U.S. and U.K. Christian groups have voiced support for victims of the recent Nigeria church burnings as evaluation and distribution of relief supplies are underway.
The Voice of the Martyrs, a U.S.-based Christian persecution group, informed The Christian Post on Monday that its partners in Nigeria are currently working with victims of last week’s church attacks.
"Voice of the Martyrs contacts are currently on the ground in the city that was affected by this violence," said Todd Nettleton, VOM’s director of news service. "We are evaluating the situation and we are carrying in relief supplies to the Christians who are being affected."
Nettleton said that according to reports from VOM contacts in Nigeria, 18 churches were burned, 6 people were injured and no one was killed. Sources also informed the persecution watchdog group that the violence was sparked by a dispute between a Muslim woman who came to a Christian tailor woman to have some sewing done.
"We continue to encourage Christians around the world to pray for these Christians who have been displaced by this violence," said Nettleton.
Meanwhile, other U.S. Christian human rights groups have pointed to Nigeria’s constitution which says no state can establish a religion as a state religion.
Jennifer DiMaggio, regional manager of International Christian Concern’s African project, highlighted that despite Nigeria’s constitution, "northern states are blatantly violating this by adopting the Sharia laws. Northern states are not equally protecting Christians under the law and therefore discrimination and violence against Christians are becoming common place."
Last Wednesday, in the city of Dutse in northern Nigeria’s Jigawa state, an angry mob of Muslim youths burned at least 11 churches in retaliation to a Christian woman’s supposed blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad. Reports on the number of churches destroyed have varied but dozens of houses and shops owned by Christians were also torched during the riot.
The Bishop of Dutse, the Rt. Rev. Yesufu Lumu, reported that the riot resulted in St. Peter’s Anglican Cathedral being burned to the ground and the bishop’s office and car port destroyed.
"No one was hurt, we are simply praying that the conflict does not spread," the bishop said in a telephone interview with the Anglican Communion News Service last Thursday.
Hundreds of Christians were displaced from their homes and took refuge in military and police barracks out of fear following the attacks.
Nigeria’s population of 132 million people is roughly split evenly between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south with minorities of both religions living where the other faith is dominant. Sectarian violence has plague the nations for several years with thousands of people have died as a result of religious violence since democracy was restored in 1999.
"This latest episode of religious violence serves to highlight the underlying tension in the region," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s advocacy director, Alexa Papadouris, in a statement.
Papadouris noted that despite indication that violence would break out, the police failed to intervene to stop the attacks. He calls on the police to help restore peace and protect citizens following the violence.
"We also call for the speedy compensation of churches and businesses destroyed during this violence."
Although the excuse given for the attacks on churches and Christian homes and shops was blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad, according to the secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for the northwest, the Christian woman’s comment was in response to a negative comment about Jesus.
"Her comment was in retaliation to uncomplimentary remarks made by her colleague about Jesus," Joseph Hayab told Reuters.
Barnabas Fund’s international director, Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, commented that many Christians living in the Muslim world have experienced persecution and violence. He hopes that "Muslims [will] have the courage now to address this part of their faith and stop these attacks on Christians."
The Churches which were burnt down included St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, Assemblies of God, three Evangelical Church of West Africa churches and Living Faith church, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.