It started off as a pretty innocuous thing. I noticed a friend’s Facebook profile picture was now sporting a strange new image: a glowing golden glyph on an inky black background.
I was curious but dismissive. I didn’t recognize the symbol. I certainly didn’t understand it’s meaning, hidden or otherwise.
It was only when this change became ‘viral’, transforming profile photos of many more Facebook friends, near and far, that I finally sat-up and took notice.
So what’s it all about? What does this odd curved character mean? And why adopt it as my new profile pic of all things?
The symbol ن is being used by Islamic State (IS) militants. They spray-paint the ن mark (the Arabic letter for “N”) on Christian property they plan to seize. “N”, or ن, is the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, namely ‘Nasrani’ or Nazarene (source: euronews article).
Why? Because the Christians were given an ultimatum to “either convert to Islam, submit to their radical rule and pay a religious levy, or face death by the sword.”
Not very nice to say the least.
Frustrated by the lack of a serious response and any coordinated action from the international community, social media has taken it upon itself to publicize the plight of these persecuted Christians.
I admit I was initially hesitant. I’m not one for following a crowd. I didn’t want to respond to some mindless mob-like campaign, reacting to what may well be faddish and trendy yet lacking substance and serious thought.
I know it sounds like a small thing to change a picture yet I felt it was actually quite a big decision; more than just a click of a button.
So rather than blindly copy what others were doing I first did a little digging; researching the whys and wherefores behind the movement. I investigated what it stood for. And looked at who else had adopted the new profile pic. Not every Christian I knew had done so. But many had whom I respected for having sound, considered judgement.
Did I wonder about the reaction I might receive from other people by my Facebook update? Oddly, I was more concerned about fellow Christians laughing at my potentially silly, ill-considered decision rather than my non-Christian friends rejecting me for taking such a stance.
Yet I also felt strongly led by the Holy Spirit to do something.
The ن mark reminded me of the ‘Ichthys‘, or fish: a secret sign probably used between early Christians to identify one another. Although perhaps it’s more like the ‘Yellow Badge‘ that Nazi Germany forced upon Jews given the injurious and pernicious behaviour of IS.
For me it’s essentially a call-to-action: signifying that I stand together with my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ suffering for their faith.
Far from being a lone voice in the wilderness I am, in fact, part of a world-wide show of solidarity through my willingness to count myself amongst those ready to die for their beliefs.
By doing so I personally hope to raise awareness of their dire circumstances; be reminded every day of God’s good grace; pray for all persecuted Christians throughout the world; and encourage other Christians to do the same.
I pray that they will “persevere” despite their sufferings (Matthew 5:11-12, Romans 8:28) knowing that nothing can “separate [them] from the love of God” (Romans 8:35).
I pray that they would “endure” (Colossians 1:11, Revelation 6:11) and “not seek revenge” (Romans 12:19).
I pray that they would “not fear death” despite it being a distinct possibility (Philippians 1:21, Hebrews 2:14-15, 1 Peter 5:10).
And that God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, would give them the “strength” (Psalm 86:16) and “courage” (Psalm 86:16) to “live by faith” (Galatians 2:20).
I pray that they would “rejoice” in their suffering (Hebrews 11:26) and in so doing, “glorify God” (James 1:2-3).
And finally, I pray for these “enemies”, the members of IS, despite their evil actions (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27).
Put simply, it’s my hope that by adopting this new symbol persecuted Christians everywhere will feel united as “one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28). That they will know we are thinking about them; that we’re deeply concerned for them; and that we love them.