Persecution of Christians is on the rise globally. Blasphemy and apostasy laws in Islamic countries can lead to severe official punishments, plus “mob justice” and lynching. Christian converts from Islam are particularly vulnerable because of strict penalties for apostasy in sharia law, but Christian-background Christians are also at serious risk from harassment, violence and economic marginalisation from Muslims, within their communities, in many countries.
But what about in the UK, a nation founded on the values of religious tolerance and freedom of belief? Christian converts from Islam should reasonably expect to be safe and accepted within these shores and protected equally under UK law. Yet, troubling stories of Christian converts being persecuted by Muslims in Britain are emerging with greater frequency, with several prominent cases in the news in recent years.
Such Christian converts include Nissar Hussain and his family who endured many years of violence and abuse in Bradford, to the extent of having to move home several times, on one occasion under armed police protection. In 2016, Nissar ended up seriously injured in hospital after being assaulted and now suffers from PTSD symptoms due to relentless harassment from British Muslims in his community. If that were not disturbing enough, both Nissar and his wife Kubra have each had false allegations made against them for separate “offences”, resulting in each of them being held at the police station for several hours.
Recently, a Barnabas Fund contact sent disturbing reports of ongoing violence and harassment against a young Christian woman “A,” who converted from Islam. In an incident in 2016, she was accosted by three men, after leaving a mosque in the UK, who demanded if she was “the Christian talking with the imam”. The men tied a sheet around her throat and kicked her as she lay on the ground, breaking several bones in her feet. She told the police a few days later, but they appeared reluctant to investigate the incident and failed to get a statement from an imam who witnessed the attack or to look at evidence from CCTV footage.
Late last year, A was again assaulted, this time by four Muslim men who attempted to pull her clothes off, and fled when A activated a “rape alarm”. This time, with A’s bodycam video evidence and able to identify the perpetrators, police had to take her assault seriously. However, no charges were made and the suspects countered with an accusation that she had “insulted Islam” and “provoked the fray”. Her case was passed on to a Muslim police officer who was sceptical about A’s Christian faith due to her Middle Eastern origins, saying to her, shockingly, “How can you possibly be a Christian from your background?” Living in fear of reprisals and attacks from her former community, A said that she has “no confidence” in the police.
Such stories appear against a backdrop of an equally concerning increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment in the UK. In March this year, police were called to the Houses of Parliament to investigate suspicious packages sent to four Muslim MPs which contained a “low-level noxious” substance. It was suspected that the letters were linked to the repugnant spate of “Punish as Muslim Day” Islamophobic letters posted across the country in April.
We have already seen some Islamist groups attempting to mount sharia patrols to enforce Islamic law in certain predominantly Muslim parts of the UK. We have also seen far right groups mounting counter patrols in mainly Muslim areas. Both of these groups seek to restrict freedom of religion for others. Recent news coverage of anti-Semitic views within the Labour Party further highlights the need for vigilance against an upsurge of anti-religious views more broadly.
Sajid Javid, who describes himself as a “non-practising Muslim”, was appointed Home Secretary on 30 April. He and his Christian wife Laura have four children. The former Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, brings a solid parliamentary CV and, we hope, the perspective and level-headedness much needed to steer the long-troubled Home Office in dangerous times.
Barnabas Fund is taking a lead in a UK-wide push back to “Turn the Tide” against the erosion of religious freedom in this country. The Our Religious Freedom campaign is currently running a petition asking the government to permanently cohere various existing laws and statutes into a new religious freedom law that will preserve the freedom of belief and religious practice we have enjoyed for centuries for this, and future generations.