Armed guards are patrolling outside churches in Nigeria. Christians in Pakistan and Indonesia are cowering in fear. Why? Because it’s Christmastime.
Many Muslims take a dim view of Christmas at best, and at worst actively menace Christians celebrating it. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Sheikh Yahya Safi, the head imam of Australia’s largest mosque, summed up an all-too-common view when he warned in a fatwa Saturday that “disbelievers are trying to draw Muslims away from the straight path,” and that “a Muslim is neither allowed to celebrate the Christmas Day nor is he allowed to congratulate them.”
Likewise the chairman of Indonesia’s top organization of Muslim clerics declared: “It’s better if they don’t say ‘Merry Christmas.’ It’s still up for debate whether it’s halal or haram, so better steer clear of it. But you can say ‘Happy New Year.’”
The popular online fatwa site Islam QA of the influential Saudi cleric Muhammad Saleh al-Munajjid explains further: “It is not permissible to imitate the kuffaar [unbelievers] in any of their acts of worship, rituals or symbols, because the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: ‘Whoever imitates a people is one of them.’” Indeed, “it is haraam [forbidden] to imitate the disbelievers and that it is obligatory to differ from those who are doomed to Hell.”
As might be expected from a religion that expects its adherents to be the executors of the divine wrath in this world, these condemnations of Christmas and Christians, and prohibitions on giving good wishes or joining in the celebrations, sometimes metastasize into intimidation and open violence. The Qur’an, after all, says that the unbelievers’ works will come to naught in this world as well as in the next (cf. 3:22), and Muslims must ensure it by making the lives of the infidels as miserable as possible.
“Indonesia is supposed to be a free country, but it doesn’t feel that way, especially at Christmas,” said one Indonesian Christian who is a member of a church that Muslims first forced to close on Christmas day 2009, and which has remained so ever since. The congregation prays on the street outside the church, braving the Muslim mobs that have thrown stones, rotten eggs, and bags of urine at them.
Meanwhile in Nigeria the armed guards are patrolling around churches because of the threat of violence from the group known as the People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad, a.k.a. Boko Haram, or “Western Education is Sinful.” The group bombed churches during last year’s Christmas season, and has shown such indefatigable and fanatical hatred toward Christians that it will certainly do it again if it can.
Christians are also feeling threatened in Pakistan, where a series of blasphemy charges against Christians, including one against a teenage girl who was framed by a Muslim cleric, have left the nation’s Christian community feeling more embattled and isolated than ever. Epitomizing the desperate situation of the Christians in Pakistan was the October arrest of Christian Pastor Karama Patras. Patras was accused of blasphemy after explaining why Christians did not celebrate the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. Mosque loudspeakers blared: “Pastor Karma Patras is blasphemer and infidel liable to be killed” — whereupon a Muslim mob savagely beat and kicked him, and destroyed his home.
In that environment, one can understand why Pakistani Christians around Christmastime believe that it is best to keep their heads down and not celebrate too conspicuously.
Muslim intimidation and violence against Christians around Christmas is only an extension of the intimidation and violence Chrisitans increasingly suffer throughout the year. Yet these incidents have received only scant attention in the mainstream media. And not only the international media, but also the human rights establishment and the United Nations continue to take virtually no notice. In their conceptual framework only Westerners can do evil and Christians cannot possibly play the role of victim. The chimera of “Islamophobia” consumes their time, attention, and resources; after being so consumed with this fiction, what can be left over for the actual persecution of Christians?
And so for the all-too-real Christian victims of Muslim fanaticism and hatred in Islamic lands, it’s yet another quiet, hushed, precarious Christmas.