(September 9, 2013 / JNS) In an unprecedented wave of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christian community last month, Islamic terrorists targeted several dozen churches, schools, businesses and homes. The terrorists, many sympathetic to Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood or ultraconservative Salafi groups, blamed Egypt’s Christians for July’s ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
The recent attacks on Christianity in Egypt underscore the growing threat facing Middle Eastern Christians in the region that was the birthplace of their faith. But violence against Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Middle East does not represent the full extent of global attacks on the religion—millions of Christians throughout the world, from Indonesia to Nigeria, are persecuted on a daily basis.
But what common threat links these seemingly unrelated and diverse Christian communities together? Raymond Ibrahim, the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Shillman Fellow, provides his answer in the new and timely book, “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians.”
The Middle East is facing a tremendous decline in its indigenous Christian populations. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, just 0.6 percent of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians now live in the Middle East and North Africa. Christians make up only 4 percent of the region’s total inhabitants, drastically down from 20 percent a century ago, making Middle East Christians the smallest regional Christian minority in the world. While there are a number of reasons factoring into this drop—such as declining Christian birthrates, greater affluence and education, connections in the West—the systematic persecution of Christians lies at the heart of their decline in the region.
Ibrahim begins his book by exposing the foundation for persecution of Christians as well as other non-Islamic faiths, examining early Islamic scripture and laws. Ibrahim centers his examination on “The Conditions of Omar” (also known as the “Pact of Omar”), a treaty between Muslims and Christians attributed to the second Islamic Caliph (successor to Muhammad, or ruler of the Islamic community) Omar bin al-Khattab, who ruled the Islamic Empire from 634 CE to 644 CE and was known for conquering Jerusalem.
This treaty established the relationship and social hierarchy between Muslims and Christians, with Muslims on the top rung and Christians (as well as other non-Muslims such as Jews and later Hindus) as subordinates, or dhimmis. This subordinate status includes restrictions on worship, freedom, and social status.
According to Ibrahim, “The Conditions of Omar,” which were used extensively by Islamic rulers throughout the Middle Ages, are being reapplied today “as a natural consequence of Muslims returning to the authentic teachings of Islam.”
Ibrahim invokes “The Conditions of Omar” throughout his book when describing modern-day persecution of Christians. But rather than organizing his book chronologically from the Middle Ages to the present, Ibrahim divides his book thematically to address the different ways Christians are persecuted, including through restrictions on Christian worship and Christian freedom, and an overall climate of hate.
This focus constitutes Ibrahim’s work’s greatest strength. The sheer volume of attacks on Christians that Ibrahim details on a country-by-country basis provides the reader with a clear understanding of the overwhelming violence Christians are facing.
But the recent history of Christianity is not all bad news. Ibrahim also explores a period he calls the “Christian Golden Age,” lasting from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th century, during which Christian churches throughout the Middle East flourished. Ibrahim credits European intervention in the Middle East, along with the modernization and Westernization of many Arab Muslims in the region, with limited Christian persecution. Ibrahim points out, however, that this relatively recent period of Christian-Muslim goodwill has given many in the West a false sense of security for Middle East Christians.
Ibrahim places some responsibility for the Christian persecution on Western academia, Western media, and Western governments—including the current Obama Administration—for “refusing to acknowledge Christian suffering at the hands of Muslims.” In his criticism of the West, Ibrahim invokes his own experience working for Georgetown University and the Library of Congress, and he criticizes American Christians in general for their lack of concern for the plight of their Middle Eastern brethren.
At times, this approach by Ibrahim blurs the line between legitimate criticism of radical Islam and a condemnation of Islam as a whole. For instance, Ibrahim admonishes the West, including “Christians and non-Christians, liberals and conservatives, deists and atheists,” to take note of the Muslim persecution of Christians as a “reflection” of what Islam as a whole “has in store for them.”
Ibrahim could have expanded his book by including examples of Middle Eastern countries that promote interfaith dialogue and moderate Islam. A 2012 report by the U.S. State Department lauded Morocco for its “guarantees of freedom of religion” and its efforts to counter radical Islam and promote moderate Islam. Jordan’s King Abdullah has also taken a number of steps to encourage interfaith dialogue, including hosting a recent conference on the “The Challenges Facing Arab Christians” that included more than 70 leading Middle Eastern Christian figures.
Nevertheless, Ibrahim’s book is an important and timely read for anyone looking to become more informed on the plight of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. As the Western world continues to grapple with the repercussions of the so-called “Arab Spring,” work like Ibrahim’s that raises awareness on the persecution of ancient Christian communities will serve to help foster a more free and open Middle East.
“Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians,” by Raymond Ibrahim. 256 pages. Regnery Publishing, April 2013.