According to the newly released World Watch List for 2015, nine out of the top ten countries where Christians suffer “extreme persecution” have populations that are at least 50% Muslim.
The World Watch List (WWL) is a ranking of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is most severe. It is compiled by Open Doors USA, a human rights organization which has monitored Christian persecution worldwide since the 1970s.
The 2015 report found that “Islamic extremism is by far the most significant persecution engine” of Christians in the world today and that “40 of the 50 countries on the World Watch List are affected by this kind of persecution.”
The Watch List states that in the world today each month, on average, 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 Christian churches and properties are destroyed, and 772 acts of violence occur against Christians.
The ten worst countries for Christian persecution are, in descending order, North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, and Nigeria. Of these ten, only North Korea is less than 50% Muslim, and only North Korea had a primary “persecution engine” that wasn’t “Islamic extremism”—it was atheistic Communism.
The report found that the Middle East is still one of the most violent areas of the world for Christians, particularly in areas afflicted by aggression from the Islamic State. More than 70% of Christians have fled Iraq since 2003, and more than 700,000 Christians have left Syria since the civil war began in 2011.
Prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraq was home to one of the largest Christian communities of the Middle East. Christians have lived in Iraq for nearly two millennia but are currently on the verge of extinction. In July 2014, ISIS began marking houses owned by Christians with the Arabic ‘N’, which stands for ‘Nazarene.’ These houses were taken over by ISIS militants. The militants gave Christians in Mosul an ultimatum to convert to Islam by July 19th, pay a tax, or be executed.
Somalia, with its 99.8% Muslim population, ranks second on the Watch List and has only a few hundred Christians. In Somalia, Islamic religious leaders publicly maintain that there is no room for Christianity, Christians, or churches in Somalia, a view “upheld and reinforced” by government officials. In the country’s very recent history, Muslim converts to Christianity have often been killed on the spot when discovered.
Pakistan, with its extreme majority of Sunni Muslims, has also registered an uptick in anti-Christian violence, especially under the aegis of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. According to reports, churches in Pakistan are frequently vandalized, and Christians are beaten, raped, abducted, and murdered with impunity. Christians also face discrimination in employment and education, which keep them in the lower classes.
This year’s WWL was independently audited by the International Institute of Religious Freedom (IIRF).
Open Doors defines Christian persecution as “any hostility experienced from the world as a result of one’s identification as a Christian. Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death are just a few examples of the persecution they experience on a daily basis.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome