Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christians face backlash to Swiss ban on minaret construction

On November 29, Swiss voters chose to ban the construction of further Muslim minarets in their country.

The country already has 150 mosques, including four with minarets.

The vote has been denounced around the world.

Paul Estabrooks, minister-at-large for Open Doors USA, does not believe it can be justified.

"They don't use the minarets there as they do traditionally around the world with loudspeakers to call Muslim people to prayer, so there' s not a noise factor," he explained. "I don't think there's a lot of basis for it, when the minarets are not being used as a method of propagating Islamic faith; they're simply part of the architectural structure of their worship centers."

Estabrooks said Christians in the West need to think through more carefully their response to different religions.

"People of other faiths or other religions are not our enemies," he said. "Our enemy is Satan; he's the only one who is ultimately behind the challenges, and the one whom we fight and the one whose tactics we must be aware of... I think that's one of the things that we haven't taken time to study, because we haven't been faced with that so much in past years because of general peacefulness within our own society."

An appeal against the ban has already been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, the backlash against it is impacting the lives of Christians all over the world. On December 4, a group of three Muslims threatened the priest of the historic Meryem Ana Syriac Orthodox congregation in Diyarbakir, Turkey.

"They basically confronted the priest, Reverend Akbulut, and they told him that unless the bell tower in his church was destroyed, they would kill him," Estabrooks said. "And they were doing this as a reaction to the Switzerland referendum and the banning of new minarets in their country."

The Syriac Orthodox believers trace their history back to the apostle Paul's ministry in Turkey and speak a language closely related to the Aramaic spoken by Jesus. Over the years, the church has survived a great deal of persecution, and it still stands strong today.

"The church there is used as a scapegoat for inflamed local Muslims who want to lash out at European decisions and situations. So [the priest] is very, very used to that," Estabrooks said. "They're very used to the challenges they face, although they constantly ask for prayer when something like this is threatened against them."

Although Turkey's reaction against the minaret ban has been strong, this is the first report in the world of violence threatened over the matter. As news coverage of the challenges to the ban continues, the pressure on Christians will also continue. Estabrooks said the situation demonstrates why Christians in countries that are perceived as "Christian" need to be mindful of how their choices will impact Christians who are the minority in their communities.

"When we make decisions in the Western world, especially related to the Muslim community, it has repercussions on our brothers and sisters around the world," he said.

Christians who face persecution especially need prayer during the Christmas holiday, when they often come under attack.

"This has happened before in Diyarbakir... Christmas day has tended to be a day of outbreak of violence against our brothers and sisters, especially when they're meeting to celebrate the coming of Jesus," Estabrooks said. "I think possibly it's because of the claims that we have that Jesus is the Son of God, and He is the only way to the Father. That challenge irritates a lot of those in opposition, and they tend to choose Christmas Day as a day to bring challenges to them. So we need to pray for their safety and wisdom on Christmas Day as they meet to celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world."
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