|ISIC BULLETIN Aug/Sep 94|
|Sunday, 31 July 1994 19:00|
"The relations of Muslims and Christians internationally must not be jeopardised by the actions of an unrepresentative minority. Both the communities are pledged as part of their obedience to God to care for those who suffer injustice and remove its causes."
These are the words of Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. The "unrepresentative minority" to which he referred were Islamic extremists in Pakistan. However, there is also an unrepresentative minority amongst Christians whose actions may equally be detrimental to Muslim-Christian relations.
Some western Christian agencies, who are concerned to help persecuted and oppressed Christians in other parts of the world, take action without consulting those they are trying to assist. They may, for example, ally themselves with non-Christian groups who share certain of their goals. They may ally themselves with anti-government liberation movements which use violence. In cases of this nature a number of fundamental questions arise:
Alliances of Christian agencies with factious political bodies that engage in violence and atrocity tend to lend credence to the claim of Islam that the agenda of western Christian human rights organizations is more political than spiritual. By extension, the solidarity of those same organizations with the Church in restricted countries tends to lend validity to the claim of Islam that the agenda of the national Church is also more political than spiritual.
This can result in further pressure being placed on the Church - a pressure brought because of a misconception of that Church's true agenda. Thus the actions of the western agency, intended to alleviate the suffering of Christians in another country, could in practice have exactly the opposite effect. Western Christian human rights agencies must take great care lest their helpful initiatives have harmful consequences.
IRAN: TWO MOREMARTYRS
Two prominent church leaders in Iran have been murdered. Rev. Mehdi Dibaj (59) from the Assemblies of God and Rev. Tateos Michaelian (62) from the Presbyterian Church were both abducted and killed by unknown assailants.
Rev. Dibaj disappeared on June 23 and Rev. Michaelian disappeared on June 29. On July 2, the Michaelian family were contacted by the Iranian authorities with a request to come and identify Rev. Michaelian's body. Three days later, the Dibaj family were contacted by the authorities to come and identify the body of Rev. Dibaj which was reported to have been found that day in a forest west of Tehran.
These are hard days for Protestant Christians in Iran. In January Rev. Haik Hovsepian Mehr was tortured and killed for his bold protestations on behalf of Mehdi Dibaj, who had been sentenced to death the previous month for apostasy from Islam 45 years earlier. Although the international pressure which followed resulted in the release of Rev. Dibaj on January 16, 1994, Haik himself was abducted three days later and killed the following day.
At the time of writing the Iranian government are blaming the fundamentalist opposition group, Mujahideen-e-Khalq, for the two most recent murders. The Mujahideen-e-Khalq are blaming the government.
What is certain is that the Iranian government are cracking down on Protestant Christians (many of whom come from a Muslim background), because of their involvement with Muslims. The government realizes the importance of leadership and unity and has set out to destroy both.
The Protestants have few leaders and in the last six months they have lost three of the most prominent. Haik Hovsepian Mehr was not only a bold spokesman for the rights of Protestant Christians but also a hymn-writer. Tateos Michaelian had translated more than 60 Christian books into Farsi, the national language which is understood by everyone in Iran. He had formerly been General Secretary of the Iranian Bible Society, which was closed by the Iranian authorities five years ago. Mehdi Dibaj was primarily an evangelist (although he had spent most of the last ten years in prison for his faith).
The various Protestant denominations join together in a Council of Protestant Ministers in Iran. Rev. Haik Hovsepian Mehr had been the Chairman of this council when he was killed. His replacement has not yet been chosen, but in the meantime Rev. Michaelian was serving as Acting Chairman, until he too was killed. The government wants to break the unity of the Protestant churches.
At the time of writing, two other Iranian Christians are known to be detained by the police. Hassan Shahjamali, who is resident in the USA and has an American wife, is in detention in Shiraz, Iran, where he was visiting his parents. He is a convert from Islam. He is charged with "conducting evangelistic activities" and is known to have preached and shared his faith with people in Shiraz including Muslims. Banipal Natanael, a Christian leader, is in detention in Ahwaz.
Iran is a signatory of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 of this Declaration states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." Iran must not only give assent to these freedoms but ensure that they are maintained in practice.
ISLAM IN CHINA
Part One: ISLAM ON THE MARCH IN CHINA: POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
China is bent on building friendly ties with the new states of Central Asia in order to dampen down increasingly militant Muslims on its own territory. It is not generally realised that, with nearly 20 million Muslims, China has one of the largest Islamic communities in the world - and they are becoming increasingly restive.
In the vast north-western province of Xinjiang there are more than seven million Uygurs, and more than one million Kazaks, as well as other Muslim peoples. Over the last 40 years they have watched, powerless, as increasing numbers of Chinese settlers, bureaucrats and soldiers have moved into Xinjiang, threatening to outnumber the Uygurs in their traditional homeland. In Urumqi, the capital of the Chinese-controlled "Xinjiang Autonomous Region", Chinese now outnumber the Uygurs by eight to one. For many years, the Chinese government has used the Lop Nor region of Xinjiang for testing nuclear devices, with, reportedly, devastating effects on the environment and people in the contaminated area. Uygur students have demonstrated against further nuclear tests. Other Uygurs have supported moves to establish an independent "Republic of East Turkestan", breaking away entirely from Chinese domination. In April 1990 Muslim separatists near Kashgar rose in brief revolt, but the uprising was crushed by Chinese troops. Since then there have been several reports of terrorist bombings by Uygur nationalists. A traveller to Kashgar earlier this year reported that opposite his hotel a Chinese ministry building was now a burnt-out shell from one such attack. Following the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union a wave of demonstrations swept through many of Xinjiang's major cities as Uygurs denounced Chinese rule and called for independence or, at least, genuine autonomy. According to reports published in Hong Kong government offices were sacked and the Chinese flag burnt before order was reimposed by the Chinese authorities.
In 1993 unrest spread from Xinjiang to provinces closer to Beijing inhabited by the Hui - Chinese-speaking Muslims who have lived in China for centuries. There are nearly nine million Hui scattered across north China, and there are Hui communities in virtually every Chinese city. Beijing alone has some 250,000 Hui. Assimilated to Chinese ways, many young Hui know little of Islam. However, it appears that in recent years there has been an Islamic revival among the Hui. I have seen Arabic classes and Qur'anic training schools advertised in Hui areas, and thousands of mosques are now open across north China.
In October 1993 the Hui demonstrated in many Chinese cities because the Chinese authorities had allowed a book to be published which portrayed a Muslim praying alongside a pig. In Xining, capital of Qinghai province, the demonstrations degenerated into full-scale rioting for weeks. Police clashed with Muslims who burned vehicles. Finally, paramilitary forces were called in to raid the main mosque, and dozens of Muslims were reportedly killed. (South China Morning Post, 13 October and 16 November 1993).
The Chinese government has taken firm measures to crush separatism among its Muslim population. After the demonstrations last year, the president of the government-controlled China Islamic Association warned Muslims against using mosques to oppose the Communist Party. He accused a "small number of people of using the cloak of religion to exploit Muslims, spread rumours and attack the State", (SCMP 18 October 1993). In November 1993 China's top government minister for ethnic minority affairs called on all Communist Party officials in Xinjiang to "wage an uncompromising struggle" against ethnic separatist unrest. In December another top government leader reiterated that stability in Xinjiang was a "top priority". In January of this year the Chinese government held a five-day national conference to discuss steps to counter independence movements in Xinjiang and other areas, and adopted a twelve-point plan to defuse the situation. This included promoting more Uygurs to senior positions and giving more economic aid (SCMP 28 January 1994).
Simultaneously, the Chinese government has embarked on a programme of wooing its new neighbours in Central Asia, where Islam is making a comeback after years of Soviet oppression. In April this year Prime Minister Li Peng visited all five new republics to cement economic ties and dissuade them from backing Muslim separatists within China. Already, Uygur separatists have offices in Kazakhstan whose government is none too happy about continuing nuclear tests in Xinjiang. China has reportedly pressurised Kazakhstan into signing an anti-terrorist accord, while increasing its troop deployment in Xinjiang (Newsweek 2 May 1994). It remains to be seen whether growing cross-border trade between China and the new Central Asian republics, bringing increased prosperity to both sides, will help defuse Muslim militancy in Xinjiang.
DO PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS FACILITATE ISLAMIC TERRORISM IN EGYPT?
President Mubarak has with great courage undertaken to break the power of the Islamists in Egypt. However, as with many Muslim countries, there are extremist movements within the government as well as outside it.
Egypt has seen a considerable boom in the private security business. Private security firms have to be licensed by the Ministry of the Interior, after having been cleared by other governmental departments. However, many of the firms have been and continue to be directly involved in acts of terrorism.
They have helped to hide, smuggle, and provide safe passages for some of the most wanted leaders of the notorious Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya (an umbrella name for many Islamic fundamentalist groups). Those assisted in this way include Jamal Aldin Fargallah, commander of the military wing of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya in Upper Egypt, and ten of his personal aides including Muhammad Alabassi and Hussein Muhammad.
Among the 12,000 employees of these security firms are about 400 police and intelligence officers of various ranks. They receive a monthly salary of anything from 3,000 to 7,000 Egyptian pounds (substantial by Egyptian standards).
Also among the employees of the security firms are some 1500 extreme Muslim fundamentalists, many of whom are veterans of the Afghan war. Having fought with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, they are well trained in guerrilla warfare, military sabotage and various other terrorist activities. They have been employed on the personal commendation of certain Gulf princes who own shares in many of the private security firms in Egypt.
A recent report identifies 87 of these employees as directly involved in terrorist attacks which have taken place since 1989.
The report also implicates some very well known Arab personalities who own shares in excess of $5 million in these companies. These include:
Amongst many others are Hassan Fanjani, Mohammed Ahmed Hassan, Mahdi Bin Ibrahim Sultan, Nimer Alward Zaki, Alarees Bin Majdawi, Fathi Alfadel, Zakariya Alarabi, Ahmed Bin Muta'al Al-Hussiani, Abdel Rahim Al-Ma'az, Bandar A-Sahabi, Shaikh Abdel Aziz Alfadel.
Some of these security firms associated with Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya have compiled over 2,400 files with complete profiles of various politicians and people in public life in Egypt. The files contain details of their rank, official places of work, office and home addresses, telephone numbers, names of wife, children and close relatives, their personal bodyguards, their security, tactical and military capabilities, the places they frequent, the various routes they take, and maps of these routes. They regularly passed on such details to Islamic terrorists to facilitate their attacks on their chosen targets.
The security firms have infiltrated the police and intelligence forces, and have managed to establish virtually an alternative Ministry of the Interior parallel to the official one.
Prior to an attempt on his life in the form of an Islamic terrorist attack on his motorcade, Minister of the Interior Hassan Al-Alfi considered revoking the licences of many of the so-called private security firms in Egypt. Is this still his intention?
PAKISTAN'S BLASPHEMY LAW
Two amendments to the Blasphemy Law were announced on May 6, 1994. While they do not affect the substance of the Blasphemy Law, the amendments change the way in which it is administered. The aim is to prevent the exploitation of suspects by the police and to discourage false accusations.
The police will now have nothing to do with either the accuser or the accused. Cases of alleged blasphemy will be investigated by the courts and the suspect will only be arrested if there is found to be a good case against him. (Previously the offence of blasphemy was not bailable.) In addition there is a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment for anyone found guilty of making a false accusation of blasphemy.
These amendments have satisfied neither the minorities and secular Muslims nor the fundamentalists. There was rioting in Faisalabad and Lahore on July 4, 1994 by fundamentalists protesting against the amendments.
Some extremists are even calling for the scope of the blasphemy law (with its mandatory death penalty) to be widened to include not only Muhammad but also his companions. (Muhammad's companions have a place of honour in Sunni Islam roughly equivalent to the place of the apostles in Christianity.) This could, in the words of the Pakistani Minister/Charge d'Affaires in Norway, "open the floodgates of religious frenzy and vendetta among the followers of different sects".
On the other hand, there has been a slight encouragement for the minorities in the form of a decree by the Lahore High Court that the blasphemy law applies to blasphemy against all prophets, including Jesus Christ.
It should be noted that even Muslims have been victims of the blasphemy law. As with Christians, it appears that most accusations have been made in malice by someone with a grudge against the accused.
CHRISTIANS FLEE FROM SALAMAT MASIH'S
The Pakistani village of Ratta Dhotran has an adjoining settlement known as an Isaiyan-di-Thatti, where until recently there lived some 32 Christian families, comprising about 250 people.
Amongst these Christians were Salamat Masih, an illiterate boy, who was accused of writing blasphemous slogans on the wall of a mosque. Two of his uncles, Rehmat Masih and Manzoor Masih, were accused with him. All spent many months in prison until released recently on bail. Manzoor Masih was killed on February 13, 1994 when Muslim extremists opened fire on them, as they emerged from trial at Lahore High Court.
Relations between Muslims and Christians in the village have deteriorated so much that all but five of the Christian families have now fled. The Isaiyan-di-Thatti is virtually empty. The remaining families are merely waiting until after harvest when they can pay off their debts and leave.
Most of the pressure and threats against the Christians are coming from Muslim boys in the village. "There is no way that we will let people from another faith pollute our
The walls of the buildings on the road to Ratta Dhotran are painted with anti-Christian slogans. The Christians report that they receive daily death threats from the boys. Interestingly, the two religious communities have lived together harmoniously in Ratta Dhotran for many decades.
It is only recently that the antagonism towards the Christians has developed. Some think that this could be due to resentment that the Christians, through the efforts of the Church, have become prosperous enough to acquire their own land and stop working for the local Chaudhry (landlord).
The Christian families who have moved away have all settled in Francisabad, a new Christian locality on the outskirts of the city of Gujranwala. Trained to work on the land, the men are finding it difficult to get jobs.
The authorities are taking no part in the dispute. The rehabilitation of the Christian families has been carried out by the Church without any official assistance. No case has been registered against the boys who forced them to flee.
PAKISTAN: GOVERNMENT POWERLESS TO HELP MINORITIES
The Pakistan People's Party, led by Benazir Bhutto, pledged in its election manifesto to support the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan, who number about
3.5 million. Now in power, however, pressure from Islamic fundamentalists has persuaded Prime Minister Bhutto to place the northern district of Malakand under Islamic law.
The demands for Islamic law came from Pathan tribesmen near the Afghanistan border. Eleven people were killed during their protests, which were inspired by local mullahs (Muslim clergy).
On the issue of the blasphemy law, the Prime Minister would like to reform and liberalize the legislation but is handicapped by the small size of her majority in Parliament. The opposition parties have so far refused to co-operate in the passing of liberalizing amendments to this law.
Khizar Hayat Khan Niazi, Minister/Charge d'Affaires at the Pakistani Embassy in Norway, dramatically sums up the situation:
Faced with a defiant opposition and rabid extremists, Prime Minister Ms Benazir Bhutto seems to have taken upon herself a daunting task - to confront the demon of religious fanaticism with her bare and tender hands. In this noble job, she needs understanding and moral support of the civilized world.
TURKEY: RECIPROCAL RIGHTS FOR MINORITIES
The Chairman of the Synod of the Protestant Church of Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, EKD), Klaus Engelhardt, visited Turkey between 10 and 13 June 1994. He met with the Armenian Patriarch Karekin II; the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Mar Filiksinos Cetin; the Bible Society of Turkey; the German Ambassador, Dr Oesterhelt; and the governor of Istanbul, Hayri Kozakeioglu.
At many of the meetings the issue was raised of the imbalance which exists between the extensive freedom of religion for Turkish Muslims in Germany and the strongly restricted rights of the Christian minority in Turkey. In the opinion of the Synod Chairman, it must be the aim of the representatives of the German government in future contact with the Turkish government to demand the rights of the Christian minority in Turkey to the unrestricted practice of their religion and to secure their protection from increasing threats by Islamic extremists.
This issue of the reciprocal treatment of religious minorities is one that must be urgently addressed. Western governments, which allow Muslims unrestricted freedoms in the West, need to work to persuade Muslim governments to grant similar rights to their non-Muslim minorities.
Yasser Arafat's recent comments on the subject of jihad have provoked much debate about the concept and its interpretation.
The term jihad, often translated in its narrowest sense "holy war", encompasses a wide range of meanings and has been the subject of a vast amount of Muslim literature. Its general meaning is "striving" or "struggling".
Traditionally, jihad has meant physical aggression towards unbelievers with the object of converting them to Islam.
Islam teaches that the world is divided into two kinds of territory, Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Harb. Dar-al-Islam or "the house of Islam" consists of those areas which are under Muslim control. The rest of the world, which is under infidel (i.e. non-Muslim) control, is significantly known as Dar-al-Harb, "the house of war". This name is given to infidel-controlled areas because Muslims have an obligation to subdue Dar-al-Harb and turn it into Dar-al-Islam. Jihad is the means by which this is achieved.
In a jihad, any infidels who refuse to become Muslims are to be subdued and forced to pay a special tax as a sign of their inferior status. If they refuse to pay this tax, the men are to be killed, the women and children enslaved.
Jihad is commanded in the Qur'an:
Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. '(Surah 9:5)
A number of other similar Qur'anic verses take up the same theme. These verses, dating as they do from later in Muhammad's life, are considered to abrogate (i.e. cancel out) earlier verses with a more peaceable attitude towards non-Muslims.
However, recent Muslim thinking is tending towards a less aggressive understanding of the term jihad. This revised interpretation has partly arisen from the existence of Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries where their rights and freedoms are protected. Some Muslims limit jihad simply to self-defence. Others see it primarily in terms of social revolution - a struggle for justice in society. For example, the Prime Minister of Malaysia recently called for a jihad in his country; by this he meant that Muslims should strive for the establishment of a just society in Malaysia and that they should become involved in all aspects of economic, social and religious development. Muslim mystics consider that jihad is a struggle against one's own evil inclinations.
The thinking of Egypt's prestigious and influential Al-Azhar University is summarized as follows:
The immediate aim of jihad is the realization of truth and justice in the Universe so that Allah's will will regain its high status, the highest of all among mankind. Jihad is, therefore, an integral part of the Islamic mission (da'wa) and is also designed to allow any individual who wishes to accept the faith of Allah to profess his beliefs openly. Thus if there is but one Muslim under duress and forced to leave his homeland because of his beliefs, his Muslim brethren should declare jihad in his support. However, jihad is also used to overcome and solve other difficulties with which Muslim society is confronted. It presents a way to achieve a better social order, protect Muslims who are oppressed by a tyrannical government, and fight corruption within Islam. (Hannah H. Rahman)
Yasser Arafat's remarks were made in a speech to Muslims in Johannesburg, South Africa, six days after signing the Gaza-Jericho peace agreement with Israel. He appealed to South African Muslims to rise up as mujahideen (warriors for the faith) and join in the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.
Yasser Arafat compared the peace agreement he had just signed with the Truce of Hudaybiya which Muhammad made with the infidel Quraysh tribe in Mecca in 628 A.D. Although the truce had been supposed to last ten years, Muhammad's army marched into Mecca two years later and decisively defeated them. Muhammad refused even to meet the delegation from Mecca which came to plead for the truce to be renewed.
The Truce of Hudaybiya became a model in Islamic law for all agreements with infidels. The characteristic feature of such agreements is that they are not permanent. They cannot last more than ten years with the possiblity of another ten years' extension. Then jihad must begin again.
ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALIST GROUPS IN BRITAIN
This report gives brief details of Islamic fundamentalist movements active in Britain. These movements, driven by religious belief and political alienation, increasingly provide the loudest voices within Britain's estimated one million Muslims.
It should be borne in mind that the current wave of support for militant Islamic fundamentalism is rooted in the experience of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, and that the Iranian regime is the leading sponsor of revolutionary fundamentalists around the world. British-based fundamentalists work to an international agenda, and many have links to Middle Eastern groups that are actively involved in direct physical actions against western, Christian and Jewish targets. One particularly worrying aspect of this international linking is that Britain is increasingly viewed by such groups as a safe haven for political activists and a centre for international conferences - which appear to have Iranian funding.
Britain's leading fundamentalist movements are Hizb ut-Tahrir and Kalim Siddiqui's Muslim Institute; these groups are discussed below. There are a host of other fundamentalist groups in Britain, many of which are active in local areas and do not pose such an obvious threat to society as a whole.
The dangers posed by fundamentalist activity are, therefore, twofold; the ever deepening socio-political challenge to the West, and the attendant threat of physical attacks against "western" targets.
Hizb ut-Tahrir (Islamic Liberation Party)
HUT is Britain's most active fundamentalist group, and is increasingly dominant within Islamic student societies, particularly in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
HUT is led in Britain by Egyptian exile, Omar Bakri Mohammed, and it publishes a monthly journal, Khilafah, named after the Islamic state system that is central to HUT ideology. Khilafah is widely available in the USA and is also distributed throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
HUT originated in Jerusalem in 1953, and is now led by Abdul Qadeem Zallum, author of the HUT leaflet The Islamic Rule on Hijacking Aeroplanes, distributed in the UK in 1988. The exact details of HUT's Middle Eastern activities are difficult to assess, but this is the focus for HUT's activities. HUT has attempted a number of coups from within the armies of Arab countries, and four HUT members face execution for the attempted assassination of Jordan's King Hussein in mid 1993.
In Britain, HUT's activities have been marked by the sheer militancy of the group's message, and by its subsequent protestations of innocence and misrepresentation. There is no doubt, however, that HUT exhorts its followers to oppose all those who stand in its path. Moderate Muslims are roundly condemned, Jews and homosexuals are sentenced to death, and Hindus are ridiculed and abused. HUT's repeated condemnations of western society betray the depth of its enmity towards the Christian traditions which underpin "the West".
Recent months have indicated that HUT's British branch has access to new levels of funding. The group has hired Wembley Arena for what it describes as the largest Islamic conference ever held outside the Muslim world, to be held on 7th August. Entitled "The International Muslim Khilafah Conference", HUT are organizing it under the pseudonym "Muslim Unity Organization", and expect thousands to attend and hear speeches by leading fundamentalists from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North America.
Kalim Siddiqui /Muslim Parliament /Muslim Institute
Kalim Siddiqui is at the forefront of Iranian attempts to influence Britain's Muslim community. He heads the Muslim Institute, nominal backer of his primary initiative, the so-called Muslim Parliament. Siddiqui also edits the Muslim Institute's publication Crescent International. This is distributed around the world and is broadly supportive of Iran.
Siddiqui is increasingly active in large-scale international events, attended by fundamentalists from around the world, and apparently backed by Iran. The Muslim Parliament hosted one such event, the "Bosnia and the Global Islamic Movement" conference in central London on November 13 and 14, 1993. The Home Office banned radical Iranian, Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, and Hizbollah "Foreign Relations" organizer, Sheikh Izzadine, from attending, but permitted others to attend, including Lebanese Hizbollah representative, Sheikh Ghabrise, representatives of the Algerian group, FIS, and the Tunisian group, Al-Nahda. Swiss anti-Semite, Ahmed Huber, told the conference, "the Holocaust is a myth".
The following month, Siddiqui attended a conference in Khartoum, Sudan, attended by numerous Iranian representatives and terror groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Siddiqui's most recent conference was in central London on July 2, 1994, entitled the "Al-Hussein World Conference" and attended by fundamentalists from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the USA. Ahmed Huber told the conference that Muslims should work with neo-Nazis against the "USA and Zionists", and support Holocaust denial propaganda.
At the close of 1993, Siddiqui appeared to be moving towards formal international co-operation under the banner "European Islamic Council". It remains to be seen if this is an Iranian front or an independent initiative for the genuine improvement of the depressed social, economic and political status of European Muslims.
Liibaan Ibraahim Xasan (Liban Ibrahim Hassan) was shot dead in Muqdisho (Mogadishu), apparently because of his Christian activities in the Somali capital.
While growing up, Liibaan had listened to Christian radio broadcasts both in Somali and in English. In 1982, at the age of about 13, he read Sigmund Freud's Dreams, which disturbed him so much that he began to suffer from insomnia. Traditional solutions - visits to sheikhs, reading the Qur'an etc. - did not cure him. An expatriate Christian gave him a New Testament and suggested that he read the first letter of John. During the mid-1980s Liibaan struggled over deep theological and spiritual issues as he read the Bible in Italian and English. He also read Italian devotional books on the epistles of Paul. He prayed for God to show him the right path.
Liibaan became dissatisfied with Islam for a variety of reasons. He wondered why it was necessary always to pray to God in Arabic, a foreign language. He wondered why it was necessary to face Mecca when praying. Ethical issues also troubled him, particularly the fact that polygamy and abuse of women, he believed, were sanctioned by the Qur'an.
Finally, in 1985, Liibaan decided that only the Bible could be true and not the Qur'an. He decided that the first thing he must do as a follower of Jesus Christ was to practice humility. (Humility is not normally considered a desirable trait in Somali culture.) Liibaan's friends began to notice a change in him the following year, and he told them about his new faith. In 1990 he sent off for a Somali New Testament. "Please be aware that if you send me [this book] you will be sending me the greatest gift that can be given to a human," he wrote.
In 1992 Liibaan married a young lady from his neighbourhood. He also desired baptism and travelled to Ethiopia in order to be baptized. In December 1992 Liibaan's wife decided to join her husband in following Jesus Christ and was baptized.
The civil war in Somalia provided Liibaan with many opportunities to witness. While working in the hospital, medical staff noticed that he had a totally different attitude from the other workers. He did not differentiate between patients based on their clan. He showed sympathy and concern for people; working as a nurse's aide in the operating room was not just a job for Liibaan.
He used to have religious discussions with a sheikh who had been badly wounded. Later, he donated blood for this man, and after the sheikh had recovered Liibaan told him to listen to the Somali Christian radio broadcasts. In due course the sheikh wrote to the radio station to request Christian Scriptures and a correspondence course.
This sheikh was just one of many whose lives were touched by Liibaan. He encouraged numbers of people to study the Scriptures and some of them embraced Christianity. The scattered Christians in Muqdisho met in his home and he pastored them. At the relief agency where he worked, all the workers went to him with their problems. Even the men who guarded the vehicles of the relief agency -battle-hardened veterans of the street fighting of the past four years of civil war -had perceptibly changed through their contact with Liibaan.
Such a bold Christian stance made him notorious in a country which is almost 100% Muslim. In 1993 Islamic radicals criticized his activities in newspaper articles. On the morning of 21 March 1994, two gunmen were waiting for Liibaan on the sandy road near his office. At 7.30 a.m., as he was walking to work, they ambushed him and shot him at close range. He died a few minutes later. It is not known who killed him, but it is most likely that the motives were religious. Islam teaches that anyone who kills an apostate is guaranteed a place in paradise.
DAY OF PRAYER
The United Nations is being petitioned to declare November 25 as International Day of Freedom of Religion or Belief, to be observed from 1995 onwards. This has arisen out of a recommendation to hold a common day of prayer or dedication to the aims set out in the UN's Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
In the light of these hopes IISIC, together with senior leaders of the Church in the Muslim world, is calling upon all Christian people worldwide to make November 25, 1994 a day of prayer for religious liberty in the Muslim world. We would urge that Sunday November 27 be used as an opportunity to focus on educating Christians about the suffering of their brethren in the Muslim world.