Hossain Ali was walking near his house early one morning last year, when three men on motorcycles murdered him in a knife attack. Since converting to Christianity from Islam in 1999, the 68-year-old father of four had been threatened and pressured to recant his faith. Instead of giving in, he was instrumental in bringing two other Muslim families in his neighbourhood to Christ and setup a house church in his home. Hossain Ali was one of the 1% of Bangladesh’s population who are Christian.
Christians have increasingly been targeted by Islamic extremists in Bangladesh, which is 90% Muslim. In June 2016, a Christian shopkeeper, who also tended the grounds of his church, was hacked to death. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was “part of a series of operations” in Bangladesh.
The country’s constitution recognises the rights of minorities to practise their religion and share their faith. But in 1988, seventeen years after Bangladesh secured independence from Pakistan in a brutal ethnic conflict, Islam was formally made the state religion. Attempts by secular activists to overturn the special status for Islam were struck down by the High Court last year. Converts to Islam are at risk of discrimination and attack, particularly in rural areas, and Christians have also been the victims of illegal land seizures.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s hard-line Islamist party, which has been banned from taking part in elections, remains a powerful force; violence against Christians and other minorities following the 2014 parliamentary elections was attributed to groups associated with the party. Tension between secularists and those wishing to Islamise the country continues to make the political situation in Bangladesh volatile, leaving Christians potentially vulnerable.
Pray that God will watch over and protect believers in Bangladesh and that attempts to strengthen the political power of Islam will be thwarted. Give thanks for those Christians, especially believers from Muslim backgrounds, who have held fast to their faith in the midst of trial and tribulation. Ask God to comfort the families of those who have lost loved ones, may they know that they are not alone.