VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is trumpeting his concordat with Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb as a triumph — despite the dramatic rise in Islamic persecution of Christians since the two leaders signed the Abu Dhabi declaration three years ago.
In a video message marking the third anniversary of the declaration on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed by Francis and el-Tayeb on Feb. 4, 2019, the pope saluted the world's preeminent Sunni Muslim leader for walking with him over the last three years.
"This is a good day to extend a hand, to celebrate our unity in diversity — unity, not uniformity, unity in diversity — in order to say to the communities in which we live that the time of fraternity has arrived," Francis declared.
Contradicting the biblical teaching that confers God's promise to Abraham on those who "belong to Christ" (Galatians 3:7, 29), Francis included Muslims in "the promise of his descendants."
The "promise has also been fulfilled in our lives, that of a fraternity as vast and bright as the stars of heaven!" Francis exclaimed, citing his own March 2021 address, delivered during the "Interreligious Meeting at the Plain of Ur."
Speaking to Church Militant, Islamic historian Robert Spencer said that the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries had skyrocketed since Francis signed his declaration with el-Tayeb.
Spencer, author of bestselling The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS, elaborated:
The pope is whistling in the dark. The pact has not been a success — except from the standpoint of the Muslim Brotherhood's Sayyid Qutb, who emphasized that building bridges with non-Muslims was solely for the purpose of bringing them into Islam, not for any genuine dialogue.
This is exemplified by the fact that the pope keeps telling Christians they must live fraternally with Muslims, while the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, his great friend, has made no comparable call to Muslims not to destroy churches, persecute Christians, etc.
Spencer also observed that "the persecution of Christians is most severe in Sunni nations, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria," and that "if the al-Azhar's pact with the pope had any substance at all, this wouldn't be true, as al-Azhar is the world's foremost Sunni institution."
The 2022 World Watch List, released in January by Open Doors International, records a significant increase in persecution against Christians, with Sunni countries dominating the list of persecutors.
Four out of the five countries with the highest rates of anti-Christian violence are predominantly Sunni Muslim (Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen). Afghanistan is now the most dangerous country in the world for Christians, with communist North Korea ranking second.
The five highest persecutors are followed by Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria — where Sunni Muslim majorities persecute Christians.
Lower on the list of persecutors are the predominantly Shia Muslim countries of Iran and Iraq and the overwhelmingly Hindu nation of India.
Francis has remained silent on the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries and did not refer to the emerging Christian holocaust in his speech.
The pope famously uttered a single (and feeble) sentence on the Islamic takeover of the world's largest Byzantine basilica by Turkey's Sunni Muslim president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in July 2020.
Two months later, Erdoğan ordered the conversion of the Church of the Holy Savior (the nation's best-known Byzantine monastic church) in Chora, Istanbul, into a mosque.
"The document on human fraternity that the pontiff signed with el-Tayeb states that 'the protection of places of worship — synagogues, churches and mosques — is a duty guaranteed by religions, human values, laws and international agreements,'" Spencer noted.
According to the World Watch List, Nigerian Catholic bishops "have gone so far as to claim that Nigerian Christians have become victims of a gradual process of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Fulani Muslims, with the complicity of the State." Francis has yet to address the persecution.
Persecution consultant Dr. Martin Parsons told Church Militant that "the big event of 2021 was the Taliban retaking control of Afghanistan," which the world was continuing to ignore.
Parsons, an aid worker to Afghanistan and Pakistan, explained:
Because the Taliban have long refused to recognize the existence of an Afghan Church, they assume that all Afghan Christians have converted from Islam — including those who are second- or third-generation Christians. As such, they face the Shariah penalty for apostasy — execution. To make matters worse, Western asylum policies have trapped Afghan Christians inside Afghanistan, where many are in hiding, desperately afraid.
Moreover, the really significant developments of the last few years have been the steady growth of Shariah enforcement. When countries legalize aspects of Shariah, vigilante violence typically follows, as militants seek to enforce even greater levels of Shariah enforcement, and this morphs into jihadist attacks on Christians.
The rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, and its violence against Christians, was an illustration of such Shariah enforcement, Parsons added.
In a statement celebrating Feb. 4 as the United Nations' International Day of Human Fraternity, el-Tayeb pledged his support for peace efforts underway, together "with fellow religious leaders and lovers of goodness around the world, towards achieving peace and world fraternity and fellow feeling and removing all the stimuli of hate, conflicts and wars."
The grand imam has been notoriously reticent to condemn, or even comment on, the escalating avalanche of Islamic violence against Christians in Muslim countries.
The Holy See Press Office released a statement by Joe Biden on the occasion, with the U.S. president reaffirming "in words and in actions the inherent humanity that binds us all."
Biden, who was primarily responsible for the Taliban retaking Afghanistan, spoke of his Faith as "a beacon of hope and a calling to purpose, even during the darkest of days."
Interestingly, while Vatican News reported the persecution of Christians as listed in the World Watch List, it had nothing to say on the pontiff's attempts to address the situation. The Vatican media report did not mention China in its story, although China is 17th on the Open Doors list of countries targeting Christians.