Thousands of Muslims Converting to Christianity in Bangladesh Despite Rising Persecution

Christian people pray during a sunrise prayer by Dhaka Pastors Fellowship on Easter Sunday in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 12, 2009. | (Photo: Reuters/Andrew Biraj)

Even though persecution against Christians in Bangladesh is on the rise, so is the number of Muslims converting to Christianity in the south Asian nation.

Just as in other countries where the population is dominated by a Muslim majority government, Christians in Bangladesh are at risk of being killed or persecuted because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

But while nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh's population of 165 million people is Muslim, Christianity is gaining traction.

According to the human rights organization Christian Freedom International, it is estimated that as many as 91,000 Muslims across Bangladesh have converted to Christianity in the last six years, even though apostasy in many Muslim cultures is punishable by death.

Pastor Faruk al-Ahmed, a Christian convert from Islam who has been preaching since the mid-1990s, personally attested to the rise of Christianity in his own community in Northern Bangladesh during an interview with the British news site Express.

"When I began my ministry in Kurigram, there was only one traditional Christian family and one Muslim background family," the pastor explained. "Now, almost 1,500 believers from Muslim backgrounds are glorifying God in this area."

"Persecution will come more but the believers and I are ready to face it," al-Ahmed added.

The number of Christians in Bangladesh is estimated at 1.6 million, which comprises around 1 percent of the country's total population.

Despite reports that Christianity is growing in the country, CFI emphasizes that Christians are forced to keep their worship activities secretive to prevent "retaliations" for their faith.

"Churches, especially house churches where Muslim-background believers meet, prefer not to display any Christian symbols in order to avoid being recognised," a report from the Christian persecution watchdog ministry Open Doors U.K. states. "Sometimes, even historic or Mainline churches face opposition and restrictions in putting up a cross or other religious symbols."

A Christian family gather beside the grave of their relatives at the cemetery of Holy Rosary church during All Souls' Day in Dhaka, Bangladesh, November 2, 2009. | (Photo: Reuters/Andrew Biraj)

Open Doors, which ranks Bangladesh as the 35th worse country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, reports that nine churches were forced to close in 2015 due to security concerns.

Although many Christians have been killed, beaten, raped and tortured in Bangladesh because of their faith, persecution against believers comes in many different societal forms, according to Open Doors.

"Conversion is not forbidden by law, but pressure to recant the Christian faith will be exerted by family, friends and neighbors. There have been several reports of Christians having to give up their shops or businesses due to the pressure by the Muslim majority," the Open Doors report adds.

"Converts themselves are isolated from their family frequently and registration of converts' children is problematical as in most cases they are automatically registered as Muslims."

Muslim radicals often have a level of impunity because police in Bangladesh tend to turn a blind eye to the persecution of religious minorities, according to Christian Freedom International.

As the Islamic State and other extremist groups have penetrated the nation and killed a number of Christians and religious minorities in the last year, about 2,000 Christians gathered in the Archdiocese of Dhaka and the Diocese of Khulna in June to pray simultaneously for "humanity to wake up" to the threat of terrorist violence in the country.

"Let us pray that this will become a country of unity, peace and harmony," Catholic Archbishop of Dhaka Patrick D'Roazario was quoted by Christian Today as saying during the prayers.

"Let us pray that dormant humanity become aware of the violence, murders committed in secret, and the persecution," he continued. "May Almighty God bless [the terrorists] so that they change their minds."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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