According to the human rights organization Open Doors, the number of Christians in the world subjected to persecution -- 245 million -- is 14% higher than it was a year ago.
In its 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors reports:
"In seven out of the top 10 World Watch List countries, the primary cause of persecution is Islamic oppression. This means, for millions of Christians -- particularly those who grew up Muslim or were born into Muslim families -- openly following Jesus can have painful consequences. They can be treated as second-class citizens, discriminated against for jobs or even violently attacked."
The report also states that Muslim converts to Christianity in countries governed by sharia [Islamic] law face the most severe persecution, both by the state and by family, friends and community. The following are examples from the report:
In Iran, "Converts from Islam face persecution from the government; if they attend an underground house church, they face the constant threat of arrest."
In Qatar, "Christians experience persecution at all levels of society: The government, the local community and even one's family can be dangerous for Christians, especially for converts from Islam to Christianity. Islam is seen as the only acceptable faith, and Sharia law prescribes a wide range of rules for personal, family and community life. Evangelism is outlawed and can lead to a lengthy prison sentence.
In the United Arab Emirates, "Christian converts often lose their inheritance and parental rights, are forced to marry, are fired or are required to work for free. To avoid the death penalty or other penalties, Christian converts often feel like they must hide their faith or flee to another country."
In Pakistan, "Christians continue to live in daily fear they will be accused of blasphemy -- which can carry a penalty of death. ... Christians are largely regarded as second-class citizens, and conversion to Christianity from Islam carries a great deal of risk."
The persecution of Christians, and converts to Christianity, has a theological foundation. Under sharia law, those who leave Islam, criticize it or commit other acts of "blasphemy" are to be executed. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, according to Open Doors, "All expressions of religion other than Islam are forbidden. Anyone who commits apostasy by leaving Islam is, in theory, punishable by death."
It is not only sharia-governed countries that persecute converts to Christianity, however. Many other Muslim-majority countries that have "secular" constitutions also engage in the travesty. For example, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan are all secular on paper. In the case of Uzbekistan:
"The police, secret service and mahalla local authorities strictly monitor religious activities, with state authorities regularly raiding non-registered churches. In general, the Islamic culture makes life for Christian converts particularly difficult, but indigenous Christians with a Muslim background bear the brunt of persecution from the state and family, friends and community."
Another country that is secular on paper but increasingly oppressive towards Christians is Turkey. According to the Open Doors report:
"Over the last year, the situation in Turkey has deteriorated significantly for Christians as President Erdogan's powers grow. Churches there try to maintain a low profile, especially after the two-year case of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson who was unjustly jailed there and released in late 2018. Religious nationalism continues to grow to new heights."
Most Muslim converts to Christianity in Turkey are Protestant, yet the Turkish government does not even recognize the Protestant community as a "legal entity." The government denies the Protestant community the right freely to establish and maintain places of worship. Protestants in Turkey, therefore, have no recourse but to worship in unofficial religious foundations or church associations, which are often targeted by authorities and shut down.
According to a 2008 report, "The Question of Places of Worship for the Protestant Community of Turkey," prepared by the Legal Committee of the Alliance of Protestant Churches of Turkey:
"The root of the problem is that the existence and functions of Protestants and other non-Muslim groups are seen as a threat by the government institutions. And therefore, it is believed that all their activities should be banned."
On January 15, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey had violated the rights of the members of the Foundation of Turkish Seventh-day Adventists, by forbidding its registry as an official organization. The ECHR fined Turkey for violating the group's freedom of assembly and association.
Christian converts are also persecuted in non-Muslim, totalitarian, communist states, such as North Korea and China. The scholar Raymond Ibrahim explains the distinction between Christian persecution in Islamic and communist regimes as follows:
"While Christians are indeed experiencing a 'life of hell' in North Korea, overthrowing Kim Jong-un's regime could not only lead to a quick halt to this persecution but also to a rise of Christianity — as has happened recently in Russia... That 'South Korea is so distinctively Christian' reflects what could be in store — and creating fear for — its northern counterpart.
"Unlike the persecution of Christians in Communist nations, rooted to a particular regime, Muslim persecution of Christians is perennial, existential, and far transcends any ruler or regime. It unfortunately seems part and parcel of the history, doctrines, and socio-political makeup of Islam — hence its tenacity and ubiquity. It is a 'tradition.'
"If time is on the side of Christians living under Communist regimes, it is not on the side of Christians living under Islam."
It is imperative for Western governments to protect Christians and converts to Christianity in the Muslim and communist world through programs such as "Hungary Helps," and by granting persecuted Christians priority as refugees. In the words of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: "Protect Middle East Christians or anti-Christian persecution will come to Europe."
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. She is currently based in Washington D.C.