- plus, Riots expose key difference between Islam and Christianity
by Elizabeth Kendal
Niger - with a population 97 percent Muslim and 0.33 percent Christian - is officially a secular state with freedom of religion, although fundamentalist Islam is growing. Islamic, anti-Christian rioting erupted in Niger's second largest city, Zinder, after Friday prayers on 16 January, spreading quickly to surrounding towns and to the capital, Niamey. Riots continued into the next day as Muslims reportedly vented their rage over the depiction of Muhammad on the new cover of Charlie Hebdo (the French satirical magazine). Seemingly unaware that Charlie Hedbo is a profoundly anti-Christian magazine which routinely hurts and offends Christians with its crude and offensive, blasphemous cartoons mocking Christianity, the rioters attacked local churches as if Christians were somehow to blame for the offence Muslims were feeling. This impression might actually come more from the widespread 'Je Suis Charlie' (I am Charlie) protests that erupted in Western democracies (which Muslims view as being Christian) than from the actual magazine cover itself.
Whilst the police report that 45 churches were burnt, sources have told World Watch Monitor that the toll is actually more than 70. In Zinder, Muslim rioters went house to house, burning the homes of Christians. Numerous Christian schools and colleges have been burnt, as was the SIM compound in Gourd and the Good Samaritan Orphanage run by the Assemblies of God, leaving 40 children traumatised and homeless. The bodies of at least five Christians were later found in various burnt-out churches. Poor responses by the security forces meant that the burnt properties were also thoroughly looted. Hundreds of Christians have been displaced, having fled for their lives to police stations, army barracks and other places of refuge, including the homes of Muslim friends. Many have lost everything; all have lost their sense of security. One pastor reports being taunted by local Muslims who unexpectedly turned on him, threatening, 'We're coming after you tonight,' forcing the pastor to seek police protection.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou publicly condemned the anti-Christian violence and declared three days of mourning for the victims. Various Muslim clerics have also condemned the violence. Such extreme, targeted violence is hitherto atypical and has left the Christian community shattered. It does however provide a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the Gospel's unique and most defining feature: grace. Pastor Sani Nomao has called on every believer in Niger 'to forgive and forget, to love Muslims with all their heart, to keep up the faith, to love Christ like never before'.
Riots Expose Key Difference between Islam and Christianity
The riots expose a key difference between Islam and Christianity. Through the Bible, Christians understand that human beings, being inherently sinful, will routinely be arrogant, selfish, insensitive, uncaring, cruel and hurtful to others unless they are set free from their slavery to sin through spiritual transformation. Christians understand therefore that the answer to Charlie Hebdo's vile and offensive anti-Christian blasphemy is prayer and witness until French society is so transformed that Charlie Hebdo no longer has a market. By contrast, Islam is a material and political religion the goal of which is to control territory and transform societies through enforcement of Sharia (Islamic law). Thus for Islam the answer to Charlie Hebdo's 'blasphemy' is enactment of Sharia: the blasphemer must die. Whilst the Gospel targets the heart and works through transformed individuals and families who then act as light, salt and yeast to bless the community, Islam targets the community over which it imposes its laws (Qur'an, Sura 13:15). Christianity works from the inside out through freedom while Islam works from the outside in through force. In this, Islam and Christianity are total opposites.
May eyes be opened, may hearts be softened and may God redeem this suffering for his glory.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO -
* bring healing to Niger's traumatised Christian community; may they rise above this trauma to his glory, knowing the 'hesed' (everlasting love) of the Father, the comfort of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. 'They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.' (Isaiah 40:31 ESV)
* lead and empower Niger's authorities so they will do their job by protecting citizens, maintaining security and denouncing violence, that Niger's Christians might lead 'a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way' (from 1 Timothy 2:1-4).
* intervene to ensure no copy-cat anti-Christian violence erupts in hot spots such as Khartoum (Sudan) or Jos or Kaduna (Nigeria) or Pakistan or anywhere else, and that Friday prayers will not be used to incite Muslims into violence against Christians.
* open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, soften hard hearts and breathe life into the dead. May God take that which was meant for evil and use it for good, to prepare the soil for the seed of the Gospel, for the building of his Church in Niger.
'Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb [a desert]! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.' (Psalm 126:4-6 ESV)