For the past decade, mainline Protestant churches
have largely failed to speak up on behalf of Christians (and other minorities)
in the Middle East. Below is the text of a model resolution that members of
these churches can rework and submit to the national assemblies of their
churches. This text, attempts to address the issue
of Triumphalist Islam in an irenic, authoritative and comprehensive manner. It
follows the model of resolutions used by the General Synod of the United Church
Please feel free to distribute this text as you see fit.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if
one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of
Christ and individually members of it.”
– 1 Corinthians, 12: 26-27
“For God did not give us a spirit
of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-control.”
– 2 Timothy 1:7
“If anyone acknowledges that
Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” – 1 John 4:15
Christ summons us to partake of
His life, His suffering, His death and resurrection. As part of this summons,
Christ calls us to stand in solidarity with our fellow Christians during their
times of trial. He calls for us pray for and end to the oppression they endure
and to actively struggle against it.
Wherever and whenever anyone
suffers for the same of Christ, we are called to witness to both the injustice
they endure and to the steadfastness they exhibit: the injustice suffered by
Christians thwarts the will of God; Christian steadfastness in the face of this
injustice brings glory to God.
Christ also calls us to proclaim
liberty to the captives, whether their captivity is the result of physical or
spiritual oppression. (Luke 4:18) He also calls us to proclaim justice to the
nations (Matthew 12:15).
Background: The Roots and History of anti-Christian Violence in Muslim-Majority Environments
The Body of Christ is under attack in Muslim-majority
countries throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East, Africa and
Asia. Christians are being killed, imprisoned, held for ransom, forcibly
converted and sold into slavery as part of an ongoing campaign of oppression
and ethnic cleansing that began in the early part of the last decade.
Christians are not the only targets of this campaign. Other religious
minorities such as the Yazidis in Iraq and adherents of the Bahai faith
in Iran are also subject to atrocities. Muslims are also the victims of
oppression perpetrated by their fellow Muslims.
The overriding impulse behind these acts of aggression is
an ideology of Muslim supremacy that holds that Islamic doctrine and
jurisprudence should rule every aspect of life in Muslim-majority countries.
This ideology causes the life of non-Muslims to be devalued and sets the stage
for violence against religious and ethnic minorities (and dissident Muslims) in
Violence perpetrated against
non-Muslims, and the ideas used to justify it, are not new phenomenon, but date
back to Islam’s founding. The mistreatment of non-Muslims in Muslim-majority
environments and the oppression of apostates has been an persistent aspect of the
Muslim faith since its founding in Seventh Century A.D.
The Curse of Dhimmitude
Under Shariah, or Islamic
law, which was codified in the years after Muhammad’s death, Christians and
Jews were accorded a second class status which in the modern era has been
described as dhimmitude. Dhimmitude is derived from the word “dhimmi”
which is itself derived from the Arabic word “dhimma” which describes a
pact that was thrust upon Christians and Jews who wished to maintain their
faith practices when the countries they lived in came under Muslim rule.
As part of this dhimma
pact, non-Muslims agreed to pay a special tax for the privilege of practicing
their faith in a Muslim jurisdiction. Oftentimes, this tax was collected in a
ceremony that included a ritualistic blow to the head or the neck to remind dhimmis
that they were paying for the privilege of keeping their head on their
shoulders. The goal was to humiliate non-Muslims into submission.
Other rules associated with dhimmitude
varied from one location to another but they included a prohibition of building
homes or houses of worship higher than that of their Muslim neighbors.
Dhimmis were also
prohibited from riding horses, and were deprived of the right to defend
themselves against Muslims when physically attacked. Public displays of
religious symbols (such as the ringing of church bells or singing of hymns) was
prohibited. In some instances, Jews and Christians were required to wear a
colored patch indicating their religious identity.
Dhimmi testimony was not
accepted in Muslim courts, rendering them vulnerable to mistreatment and
oppression. Criticizing Islam or agitating for one’s liberty and equality was
out of the question. The first line of enforcement for these rules was the
leaders of the dhimmi communities themselves. Jewish and Christian leaders were
obligated to make sure that the people in their communities did not get out of
line and obeyed these rules.
The ultimate goal of these rules was to demean and
humiliate non-Muslims and to encourage them to convert to Islam. These rules
also had the tendency of making non-Muslims low cost, no-cost targets of
violence and oppression.
If a dhimmi or dhimmi
community agitated for its rights or appealed to help from outsiders, they
abrogated the right to claim protection from the authorities under the dhimma
pact, and as a result, rendered themselves legitimate targets of jihad.
This happened a number of times under the Ottoman Empire.
For example, when the Ottoman
Empire abolished dhimma laws in 1860, Muslims in Damascus murdered 5,000
Christians because they were no longer behaving in a submissive manner toward
the Muslim neighbors. Men were killed and women and children were raped and
abducted; some escaped these fates by converting to Islam.
Similar massacres took place in
what is now known as modern-day Turkey in the 1870s, 1890s when thousands of
Armenian, Greeks, and Assyrian Christians were murdered in response to European
interventions on behalf of the rights of Christians in the Ottoman Empire.
The Armenian Genocide, which
resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians (and thousands of Greeks and
Assyrians) between 1915 and 1922, was, in part, a response to the efforts of
Armenians to achieve freedom and equality in a Muslim-majority environment.
The spiritual and emotional
damage suffered by dhimmi populations is immense, long lasting, and
intergenerational. Rev. Dr. Mark Durie, author of Liberty to the Captives:
Freedom from Islam and Dhimmitude through the Cross (Deror Books, 2013)
reports that living under the conditions of dhimmitude causes people to
suffer from “spiritual oppression” and an attitude “fear and psychological
servitude to Islam” that is passed from one generation to the next. He writes
“people whose ancestors were subjected to the dhimma can suffer the
spiritual bondage of their forebears ‘to the third and fourth generation’
(Exodus 20:5, 34:7).”
Living as a dhimmi has
political consequences as well. In the latter half of the 20th
Century, Christian populations in the Middle East protected themselves by
supporting brutal dictators who would protect them from the violence and
hostility directed at them by their Muslim neighbors in exchange for support.
Oftentimes Christians would serve as spokespeople and advocates for regimes to
This strategy was particularly
evident in Iraq, where Christians supported the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein
and in Syria, where Christians supported the Assad regime, which brutally
repressed the Sunni majority in that country. Egypt’s Coptic minority was also
a bulwark of support for the Mubarak regime in Egypt, because it kept radical
Sunnis, known as Salafists, out of power.
This was not a strategy available
to all religious minorities. Adherents of the Bahai faith for example,
are brutally repressed in Iran with no chance of obtaining help from the
theocratic government in Iran. Christians are brutally mistreated in Iran as
well, especially those who seek to convert their countrymen to the Christian
It must be remembered that Christians
in the Middle East are being oppressed in their homelands. Their existence
pre-dates the arrival of Islam by centuries. They are not interlopers.
It should also be noted that Muslims are also victims of
oppression in Muslim-majority countries. Where Sunnis are the majority, they
oppress Shiites and vice versa. Ahmadiyya Muslims, who are regarded as heretics
and apostates, are oppressed in Pakistan.
Shariah, or Islamic law establishes a system of
structural violence that renders non-Muslims, dissident Muslims and women,
legitimate targets of oppression.
In an effort to prevent discussion of the impact of dhimmitude
and Shariah as a human rights issue Islamic organizations and leaders
have worked to silence criticism of Islam through a variety of means. In
particular, they asked the United Nations to promote blasphemy laws and statues
that prohibit the defamation of religion. Such laws are already in force in
Muslim-majority countries, making it dangerous to discuss issues of human
rights under Islam.
Anti-Christian violence in
Muslim-majority countries faded from the world’s consciousness in the decades
after the Armenian Genocide.
Things began to change with the 2003
removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq when Christians in that country
found themselves without a protector and subject to terrible acts of violence. Churches have been bombed,
clergy kidnapped and murdered, and lay Christians have been regularly killed.
used to number approximately 1.5 million in Iraq. Credible estimates indicate
there are less than 300,000 Christians in the country today.
Christians in Syria found
themselves vulnerable to similar acts of violence as president Bashar al-Assad
lost control of large sections of the country as a result of a civil war that
began in 2011 and rages to this day.
Coptic Christians were also
subjected to terrible attacks beginning toward the end of Hosni Mubarak’s
tenure as president of Egypt, which came to an end in 2011. Fortunately, the
situation for Christians in Egypt has improved substantially under the
leadership of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Sisi who has taken a tough line
with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was removed from power in 2013, but the
hostility and violence directed at Copts in their homeland remains a problem.
The recent kidnappings of
hundreds of young women in Nigeria by the Islamist organization Boko Haram and
multiple massacres of Coptic Christians by ISIS in Libya demonstrates that
radical Islam threatens Christians in North Africa. Violent attacks against
Christians in Pakistan indicate that it is a problem in Asia as well.
Something must be said and
something must be done about this rising tide of Islamist violence.
Signs of Hope
We must acknowledge unequivocally
that not every Muslim adheres to the notion of supremacy over non-Muslims; to
fail to do so would be false witness. There are some resources within Islamic
tradition that can be used to justify a more tolerant and peaceful attitude
toward non-Muslims. For example, there is a passage in the Koran that states
“there is no compulsion in religion.” Unfortunately, many Muslim scholars
assert that this passage and others like it, which came early in Mohammad’s
career, were superseded, or abrogated by a number of other passages (which came
later in Mohammad’s life) that call for the violent oppression of non-Muslims
and the execution of people who would leave the faith.
Nevertheless, some Muslim
intellectuals appeal to these earlier passages to convince their co-religionists
to refrain from acts of violence against their non-Muslim neighbors, but they
are not in the majority. This is a consequence of a decision made by Muslim
scholars to close the “door of interpretation” or (bab al-itjihad) in
the 11th Century. Writing in 111 Questions on Islam, Samir
Khali Samir, S.J. reports that as a result that once this door was closed, it
was “no longer possible to interpret the text.” He continues, “Hence today,
even the mere attempt to understand its meaning in a certain context is regarded
as a desire to challenge it. And it is a true tragedy for the Islamic world…”
Moreover, Samir writes that in
modern times, “efforts have been made” to interpret the Koran in context, but
that they have “almost always [been] in vain.” He continues: “The weight of the
tradition and, above all, the fear of questioning the acquired security of the
text have created a taboo: The Qur’an cannot be interpreted, nor can it be
Still, there are signs of hope.
Recently, Egyptian President
Abdel Fatah Sisi spoke to scholars at Cairo’s Al Azhar University, the most
important center of learning for Sunni Muslims in the world. He told the
must revolutionize our religion” adding that by embracing the ideas it does, “the Islamic
nation is being torn apart, destroyed, and is heading to perdition. We
ourselves are bringing it to perdition.” That Sisi made such a speech at Al
Azhar, which has traditionally been a source of Islamic supremacism is
remarkable. It remains to be seen if scholars at the school will take up Sisi’s
One group of Muslims in the United States,
the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), has worked to promote
discussion of the topics delineated above. In a recently published statement,
AIFD has condemned the push to create “Islamic” states where non-Muslims are
oppressed. The organization has also called on Muslims to “promote reforms
where necessary, including an honest and critical reinterpretation of scripture
and shariah law used by Islamists to justify violence and oppression.”
The AIFD also declares “Neither jihadism
nor Islamism permit the equality of all humans irrespective of their race or
religion and should therefore be rejected.”
Hopefully, Muslims in the Middle East will
start to address these issues, sparking the “revolution” within Islam that
Egyptian President Sisi was calling for when he spoke to scholars at Al Azhar
We must remember that Islam does
not have a monopoly on religious violence. Christians have struggled with their
faith’s historical hostility toward the Jewish people, which has had
catastrophic consequences. They have also confronted the role their faith
played in the destruction and oppression of indigenous peoples throughout the
The fact that we as Christians
are not without sin does not preclude us from lifting up our voices about the
mistreatment of our fellow Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities
in Muslim-majority countries throughout the world.
To remain silent at a time such
as this would only add to our sin.
We must pray, we must discern, we
Resolution: A Call to Prayer, Discernment, and Action
WHEREAS violence against
Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim-majority environments is
threatening the destruction of people groups in the Middle East; and
WHEREAS massacres, kidnappings
and the enslavement of Christians and Yazidis in Syria and Iraq has reached
epidemic proportions; and
WHEREAS violence against Copts in
Egypt remains a threat and the murder of Copts in Libya has become an
undeniable outrage; and
WHEREAS this violence is not a
new phenomenon, but has its roots in Islamic doctrine, jurisprudence and
tradition dating back centuries; and
WHEREAS Shariah law as it
is applied in Muslim countries throughout the world represents an undeniable
manifestation of structural violence and a defamation of the name of God; and
WHEREAS dhimmitude renders
non-Muslims low cost, no cost targets of violence; and
WHEREAS some Muslim leaders have
attempted to place discussion of these problems beyond the pale of acceptable
discourse by promoting the passage of laws that prohibit “blasphemy” and the
“defmation of religion;” and
WHEREAS a growing number of
Muslim leaders and intellectuals are struggling to re-open the “door of
WE WITNESS AND LAMENT the ongoing
destruction of Christian communities in the Middle East, the region of our
faith’s birth, and the oppression of our Brothers and Sisters in North Africa
and Asia; and
WE PROCLAIM that as Christians we
are called to pray on behalf of those who are dying for the name of Christ and
that we are called to speak up for the principles of religious freedom; and
WE RESPOND to this call by
condemning violence against people of all faiths throughout the world and by
standing in solidarity with the victims of Islamist violence wherever it takes
WE PRAY for the violence against
Christians and other religious minorities to end; and
WE PRAY that God manifest His
presence the decisions of political leaders of all faiths and countries as they
confront the rising tide of Islamist violence throughout the world; and
WE PRAY that world leaders of all
faiths and ideologies be given the wisdom, the strength and confidence to stem
the violence through the application of justice, mercy, and restraint; and
WE PLEDGE to educate ourselves,
our congregations, our neighbors, and our community leaders about Shariah law,
its impact on Muslims, non-Muslims and women and to discern and counteract the
impact of dhimmitude on our fellow Christians; and
WE PRAY that Muslim leaders
acknowledge the rights of their followers to convert to other faiths and work
to encourage their followers to acknowledge the dignity of women, for they too
are created in the image of God; and
WE PLEDGE to work for the safety
of religious targeted communities throughout the world; and
WE PROCLAIM Christ’s liberty to
the captives of religious violence and oppression, whether they be its victims
or perpetrators. We are glad to see principled Muslims confront Islam’s legacy
of hostility and violence against non-believers. We pray that their numbers may
grow and that their efforts become more effective; and
WE ACKNOWLEDGE violence and sin
perpetrated by Christians throughout history; and
WE PLEDGE to not let our guilt
over these events to be used to silence us over the mistreatment of our
co-religionists and other victims of religious violence in Muslim-majority
WE PRAY that God will embolden
the faith of our fellow believers, soften the hearts of their tormentors and
enliven the intellects and consciences of those who have been bystanders to
this violence for far too long.