A 70-year-old man in Algeria who converted from Islam to Christianity was denied a Christian burial by the town imam, who threatened to have his family ostracized for not adhering to Islamic tradition.
According to persecution watchdog World Watch Monitor, the elderly man, known as Amar, died last week after a week in an Algerian hospital. Following his death, his children gathered to mourn and discussed funeral arrangements with one of their church's pastors.
Amar had converted to Christianity years before his death, and had been baptized at a local church. Because of their father's faith, the family decided against the Islamic death rites and give their father a Christian burial.
However, on the day of the funeral, the village imam and some of his acolytes, along with an older member of the community, visited the family and threatened ostracism from the rest of the village if they did not reverse their decision. When the family refused to comply, the imam urged the villagers to put pressure on the family.
The imam said: "We are Muslims, and we will remain so. The funeral of our dead will be as it always was, and we will not compromise our customs and religion. If someone wants to bury his dead in our cemetery, he should do it according to our traditions."
Amid rising tensions with neighbors and continue opposition, the Christian family backed down, and Amar was buried according to Islamic customs. According to WWM, Christians sought to comfort members of his family who had adopted their father's new faith, saying: "Our brother Amar is already in the arms of his Father."
The persecution watchdog notes that stories are far too common in Algeria, where relatives' efforts to secure a Christian burial have become a source of conﬂict with local Muslims. Christians complain that the authorities' refusal to intervene in such disputes is discrimination against them.
Algeria is number 37 on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution. Despite the recent passing of a law recognizing freedom of worship "within the boundaries of law", the government prohibits public assembly for purposes of practicing a faith other than Islam, evangelizing, and marrying on-Muslim foreigners. The country also imposes harsh blasphemy laws, under which anybody accused of insulting Islam or Muhammad could be punished indiscriminately.
In September, an elderly Christian man was sentenced to three years in prison and slapped with a hefty fine after proclaiming Jesus' power over Islam in a series of Facebook posts.
The human rights group Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights called the incarceration an "attack" on freedom of conscience and worship and is currently working to "alert public opinion and defenders of liberties" about attacks on religious freedom.