Attacks on non-Muslims increase in Bangladesh

Persecution | Despite increasing persecution, Christianity keeps growing
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 7/25/16, 11:55 am

Islamic extremism is growing in Bangladesh, as are Islamic attacks on non-Muslims. But Christianity is also multiplying, in part because of Muslim converts.

In July, Islamic gunmen seized hostages in a Dhaka cafe and forced people to recite verses from the Quran or face torture and death. They killed 21 people, mostly foreigners and tourists. Islamic State (ISIS) took credit.

That attack was a harsh reminder of the Muslim-majority nation’s problem with Islamic radicalism.

Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International told Mission Network News, “There are serious risks here in Bangladesh, which church planters need to identify and manage. But they are prepared to not shrink back from the opportunities that await them as the Lord continues to draw Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in this country to Himself.”

In spite of increased violence, churches grow.

“When I began my ministry in Kurigram, there was only one traditional Christian family and one Muslim background family,” a pastor, whose name was withheld for his safety, told Open Doors UK. Kurigram is in northern Bangladesh, where the pastor, a former Muslim, has been preaching the Christian gospel since the mid-1990s. “Now, almost 1,500 believers from Muslim backgrounds are glorifying God in this area,” he said.

Since 1990, Bangladesh Baptist Fellowship (a group of churches) planted 241 churches and began supporting 35 full-time evangelists, doubling its work, according to WorldShare. Christian Freedom International estimates 91,000 Muslims in Bangladesh converted to Christianity in the past six years. The number of Catholic dioceses doubled in the past 20 years, Vatican Radio reported.

Open Doors estimated the tiny Christian population at about 1.6 million people in a country of about 163 million. Roughly 600,000 are evangelicals, according to Operation World, and about 350,000 are Catholic, according to Catholic World Report.

Persecution against them is growing, including deadly violence by Islamists. This year, Open Doors listed Bangladesh as the 35th most difficult country for Christians; the country rose eight spots from the prior year’s list.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported June 5 that unknown individuals murdered Christian grocer Sunil Gomes. Police said they hacked Gomes to death in an attack resembling other recent violence against Christians and Hindus. ISIS claimed to be involved. At least 40 religious minorities, secular activists, and liberals were killed in the past three years, AFP reported.

Others have been wounded in attacks, and many were threatened anonymously. According to Catholic World Report, a mob attacked a Catholic convent in 2014 and churchgoers at an Easter Mass in 2015.

In March 2016, Islamic militants also hacked to death former freedom fighter and Muslim-turned-Christian-evangelist Hossain Ali in Garialpara, Kurigram. Ali converted to Christianity in 1999, according to Open Doors.

As Ali experienced soon after conversion, families and communities often exert great pressure to bring former Muslims back to Islam. Community persecution may include refusing to let Christians share a water well or being unwilling to hire them.

It is not illegal in Bangladesh to change religions, although Muslims view leaving Islam as shameful or even apostasy.

Bangladesh’s own Islamic extremist group Jaamat-e-Islami violently attacked religious minorities throughout 2014.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia worked in communications in the Washington, D.C., area from 2005 to 2019 and was a fall 2012 participant in the WORLD Journalism Institute mid-career class. She relocated to Denver in 2019. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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