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Tunisia

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Tunisia has some fine church buildings, but many converts from Islam have to worship in secret
Habib M’henni / CC BY-SA 3.0

On 26 January 2014, the Tunisian parliament adopted a new constitution that guarantees freedom of worship and enshrines the equality of men and women. The document was hailed as a success for democracy and the principles of consensus and compromise after months of contention between Islamist and secular forces. The text was agreed after the then governing Islamist Ennahda party granted a number of concessions, including the dropping of references to Islamic law. The new constitution describes Islam as the religion of the state but not its source of legislation.

The new constitution should give hope to the very small Christian community and other minorities in Tunisia. It is a marked change from the initial “Arab Spring” aftermath, when Tunisia, where the revolutionary movement began, moved in an increasingly Islamist direction. Ennahda, the main Islamist party, won both the presidential and the parliamentary elections, and the draft constitution initially identified sharia as “the principal source of legislation” and limited religious freedom and other key rights. Islamist leaders were putting out anti-Christian messages, and their supporters were harassing churches. A self-appointed religious police was also given legal status.

 But Tunisia is traditionally among the most secular and progressive of the Arab nations, and many legislators remained committed to this tradition. So the government found itself under pressure after the assassination of two opposition politicians sparked months of mass protests. The powerful trade union association, which has the power to bring the country to a standstill, forced Ennahda’s leaders to resign and hand over to a non-partisan, caretaker administration ahead of new elections. It is thought that the Tunisian opposition was emboldened by the toppling of the Islamist regime in Egypt in July 2013 after a mass uprising there.

Until the 7th century AD Christianity was widespread throughout the region of today’s Tunisia. It produced famous Christian thinkers and leaders such as Tertullian and Cyprian. But five centuries later, after Arab tribes had conquered the land and established themselves as rulers, Christianity was extinguished. Today there are only a few hundred indigenous believers, all of them converts from Islam or the children of converts, alongside a rather larger population of expatriate Christians, in a country that is more than 99% Muslim. In general churches are allowed to operate without harassment, but evangelism among Muslims is forbidden, and disapproval of apostasy from Islam is so strong in society at large that many converts are secret believers.  

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christian, persecution, charity, church, persecuted, sookhdeo, Islam

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    • The case of an Egyptian Christian man arrested following complaints by Muslim neighbours that he had been using his home as a church without a permit highlights the need of the Christian community for more places of worship. The 55-year-old man from Minya in Upper Egypt, where Christians are particularly vulnerable to persecution, was arrested once before, in 2011, for the same offence. Every church building in Egypt requires a permit, but these are notoriously difficult to obtain. Pray that the authorities will show leniency to the Christian man and that a provision in the new constitution addressing the issue of church buildings will be enacted. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 2 hours ago

    • Kidnapping for ransom has been a persistent problem for the Christian community in Egypt amid the political upheaval and instability following the “Arab Spring” revolution of 2011. On 14 June, Wadie Ramses, a well-known surgeon, was seized in El-Arish. The assailants opened fire on his vehicle and took him away wounded. They later demanded a ransom of ten million Egyptian Pounds (£800,000; US$1.4 million) for his release. Two days later, Christian merchant Gemal Shenouda was captured near his home in the same city. It is thought that Islamic militants with links to al-Qaeda, who have been behind escalating violence in the Sinai region, are responsible for the kidnappings. Pray for the safe return of our two Christian brothers and that they and their families will know the Lord’s peace. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Sep 2014 00:00

    • On 18 June, Bishoy Armia Boulous (31) was sentenced to five years in prison and given a fi ne of 500 Egyptian Pounds (US£70; £40) for “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information” in connection with reports he produced relating to anti-Christian violence in Minya for a Christian TV channel. His lawyer believes that Bishoy has been targeted because of his conversion from Islam. The Christian gained notoriety in Egypt in 2007 as the first person to try to change his religion on his ID card, a case that is still unresolved owing to the political tumult in the country over the last three years. Pray that the Lord will be Bishoy’s strength and shield (Psalm 28:7), and that he will soon be released. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Sep 2014 00:00

    • “Saudi Arabia remains unique in the extent to which it restricts the public expression of any religion other than Islam.” In its annual report for 2014, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom highlighted the extraordinary restrictions faced by Christians and other non-Muslims in one of the most rigid and hardline Islamic states in the world. No churches exist in Saudi Arabia because of an Islamic tradition that Muhammad said there should be only one religion in the Arabian peninsula. Pray for peace and perseverance for the small number of Saudi converts and the many expatriate Christians practising their faith in this repressive context, and ask that the authorities will yield to international pressure to introduce greater religious freedom. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Sep 2014 00:00

    • On 23 June, Vahid Hakkani, a Christian convert in prison in Iran, resumed a hunger strike in protest against the refusal of a court to grant him and two other Christians conditional release. Vahid had broken his previous strike in May after another of his fellow-detainees was set free. The prison authorities have reportedly confiscated his personal belongings from his cell and are denying him the right to make phone calls; they have also separated the Christian prisoners from one another. Even before his first hunger strike, Vahid had been suffering from a digestive problem and internal bleeding. Pray that his health may not fail altogether and that his action will secure justice and freedom for him and his friends (Psalm 69:33). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Sep 2014 00:00

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