Islamic extremism and the church in Africa

Boko Haram, al-Shabaab – Radical Islam’s other home

Radical Islam is widely known to be active within the Middle East and North Africa. Yet in Nigeria, Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has been labelled the world’s deadliest terror organisation. Compared to the war against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, al-Shabaab’s war in Somalia is virtually unheard of. While we know al-Qaeda works in places like Afghanistan, Australian missionaries Ken and Jocelyn Elliot were kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Burkina Faso.

Islamic extremism is on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet it remains relatively unknown.

Two boys look through a hole in the wall of a house in their village in Nigeria, the ruins a result of Islamic extremism.

Two boys look through a hole in the wall of a house in their village in Nigeria, the ruins a result of Islamic extremism. Image featured in our Frontline Faith – Africa magazine.

The difference between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa

In North Africa, Muslims make up 97% of the population. Christians are the minority. The main reason for this is Islam’s historical roots, due to conquest. In 750AD, almost all North Africa, from Egypt to Morocco, was under the control of an Islamic empire known as a Caliphate. At this time, local populations were violently brought under Islam with other religious groups, including Christians, heavily persecuted.

As a result, many countries in North Africa share similarities in culture, language and religion. This has remained largely unchanged, even with colonial Europe in the 19th century and several wars.

Christians are increasingly finding themselves excluded from society.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Christianity is the majority, composing 60% of the population. The church dates back to the mention of an Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:27. Now though, there are pockets of Muslim dominated areas, where Christians are increasingly finding themselves excluded from society.

There is a shift occurring in the Africa divide. Muslim populations are pushing further south. In places like Nigeria, the country is split along a north-south divide. In the north, most of the population is Muslim with Sharia law in several states. While in the south, most of the population is Christian.

It is under these circumstances that persecution has taken root.

World Watch List Map of Africa - showing countries where Christians are persecuted. View the full map here.

World Watch List Map of Africa – showing countries where Christians are persecuted. View the full map here.

The divide…

Christians living along this north-south divide find themselves in the minority. Small Christian communities are easily identifiable and are marginalised by larger Islamic communities, especially in Sharia law (Islamic law) areas. Christians become second class citizens and are increasingly persecuted. This often results in denied access to employment, government services and education.

Islamic Extremists also take advantage of the high levels of poverty along the divide. They offer free education and use it to indoctrinate children with radical ideologies. They attract young men with promises of employment. But the employment they provide is usually as a soldier fighting for a better future under the banner of Jihad.

Sub- Saharan Africa will be the fastest growing persecution theatre for the next 25 years.

Violence is wide spread along the divide and is driven primarily by Islamic extremism. In the 2016 World Watch List (WWL) reporting period, the top six countries where Christians were killed for their faith were all in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ron Boyd-MacMillan, the Chief Strategy Officer for Open Doors, has said, “Sub-Saharan Africa will be the fastest growing persecution theatre for the next 25 years.” So while our perception of radical Islam may be linked to the Middle East, there is a rapid change taking place.

The map above shows all of the African countries that appear on the 2016 WWL. We’ve also included countries on our extended ‘Watch List’. They are; Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Mauritania, Morocco, Uganda, Cameroon, Senegal, Cote d’Ivore and The Gambia. A rise in persecution across the board has seen these countries excluded from the 2016 list, but their current scores would have seen all of them included in 2013 WWL.


So how do we respond both practically and spiritually to this? 

As extremism not only increases but also spreads, we need to prepare and pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in every part of the world.

Open Doors is prepared to provide for the needs of persecuted Christians in sub-Saharan Africa as they arise.

Open Doors already has a presence, either through local churches or partners, in each of these countries. One of the greatest assets to Open Doors response in Syria, was the long-term networks established prior to the crisis. Practically, Open Doors is prepared to provide for the needs of persecuted Christians in sub-Saharan Africa as they arise.

Spiritually, we need to pray. This situation has not somehow escaped the notice of God and we know that He is in control. We must respond by asking God to strengthen His Church in the midst of this persecution. Our response to violence should be peace, to hatred, love and to opposition, prayer. This persecution is an opportunity to show the love of Jesus to persecutors. So pray that the persecutors might find saving faith in Christ.

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)”

Persecution and Islamic extremism is expanding across Africa, but God is in control.

This article featured in our Frontline Faith – Africa 2016 magazine.
You can sign up here to regularly receive our Frontline Faith magazine and more.

Pray

Please pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in every part of the world, particularly in Africa. We believe that Sub- Saharan Africa will be the fastest growing persecution theatre for the next 25 years.

Give

To support Open Doors ministry worldwide, you can give here. If you would like to become a Frontline Partner and give monthly, you can do so here.

Engage

Follow our blog, like us on Facebook and sign up to our email list for latest news from the persecuted church.

Do Walk to Water and support Christians in Africa. Find out more here.

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