|World Watch List Rank||11|
|World Watch List Score||82/100|
|Leader||President Bashar al-Assad|
|Population||18.5 million I 744,000|
|Government||Authoritarian Presidential Republic|
|WWL Rank in 2019||11|
|Persecution Level||Extreme Persecution|
Even though Christians have been in Syria since the first century, Islam is now the main religion. Since the war broke out in 2011, Islamic extremist groups previously oppressed by the government have been able to operate more openly. The Islamic State, well known for their violent persecution of Christians, are one of many groups seeking to remove Christianity from Syria.
Many Christians in Syria have been targeted in violent attacks and forced to flee the country. In areas controlled by Islamic extremists, most historic churches have been either demolished or turned into Islamic centres. Public expressions of Christian faith are prohibited and church buildings or monasteries cannot be repaired.
Persecution is worst for those who leave Islam to become a Christian. They are pressured to renounce Jesus, as their new faith dishonours the family.
On 7 April 2014, Father Frans van der Lugt went through his usual morning routine; he prayed, he read his Bible, he reflected on the day ahead. The 75-year-old priest had been living in Syria for 40 years and had seen many changes in his time, but none so devastating as the civil war that began in 2011. He was living in the Old City in Homs, facing the threat of starvation and attack every day. 60,000 Christians had once lived in Homs; he chose to remain with the two dozen who were still there.
That afternoon, a lone masked gunman entered the monastery where Frans lived. The gunman marched the priest out to the garden and made him sit on a chair. Frans was killed by two shots to the head.
Since the start of the civil war, over a million Christians have left Syria. What began as a popular uprising with demands for increased political freedom and economic reform has increasingly developed into a jihad against the Syrian government. The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) have claimed parts of Syria for their caliphate (Islamic state), and other radical groups such as Jabhat al-Nsura also attack those who don't conform to their brand of Islam.Many Christians are attacked, abducted or killed. Christians are often a target for kidnapping as they have a reputation for being wealthy and supporting the regime. One Muslim cleric, Salafi sheikh Yasir al-Ajlawni, declared on YouTube that 'raping Alawi or Christian women is not contrary to the precepts of Islam'.
The war rages on, but the church in Syria knows that the real battle is not against flesh and blood. "The world uses bombs and rockets. We have a weapon that gives life: the Word of God," says Daniel, a pastor from Damascus. "Many thousands of families found their way to the churches. I even saw an Imam come to Christ."
Through local church partnerships, Open Doors is strengthening the church to take advantage of the many opportunities for ministry, even in the ongoing crisis situation. This includes: