ISLAMIC EXTREMISM CAUSING FRESH CONCERNS IN THE PHILIPPINES
Christians in the Philippines are concerned at a rise in Islamic extremism in the country. A local church leader, who wished to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor about a recent meeting of around 3,000 Islamists on one island, the name of which he wouldn’t say, for fear of repercussions for the locals. “The villagers, Christian or not, are all in fear. At night, the Islamists coerce men into going to the mosques. Some men have never been seen again,” the pastor said. “When they see you out on the street, they’ll come get you. One man who went to the mosque on 6 February never came back home.” The Islamic State (IS) has been making inroads in the Philippines since jihadist group Abu Sayyaf declared allegiance in 2015. A video of an IS training camp in a Filipino jungle later surfaced online.
Abu Sayyaf recently posted a video showing the beheading of a German hostage, after the deadline for the paying of a ransom expired. President Rodrigo Duterte made it clear that he’s determined to crack down on IS’s presence in the country, but he’s also admitted to having relatives who might have pledged allegiance to the group. “The other week I learned that a Seventh Day Adventist church constructing their building was threatened by the Islamists,” the pastor said. “Forty Islamists went to the church one night and threatened the people that if they don’t stop construction, they’ll burn the church down and force them to leave the area.”
“Because of this, Christians on that island and on nearby islands are all on alert. They take extra caution when they worship. They don’t want to attract too much attention because they’re already being watched and questioned.
Their house-churches aren’t as grand as the Seventh Day Adventist church, so they’re less noticeable.” In December last year, a bomb explosion outside a Catholic church in the southern Philippines led to suggestions church services could be cancelled. A day later, a bomb was found near the US embassy in the capital, Manila, and detonated safely, prompting police to erect checkpoints around Manila to prevent further attacks.
In August last year, a missionary priest involved in interfaith dialogue in the southern province of Mindanao told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that Christians were “living in fear, terrified to speak out” and leaving the region because of the more violent form of Islam that was spreading there. Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra added that behind the current complex situation there are hidden geopolitical and military interests. Mindanao is home to a violent Islamist movement called the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which has been seeking independence for decades, hoping to create an independent Islamic state. A ceasefire was agreed in 1996, but some of the group’s affiliates remain active.
After an attack in September 2013, during which a pastor was among those taken hostage, the national security commander for the group, Asamin Hussin, told Associated Press “We want to establish our own Bangsamoro [Muslim] government, not an autonomous government but we want an independent Mindanao as a Bangsamoro nation.” Meanwhile, on 24 December 2015, another insurgent group, BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), killed nine Christian farmers in Mindanao. The Philippines is on a list of “countries of concern” for Open Doors, a global organisation which keeps track of the places where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
Although the Philippines is 90% Christian, Open Doors reports that converts from Islam are becoming increasingly vulnerable. “Several reports last year showed that they have to keep their Christian faith carefully hidden from their families and that meeting with other Christians is very difficult, dangerous and at times impossible,” Open Doors noted. “Weapons used to kill four people in an attack in Jakarta on 14 January 2016 were reportedly brought into Indonesia from the southern Philippines; this shows the worrying connections of Islamic militants across borders in Southeast Asia. Islamic State announced plans to create a province of their caliphate in the southern Philippines, and BIFF and some other groups have already pledged allegiance to IS.”
CHRISTIANITY IS GROWING FASTER IN AFRICA THAN THE REST OF THE WORLD
Reverend Father Lawrence Iwuamadi , Professor of Ecumenical Biblical Hermeneutics, at the Ecumenical Institute, states that Christianity is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world. He made this claim during a discussion on the Anthology of African Christianity, held by the World Council of Churches (WCC) which was later published on that body’s website. Rev. Iwuamadi said: “In the next four years, a quarter of the world’s Christians will be living in Africa, and that is why the anthology is so timely, as well as the 1,400-page book being an invaluable historical and analytical resource.” The report contains 160 essays that is based upon 30 denominational and regional surveys along with 50 national surveys and current social and political issues posing threats against Christians throughout the continent.
Rev. Iwuamadi added: “Education was the most important factor in the spread of Christianity in Africa.” The book emphasizes the role of women in the church in Africa where they play the role of the backbone of Christianity.The book was edited by Isabel Apawo Phiri and Dietrich Werner, Chammah Kaunda and Kennedy Owino and is published by Regnum Studies in Global Christianity, 2016. Dietrich Werner, former WCC staff member stated: “This is a tool for informed ecumenism. Ecumenism will have a future only if it is informed ecumenism. We have so many common declarations but have so little of accurate knowledge on contemporary Christianity.”
Isabel Apawo Phiri stated: “We wanted to bring together regional survey articles on contemporary (21st century) African Christianity and churches in Northern Africa, Western Africa, Eastern Africa and Southern Africa.” She further stated that “The theology of African Christianity is influenced by its social context. What are the signs of our times in Africa that we should be responding to? The aim of the book is to look at how Africans look at their own faith. It is deeply rooted. It is not artificial Christianity. It is Christianity that makes me who I am in every aspect of my life. Christianity is an African religion. People look at Christianity as defining who they are,” she said.
MOVE TOWARDS SHARIA LAW THREATENS MALAYSIA’S CHRISTIANS
The unthinkable occurred on 18 February as thousands of Malaysian Muslims rallied in Kuala Lumpur to support the country’s adoption of stricter Sharia Law. Malaysia, a multi-ethnic Southeast Asian nation, has long been considered tolerant of its ethnic minorities. However, racism and religious intolerance are on the rise. Hudud, the extreme radical form of Sharia Law, allows amputations and stoning for criminal offenses. The issue will be debated in parliament in March. Christians have increasingly been the target of intolerance. On 13 February in less than 60 seconds, 62-year-old Pastor Koh was kidnapped in broad daylight by a group of masked men. His family has received no phone calls or requests for ransom. Pastor Koh was especially loved by his community for reaching out to the poor.
The motive for the abduction is unclear, but in some instances, people have been picked up to be re-educated in “old school” camps. The pressure against Christians and ethnic minorities continues to increase with every step toward Sharia Law. Open Doors CEO Dr. David Curry says, “There is a lot of pressure on people who want to decide for themselves that they want to be a Christian, who want to read the Bible.” The nation of Malaysia is number 31 on the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world.
Please pray for:
* Pastor Koh, other Christian pastors, and the community of Christian Believers in Malaysia to stand strong for Christ despite persecution in the face of growing intolerance.
* the release of Pastor Koh, but also that wherever he is, he senses God’s Presence and Protection. Pray that God gives Pastor Koh courage to be a witness to his captors.
* the parliamentary debate this month regarding the adoption of a stricter penal code. Pray the voice of moderates will thwart the efforts of radical Islamists to pass inhumane Sharia Laws.