What does persecution look like in Niger?
Niger is a Muslim-majority nation and Islam is regarded as being part of Nigerien ethnicity: If you are a Nigerien, you are a Muslim. Conversion from Islam to any religion is considered a betrayal, and converts to Christianity face hostility from their family and community. They may be rejected by their families, chased out of the family home or put under house arrest. Many converts are denied their inheritance rights as a form of punishment for leaving Islam.
In the past five years, the Sahel region has seen a huge increase in violent Islamist attacks and the government of Niger has lost a lot of territory to the jihadists. The presence of militant groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), remains a constant threat both to the state authorities and to Christians in the country. In border areas under Islamist control, militant groups are known to use violence against Christians meeting publicly, so Christian meetings are conducted covertly to avoid detection.
In the public sphere, Christians face discrimination and hostility. They are rarely able to secure employment within local government services and are frequently denied promotion. Christians have occasionally been hindered from gathering for meetings and the legal process for the registration of churches is very long and difficult. The law also lacks adequate protection for Christian parents. In custody battles, the Christian parent usually loses, and the trend indicates preferential treatment towards Muslim parents.
Who is most vulnerable to persecution?
Known converts to Christianity face the most severe persecution, as conversion from Islam to any other religion is considered a betrayal of family and society.
Christians living in the areas outside the main cities, especially outside the capital city, experience the most persecution. However, Islamic militants are expanding their areas of influence, and Christians are in danger in any area which is under the influence of Islamic extremist groups, where radicals impose a kind of Islamic state and enforce their rule according to Sharia (Islamic law).
“I faced a lot of challenges, and my siblings and relatives showed me hatred. They kept asking: ‘Why did you accept this false teaching?’ But they are the ones living in false teachings because I have accepted the grace of God.”Mariama is a Christian from a Muslim background
What has changed this year?
Ongoing violence by extremist Islamic militants in the Sahel region has increased the pressure on Christians. Jihadist groups have expanded their areas of influence in the country. In the past, Niger had been more or less spared from attacks by radical Islamic groups and the church was previously not a main target. However, in the last few years, the country has seen a series of attacks by Islamic militants. Pressure has also increased in all spheres of life, as Christians face increasing difficulties to live according to their faith while living in Islamic communities. Church activities in the country are further restricted, due to the presence of Islamic militants.
What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Niger?
Open Doors works through partners in Niger to strengthen persecuted Christians through economic empowerment programmes, leadership and discipleship training, persecution survival training and pastoral care for new believers.
How can you pray for Niger?
- Please pray for protection against violence from extremist groups operating in Niger
- Pray for economic empowerment groups in which women learn business skills. Ask God to bless their business ventures
- Pray for God to strengthen believers from Muslim backgrounds under pressure to deny their faith..
Heavenly Father, draw close to those Christians who live in danger of persecution every day. Give those under pressure the strength to hold fast to you, and soften the hearts of those who are persecuting them. Intervene to make the legal system fair for all and stop the evil practices of abduction and forced marriages. Provide safe spaces for Christians to gather, worship and encourage one another. We lift up our brothers and sisters in Niger and pray for their continued strength and resilience. Amen.