Christian Martyrs to Islam, Past and Present

As in the 15th century, Christians are under attack in Muslim lands..

On May 12 Pope Francis officially canonized more than 800 male Catholic residents of the southern Italian port of Otranto, who in 1480 were beheaded en masse for refusing to convert to Islam after their city was invaded and captured by a Turkish Muslim fleet. The making of the new saints was a vivid reminder of something that many people, including historians, prefer to gloss over: the pattern over the centuries of Islamic persecution of Christians that continues to this day in many Muslim-majority lands.

In a 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a remark about Islam made by the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos: “There you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as [the Prophet Muhammad’s] command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Benedict’s medieval quotation about forced conversions (the same issue at stake in the Otranto beheadings) reportedly provoked a fatwa against Benedict in Pakistan, church burnings and bombings in the West Bank and Gaza, threats of jihad from al Qaeda, and the murder of a nun in Somalia.