The lost history of Christians forced to convert to Islam—or die—is reemerging, figuratively and literally. According to the BBC: "Pope Francis has proclaimed the first saints of his pontificate in a ceremony [last Sunday] at the Vatican—a list which includes 800 victims of an atrocity carried out by Ottoman soldiers in 1480.They were beheaded in the southern Italian town of Otranto after refusing to convert to Islam."
The BBC adds in a sidebar: "The 'Martyrs of Otranto' were 813 Italians beheaded for defying demands by Turkish invaders to renounce Christianity. The Turks had been sent by Mohammed II, who had already captured the 'second Rome' of Constantinople."
Historical texts throughout the centuries are filled with similar anecdotes, including the "60 Martyrs of Gaza," Christian soldiers who were executed for refusing Islam during the 7th century Islamic invasion of Jerusalem. Seven centuries later, during the Islamic invasion of Georgia, Christians refusing to convert were forced into their church and set on fire. Witnesses for Christ lists 200 anecdotes of Christians killed—including some burned at the stake, thrown on iron spikes, dismembered, stoned, stabbed, shot at, drowned, pummeled to death, impaled and crucified—for refusing to embrace Islam.
If history is shocking, the fact is, today, Christians—men, women, and children—are still being forced to convert to Islam. Pope Francis alluded to their sufferings during the same ceremony: "As we venerate the martyrs of Otranto, let us ask God to sustain those many Christians who, in these times and in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence, and give them the courage and fidelity to respond to evil with good."
Consider some recent anecdotes:
In Pakistan, a "devoted Christian" was butchered by Muslim men "with multiple axe blows [24 per autopsy] for refusing to convert to Islam." Another two Christian men returning from church were accosted by six Muslims who tried to force them to convert to Islam, but "the two refused to renounce Christianity." Accordingly, the Muslims severely beat them, yelling they must either convert "or be prepared to die. . . . the two Christians fell unconscious, and the young Muslim men left assuming they had killed them."
In Bangladesh some 300 Christian children were abducted in 2012 and sold to Islamic schools, where "imams force them to abjure Christianity." The children are then instructed in Islam and beaten. After full indoctrination they are asked if they are "ready to give their lives for Islam," presumably by becoming jihadi suicide-bombers. (Even here the historic patterns are undeniable: for centuries, Christian children were forcibly taken, converted to and indoctrinated in Islam, trained to be jihadis extraordinaire, and then unleashed on their former Christian families. Such were the Janissaries and Mamelukes.)
In Palestine in 2012, Christians in Gaza protested over the "kidnappings and forced conversions of some former believers to Islam." The ever-dwindling Christian community banged on a church bellwhile chanting, "With our spirit, with our blood we will sacrifice ourselves for you, Jesus."
Just as happened throughout history, Muslims today regularly "invite" Christians to Islam, often presenting it as the only cure to their sufferings—sufferings caused by Muslims in the first place.
In Pakistan, a Christian couple was arrested on a false charge and severely beaten by police. The pregnant wife was "punched, kicked and beat" as her interrogators threatened to kill her unborn baby. A policeman offered to drop the theft charge if the husband would only "renounce Christianity and convert to Islam," but the man refused.
In Uzbekistan, a 26-year-old Christian woman, partially paralyzed from youth, and her elderly mother were violently attacked by invaders who ransacked their home, confiscating "icons, Bibles, religious calendars, and prayer books." At the police department, the paralyzed woman was "offered to convert to Islam." She refused, and the judge "decided that the women had resisted police and had stored the banned religious literature at home and conducted missionary activities. He fined them 20 minimum monthly wages each."
In Sudan, Muslims kidnapped a 15-year-old Christian girl; they raped, beat and ordered her to convert to Islam. When her mother went to police to open a case, the Muslim officer of the so-called "Family and Child Protection Unit," told her: "You must convert to Islam if you want your daughter back."
Indeed, because Christian females are the most vulnerable segments of Islamic societies, they are especially targeted for forced conversions. In 2012, U.S. Congress heard testimony about the "escalating abduction, coerced conversion and forced marriage of Coptic Christian women and girls [550 cases in the last five years alone].Those women are being terrorized and, consequently, marginalized, in the formation of the new Egypt."
As my new book Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians documents, wherever there are large numbers of Muslims—whether in the Arab World, Africa, Asia, or even in the West—Christians are being persecuted. Forced conversions are the tip of the iceberg, and certainly not anomalies of history.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.