By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
CAIRO/LAHORE (BosNewsLife)– An aid and advocacy group has warned that a recent decision by Swiss voters to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland is having ramifications for already persecuted Christians in several Muslim-majority countries.
“In Egypt there has been a huge outcry against the Swiss decision, which concerned only minarets, not mosques themselves,” said Barnabas Fund in its latest ‘prayer focus’ report seen by BosNewsLife, Tuesday January 5.
It said the protests come at a time when Egypt is already a country where “it is normally extremely difficult for Christians to get permission to build new churches or even repair the existing ones.”
Barnabas Fund said, “Christians are forced to travel long distances to worship or must meet in secret in their homes due to an insufficient number of church buildings. Furthermore, recent months have seen a spate of attacks on church buildings.”
The group also mentioned Turkey, which is seeking membership of the European Union, as one of the nations where churches have been threatened since the Swiss referendum in November.
“In Turkey, on December 4, 2009, the leader of a church with a bell tower was approached by three people who threatened him saying ‘Switzerland is banning minarets and we will ban bell towers to you’ and ‘You will demolish the bell tower by next Friday’,” Barnabas Fund said in comments seen by BosNewsLife Tuesday, January 4.
Police have reportedly stepped up security around the church but Barnabas Fund cautioned this may not be enough. “A recent survey in Turkey has found that nearly 40 percent of the population has negative views of Christians,” the group said.
Additionally “Over 50 percent of those surveyed said non-Muslims should not be allowed to hold open meetings where they can discuss their ideas and should not be allowed to publish literature that describes their faith.”
Further away in Asia, tensions have also risen in Pakistan, where minority Christians have been under pressure.
The leader of Pakistan’s influential Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) party, Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi, condemned the Swiss government for allowing the vote and said it was “mandatory upon all Islamic countries to unanimously confront challenges [threatening] Islam.”
Speaking to parliamentarians at his residence in Gujarat city last week, he said churches with long towers had been able to function in several Muslim nations, but that it was now time the government adopted measures to “protect the Islamic ideology”.
But Barnabas Fund suggested there has been selective criticism from Muslim leaders. “While Muslim leaders are criticizing the Swiss vote to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland, Christians in some Muslim-majority countries face severe restrictions on the building and repair of churches.”
In nations “such as Saudi Arabia and the Maldives there are no church buildings at all [and] in a number of other countries there are church buildings for foreigners but none for the indigenous Christians themselves,” Barnabas Fund added.
The group said it had also monitored “various Islamist terrorist Internet forums in December 2009” which underscored its concerns that Christians will face more difficulties in 2010.
Non-Muslims in Switzerland are also on the list to be targeted, Barnabas Fund suggested.
It referred to one Internet comment that reportedly said: “Switzerland is a fragile country which has always kept away from the conflict arena…But now [it] is like other heretic countries in Europe and is placing itself at the top of the list of the sheep to be slaughtered by the Mujahideen”. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Jawad Mazhar in Lahore, Pakistan).