Saudi Arabia is the birthplace and stronghold of Islam

Vietnam is one of the world’s few remaining Communist nations. After gaining independence from France in 1954, 30 years of war were followed by a re-unification of the North and South under the Communist Party in 1975.

The Communist Party retains supreme control of all state policy and activity, and the government and military are both tied closely to the party. Strong authoritarian rule brooks no dissent, especially not from ethnic or religious minorities. As a result, human rights violations continue to accrue.

Though Vietnam's constitution provides for freedom of worship, the government continues to restrict organized activities of many religious groups. Only government-controlled religious organizations are allowed. The Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the smaller Evangelical Church of Vietnam North are two of the largest officially recognized Protestant churches.

Unregistered churches and ethnic minority Christians still suffer harassment, discrimination and, sometimes, outright persecution. When police threatened in December 2009 to beat a man to death and seize his property, which would leave his family destitute, he signed recantation documents. He was asked to prove his reconversion by offering sacrifices to ancestors.

In July 2010, a gang of youths attacked and damaged a house-church building in Phu Yen Province. After the attack, police from local and provincial levels came to the area several times to "investigate." However, local Christians believe authorities were only attempting to identify Christians in the village. In November 2010, two Vietnamese evangelists were given prison sentences for “undermining national unity.” They are members of the Vietnam Good News Mission, a fast-growing group of house churches. One month later, police arrested and beat prominent Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang and demolished his Mennonite Bible School, seizing the land for government purposes. As of May 2011, the school was being rebuilt elsewhere.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Islam Karimov, the former Communist Party leader was elected president of the new country. Despite an agreement to political reform, widespread political corruption continues and repression (including of religious believers of all faiths) has escalated in recent years.

Uzbekistan is a secular state, promoting a moderate, tightly controlled form of Islam. The growing Islamist movement is handled with venom by the state. Christians are third-party victims of this struggle. Believers among non-Muslim minorities have more freedom. Ethnic Uzbek Christians, in particular, receive harsh treatment.

Religious communities are required to officially register. Only approved religious organizations—Muslim groups, Jews, Russian Orthodox and some Protestant groups—can be registered, and registration is frequently refused or delayed. Police make surprise visits to churches and forcibly close those who cannot immediately produce registration papers. Evangelism, missionary activity and religious instruction are forbidden by law.

The distribution of religious material is legal in Uzbekistan, but only of material approved by the State Committee for Religious Affairs. Officials claim that the material could be used to convert Muslims and often confiscate Bibles, Christian literature and films. In September 2010, the government fined a Christian man for owning an Uzbek version of the JESUS film. In November, the government confiscated Christian books from a youth group returning from Kazakhstan.

Uzbek Christians have been fined, beaten and imprisoned for their faith. In January 2010, a young Christian man was arrested in Syrdarya region on charges of producing or storing drugs. At the police station, the young man was reportedly pressured and threatened to renounce his faith. When he refused, police allegedly planted drugs on him. In May, three Christians were given 15-day jail terms, following a raid on the Church of Christ in Tashkent. Five other members of the church were fined at the same trial.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was established in 1971 as a loose confederation of seven emirates previously known as the Trucial States. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the president until his death in November 2004. His son, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was elected president the following day. Approximately 80 percent of the people living in this oil-rich nation are foreigners working in the country.

Islam is the state religion, with a Sunni majority and a small Shi’a minority. There are admirably high levels of religious freedom for an Arab state, but proselytism is still illegal.

Radical changes in the last generation have created a culture crisis in the UAE. Traditionalists and progressives face off over many issues such as the role of women and democracy. Expatriate Christians, who almost account entirely for UAE Christians, have opportunities for discreet sharing as the nation becomes more open and international. However, arrests, imprisonment and deportation still occur for those who evangelize or distribute Christian literature unwisely.

Turkmenistan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The former Communist leader Saparmurat Niyazov transformed himself into a nationalist dictator, controlling the army, police, the justice system, the economy and the press. His death in 2006 heralded the potential for great change, since his appointed successor demonstrates signs of moving toward a more open and less repressive system.

Constitutionally, there is freedom of religion. In practice, this is limited to Sunni Islam or Russian Orthodoxy?all other forms of Islam or minority religions are subject to severe repression and harassment. Hostility against any non-Orthodox Christian activity or even presence has persisted for more than 10 years. Almost every foreign Christian has been expelled. Several national pastors have been exiled, beaten, heavily fined or imprisoned. Congregations continue to be intimidated and forbidden to meet. Registration is a difficult, near-impossible process, and when it does occur, it only subjects the church to greater surveillance. Unregistered religious gatherings of any size or kind are strictly forbidden.

In August 2010, Pentecostal pastor Ilmurad Nurliev was arrested on charges of swindling. A “witness” produced by authorities was a woman already in jail on criminal charges. One church member was threatened that if she did not testify against Pastor Nurliev, her husband, who is not a church member, would be fired from his job. Police have continued pressuring members of Nurliev's church, asking them if his wife is gathering them for worship services or meetings.

Turkey played a significant part in the early Christian Church as the centre of much of the Apostle Paul's work. However, the country became the guardian of Islam for centuries when the Ottoman Empire was established in 1299. Today, approximately 96.6 percent of the population is Muslim, many of whom have never heard the gospel.

Since the sweeping reforms of the 1920s, Turkey has officially been a secular state. There is, however, a fault line between Islamists and secularists. Despite the government reforms to facilitate joining the European Union, there is no indication of increasing religious freedom. While the Turkish constitution includes freedom of religion, worship services are only permitted in "buildings created for this purpose," and officials have restricted the construction of buildings for minority religions. The few who dare to openly profess Christ face harassment, threats, and imprisonment. Recent death threats and murders of Christians highlight the present reality and severity of persecution and the likelihood of more to come.

In 2006, two men were arrested for sharing their faith. They were charged with “insulting Turkishness, the military and Islam.” Four years later, a Turkish court finally acquitted them but fined them $3,200 CAD each. In April 2007, three members of Malayta Kurtulus Church were tortured and killed by a group of five Muslims. As of May 2011, the trial of the five alleged murderers continues.  In June 2008, Turkish Pastor Orhan Picaklar was accused of insulting the prophet Mohammed and the police, and performing a marriage ceremony in the church (which is forbidden by law). Pastor Picaklar denied the charges.

Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956 under the leadership of Habib Bourguiba, who introduced freedoms found nowhere else in the Arab world. In 1987, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali took control through a coup. He is currently serving his fifth consecutive five-year term, despite allegations of manipulation and boycotts that have accompanied his re-elections. Under Ali, the political system became increasingly autocratic and repressive. While there is a pretext of political freedom, there is no real political opposition and hundreds of dissidents have been arrested.

In earlier centuries, the Christian Church was widespread, producing such leaders as Tertullian and Cyprian. Schism, heresy, failures to put roots deep into the local culture and to translate the Bible into local languages, foreign invasions and finally Islam greatly reduced numbers in the church.  Today, Christians account for 0.2 percent of the more than 10 million people in Tunisia.

Islam is the state religion. The government strongly maintains a secular tone, and only a minority actively practice their faith, although this appears to be growing. Politicized Islam, which has been on the rise, is met with little tolerance by the state. The government is not favourable toward any form of Christian proselytism, but tolerance is shown to foreign religious minorities, and increasingly to native Christians.

Tibet lost its short-lived independence as a theocratic Buddhist state in 1950 when China re-invaded the land. China’s central government has systematically sought to destroy the culture, religions and ethnic identity of the Tibetan people. Resistance to the occupiers has resulted in frequent revolts and unrest. More than 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed, over one million people may have lost their lives and a further 100,000 may have been forced into exile, including the Buddhist and political leader of Tibetans, the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan Buddhism permeates society and has a powerful hold on the people. It incorporates many elements of the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, which still exists in its own right. Bon has powerful demonic and occult influences and spirit appeasement. The high places of the Tibetan plateau are known to be a spiritual stronghold highly resistant to the gospel. In Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), there are still 1,789 monasteries and 46,000 Buddhist monks.

There may be just over 1,000 evangelical and 2,000 Catholic Christians among the five million ethnic Tibetans in the world. Christian materials in Tibetan languages and dialects are limited, but growing. Political sensitivity and tensions in Tibet make entry and travel in the country difficult for both Chinese and foreign Christians who desire to share the love of Jesus there.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, civil war broke out with various regional warlords fighting for power until 1997. Secular national forces prevailed, and they continue to shape political and religious policy.

Freedom of religion exists in Tajikistan, but barely. Religious teaching, publishing and proselytism are very difficult if not illegal. Registering churches is also very difficult.

In April 2009, a restrictive new Religion Law was implemented. Among other items, the law imposes limitations on where and how many mosques can be opened, imposes state censorship of religious literature and enforces state restrictions and control on religious education. However, government officials say these limitations do not restrict religious activity.

The Christian population has been massively reduced by emigration. It was and remains largely Russian Orthodox. The civil war and its aftermath drove out the majority; most of the remainder are cultural/nominal Christians with little desire to share the gospel with indigenous peoples.

Although Islam is the religion of 94 percent of the population, only a small fraction practices “pure” Islam. Most are influenced by folk superstitions and Zoroastrian beliefs. Mosques sprouted up everywhere in the years following independence, but now the government places severe restrictions on mosque building, as independent non-state controlled Islam is a target for a government hostile to everything outside state control. Tajikistan’s proximity to Iran and Afghanistan makes it vulnerable to Islamism.

Syria’s Christian minority, which primarily resides in the capital city of Damascus, is generally respected.  Christians make up 6.3 percent of the population, and they enjoy freedom and stability unparalleled through the Middle East. The Orthodox and Catholic churches existed since before Islam and endure still with many godly members.

While there is freedom to worship, if Christians evangelise Muslims and share their faith openly, overt persecution is a possibility. Any activity that could threaten the government or communal harmony is suspect, making it difficult to spread the gospel. Evangelizing is legal but visas are not granted for missionary work. Conversions to Christianity from Islam in Syria are rare and often met with opposition.
Prayer Requests

    Pray that Christians will be able to reach out to the Muslim population in Syria.
    Pray for strength, encouragement and peace for Christian labourers at work in Syria.
    Pray that Syrian converts to Christianity will be a strong witness to their family, friends and neighbours

Military regimes, favouring Islamic-oriented governments, have dominated national politics since Sudan’s independence from the UK in 1956. Sudan was embroiled in two prolonged civil wars that were rooted in northern economic, political and social domination of largely non-Muslim, non-Arab southern Sudanese. The first civil war ended in 1972 but broke out again in 1983. The second war and famine-related effects resulted in more than 4 million people displaced and more than 2 million deaths over a period of two decades. A peace accord was signed in January 2005, granting the southern rebels autonomy for six years.

In January 2011, the southern portion of Sudan voted to cede from the north, making South Sudan a new country on July 9, 2011. Since January, heavy violence from the north has blanketed both nations. The United Nations reported that in the first four months of 2011, hundreds died and 94,000 were displaced due to the violence.

Sudan has a Sunni Muslim majority, but primarily among the Sudanese Arabs in the north. The constitution offers some religious freedoms, but in practise, those freedoms are arbitrarily abused. The Naivasha Agreement established some protections for non-Muslims in the north (although apostasy is legally punishable by death), and it clarified that Islamic law does not apply in the south. But attempts to impose Islamic law—in infringement of several previous peace agreements—generate a hostile religious context and a cause of civil war.

Persecution of the Church has been most intense since 1985. Deliberate attempts to eliminate a viable Christian presence are extreme and include bombing of Sunday church services; destruction of churches, hospitals, schools, mission bases and Christian villages; massacres and mutilation; and murder of pastors and leaders. Persecution has been especially severe in the Nuba Mountains. Whole areas have been laid waste and lands seized and given to Arabized northerners. Despite this, the number of Christians is growing—from 1.6 million in 1980 to 11 million in 2010.

This beach-lined island, originally named Ceylon, gained independence from Britain in 1948 and had its named changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Violence broke out between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists in 1983, leaving tens of thousands dead. After two decades of fighting, a cease-fire was formalized in February 2002, raising hopes of stability and safety. More violence erupted in 2006, and a military campaign defeated the remnants of Tamil separatists in 2009, ending the civil war.

From the constant threat of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict to the tsunami of 2004 to the civil war’s bloody conclusion, more than 100,000 people have lost their lives. More than 900,000 (mostly Tamils) emigrated or fled and more than one million are displaced.

Buddhism is the national religion and, as such, is protected and promoted. The law assures freedom of religion; however, anti-conversion initiatives and sporadic violence against Christians occur because of extreme Buddhist groups. Christianity is often perceived as foreign and evangelism as an unethical inducement to conversion.

Traditional mainline churches have declined from 21 percent of the population in 1722 to 7 percent in 2010. The causes include nominalism, theological liberalism, insufficient outreach and lack of indigenous representation. Aggressive Buddhist proselytism and emigration of Tamil Christians steadily whittle away their flocks.

Persecution comes in waves and is sporadic, but it is intense when it occurs. More than 250 churches have been destroyed or damaged in recent years. This persecution is a double-edged sword; it threatens believers, but also fuels church growth and spiritual passion. Its causes are multiple—the hatred of the enemy for God’s people, the extremist agendas of some Buddhist and Hindu groups, the historic association of Christianity with foreign oppressors and the inappropriate, insensitive methods adopted by some evangelists and church planters.

Somalia gained independence in 1960 with the union of British and Italian colonies. Cold War rivalries provided Somalia with ample weapons for disastrous wars against Ethiopia and for clan fighting. These brought the country to destitution. Civil war in 1991 toppled the dictatorship, but no viable alternative emerged. In late 2000, the Transitional Federal Government formed (supported by Ethiopia and other democratic nations), and the Islamist group Union of Islamic Courts (supported by Islamic powers and jihadists) emerged as a national power.

In 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts took control of the capital, Mogadishu, along with significant areas of the country. Eventually Ethiopian and Transitional Federal Government forces were able to expel the militants from the capital, but more than 10,000 civilians were killed and approximately one million people displaced in the insurgency. Militant Islamic groups still control the majority of the south and centre of the country.

Sunni Islam is the official religion of Somalia. The Somali Church was driven underground in 1991 when the dictatorial regime of Mohamed Siyad Barre fell in a popular uprising. Most of the several hundred Somali believers went underground or fled, taking refuge abroad. There are possibly about 4,000 Somali Christians in Somalia and twice that in the diaspora. They practice their faith in secret under extremely dangerous conditions.

The murder of Christians and especially converts from Islam to Christianity is increasingly common. At least 10 Christians, including four teachers, were killed for their faith in 2008 and several others kidnapped and raped. A 17-year-old Somali woman who converted to Christianity from Islam was shot to death in November 2010 in an apparent "honour killing.” Muslim militants murdered a 21-year-old Christian man in April 2011 after someone allegedly informed the Islamic militants of his conversion from Islam.

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace and stronghold of Islam. The nation considers itself the guardian of Islam's holiest sites, and all other religions are forbidden. The country’s legal system is based on Shariah law, or Islamic law, as interpreted according to the strict Hanbali school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. The Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam is implemented, propagated and regulated by the state

Attacks against Christians and human rights abuses have in fact been on the rise since King Abdullah came into power in 2005. The country continues to have one of the worst human rights records in the world, with flagrant abuses against religions other than Sunni Islam. Saudi citizens are denied the freedom to choose or change their religion. Any person involved in evangelism, including the distribution of literature, faces jail, expulsion or execution. Often false charges, such as drug-related allegations, are used against evangelists. Even foreign visitors are not allowed to gather together for religious worship

Saudi converts to Christianity face the death penalty if discovered; executions are definitely known to occur. In August 2008, a young Saudi woman in Buraydah was killed by her brother, a Muslim cleric and religious police member of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, after she proclaimed her Christian faith to her family. Saudi authorities arrested a 28-year-old Christian man in January 2009 for describing his conversion from Islam and criticizing the kingdom’s judiciary on his blog. On January 1, 2011, new regulations went into effect, requiring all Saudi news blogs and electronic news sites to be strictly licensed, to “include the call to the religion of Islam” and to strictly abide by Islamic Shariah law. The requirements are being coupled with strict restrictions on what topics Saudi bloggers can write on—a development which will essentially give Saudi authorities the right to shut down blogs at their discretion