aasia Bibi, who remains on death row in Pakistan for an alleged blasphemy offence.
- Give thanks to the Lord for the work of CLAAS, and pray for them in their support of Christians unjustly accused of blasphemy. Pray too for the repeal of the blasphemy laws. Pray for the protection of the staff of CLAAS, who have faced many threats because of the work they do for Christians.
Egypt - Islamist candidate tops first presidential poll
Christians in Egypt are facing the possibility of an Islamist government as the presidential elections enter their second round. In the first poll on 23 and 24 May, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood secured the most votes. He will take part in a run-off on 16 and 17 June against a former prime minister of toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
The Brotherhood, which previously presented itself as a moderate Islamist party, has now reverted to its original, more strongly Islamist stance. Their candidate, Mohammed Mursi, has vowed to apply sharia if elected as president. He said, “We will not accept any alternative to sharia… The Quran is our constitution and it will always be so.” One of his prominent supporters said at a campaign rally, “We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate coming true at the hands of Mohammed Mursi… The people want to implement god’s law.” A recent poll by the Pew Research Centre revealed strong support in Egypt for this agenda.
The Brotherhood took the most seats in the parliamentary elections last year, and Christians are concerned that if Mursi is elected as president, the country could become a strict Islamic state where their community of around 8 million people would not be welcome. However, they also suffered severe discrimination and persecution under Mubarak, so the alternative choice of his former premier Ahmed Shafiq is also unattractive.
Christians have suffered increasing violence since the fall of Mubarak and the rise of Islamism. In the worst single incident, 27 Christians were killed in a brutal attack on 9 October 2011 by security forces, Islamists and thugs during a protest against the torching of a church building and other injustices. But on 24 April the investigation into the massacre was closed, with judges claiming that they lacked evidence to identify the culprits. Vivian Magdi, whose fiancé Michael Mosad was crushed under a military vehicle, denounced the decision as a “farce”.
- Pray for God’s overruling in the second round of presidential elections. Pray that the new president will govern in the interests of all Egypt’s citizens and promote the freedom of minorities, including Christians.
- Pray for those bereaved and injured in the October 2011 attack, that justice will eventually be done for them.
Syria - Christians forced to flee as militants wreak havoc
Ten Christian families were expelled from their village in Syria by a group of armed militants who seized control of Qastal al-Burg village, 30 miles north-west of Hama, on 10 May. The fighters ordered the families to leave empty-handed and took over their homes. They also occupied the local church building, turning it into their command control centre.
As the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad continues, armed groups have taken control of a number of Christian suburbs in Homs, establishing their own police centres and monitoring people's movements. Christian buildings, including a church-run orphanage, have been damaged, and many people have not been paid for months or are without work altogether. Christians have been forced to flee, leaving everything behind, and some are struggling to pay the rent or even to feed their children far from home.
On 10 May a double suicide bomb attack in Damascus left more than 50 people dead. A group called al-Nusra Front, which is suspected of links to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility; it has also been behind other bombings across the country. Christian areas of Damascus and Aleppo were targeted in March.
A Barnabas Aid contact in Syria said, “In brief the situation is very alarming and catastrophic. Syrians are scared of the escalation of violence to a point of no control and the absence of security in most areas.” Christians are particularly concerned about their future in a country that was, before the uprising, one of the safest places in the Arab world for them.
Barnabas is helping thousands of needy Christians in Syria with food, medicine and other essentials through our partners on the ground.
- Pray for the restoration of order in Syria, and that positive political change will emerge from the current crisis. Pray that the freedoms enjoyed by the country’s Christians will be safeguarded.
- Pray for Christians caught up in the violence or living far from their homes, that the Lord will be a sanctuary for them.
Two children who were bathing and playing in Ta Li river in Kachin state were shot dead on 5 May by the Burmese military as they continued their offensive against the predominantly Christian Kachin people group. The five- and seven-year-olds were startled by a loud bomb blast, and as they tried to run to safety, Burmese soldiers opened fire, killing them.
Around 75,000 Kachin people, displaced from their homes by the offensive, are staying in overcrowded relief camps, and the Burmese government has blocked aid to troubled areas. Soldiers have attacked villages, razed houses and destroyed churches. They have also tortured people under interrogation and raped women.
The Burmese military is very hostile to non-Burman ethnic minorities. Most Christians in Burma belong to these groups.
- Ask the Lord to comfort and strengthen the families of the children who were killed. Pray too for the many Christians suffering in the refugee camps.
- Praise God for recent progress towards political freedom in Burma. Pray that this may be maintained and that it will bring freedom and justice for all Burma’s peoples
The parliament of Kuwait has passed a bill that would make insulting the god of Islam, key Islamic figures and the Quran punishable by death. The amendment, which was intended to strengthen the country’s existing blasphemy legislation, gained overwhelming support in the final vote on 3 May. The bill will now go to the Emir for approval before becoming law.
The offence will carry the death penalty only for Muslims, but non-Muslims will face a jail term of at least ten years. Defendants who repent in court will have their sentence reduced to five years in prison and/or a large fine. The current penalty for defamation of religion is up to one year in prison and a fine.
Since gaining a majority in snap parliamentary elections in February, the Islamist al-Adala (Justice) Bloc has made a number of moves to strengthen Islam. A law to prevent the construction of new church buildings and other non-Islamic places of worship has been proposed, along with constitutional changes to make all legislation comply with sharia law. However the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, blocked the recommendation regarding sharia. This suggests that he may also veto the attempt to introduce draconian penalties for blasphemy.
Kuwait has a sizeable Christian community, most of whom are expatriates, comprising nearly 14 per cent of the population. Amendment of the constitution to make sharia the only source of legislation would inevitably make life more restrictive – and perhaps even dangerous – for them.
- Pray that the Emir will veto the proposed new penalties for blasphemy and that the Islamisation of Kuwait will be checked and reversed.
- Pray for Christians in Kuwait, that the Lord will sustain them in their discipleship in a hostile and challenging context.
Indonesia - One church to re-open; others closed
The Muslim mayor who illegally sealed off GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor, Indonesia, has agreed it can reopen, on condition that a mosque is built next door. Presidential advisors brokered the “deal” following a month-long negotiation between the church and the authorities, which ended on 2 May. GKI Yasmin, which has been forced to hold services on the street outside its half-constructed building or in private homes, welcomed the suggestion in principle. A spokesman said, “The most important thing for us is to have our constitutional rights guaranteed and we can go back worshipping at our church again.”
Elsewhere in Indonesia, the authorities have sealed off 17 Christian places of worship in the semi-autonomous province of Aceh. The undungs, which are small buildings not classified as churches, in the Aceh Singkil district were closed in the space of a week, starting on 2 May. The move followed a rally of hard-line Islamist groups on 30 April demanding their closure. The district head claimed that the buildings did not have permits and were drawing complaints from locals. But this is the first time that the authorities have taken action against Christian places of worship, suggesting that they have given in to pressure from the Islamists.
Other Indonesian churches suffered violent attacks in May. A congregation in Bekasi was set upon twice in four days by hundreds of Islamists, who threw bags of urine, sewage, rotten eggs and stones at the Christians. A bomb exploded in a mainly Christian neighbourhood of Ambon, injuring dozens of people, and homes and cars were torched. And the only Christian place of worship in Picuan, North Sulawesi, was also set on fire.
- Give thanks for the agreement to allow GKI Yasmin to re-open its building, and pray that this will end its difficulties with the authorities. Pray for good relations with the mosque next door when this is built.
- Pray for Christians in Aceh, that their buildings will be restored to them. Pray for those congregations that were recently attacked, and for protection for all God’s people in Indonesia.
Uzbekistan - Christian gathering raided; Christians fined
On 9 April, a court in Uzbekistan punished 14 members of an unregistered church in Yukori-Chirchik for “attracting believers of one confession to another and other missionary activity”. Eight police and security officers had raided a home where the church was gathered on 27 February on the pretext of searching for a bomb. They confiscated a laptop and Christian books. Most of the Christians were given a fine of ten times the minimum monthly salary, while the host of the meeting was fined six times as much again. The judge also ordered that the books be destroyed.
- Pray for the members of this church, that the Lord will strengthen them to stand firm in Him despite harassment from the authorities.
India - Names of Christians disappear from electoral roll
A Christian forum in Madhya Pradesh has discovered that the names of up to 20,000 Christians have been deleted from the state’s electoral roll. It is concerned that the Christian community is being deliberately disenfranchised by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is notoriously anti-Christian. Its concerns have been supported by the state’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, which has accused the state government of playing dirty politics to disenfranchise Christians. The forum has launched an investigation and intends to approach the electoral authorities.
- Pray that any electoral malpractice in Madhya Pradesh will be corrected and that all Christians there will be free to participate in the political process.
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