28th June, 2016
All over the Middle East and North Africa, Muslims who have converted to Christianity struggle with their new identity in Christ. Islam is not just a part of their lives, it is their entire life. From praying in a set direction five times a day, to setting aside an entire month to fast, the actions required to be a Muslim are all consuming. And society is not always kind to those who disagree.
TEHRAN SKYLINE: Muslims in countries like Iran - where Christians face increased government surveillance - can face considerable hardships when they decide to follow Christ, says Open Doors. PICTURE: Supplied
"In cultures with a strong sense of shame and honour new believers face the most pressure. Family members in this situation can feel that killing the converted family member is the only way to remove the shame from their name."
Following Christ as a former Muslim might cost you these five things:
1. Your family
Often, direct relatives are the first and heaviest persecutors of believers from a Muslim background. For many Muslim families, leaving Islam and converting to another religion brings “shame” to the family. In moderate families, a new Christian may be ignored or excluded. In stricter families; forced separation, divorce or the removal of children are all common. In cultures with a strong sense of shame and honour new believers face the most pressure. Family members in this situation can feel that killing the converted family member is the only way to remove the shame from their name.
2. Your friends
Old friends can quickly become the most vocal opposition. Entire communities pressure new believers to renounce their faith in Jesus. In Iran, for example, Christians from a Muslim background are considered to be unclean. Particularly in rural areas, Muslims will not shake hands with Christians, touch them in any way, or eat food they prepare. In many Muslim countries, it’s legally impossible for Christian men to marry women from Muslim families. In Yemen, if a Muslim finds out a woman has started following Christ, she will most likely be forced into marriage with a Muslim man or placed under house arrest. This causes most converts to keep their faith in Christ completely hidden.
3. Your church
Almost nowhere in the Middle East and North Africa is it possible for former Muslims to meet at a church. In Saudi Arabia, there are no church buildings at all. Meetings of former Muslims who have accepted Christ can only take place in secret and in very small groups. Algeria is probably the most 'relaxed' country in this regard but believers still face a high degree of persecution. In Iran, fear among believers is rising, as the government has recently increased surveillance of the house church movement. In 2015, several house churches were raided by the police. More than a hundred Christians were arrested, with many being sentenced to prison sentences of varying lengths and the additional punishment of torture.
4. Your country
All over the Muslim world, Christians who convert from Islam feel there is no option but to leave their home countries. This is especially true for Christians in Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. Death threats, constant discrimination and assassination attempts all lead Christians to feel there can be no future for them in the country of their birth. It is believed that there are currently more Saudi believers living outside of the country than there are left within it due to this. Migrant churches in Europe and North America have seen their attendance rise as refugees from the Middle East (former Muslims among them) worship with them in freedom.
5. Your life
Finally, people who convert to Christianity from a Muslim background come to be known as ‘apostates’ and may pay the highest price of all. Some Muslims are convinced that everyone who leaves Islam should be killed. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, this is enshrined in law. In other countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysia the majority of supporters for Sharia law also support death sentences for apostates. Any apostate from Islam is, in theory, punishable by death if they do not recant. This is based upon the prophet Muhammad’s saying, as quoted in the Hadith (Islamic tradition), “Whoever changes his religion, kill him".
Is Christ worth it?
According to our brothers and sisters who risk everything for His sake, the answer is a resounding, "yes."
The apostle Paul, who himself gave his very life, agrees: "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8)
* Tim is media and communications coordinator for Open Doors Australia. His surname has been withheld due to security reasons. Open Doors serves persecuted Christians in over 60 countries around the world. Beginning with smuggling Bibles, Open Doors also provides practical support and training for Christians living in the most hostile places to the Gospel.
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