Tuesday, June 23, 2020

RLPB 555. June Update. Incl. Turkey, Syria, Hong Kong, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 555| Wed 24 Jun 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV) 
 
JUNE 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.  Psalm 18:6 (ESV)

JUNE 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* TURKEY [RLPB 552 (3 June)], after a 'Conquest Day' spectacular in which neo-Ottoman and Islamist Turks celebrated the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople; a conquest which saw the city ransacked, the churches looted and the citizens raped, slaughtered and enslaved. This is how the now UNESCO world-heritage listed Greek Orthodox cathedral, the Church of Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), became the booty of imperialist Ottoman Islamic forces.

UPDATE: COUNCIL OF STATE TO RULE ON 2 JULY

Turkey's Council of State will rule on the status of Hagia Sophia on Thursday 2 July. In a poll run by pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, 73.3 percent of 2,414 respondents answered 'Yes' to the question of whether Hagia Sophia should be converted into a functioning mosque. Bolstered by the poll, President Erdogan expects the Council of State will rule that the cabinet decree of 1934 - which saw Hagia Sophia converted from a mosque to a museum - be annulled. Expectation is high that Hagia Sophia will at least be open to Muslim prayers, even if it must retain its status as a museum (for now). Hagia Sophia's conversion to that of a functioning mosque would signify a great leap forward in the Turkish Islamist long march to reverse Ataturk's secularising reforms. The issue of Hagia Sophia's status serves as a barometer with which we can measure imperialist and supremacist, ethnic (Turkish) and religious (Islamic) pressure, now clearly rising in Turkey. The trend bodes ill for Turkey's remnant Greek, Assyrian and Armenian Christians (the descendants of genocide survivors), as well as for Turkey's growing cohort of Christian converts from Islam. Please pray for the Church in Turkey.

* INDONESIA [RLPB 553 (10 June)], after Indonesia's Communications and Information Ministry had a local language Bible app removed from the Google Play Store at the behest of the governor of West Sumatra. This further consolidates the terrible precedent already established in West Java (where local officials have even defied the Supreme Court) that governors are free to enforce Islamic norms depriving citizens of their liberty, contrary to the spirit of Pancasila and the religious freedom provisions guaranteed in Indonesia's constitution. Please pray.

* SYRIA [RLPB 554 (17 June)], after the US government's 'Caesar Act' came into force, essentially placing long-sanctioned, war-ravaged Syria in a state of economic siege.

UPDATE: 'A DIABOLICAL ACT'

Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo
Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji (49) of Aleppo recently spoke to the Vatican's Fides news agency concerning the US Caesar Act, which elevates sanctions against Syria to the level of an economic siege. The Archbishop told Fides that the US claim that the sanctions are 'targeted' is a lie 'that not even a child would believe'. The Archbishop insists the sanctions are designed 'to increase the suffering of the population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime-change. But,' he adds, 'this way of acting is criminal. Putting an entire people in distress at a time like this, where there is also the spectre of the pandemic around the world, is inhuman.' Archbishop Tobji laments that the US government is willing to go to any lengths to pursue its goals, 'even to sacrificing millions of people, poor people and families'. He condemns this as 'a diabolical act'. [More on this next month.] Please pray for the Church in Syria. [See: RLPB 554 (17 June) for prayer points.]

JUNE 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* HONG KONG, CHINA: AUTONOMOUS NO MORE

On 22 May China's Premier Li Keqiang announced that the National People's Congress would write national security legislation into Hong Kong (HK) law, bypassing HK's legislative council [see RLPB 551 (26 May 2020)]. A three-day legislative session was held in Beijing over 18-20 June, in which senior Chinese lawmakers reviewed the draft legislation for the first time. Another three-day session will commence on 28 June, during which many believe the new national security law will be passed in time for the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule on 1 July. According to reports, Beijing will set up a dedicated central government office in Hong Kong to manage national-security affairs; provisions in the new national-security law will supersede existing Hong Kong legislation; and China's legislature will be empowered to issue judicial interpretations on the law, meaning Beijing will have the final say over how the law will be implemented. As RLPB has warned repeatedly, the impact this will have on the Church in HK - and indeed on the Chinese Church long served by the Church in a free and autonomous HK - will be devastating. Please pray: may the Lord grant divine wisdom to the Church in China.

* IRAQ: TURKEY BOMBS NORTHERN BORDER REGIONS

In August 2014, ISIS ethnically cleansed Northern Iraq's Nineveh Plains of its indigenous Assyrian Christian inhabitants. While some 70,000 Assyrians fled east to Erbil, some 60,000 headed north to Dohuk Governorate, historically an Assyrian region. On 20 and 21 June, Turkish jets bombed the area around Dohuk's Zakho district. Close to the Turkish border, Zakho is home to almost 200,000 mostly Kurdish and Assyrian civilians. While NATO-member Turkey claims to be fighting 'PKK terrorists', anxious Christians are preparing to flee yet again. On 20 June bombs fell close to the Christian village of Bersev, home to some 300 minority families. Civilian casualties and property damage have been reported. Please pray for Iraq's betrayed, abandoned and gravely imperilled indigenous Assyrian Christians.

* NORTH KOREA: HOPES FADE AS TENSIONS SOAR

On 16 June the Kim regime in Pyongyang blew up the inter-Korean liaison office at Kaesong, North Korea. The next day it announced that it would deploy troops to the demilitarised zone (DMZ), particularly to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang Resort. Located in the currently defunct Kaesong Industrial Zone, the inter-Korean liaison office was opened in 2018 as a venue in which officials from the two Koreas could meet and work through the details of various projects aimed at reducing tensions and facilitating rapprochement. The sensational demolition sends a clear message: co-operation is over. Pyongyang claims to be retaliating against North Korean defectors and activists in the South who regularly launch balloons carrying anti-regime leaflets and other 'unauthorised materials' into the North. However, the reality is more complex. In January, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NK closed its only active border, its border with China. The border closure has served to compound the difficulties caused by US sanctions; the result is a serious shortage of food and medicines throughout the state. The Kim regime is frustrated and growing increasingly desperate. On Thursday 25 June, the Koreas will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Activists on both sides of the border are preparing to launch propaganda leaflets (hopefully that will be all that is launched!). Tensions are soaring. Please pray.

Once the centre of Korean Christianity [CBN video], Pyongyang under the Soviet-appointed Kim Il-sung sank to become one of the world's most severe human rights abusers and persecutors of Christians. 'There can be little doubt that an intensive and furious spiritual battle is underway over North Korea, and over its integration into East Asia (the spiritual powerhouse of the future!)' [RLPB 490 (20 Feb 2019)]. Please pray that the unprecedented steps taken in 2018 and 2019 will not have been in vain. Please pray that this extraordinary opportunity for positive change will not be lost. Please pray for the long-suffering, severely persecuted Church in North Korea ... may the Lord deliver her.

Background: (in chronological order)
North Korea: Reasons for Hope (RLM, 13 March 2018)
RLPB 446, A Step in the Right Direction (14 March 2018) 
RLPB 458, US-NK Summit (Singapore) (6 June 2018)
RLPB 471, A Stalemate in need of a breakthrough (5 Sept 2018) 
RLPB 490, US-NK Summit (Hanoi) (20 Feb 2019)

* PAKISTAN (1): WAITING FOR JUSTICE

Imran Masih 
(Aid to the Church in Need)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pakistan's courts face a massive backlog of cases. Unfortunately, appeals against blasphemy convictions are not on the court's priority list. Having spent six years on death row, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih (who is paralysed) and his wife, Shagufta Kausar (who worked as a caretaker in a Christian school), were due to have their appeal heard by the Lahore Court of Appeal on 8 April [RLPB 539 (4 March)]. The Christian couple from Gojra, Punjab, were tortured and sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to an Islamic cleric, despite being illiterate. Their appeal has been delayed without a new date being announced. Please pray. Christian grocer, Imran Masih of Faisalabad, received a life sentence for blasphemy in July 2009. He was cleaning out his shop and burning off the rubbish when he was accused of burning pages that allegedly contained Arabic-language verses from the Quran. According to his lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu, Imran's appeal has been postponed almost 70 times over the course of nearly eleven years. Imran Masih's next hearing date at Lahore High Court has been set for Monday 6 July. Please pray.

PAKISTAN (2): THE LAW AS A WEAPON

Anwar Masih of Lahore was arrested on 2 June for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. In a case that may be the first of its kind in Pakistan, the complainants are the man's wife and daughter. It is alleged that Anwar's wife, Kausar Parveen, and daughter, Samreen, ran a beauty parlour in Lahore and that Kausar had an illicit affair with Akash Maqsood, a Muslim. She also secretly married him, converted to Islam and become pregnant with his child. When Anwar discovered the deception, he was understandably shocked and furious. In his anger he railed against his unfaithful wife and against Islam. The daughter filmed the outburst on her phone and presented it as evidence. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement UK is a Christian charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan. Its director Nasir Saeed explains: 'This is another example of the misuse of the blasphemy law where a daughter gets rid of her father and a wife her husband, simply because he cannot accept what they have done. Masih will have to wait years and years to prove himself innocent and has no future.' Please pray.

Shagufta (l) and Shafqat (r)
[NOTE: In the case of Shafqat Emmanuel Masih and Shagufta Kausar (pictured right), it seems likely that a 'Christian' neighbour with whom the couple had a dispute may have framed them for the capital crime of blasphemy so as to punish or get rid of them. Lord have mercy!]

* IN BRIEF

* Violent persecution against Christians continues without relief across Hindu Nationalist India. See https://morningstarnews.org (South/Central Asia / India). Please pray.

* Islamic jihad in the form of farm invasions, ethnic cleansing, abductions and terror continue without relief throughout the north and volatile Middle Belt of President Muhammadu Buhari's Nigeria. Visit https://silentslaughternigeria.com and check the incident tracker; and https://morningstarnews.org (Sub-Saharan Africa / Nigeria). Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

RLPB 554. Syria: Damascus Under Siege

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 554 | Wed 17 Jun 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV) 
 
SYRIA: DAMASCUS UNDER SIEGE
-- Christian Crisis Looms in Syria
By Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
As a tactic, siege has been used repeatedly during the Syrian crisis, by both sides. From the outside, a village, town or district is surrounded and its supply-lines severed. On the inside, hardship, fear and anger mount as besieged locals watch their food, water and medical supplies run dry. The aim of a siege is to create a pressure-cooker environment so horrendous that it will ultimately culminate in a coup, a revolt or a surrender. The USA's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which takes effect today - 17 June - places Damascus in a state of economic siege. The Act mandates that any foreign entity found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or 'entering into contracts related to reconstruction' in areas controlled by the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments will face US sanctions. Thus, the Act will not apply to business and reconstruction in the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), nor in Idlib - a jihadist sanctuary under the protection of Turkey - nor in the eastern oil fields of Deir ez Zor which are controlled by Islamic jihadists under US protection.

Christmas in Damascus, Dec 2018
As in 2011, regime change efforts will doubtless fail for Syria's ethnic and religious minorities (including Assyrians and Armenians, Alawites and Christians), as well as her large cohort of largely secular, cosmopolitan, anti-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Sunni Muslims who do not want to risk an Islamist takeover! While it is highly probable that the Syrian government will survive the sanctions, the same cannot be said for Syria's Christians, most of whom (including those displaced by war) live in areas controlled by the Syrian government, where they are both safe and free. Will the Hungarian government be sanctioned if it continues to assist persecuted Christians with reconstruction through its 'Hungary Helps' program? Will aid groups such as the Assyrian Aid Society, Open Doors, or Aid to the Church in Need, or Assyrians and Armenians in Syria's diaspora community, face sanctions for helping decimated and devastated Christian communities rebuild? Christians will suffer as their economic situation deteriorates to catastrophic. They will suffer as efforts at reconstruction grind to a halt. Also, most seriously, they will suffer unspeakably if the Syrian Army, now deprived of funds, is forced to pull back, leaving front-line Christian communities in the north and east vulnerable to genocide at the hands of Turkish military and Islamic jihadist forces.

In its own words, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act has been enacted 'to halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold Syrian human rights abusers accountable for their crimes'. But by targeting the Syrian government alone, the Act perpetuates the false narrative that the Syrian conflict was a war between the evil President Assad and 'the [victimised] Syrian people'. On the contrary, the truth is that under the cover of 'Arab Spring' protests (which were led in Syria by the banned MB), neo-Ottoman, pro-MB, NATO-member Turkey, pro-MB Qatar and Wahhabist, US-allied Saudi Arabia moved to effect regime change in Damascus in pursuit of their dream to run oil and gas pipelines from Qatar to Turkey via Syria. A YouGov poll commissioned by Qatar in December 2011 showed that, while a majority of regional Arabs (Saudi, Qatari, Yemeni, Jordanian, Palestinian etc) supported regime-change in Damascus, 55 percent of Syrians did not! Furthermore, through 2012, as multitudes of well-armed foreign jihadists flooded into Syria across Turkish, Iraqi and Jordanian borders, Syrian support for the Syrian government grew exponentially.

From the outset, Syrian Christians had pleaded with the West not to support the up-ending of the secular order (as happened in Iraq) and not to arm Muslim 'rebels'. Alas, their cries and warnings were rejected. Had Russia not intervened in September 2015, al-Qaeda (based in Idlib) would have seized Latakia (the Alawite heartland in the north) and Islamic State (advancing from the Syrian desert) would have seized Damascus (the Syrian capital), at which point Syria would have descended into genocidal hell. The Western narrative is a false narrative. [See After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, Elizabeth Kendal, (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016)].

'No to sanctions on the Syrian people'
The Caesar Act is supposedly motivated by a desire to see an end to impunity for human rights abusers. Yet the region's most repressive, vile and anti-Christian human rights abusers - NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia - are not under scrutiny. Turkey, which stands accused of ethnic cleansing in northern Syria, is not even mentioned in the Act. Essentially, what Damascus' enemies (Turkey-Qatar-Saudi Arabia) have failed to achieve militarily (regime-change in Damascus), the US hopes to achieve by economic means, although Washington is doubtless motivated more by a desire to humiliate Russia (which backed Assad) and obstruct China (which sees Syria as an important node in its Belt and Road Initiative) than by any human rights issues it has with Assad.

Recommended: Charles Camosy interviews Robert Chelhod -- a Syrian living in Aleppo -- on the matter of sanctions. Crux Now, 2 May 2020


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* not allow Syria to collapse into chaos; may war-weary Syrians not be forced into further suffering and deeper poverty; may religious freedom be protected and may any scheme that would imperil Syria's Church be re-thought.

* provide Syria's suffering Church with her every need:
'As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.' (Psalm 103:13,14 ESV)

- may Jehovah Jireh (God our provider) supply the Syrian Church with all the food, water and medicines she requires, not only for herself but also for her numerous compassionate and outreach ministries;

- may our compassionate Heavenly Father help Christians seeking to rebuild their homes, districts, villages, churches, seminaries, schools and health clinics;

- most critically, may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts; the commander of heaven's angelic forces) protect Syrian Christians from the genocidal plots of Turkey and its jihadist proxies, as well as from a resurgent Islamic State.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN CRISIS LOOMS IN SYRIA

The USA's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act came into effect on 17 June. The Act essentially places Damascus in a state of economic siege. Any foreign entity (state, business or individual) found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or 'entering into contracts related to reconstruction' in areas controlled by the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments will face US sanctions. Almost all Syria's Christians, including those displaced by war, live in areas controlled by the Syrian government, where they are both safe and free. The sanctions mean that hardship will escalate to catastrophic levels, reconstruction will grind to a halt and, most critically, if the Syrian Army is forced to pull back, security for Christian front-line communities in the north and east will deteriorate markedly. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

RLPB 553. Indonesia: 'No' to Minang Bible in West Sumatra

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 553 | Wed 10 Jun 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV) 

INDONESIA: 'NO' TO MINANG BIBLE IN WEST SUMATRA
By Elizabeth Kendal

On 28 May West Sumatra governor Irwan Prayitno - backed by the West Sumatra office of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI, Indonesia's top body of Islamic clerics) - sent a letter to Communication and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate, formally requesting that the ministry remove a local language Bible app - 'Kitab Suci Injil Minangkabau' [The Bible in Minangkabau language] - from the Google Play Store. Irwan also advocated vigilance to prevent similar apps from emerging in the future. According to Irwan, 'the Minang [short for Minangkabau] people object to and are troubled by the app ... [which] contradicts Minangkabau culture with its philosophy of Adat Basandi Syarak, Syarak Basandi Kitabullah [culture is based on sharia, sharia is based on the Quran]'. According to West Sumatra Provincial Government spokesman, Zardi Syahrir, the decision to remove the local language Bible app has nothing to do with religion. Rather, the decision was made to protect the culture of Western Sumatra which, he said, is 'Islam-leaning'. As of Wednesday 3 June, the application has been removed from the Google Play Store.

The Minangkabau are the dominant ethnic group in West Sumatra Province and Bahasa Minangkabau is officially recognised as the local language in the province. The Joshua Project puts the Minangkabau population at 6.815 million - 99.72 percent Muslim and 0.26 percent Christian. About half of Indonesia's Minangkabau live in the highlands of West Sumatra; the rest are scattered throughout the nation. According to Indonesia's National Statistics Agency (BPS), the small minority of Minangkabau Christians live mostly in the Mentawai Islands. Traders and artists, particularly famous for their cuisine, the Minangkabau are the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia.

The move to deprive the Minang of the Gospel in their mother-tongue has triggered a fierce debate both inside West Sumatra and across Indonesia. A senior journalist in West Sumatra,Syofiardi Bachyul, wrote on his Facebook account that Islam does not own the Minang language, noting that Buddhism was in Sumatra well before Islam. On the other hand, MUI secretary-general, Anwar Abbas, echoed the statement of the West Sumatra governor, Irwan Prayitno, telling the Jakarta Post that the Minangkabau people were guided by Islam, not by the Bible. 'Hopefully,' he said, 'there will not be a Bible [published] in Minangkabau language.' Anwar clearly believes the lie, 'to be Minangkabau is to be Muslim', without regard for reality or liberty.

Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education, Hariyono, pointed out that the governor's move contradicts 'Pancasila', Indonesia's foundational philosophy which does leave space for religious freedom, a right also guaranteed in the constitution. As far as Hariyono is concerned, holy books can be translated into any language and 'every individual is given the freedom to observe their beliefs as long as they do not cause disruption in the public.' Halili Hasan, a researcher from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, believes that, far from posing a threat, the local language Bible app is helpful for advancing tolerance. He is particularly concerned that the governor's request could set a 'bad precedent'. 'What is dangerous,' he says, 'is the perspective of local political elites and intolerant groups [in West Sumatra] which, for me, are not representative enough for the Minangkabau people and its inclusive culture.' As fundamentalist Islam has taken root and spread throughout West Sumatra, Christian persecution has escalated. In recent years Minang Christians have experienced difficulties establishing churches or even celebrating Christmas at home. This is no doubt why Religious Affairs Ministry's director-general for Christian Community Guidance, Thomas Pentury, is primarily concerned that issue of the Bible app not be 'blown up'.

The Communications and Information Ministry should have rejected the West Sumatra governor's request outright on the grounds that it goes against the spirit of Pancasila and violates the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. If this action is permitted to stand - if the governor is permitted to withhold the Minangkabau language Bible app from the people - it will set a very dangerous precedent indeed. Let the religious freedom debate begin!


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* redeem the situation in West Sumatra to arouse curiosity and draw many more Muslims to the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.

'Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.' (Proverbs 19:21 ESV)

* stir up the religious liberty debate in West Sumatra and across Indonesia while raising up, energising and empowering voices of liberty for the sake of all Indonesians.

* intervene decisively so the decision to remove the Minang language Bible app will be overturned and the app restored to the Google Play Store so that anyone wishing to avail themselves of it will be free to do so.

[Alternative resources in Bahasa Minangkabau:
'Faith Comes by Hearing' https://find.bible/bibles/MINLAI


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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'NO' TO MINANG BIBLE IN INDONESIA

Indonesia is home to some 6.8 million Minangkabau. They are the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia and the dominant ethnic group in West Sumatra. They are 99.72 percent Muslim and 0.26 percent Christian. On 3 June Indonesia's Communication and Information Minister removed a Bible app - 'Kitab Suci Injil Minangkabau' [The Bible in Minangkabau language] - from the Google Play Store at the request of West Sumatra governor, Irwan Prayitno. Backed by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI, Indonesia's top body of Islamic clerics), Irwan insisted that the Bible app is offensive to the Minangkabau, whose culture is based on Sharia and the Quran, not the Bible. The action sets a very dangerous precedent and has triggered a fierce debate on religious freedom both in West Sumatra and across Indonesia. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

RLPB 552. Turkey: Erdogan Stokes the Fire of Islamic Zeal


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 552 | Wed 03 Jun 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV) 

TURKEY: ERDOGAN STOKES THE FIRE OF ISLAMIC ZEAL
By Elizabeth Kendal

As noted in last week's RLPB 551 (27 May), Turkey's President Erdogan has been stoking the fire of Islamic zeal, putting the country's mostly Greek, Armenian and Assyrian remnant Christians - whom he vilifies as enemies - in a perilous position. At the time of writing (26-27 May), the regime was hinting that Islamic prayers and a Quran recitation might possibly be performed inside the UNESCO world heritage-listed Church of Hagia Sophia (Greek: Holy Wisdom) on Friday 29 May, i.e., 'Conquest Day', the day Muslim Turks celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, which fell to Muslim forces on 29 May 1453. Sure enough, on Friday 29 May 2020, Islamic prayers were performed, and Quranic verses were recited inside the Hagia Sophia as a central element of the Turkish government's Conquest Day Fiesta. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the service had to proceed without an audience. However, the event was broadcast live on all the president's television, YouTube and social media channels.

More images: TRT World
In recent years, Conquest Day has grown in significance. Now an all-day spectacular, complete with re-enactments and fireworks, Conquest Day is not a 'Remembrance Day' in which war and death are lamented. On the contrary, Turkey's Conquest Day is a day which glorifies and celebrates Islamic imperial expansion and military aggression (Islamic jihad); conquest and occupation; the seizure of 'booty' and the slaughter, enslavement and subjugation of infidels (Christians) in a demonstration of Muslim supremacy. The seriousness of this trend cannot be overstated!

Christian advocacy groups In Defense of Christians (IDC), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) have all called on UNESCO to respond to Turkey's continued threat to violate Hagia Sophia's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and convert the museum into a mosque. As ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian explains, 'Erdogan's move to change the status of Hagia Sophia - the signature Christian landmark in Constantinople - both reflects and reinforces Turkey's century-long drive to erase the vast cultural and religious heritage of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other now-exiled indigenous Christian nations across the territory of modern-day Turkey.'

Quran recitation in Hagia Sophia,
Conquest Day, 29 May 2020.
YouTube excerpt
The passage which was read in the Church of Hagia Sophia - Sura (chapter) 48, 'Al Fath' ('The Victory') https://quran.com/48 - opens with the words: 'Indeed, We have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear conquest', that Allah might forgive your sins and bless you. Muslims who had refused to fight are condemned and denied any portion of the spoils. Unbelievers, it warns, will be judged with fire while Muslims will receive rich booty from Allah, their victory a sign to all believers that Allah is for them. The sura concludes (v29): 'Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers . . .' According to this verse, the Torah (Jewish scriptures) recognises Muslims as people of prayer, while the Gospel (Christian scriptures) recognises them as 'a plant which produces its offshoots and strengthens them so they grow firm and stand upon their stalks, delighting the sowers'; and that by this means Allah may enrage (make jealous) the disbelievers. It then closes with the promise of 'forgiveness and a great reward'.

The danger posed by the incitement inherent in the text - especially when backed by the power of symbolism as the text is read inside the conquered Church of Hagia Sophia - cannot be overstated! Even if Erdogan does not deliver - and Hagia Sophia remains a museum - he will have stoked the fire of Islamic zeal among his neo-Ottoman Islamist supporter base so much that we should anticipate an escalation in persecution; even more so if Christians (local and/or foreign) are blamed for government inaction.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* protect, sustain, preserve and richly bless his precious Church in Turkey comprising (among others) remnant Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians as well as convert Arabs, Kurds and Turks; may the Church grow in unity, faith and grace to be a light that overcomes darkness and a voice of hope that counters despair.

* fill Turkey's Christian pastors and leaders (civic and religious) with 'the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk [and lead] in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him ... being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy ...' (from Colossians 1:9-14 ESV).

* intervene in Turkey and, in grace and mercy, by the power of his Holy Spirit, produce awakening and transformation beyond anything we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ERDOGAN STOKES THE FIRE OF ISLAMIC ZEAL IN TURKEY

Turkey's President Erdogan continues to inflame Islamic zeal, putting at risk the country's mostly Greek, Armenian and Assyrian remnant Christians, whom he vilifies as enemies. Annually, on 29 May, Muslim Turks celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Christian capital, Constantinople (which fell to Muslim forces on 29 May 1453). In recent years, 'Conquest Day' has grown to be an all-day spectacular. This year the government, playing to its neo-Ottoman Islamist base, allowed Islamic prayers and a Quran recitation to be performed inside the UNESCO world heritage-listed Church of Hagia Sophia (Greek: Holy Wisdom). The danger posed by the incitement inherent in the text (https://quran.com/48), especially when backed by the symbolism of the event and the president's inflammatory provocations, cannot be overstated. Please pray for the Church in Turkey.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).