Pressure rises on Christians in Jordan, Algeria

February 22, 2008

Evangelical Christians at a baptism in the Jordan River, 1 Oct. 2007/Yonathan WeitzmanRising tension between Christians and Muslims in the Arab world have come out in the open with the expulsion of foreign Christian charity workers from Jordan and the conviction of a Catholic priest in Algeria. Although the cases seem different, the background is similar. Evangelical Christians have been increasingly active in the Islamic world, doing charity and development work and also seeking to convert Muslims. The missionary part is usually a crime in Islamic countries and local authorities — rightly or wrongly — often suspect the charity part is a cover for this proselytism. This sets the stage for clashes over religious freedom, national laws, Christianity, Islam and modernity — an increasingly frequent mix in a globalised world. It also has serious effects on the long-established but fragile Christian communities living in those Muslim countries.

In Jordan, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said this week that Christians had come to Jordan under the “pretext of charitable and voluntary activities, but they had violated the law by undertaking preaching activities and were expelled”. This followed a long report by Compass Direct News, an agency that focuses on persecution of Christians around the world, that Jordan had “deported or refused residence permits to at least 27 expatriate Christian families and individuals in 2007, a number of them working with local churches or studying at a Christian seminary“.

One report said those involved were from the United States, South Korea, Egypt, Sudan and Iraq. “It is puzzling that certain small groups with a few hundred members and which are foreign to Christians in Jordan and to the history of Muslim-Christian relations, permit themselves to speak in the name of Christians and act as protectors of Christianity as if it were in danger,” it quoted the Council of Churches, the highest Christian body in Jordan, as saying. AsiaNews says: “According to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, the group of eight missionaries was distributing Christian material among the Bedouins to the north and east of the capital Amman.”

Inside Notre Dame d’Afrique, the Catholic basilica in Algiers, 2 April 2005/Zohra BensemraThe Catholic Archbishop of Algiers Henri Teissier told William Maclean, our chief correspondent for North Africa, that increased activity by evangelical Christians in Algeria had caused problems for Catholics. “For the last two years, we have serious difficulties made for us by the Algerian administration every two or three months,” he said this week. “I think it’s due to the fight against the proselytising by evangelical groups … We are not responsible for this evangelism. But the administration continues to take measures against us … (Evangelicals) have arrived in Africa. And the first to have suffered from the actions of these groups are Catholics.”

Teissier was commenting on the case of French priest Pierre Wallez, who was given a suspended one year prison sentence last month for praying with Christians in western Algeria in a place not authorised for religious worship. The Christians were illegal migrants from Cameroon based on the border with Morocco, part of a shifting community of mostly Ghanaian, Nigerian and Cameroonian migrants who have been visited by Roman Catholics priests in the area for years.

Wallez was convicted under a two-year-old law that limits non-Muslim worship to specific buildings approved by the state. The law, which also forbids proselytism, was prompted by what officials have described as an increase in the activities of Christian evangelical groups. Complaints by government officials about the alleged conversion efforts have reached a crescendo in recent weeks.

Algerian observers say conversion among Muslims there is a marginal activity rooted in a mistaken belief among some Algerians that Western countries will more readily issue them visas if they have converted to Christianity.

These tensions have arisen before in different countries around the Muslim world and they’re sure to come up again. Do you think it’s right for Christians to go and break laws in Islamic countries to convert Muslims? Or is the question whether Islamic countries should have laws against conversion and missionary work in the first place?


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Posted by James Sasse | Report as abusive

What is the government of Algeria afraid of? Why does there need to be limits on Christian activity? What would they say if there were such limits on Muslim preaching in the west?

Posted by Quijybo | Report as abusive

Of course they are deathly afraid of honest open discussion. This is NOT the FREE western world . I do not believe I am being unfair in these statements; it is a question of an honest assessment of the situation. AT THE SAME TIME I am somewhat ashamed of our wimpy liberal press and their politicaly correct conduct. It reminds me of the “Honourable” Neville Chamberlain.
The worst part is that the unfortunate populace living under facist Islamic states must suffer this slavery under the threat of death or worse for simply thinking.

Posted by Qawii | Report as abusive

Any Christian who believes the bible is by definition an evangelical; this doesn’t mean he is a Baptist, Pentecostal,or whatever; it means he believes that he must obey his Lord and go make disciples. No, it does not mean he must twist arms or bribe people to come on side, but it does mean he must be prepared to convince people of the truth. Actually it means he must love them enough to risk rejection or worse because this is the scene, not just in the Muslim world, but also in our western society. Fortunately, He makes us strong enough to do just that. PTL !!! (Praise the Lord!!!)

Posted by Qawii | Report as abusive

Muslims never stop boasting that islam is the fastest growing religion in the world simply because it’s a religion of truth. However, anti-apostasy laws have been enacted throughout the muslim world to stem the tide of apostasy amongst muslims. The truth is a religion of truth doesn’t need such laws in the first place to prevent followers from renouncing it for another religion. Anti-apostasy laws in islam is further proof that islam is a false religion of false god by false prophet and false angel Gabriel.

Posted by Muradsalam | Report as abusive