March 28, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 585

Silence Speaks: A Good Friday Reflection On The Islamic State's Persecution Of African Christians

March 28, 2024 | By Matt Schierer*
Africa | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 585

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." – Matthew 5:10


Today, Christians the world over will commemorate Good Friday, the occasion of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Everywhere the liturgies will be solemn and the faithful will grieve, but nowhere will more Christians mourn than in Africa, where the faith's largest flock[1] is also one of its most persecuted.

There, the cry of Good Friday[2] will resonate with the weary voices of countless Christians who are silently suffering from violence, abuse, and persecution at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS). But, despite the cacophony of their cries, the world will – unfortunately – remain largely indifferent.

The world's attention was last briefly fixated on the continent's persecuted a decade ago, in February 2015. At the time, an ISIS video, entitled "A Message in Blood to the Nation of the Cross," broadcast for all to witness the brutal and shocking beheading of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians on a beach in Libya – It proved to be but a foreshadowing of the terrors to come.[3]

Other notorious attacks elsewhere by the Islamic State on Christians have generated even more fleeting attention:  the 2010 massacre in the Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad on All Saints ‘Eve, the twin suicide bombing of Coptic Orthodox churches in Tanta and Alexandria, Egypt on Palm Sunday 2017, and five years ago, the ISIS attacks on three churches (two Catholic and the third Evangelical) on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.  But nowhere has the ISIS frenzy against Christians been as bloody and as sustained as on the African continent.

ISIS fighters behead 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, February 15, 2015.

Today, global attention has waned while ISIS's persecution of African Christians has not. In fact, violence against Christian believers has surged as ISIS expands its reach across the continent.

ISIS fighters now routinely reenact that harrowing scene on Libya's beach in countries such as Nigeria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Mali – and gleefully publicize the acts online – as part of a continent-wide campaign of terror designed both to intimidate and inspire violence.[4]

For those of us who daily monitor ISIS, the targeted violence against Christians that has accompanied the group's expansion is unsurprising. Indeed, ISIS has long prioritized the persecution of Christians as being a crucial manhaj, or methodology, for projecting strength and driving recruitment,[5] and its supporters regularly boast of "breaking the crosses"[6] and "returning the Islamic conquests to Africa."

ISIS fighters behead two Christians in Mozambique on March 17, 2024.

But what is also unsurprising is that Africa's Christians remain resilient to this terror. Even after almost ten years of persecution – and the world's deafening silence – The faithful are thriving on the continent as never before; in fact, African Christians now number over 718 million, the most of any continent.[7]

Cardinal Robert Sarah, a Guinean and Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps offers an explanation. In an interview about his book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, Sarah noted:

"When I traveled to countries that were going through violent, profound crises, sufferings and tragic miseries [...] I observed that silent prayer is the last treasure of those who have nothing left. Silence is the last trench where no one can enter, the one room in which to remain at peace, the place where suffering for a moment lays down its weapons. In suffering, let us hide ourselves in the fortress of prayer."[8]

So today, on this day of silent remembrance, Christians will quietly reflect not only on the suffering of Jesus, but also on the continued suffering of his followers. And they should do so not in the silence of indifference practiced by the world, but in the silence of contemplative prayer practiced by Africa's resilient faithful.

For as Cardinal Sarah writes: "The grace of Easter is a profound silence, an immense peace, and a pure taste in the soul. It is the taste of heaven, away from all disordered excitement."[9]

ISIS fighters topple a cross in Mozambique in February 2024. The cross bears the Portuguese word "hope."


*Matt Schierer is a research fellow at MEMRI JTTM Project.


[1], accessed on March 27, 2024.

[2], accessed on March 27, 2024.

[6] See MEMRI report 'Breaking The Crosses' And Other Ills, November 10, 2022.

[7], accessed on March 27, 2024.

[8], accessed on March 27, 2024.

[9] Sarah, Robert. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. May 10, 2016.

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