Tuesday, November 17, 2015

RLPB 336. Iran and Iraq: pressure mounts on Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 336 | Wed 18 Nov 2015

plus - an update on Syria
By Elizabeth Kendal

Maryam Naghash-Zargaran
Iranian authorities first started harassing Maryam Naghash Zargaran (37) in February 2011, angered by her conversion to Christianity and her active involvement in Iran's house church movement. In early 2013 Maryam (also known as Nasim) was charged with 'Propaganda against the Islamic regime' and imprisoned for 19 days before being released on bail. In July 2013 the court pronounced Maryam guilty of waging an 'anti-security agenda to spread Christianity in Iran in order to pervert Iranian society from the way of truth [i.e. Islam]' and sentenced her to four years in Evin prison. Maryam suffers from a congenital heart condition and had surgery nine years ago for Atrial septal defect (ASD) [commonly known as ‘a hole in the heart’].  Maryam's health has deteriorated significantly in prison. On 29 September 2013 she had to be hospitalised for urgent heart treatment. In late October 2015 she was granted medical leave again, but within days was ordered back to prison, mid-treatment. Maryam needs our prayers.

Middle East Concern (MEC) reports that on 1 November security agents raided a house church in Varamin, south-east of Tehran, and arrested at least thirteen of those present. The following day another Christian connected with the house church was arrested at his home in Tehran. MEC reports: 'Many of those arrested were formerly members of Emmanuel Protestant Church in Tehran, which was forced to stop its Farsi-language services in 2012, resulting in the formation of several informal house churches.' The condition and whereabouts of those arrested remains unknown. Family and friends are requesting prayer.


The Iraqi parliament has moved to Islamise Iraq further with a new National Card law. According to Article 26.2 of the National Card law, '... children shall follow the religion of the converted parent to Islam.' In other words, if a Christian father decides to convert to Islam -- say, to get a job or a second (Muslim) wife -- then his children will be registered automatically as Muslims. Likewise, if a Christian mother -- maybe a widow or divorcee -- marries a Muslim man, then her children will automatically be registered as Muslims. Considering that Islamic law regards apostasy (leaving Islam) as a capital offence and obliges Muslim women to marry Muslim men, this move is significant. Christian children are at risk of losing their religious freedom purely because of a parent's  decision. Christian and other religious minority MPs proposed the following amendment: 'Minors will keep their current religion until the completion of 18 years of age, when they have the right to choose their religion.' But this was rejected and on 27 October the law was passed in the Iraqi parliament by a vote of 137 to 51. After the vote, religious minority MPs walked out of the chamber in protest.

Christians protest in Arbil
source: Evangelical Focus.
Sign reads:
I am Iraqi
I am Christian.
On 6 November Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako met with Iraqi President Fouad Masoum who acknowledged that elements of the National Card law do conflict with the Iraqi Constitution and said he would try to seek a realistic solution. However, Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution states: 'Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation' and 'no law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam ...' Because Iraq's laws must not contradict Islam -- which defines religious freedom very differently from how the West defines it -- and because Iraq is now more closely aligned to ascendant Iran than to the declining West, the prospects for a correction seem slight. Chaldean Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiyah and Zakho, a diocese in Iraqi Kurdistan, predicts that the new law will further accelerate the exodus of Christians. 'We are facing a genocide,' he said, 'in a country that knows only death and liberticidal laws.'


* the presence of God's eternal and omnipresent Spirit will be palpable inside Iranian prisons -- both to the believers and through the believers; may the Lord our Shepherd guide Iran's at-risk illegal house churches and the Lord of Hosts protect them.

* Jehovah Rapha -- 'the Lord who heals you' (Exodus 15:26) -- will watch over, protect and preserve the lives of his precious, cross-bearing children in Iran and Iraq as they endure war, imprisonment, harsh conditions, displacement and separation from family and church friends because of the name of Jesus. Please pray especially at this time for Maryam Naghash Zargaran -- may the Lord uphold her.

* our sovereign God will intervene to protect and preserve Iraq's remnant Christians, especially vulnerable Christian children; may all wicked efforts to steal Christian children for Islam come to nothing. 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.' (Matthew 19:14 ESV)

'Fear not, for I [the Lord] am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.' (Isaiah 41:10,11 ESV)

UPDATE SYRIA: In August, IS forces captured the mostly-Christian town of Qaryatyn and the nearby Assyrian village of Hawwarin, both midway between Palmyra and the strategic Damascus-Homs M5 HWY. Though Christians fled, some one hundred Christian families remain captive in Qaryatyn. [See RLPB 322 (12 Aug) and RLPB 331 (13 Oct).] Stratfor Global Intelligence reports that Syrian government forces have re-taken several villages close to the eastern side of the M5. They are now preparing to defend Sadad (a Christian centre, now largely evacuated), and, with Russian air support, advance on on Qaryatyn and Hawwarin. May God be a shield around the remnant and captive Christians, and may their towns and villages be liberated.

~ ~ ~ ~


Pressure is mounting on Christians in Iran and Iraq as Iran ascends and Western influence declines.  In Iran, Farsi-speaking ethnic Persians face imprisonment if they convert to Christianity or participate in Farsi-language witness, or worship in secret house churches. Convert Maryam Naghash Zargaran (37) with a heart condition is part way through a four-year sentence. She urgently needs prayer. Since 1 November 14 members have been detained when officials raided a house church in Tehran Province. Meanwhile, the Iraqi parliament has passed a National Card law mandating that, if a Christian parent converts to Islam or marries a Muslim, their children will be registered automatically as Muslims and subjected to Sharia provisions. Christian children are thus at risk of forced Islamisation. Please pray for Iran and Iraq and their Christians.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).