Bangladesh (MNN) — The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released their 2017 Annual Report last week. The report described religious freedom violations in 37 countries, and made recommendations for the U.S. government to address them. Bangladesh, a 90 percent Muslim-majority nation, was included in the report.
Rural church in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of FMI)
Since the nation’s general elections 2014, Bangladesh has seen an increase in extremist activity against religious minorities, including from ISIS and Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB). There’s also the widespread practice of ‘land-grabbing’ by government officials targeting minorities.
Peter Mazumder, National Co-Director of Asian Access Bangladesh says, “Last year in December, purposefully, government political leaders burned all the Christian houses [on an area of land], and also tribal groups that are not Christians. So 7,500 have been lost, burned by the police.”
Land-grabbing through arson is not uncommon in Bangladesh, according to the USCIRF report. Mazumder says government officials desired this land the Christians and other minorities were living on, and now wants to relocate them onto different lands. But the Bangladeshi Christians don’t want to move, especially because many work at sugar mills near their old homes. They are currently living in refugee camps. The government won’t give the Christians permission to rebuild on their old land and they can’t be given funds from outside sources to rebuild.
Bangladesh also has an anti-blasphemy law in place, which is often used by Muslims against minorities. And while there is no anti-conversion law in Bangladesh, Christians are intimidated away from witnessing at the local level.
“As a Christian, we face challenges, especially when we share the Gospel. If we don’t share the Gospel, we are okay. But when we share the Gospel, we are threatened by the Muslims. They’re identifying the leaders who are actively doing the evangelism. They wrote all the names, and last year they killed our three pastors…. They come as a spy, they come and say, ‘We would like to hear about Jesus. Jesus is our prophet.’”
This makes outreach in Bangladesh often difficult, since evangelists and Christians can’t always tell if someone is asking about the Bible with a searching heart, or to entrap them.
(Map courtesy of Asian Access)
Mazumder says of the extremist Muslim population in Bangladesh, “They are dominating through their power, and they’re dominating through the political issues. Especially, they think Bangladesh is a Muslim country, so what they’d like to do, they can do.”
In countries like Bangladesh, converting to Christianity from a Muslim background often places a target on your back for persecution. So how does the Church come alongside these new Muslim-background believers who need encouragement in their new faith?
“It is a very challenging question, especially because we cannot accommodate everybody. But the [converts from] Muslim backgrounds, nowadays because of the persecution, they are called a secret believer. Sometimes we don’t know who came to Christ.”
For example, says Mazumder, “What happens if in one family, the father became a Christian? We just try to give them some kind of mentor for them, [and explain] that you are the salt and light for your family, and through your lifestyle, you can show you have changed; and through your lifestyle, you can share Jesus to your wife and your children. So that kind of mentoring is going on. We always encourage them to be salt and light, first, with their family, then for their village.”
Mazumder offers this prayer for Bangladesh. Would you pray with him?
“Father, thank you for the wonderful work you are doing in Muslim countries, especially in Bangladesh. Thank you for your goodness…. I pray, as Bangladesh is a big field — 161 million people, and out of that, 90 percent are Muslims — I pray, Lord, that you would just give them a spirit of discernment; and those who are converting from Islam, that they might stand firm for the sake of the Gospel; and also those who are discipling them, that they can make them disciples in such a way that they will multiply the churches in Bangladesh, Lord.
“At the same time, we praying for other countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, so many Middle Eastern countries, Lord, [where] lots of people have not yet heard the Gospel. Or even though they heard the Gospel, they have not opened their hearts. So I pray, Lord, bless them abundantly, and they may see your goodness, and they will accept the truth, and the truth will set them free. Thank you for the time to pray for them. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”