Christians in Niger are beginning to return to their homes after a violent rampage by Islamic extremists. Attackers killed at least 10 people and burned 70 churches earlier this month in the North African nation. Christians saw their homes, schools, and orphanages reduced to rubble and ash.
During the attack, some of the attackers displayed Boko Haram flags, but not all of them were associated with the extremist group. Some were neighbors to Christians, hyped up by hateful rhetoric. Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, is native of Niger, but operates out of neighboring Nigeria. His sermons calling for jihad are played in mosques in Niger.
The nation is overwhelmingly Muslim. Only one in every 300 residents is a Christian. Even so, Niger wasn’t on the World Watch list as a hotbed of Christian persecution. Amie Cotton of Christian Aid Mission said the violence shocked believers there.
“In Niger, there has never been a riot of this sort,” she said. “Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully up to this time. It’s a small-knit community where people know each other, so even though they don’t have the same religious beliefs, there was respect.”
Cotton did hear reports that some Muslims came to the assistance of those under attack. The rise of violent Islamic groups in Africa, especially in Nigeria—just south of Niger—bodes a worrisome future.
“We want people around the world to know what’s going on in Niger and want Christians praying for these people who are experiencing persecution for the first time,” Cotton said.
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the attackers’ claim to represent Islam was “utter nonsense, and it’s totally rejected by the American Muslim community and Muslims worldwide.”
He said voices of peace in Islam have difficulty drowning out the news made by terror groups. But CAIR is itself controversial. Although the group publicly promotes non-violence, critics say it has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and in 2014, the United Arab Emirates included CAIR on a list of terrorist organizations.
Ibrahim said American support for the wrong regimes in the past has led to this point. He said the United States needs to stop supporting unjust, dictatorial regimes and promote democracy around the world.
“ISIS probably would not exist in Syria if we had not let hundreds of thousands of Syrians be slaughtered by a brutal dictatorship,” he said.
He has agreement on the argument that promoting freedom and justice around the globe fosters peace. Isaac Six of International Christian Concern said violence occurs most often in nations where there isn’t a strong emphasis on religious liberty.
“One of the best counters to this is freedom—religious freedom,” Six said.“Unfortunately, that’s not a reality for the majority of the world’s citizens.”