Violence in Nigeria threatens religious freedom for Christians and Muslims alike

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INTRO: Religious intolerance and deep partisan divides have given rise to nonstate actor violence in Nigeria that increasingly threatens freedom of belief and practice in a nation once known for its widespread religious diversity, according to a new report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

In “Violence and Religious Freedom in Nigeria,” USCIRF cited criminal, political and religious factions as contributors to a 30% increase in deadly violence in Nigeria since 2020.

“As a result of this insecurity, many Nigerians face a daily threat of violence. Some of this violence has significant implications for Nigerians’ freedom of religion or belief. Violence that infringes on freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria includes militant Islamist violence, identity-based violence at the intersection of religion, ethnicity and geographic heritage, mob violence against individuals accused of blasphemy, and violence impacting worship.”

USCIRF reported that militant Islamist groups routinely attack Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups in their pursuit of ideological and political dominance. Their efforts have resulted in attacks on places of worship, murder, kidnappings and an expansion of territory in the northern part of Nigeria.

“The Islamist State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) currently presents the largest threat, although factions of Boko Haram and the al-Qaeda affiliate Ansaru also operate in some regions. ISWAP, Boko Haram and Ansaru have all stated political objectives to overthrow secular governance in Nigeria and enforce a particular interpretation of Islam.”

In response to the rise in Islamicist terror, the Christian NGO Open Doors declared Nigeria the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian, Baptist News Global reported in August.

“I’ve told you before that, according to our research for the World Watch List, Nigeria is the deadliest country for Christians — on average, every two hours, a Nigerian Christian dies for their faith,” an Open Doors official wrote after a Pentecost Sunday attack on a Catholic parish killed more than 50 worshipers. “A heinous attack like this one reinforces that truth.”

But USCIRF noted the militant groups also have targeted Muslim worshipers who do not share the attackers’ fundamentalist interpretations of Islam... (MORE - details)

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