Meet Majed el-Shafie. He is the founder and president of One Free World International, a humanitarian aid organization that helps minorities across the world including the Christian community. He currently lives in Canada, but his origins and roots lie elsewhere.
He grew up Muslim in Egypt and became interested in Christianity while in university studying law. He started looking into Christianity specifically because the Copts were so discriminated against and persecuted in Egypt.
As he says, “It is my opinion that you don’t torture or persecute somebody unless you are afraid of the truth that they carry.”
Majed eventually decided to act on his convictions and converted to Christianity. However, this choice was not without its consequences.
He was arrested by the government and put in prison for seven days. His head was shaved, his shoulder cut to the bone (from which he still bears the scars): He was waterboarded, beaten, hung upside down and hung on a cross for two and half days.
Although he was released from prison, he was eventually summoned to court to receive sentence for his “grave” crime. The judge sentenced him to death by hanging for sowing “national disunity and rebellion against the government,” a common phraseology used to incriminate Christians and other minorities.
Seeing that he did not have much time, Majed quickly figured out a way to be smuggled out the country and miraculously escaped to Israel by jet ski, from where he would become a free man.
This is but one story featured in Clarion’s documentary, Faithkeepers. Executive-produced by Roma Downey and Clarion Project, the film tells the story of the persecution that Christians and other minorities face in the Middle East. With riveting animation, stories, and exclusive interviews, Faithkeepers will move the hearts of all who see it to take action to help those in need.
With the rise of ISIS and radical Islam spreading across the region, individuals and communities across the Middle East are suffering rape, pillage, kidnapping, murder, etc. because of their faith and identity.
However, the present does not tell the full story. We need to understand that ISIS is only an extreme example and is part of 100 years of Middle Eastern Christianity waning in its birthplace. The statistics bear this out.
In 1910, Middle-Eastern Christians made up 20 percent of the population. Today they represent 4-5%, and predictions suggest in the next 20-30 years they will fall below 3%.
In Egypt, Coptic (Greek for Egyptian) Christians, one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East and once a majority of the population with their own language and culture, are a mere 8-10% of the population. The Coptic Christians explain that they are considered second class citizens and are often at the mercy of targeted spontaneous violence and a law enforcement that couldn’t care less about them.
In Iraq, over a million Christians fled the country because of war and religious persecution leaving the community at 400,000 (roughly 0.7% of the population).
In Syria, an estimated 400-700,000 fled since 2011 and now make up around 2.7% of the population.
In Lebanon, the Christian community has fallen from 76% to 34%.
In Turkey, the Christian community that was 20% in 1910 now makes up 0.2% of the population. This is a due to a genocide that was committed against the Armenian Christian community that left 1.5 million of them dead. Although it was one of the first genocides committed in the 20th Century, it remains unrecognized by many countries. Hitler would later remark about his confidence in getting away with committing mass atrocities, saying “Who remembers the Armenians?”
(As an aside, the only place where the Christian community is officially growing is in Israel.)
By any measurement, this is a dire situation that requires the help of the entire world.
Why should I care?
The American Christian community has been slow to react and help ease the situation. There is a severe disconnect between communities across the world and too often doctrine and geographical distance become excuses not to help. Below are several reasons why you should care.
- Christian roots are disappearing in the region: The Middle East is the region where Christianity began and its communities, influence and presence are dwindling.
- Intolerance is spreading: Christian persecution is a sign of general hateful intolerance spreading across the region. Radical Islam is spreading across the region and the same ideology that leads people to attack and kill others not like them is the same ideology that will attack the West in Europe and America. One does not need to count the many examples of terrorist attacks in America and Europe that have been committed against an “infidel and crusader West.”
- Genocide: I have a confession to make. I am religious Jew not connected or a part of any of these Christian communities. However, I care because I know from my own history what genocide means. I know what it means to have your community, life and history swept away as it was for the Jewish people in Europe and in Arab lands across the Middle East. So we need to realize that genocide has happened on our watch and the United States and several international bodies have recognized it as such.
- Faith by choice: Faithkeepers is a story not only of persecution, but of perseverance; not only of suffering and sadness, but of hope and inspiration. It shows the self-sacrifice and harrowing choice made by these communities and individuals to keep their faith and identity despite all odds.