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Nigerian Christians Protest Deborah’s Death

Image: Courtesy of Gideon Para-Mallam

Thousands of churches across Nigeria demanded an end to sectarian killings on Sunday, horrified by the mob assault on a female university student accused of blasphemy. But fearful of more violence, their approach differed significantly—by geography.

“The overwhelming majority of our churches in the south participated, many going to the streets in peaceful protest,” said Testimony Onifade, senior special assistant to the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). “Gathering together, we condemned this gruesome act and demanded the government identify, arrest, and prosecute the culprits.”

But in the north, where Muslims represent the majority of Nigerians, John Hayab described 20 minutes set aside to pray for divine intervention. The president of CAN’s Kaduna state chapter lauded the “solemn” ceremony observed by all northern denominations, amid a ban on protests by local authorities as some Muslims had threatened counterdemonstrations.

Instead, a select group of 120 Christian leaders gathered in a Kaduna city church, guarded by police and security agencies.

There was good reason for caution.

Two weeks ago, in Nigeria’s northwestern-most state of Sokoto, Deborah Samuel was beaten to death and set on fire by fellow students at Shehu Shagari College of Education. Officials and police intervened in vain.

Two students were arrested. Protesting for their release, Muslim supporters proceeded to destroy an additional 11 buildings, descended on Christian shops in the city, and besieged the palace of the sultan of Sokoto who had condemned the May 12 murder.

According to her friend Rakia, Samuel’s last words were, “What do you hope to achieve with this?”

After a colleague shared Islamic material on an exam-prep social media group, Samuel posted an audio recording asking him to remove it. Friends who overheard some Muslim students deeming her response to be blasphemous urged her to retract the statement. Instead, she responded…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on May 25, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Azhar Blasphemy

Flag Cross Quran


The Azhar defends Islam. The state defends the law. You defend your name.

Together, may Egypt find its way.

The grand imam fired the Azhar University president for calling a prominent critic an infidel.

The minister of endowments censured a preacher for calling Christians unbelievers.

The critic had been convicted of blasphemy, later pardoned. The preacher is now sued the same.

It has often been that critics or Christians are charged if offending the sensibilities of Muslims. Are these reversals a sign of equality?

Or is the blasphemy law offensive itself?

Different Egyptians view it differently, God. In lieu of consensus, defend.

Defend the Azhar from unwarranted charges. Empower its reform and right interpretation of Islam.

Defend the state from manipulative agendas. Empower its enforcement and right crafting of law.

Defend your name from vain incantations. Empower the life that comes through right fear.

Where it is right for men to assist, give equity and humility.

Where it is right for men to argue, give insight and patience.

Where there is blasphemy, guide rightly. Blasphemer and society alike.

Defend your name, God, that you may be made known. Honor those dedicated to what it rightly entails.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Black Box Blasphemy

Flag Cross Quran


At least it has been found. And at least it has been tabled. Now, give wisdom to discern rightly and move forward.

After weeks deep in the Mediterranean, the black box from Egypt Air flight 804 has been recovered. It could take weeks more to extract the data, but at least the mystery nears resolution.

God, thank you that facts may soon be known. Brace Egypt to receive the results, whatever direction they point. Ensure full transparency, and restore confidence in tourism and aviation.

Meanwhile, members of parliament have put forward draft bills touching a different controversy. One seeks to cancel the blasphemy law, another to remove religion from the national ID.

Proponents argue them necessary for the sake of citizenship, that the identification and safeguard of religion risks discrimination and the violation of rights. Opponents fault not the law but the person, while amendment risks disturbance of social peace.

God, thank you that society may soon deliberate. Brace Egypt for the debate, and may all be civil. Help mosque and church and officials and lawmakers and citizens to find right consensus.

Honor the individual conscience. Honor the societal norms. Refine both to honor your will for Egypt, with humility for all who seek to define it.

May truth be found, God, whether underwater or under taboo. May it heal, may it lead to peace.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Atheism and Insult

Flag Cross Quran


Words injure. Ideas have consequences. Give Egypt wisdom and strength of character to tread righteously in irreligious waters.

For Charlie Hebdo insists on staying in the headlines. The head of the Azhar called for Muhammad cartoons to be ignored, while a pro-Brotherhood scholar called for demonstrations and international blasphemy laws. Many expressed anger and warned of violent reactions, even as they condemned them.

And perhaps similarly, Egypt jailed a local citizen for being an atheist. He was harassed in his home town and complained to the police, but instead wound up arrested. His father testified against him, and his incarceration will last three years. He is not the only blasphemer in prison, and others are on trial.

God, all rights come with responsibility, and the law regulates limitations. Do you have an opinion on where to draw the line?

Moreover, do you wish mankind to police your honor?

Help Egypt to process these questions, God, protecting good, preserving liberty, for individual and society alike.

Give courage to speak a rebuke. Give humility to win the recipient. Give patience to bear an insult. Give confidence to respond in love.

Give the same to Egypt’s atheists, as to those offended by them. Guide both to what is true and right. Guide all in defining their place.

You are the word, God, how you respond when injured? You are the idea, from which all consequences follow. Help Egypt imitate your character, and in you find strength.



Voices against Charlie

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie

Muslims and Muslim majority nations, including Egypt, have roundly condemned the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper. But the ideology that informs such an attack is present not just among those with access to weapons. This Mada Masr article contains a full survey of Egyptian reactions, most of which stand against the murders. But interesting are the ordinary voices that express sympathy with the attack:

Many Egyptian social media users were not fully sympathetic toward the cartoonists killed in the incident. Business intelligence consultant Ramy Mahrous, 28, told Mada Masr that he only respects non-Muslims who are respectful of his religion.

“Otherwise, I wish anyone attacking my religion to burn alive, and I would be very happy seeing him burning,” he said.

Twitter user Ahmed Adel told Mada Masr that attacking religious symbols and religion in general is a “red line,” but Muslims generally do not take serious actions against such offenses, while the offending parties “reap the fruit of their actions.”

“Islam forced us to defend our sacred principles. [The shooting] is not an attack, it is self-defense,” he argued.

Adel recounted some incidents from Prophet Mohamed’s life that he interpreted as supportive of his position.

“All of this should make us more ardent [defenders] of our religion, if we love our religion in the first place,” he added.

In a similar vein, Sahar al-Sherbiny told Mada she believes that fervent belief could lead a Muslim to kill someone offending his or her religion.

“I don’t know many details of what happened in France, but if I saw someone offending Prophet Mohamed in front of me and I had a weapon, I would verbally warn him first. If he continued, I would kill him,” she tweeted.

Better would have been interviews with people on the street. Social media provides an artificial atmosphere that encourages the expression of more extreme views. But perhaps the relative safety also allows full disclosure.

It is wrong to generalize a people and their religion, either positively or negatively. But where there is such dissonance between cultures, it is important to see the other as a real person, and hear their real voice. It is only then that alternate policies and perspectives might make a real difference.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Blasphemy


Egypt’s legal and judicial history is historic and impressive. Yet like other societies with a strong legal tradition, litigation is common. One result is often the slow pace of justice as cases can be tied up in court for years.

Yet this fact betrays the speed in which blasphemy cases have been processed recently. A number of Copts are under investigation or have already been sentenced for insulting Islam. The most recent case involves two children under the age of eleven.

What is behind this, God? Blasphemy laws have existed from before the revolution, so it is not simply a product of an Islamist regime. But the number of cases following the anti-Islamic film feels unprecedented. They are brought by individuals, not the state.

Weigh on the hearts of these men, God, to convict them if their zeal outpaces their mercy, if they are driven by judgment, or worse, by vindictiveness. Give wisdom to the judges as well, God. May they handle these cases with discretion and wisdom, submitting both to law and conscience.

Speak also to the accused, God. Rebuke them if they have intended offense; comfort them if they are unjustly tried.

There is even a Muslim under investigation, depicted on video burning a Bible. Many have noted his trial proceeds slowly, and he is not being detained. He acted at the scene of the US Embassy, perhaps enraged at the film in question.

If he was rash, help him seek forgiveness. If he was making a statement, give him guidance. If he sowed the seeds of discord in society, rebuke him.

But with him, God, and with all the others, spare them the judgment of law. And for those who cannot pray this sincerely, may the law be designed to justly honor both holy sanctities and inviolable freedoms.

And apart from the law, may honorable men of religion rush to forgive the offenders and show mercy. May they intercede for the accused in both this life and the next.

Weighty issues are at stake, God, beyond the dignity of each of these individuals. A constitution is soon to be written, which may well include provisions against blasphemy. Odd thoughts lend to conspiracy; was the outrage over the film meant to rally support? Could these cases be fast-tracked to provoke outrage and rally against?

And within this context, conflicting reports surround the small Coptic community in Rafah. They received threats if they did not leave the area. It seems some did, while the bishop denies they were forced. This may simply reflect the foibles of human nature. But if not, the story fits perfectly into either a conspiracy against Copts by Islamists, or into a conspiracy involving Copts (as either pawns or abettors) against Islamists.

But God, end the avails to conspiracy! In all these scenarios human lives are at stake. Open Egypt to a culture of transparency, so that men may live in dignity and know the reality of the challenges they face. Cease manipulations and constrain all manipulators. Establish soon a political system based on just principles and the consensus of society. May the constitution be written wisely and celebrated by all.

God, the impossibility of this task is well known, but intervene. Change the hearts of troublemakers and sincere disputants alike. Knit them together in this crucial stage, so that they may differ properly in the days to come.

Honor Egypt, God, and give her peace. Give her peace of mind.