Tuesday, September 16, 2014

RLPB 278. Saudi Arabia: duplicitous, cruel and paranoid

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 278 | Wed 17 Sep 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

The House of Saud portrays itself as a champion of inter-faith dialogue and ally of the West. Yet behind the facade, this same regime sponsors, through its religious establishment, the global dissemination of virulent Salafi / Wahhabi (fundamentalist and puritanical) Islam, i.e. the version of Islam behind al-Qaeda and IS. [These groups diverge over tactics, not goals.] While Saudi Arabia sponsors Islamic jihad and Islamisation globally, it keeps its own state in lock-down with zero tolerance for any challenge, political or religious. Both domestic and foreign policy revolve around preserving the regime which supplies oil to the West and petro-dollars to Islam. There is no religious freedom – not for Saudis, not for poor expatriates and not even for exiles.


Virtually all Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure is located in the kingdom's Eastern Province, on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Tensions are always high there as Eastern Province is home not only to the kingdom's long-persecuted Shi'ite minority (who comprise a restive majority in Eastern Province), but to many thousands of expatriate workers, many of whom are Christians. Whilst British, European and American expatriates may gather for worship in chapels inside embassies and military bases, impoverished and abused Christian labourers from Africa and Asia have nowhere to gather for prayer, worship and Bible study except in secret house fellowships, even though such gatherings are illegal.

Arrested: Saudi Gazette
On 5 September religious police from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice raided a house in the Aziziyah neighbourhood of Khafji in Eastern Province, arresting 27 mostly Asian believers, including women and children. Bibles and other belongings were confiscated. The Saudi Gazette posted the news on its Facebook page, triggering a very interesting debate, with many Saudis declaring it ridiculous and hypocritical that Saudi Arabia should deny expatriates the freedom to worship. It is common for Christians in Saudi prisons to receive very harsh treatment from Muslim guards and interrogators who know they can brutalise poor despised Filipino, Indian and Eritrean Christians with impunity. American religious liberty champion Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va) has vowed to press the US ambassador in Riyadh and the State Department to assist the arrested Christians. Please pray.


Saudi national Khalid Muidh Alzahrani arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, some five years ago on a Saudi Government scholarship to study English. Some time after the Christchurch earthquake Alzahrani converted to Christianity. Because apostasy (leaving/rejecting Islam) is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, Alzahrani (42) applied for asylum in New Zealand. Whilst his application for refugee status was successful, the backlash was fierce. It is well known that Saudi agents are inserted into the student community to ensure no Saudi national brings 'shame' on the kingdom. When a convert is discovered, pressure is first applied to the convert's family, who are tasked with the responsibility of fixing the problem. If that fails then the regime applies pressure on the convert, contacting them directly and threatening to hurt their family back in Saudi Arabia. The regime is even known to use Interpol to track down converts and forcibly repatriate them as criminals.

When Khalid Alzahrani (now known as Daniel) started getting threatening messages from his brother in Saudi Arabia, he knew the situation was becoming dangerous. He continued to receive threats until 31 July, when two men arrived at his council flat in Christchurch and took him away. None of his friends have heard anything from him since. Saudi ambassador, Ahmen Al-Jojani, told the Sunday Star Times that the Saudi consulate provided Alzahrani with a ticket to Saudi Arabia after he 'insisted' on returning to visit his mother. The fact that Alzahrani did not pack, and left a half-eaten meal on the table, indicates otherwise. Interpol has confirmed that Alzahrani has arrived back in Saudi Arabia.

Alzahrani is not the only Saudi convert to Christianity to disappear from New Zealand. In May 2013 a Saudi convert seeking asylum in New Zealand was taken from his home in Auckland by three men -- his brother and two Saudis travelling on diplomatic passports. He had not packed and his phone and wallet were left in his apartment. On that occasion New Zealand officials met the party as they changed planes in Hong Kong. According to lawyer Roger Chambers, the officials asked the convert if he was returning to Saudi Arabia voluntarily. When he replied he was, the officials let the party proceed. Sometime later this convert managed to contact friends in Auckland to report that he had been tortured and threatened with beheading.


* the Spirit of God will work powerfully to protect and preserve every Christian prisoner in Saudi Arabia; may they 'rest' in their Lord and experience his promised presence; may the Lord become their 'sanctuary' (promise from Isaiah 8:11-14) and may they soon be released.

* our heavenly Father will protect and preserve every Saudi Christian, be they inside Saudi Arabia or anywhere in the world. 'The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.' (Deuteronomy 33:27a ESV)

* God will intervene to re-direct the hearts of 'kings' so that world leaders who consider themselves Christians and democrats will care less about protecting and defending the House of Saud and more about protecting and defending its victims. 'The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.' (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

* he who owns the whole world (Psalm 24:1) will abundantly bless Arabic-language Gospel ministries with everything they need to keep the life-transforming Gospel streaming into Saudi Arabia and may Christ continue to draw Saudis into his embrace. 'Lift up your heads, O gates . . . that the King of glory may come in.' (Psalm 24:9 ESV)  (Psalm 24)


A repressive, fundamentalist (Wahhabi) Islamic State, Saudi Arabia does not permit religious freedom for Saudis, for expatriate workers, nor even exiles. Whilst Western expatriate workers worship in chapels inside embassies, impoverished and abused Christian labourers from Asia and Africa have nowhere to meet except in private homes (though such meetings are illegal). On 5 September, Saudi religious police raided a house fellowship in Eastern Province, arresting 27 mostly Asian believers. Their situation in prison is perilous. Not even exiles have freedom. When Khalid Alzahrani (42) disappeared in the company of two Arab men on 31 July, he became the second Saudi Christian to be forcibly repatriated to Saudi Arabia from New Zealand in the last 16 months. Please pray for Saudi Christians and Western states who can advocate for them.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

RLPB 277. Lebanon: conflict looms, Christians threatened

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 277 | Wed 10 Sep 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

Lebanon hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Though most are Sunnis (many of whom support the rebel cause) quite a number are Christians. On 5 June 2013 the situation in Syria pivoted dramatically when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by fighters from Hezballah (Lebanon), Iraq and Iran, liberated the strategic city of Al-Qusayr near the border with Lebanon, changing the balance of power on the ground.
North Lebanon (click to enlarge)
 source (whole map)
Subsequently, thousands of rebel fighters retreated into Lebanon where they have become isolated, cut off from the main theatres of jihad. Most have settled into camps for Syrian refugees and at least 1,500 fighters moved into the refugee camps on the barren plains of Arsal just 40km south-west of Al-Qusayr, off the main highway in the hills overlooking the Bekaa Valley. Up to 25,000 Christians live in the Bekaa Valley villages of al-Qaa, al-Fakha and Ras Baalbek. A group calling itself the Ahrar al-Sunnah Brigade -- which has reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) 'caliph' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi -- has been threatening to attack churches and Christians, even threatening to 'purge the Islamic emirate of Bekaa'. Tensions are soaring and the fear is palpable.

On 2 August 2014, clashes broke out in Arsal between Lebanese security personnel and fighters from al-Nusra and IS after police arrested al-Nusra commander Emad Jumaa. [While IS and al-Nusra (which is allied to the Free Syrian Army) are fighting each other in northern Syria, they are allies (for the moment) in Lebanon.] A truce was brokered on 7 August, but not before some 20 Lebanese soldiers had been killed and 42 Lebanese security personnel -- 22 from the army and 20 from the Internal Security Forces -- had been taken hostage. Under the terms of the truce, the jihadists lost their ground, having to retreat out of Arsal into the barren lands beyond, but retained their captives. They remain inside Lebanon as Syria will not permit them back on Syrian soil. Hezballah has laid siege to the area.

In early September the rebels issued their first demand, insisting the Lebanese government release some 400 Islamists being held in Lebanese prisons. To show they were serious they beheaded a soldier -- a Sunni named Ali al-Sayed -- and threatened to behead another should the government fail to comply. Shi'ite clans made it clear that if any Shi'ite were harmed they would retaliate against Syrian refugees. On 4 September the Lebanese government rejected the terrorists' demand so on 6 September the jihadists beheaded another soldier -- Abbas Medlej, a Shi'ite -- while threatening to behead more Shi'ites should Hezballah or its backers harm any Syrian refugee. [Presumably though, al-Nusra and IS would only care only about Sunni refugees.]  Shi'ite clans have retaliated by issuing Syrian refugees with written ultimatums to leave Lebanon.

Mar Elias Church
In recent days churches in the northern port city of Tripoli have been marked with Arabic graffiti. Messages have included, 'The Islamic State will break the cross,' and 'We came to slaughter you, you worshippers of the cross.' The Lebanese army has deployed extra forces to the area.

Hezballah regards the recent clash in Arsal as the beginning of a new conflict, predicting that the Bekaa Valley and the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli are likely to be the next battle grounds of IS. Christians are taking up arms to defend themselves. A Christian youth explained why he joined the local protection committee: 'What has happened in Mosul has been a message to all Christians of the East that the world will not protect them and that they need to rely on themselves to defend their existence.' Umm Milad fled Mosul (in Nineveh, Iraq) in June after ISIS marked her home with a  (an Arabic 'n' for 'Nasrani' / Christian) and ordered the family out. Now Umm, her husband and children are refugees. She weeps as she collects aid from a Chaldean church in Beirut. 'We are scared,' she says. 'We don't want to go back.'


* Christians in Lebanon -- whether they are armed or not -- will inquire of the Lord, look to him and put their trust first and foremost in him -- not in armies or militias or weapons or 'the world' or themselves. [This was the call of the prophet Isaiah when Judea was existentially threatened. See: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today.]

* the Lord of grace and peace will grant Lebanon's leaders great wisdom as they seek to tackle the refugee crisis, particularly the threat to national security caused by displaced jihadis.

* our heavenly Father will protect, guide and provide for the thousands of Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq now caught up in Lebanon's refugee crisis.

Regarding the fact that the enemies of Christ and Israel, i.e. al-Nusra, IS and Hezballah (and their state sponsors) are coming face to face in the region, read 2 Chronicles 20:1-30, where by grace, through faith, the Lord had his enemies destroy one another (v23).

Pray for great faith to arise, ' . . . for the battle is not yours but God's (v15).'


In June 2013 the Syrian Arab Army liberated the strategic town of Al-Qusayr, changing the balance of power on the ground. Thousands of jihadis subsequently retreated into the mostly Sunni Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. Tensions are soaring now as these displaced jihadis launch attacks inside Lebanon. Christians and churches have been threatened in the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley. On 6 September Sunni jihadists beheaded a Shi'ite from the Lebanese security forces, causing sectarian tensions to erupt. A new conflict is looming. Lebanese Shi'ites are demanding that Syrian refugees leave Lebanon. This crisis could hit Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq hard -- where can they go? Please pray for Lebanon, for the Lebanese Church and for the Christian refugees caught up in this crisis.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).