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Muslim Father in Uganda Burns Daughter for Becoming Christian

Some of the burns on Rehema Kyomuhendo, recovering in hospital in Mbale, Uganda. Photo: Morning Star News

(Morning Star News) – Unable to return to her home in western Uganda due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Rehema Kyomuhendo was in the eastern part of the country when she first heard about Christ.

In March she had accompanied her father, a sheikh (Muslim teacher) on a business trip from Mbarara District to Mbale District, 492 kilometers (305 miles) away, and began listening to Christian programing aired on an FM radio station. They were still at her aunt’s house in Nawuyo village, Mbale District, on May 4 when at 10 p.m. she called a business friend of her father’s whom she knew to be a Roman Catholic.

“She explained to me about Christ and the way of salvation, and I got convicted and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior,” Kyomuhendo told Morning Star News by phone. “As she was sharing Christ with me, I was so overjoyed, and my father heard my joy and woke up, came from his bedroom furiously and started beating me up with blows, slaps and kicks.”

Her father, Sheikh Hussein Byaruhanga Husain of Mbarara District, shouted at his 45-year-old sister who was sleeping in another room, telling her that his daughter had converted to Christianity and that therefore he was going to kill her, Kyomuhendo said.

He quickly broke a jerrican, lit the pieces with its remaining fuel and began burning her, a source who spoke with Kyomuhendo told Morning Star News. Kyomuhendo screamed for help, and her aunt got out of bed and shielded her from her father, the source said.

“She carried her outside of the room together with a Christian neighbor who arrived,” the source said. “The neighbor arranged for a taxi-van that took her to a hospital, and she got immediate treatment.”

Kyomuhendo is expected to remain at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital more than a month with serious burns on her leg, stomach, rib area, near her neck and on part of her back, he said.

“Please pray for Kyomuhendo for a quick recovery on her hospital bed,” the source said.

Kyomuhendo and the neighbor have not reported the assault to police for fear that her father might try kill her, he said.

The attack was the latest of many instances of persecution of Christians in Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.

Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another. Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country.

Young Christian Woman and Pregnant Convert Seriously Injured in Eastern Uganda

(Morning Star News) – A young woman who told a Muslim about Christ and a pregnant, formerly Muslim woman beaten for her new faith suffered serious injuries in eastern Uganda, sources said.

Radical Muslims assaulted Lydia Nabirye, 23-year-old daughter of a Church of God evangelist, on April 7 at about 1 p.m. near Luwooko village, Buwunga Sub-County, Bugiri District, she said.

Nabirye said she shared her faith with a young Muslim woman in early March who subsequently became a Christian. The former Muslim woman, unnamed for security reasons, received threats from her Muslim family due to her new faith, so Nabirye’s family gave her refuge in their home, where six other former Muslims are staying due to threats, she said.

“Her mother knows that her daughter is with me, because we have been close friends with her for more than four years,” Nabirye told Morning Star News by phone. “The family knows about our relationship with her.”

On April 7 Nabirye’s father, Paul Kaikiya, sent her to Bukolwa village to visit another former Muslim who was mourning the loss of a son who had died, and Muslims saw her entering their property, she said.

On her way back, Nabirye was about six miles from the bereaved mother’s home and close to the home of the woman she had recently led to faith in Christ when she was attacked by a group of radical Muslims, three of which she could identify, she said.

“They held me and started beating me up,” Nabirye told Morning Star News. “They slapped me, and others hit me with sticks, saying that they were out to kill me because I was changing Muslims to become Christians.”

An area source told Morning Star News that the Muslims ambushed, strangled and severely beat her. When she shouted and screamed, neighbors called police, and the assailants fled when officers arrived, he said.

“When I met her at her home on April 14, she was still in pain from multiple injuries – head, right eye and left hand injuries,” the source told Morning Star News. “At the moment Nabirye’s father is very fearful of a possible attack. The Muslims in Luwooko village have sworn to harm Kaikiya. The family needs prayers at this difficult moment, especially for the security and the safety of the Muslim-background believers.”

Expectant Mother Beaten

In Pallisa District in the town of the same name, also in eastern Uganda, a six-months pregnant woman in Odwarata village is recovering from injuries after her family beat her for becoming a Christian, sources said.

Sylvia Shamimu Nabafa, 27, had attended church services secretly for five weeks after putting her faith in Christ in January, but as she was leaving church on the sixth week, a Muslim neighbor on Feb. 16 saw her and reported it to her father, Haji Juma Suleiman, Nabafa said.

That evening, her father asked her if she was a Christian, said Nabafa, who at the time was five months pregnant.

“I did not respond. He began hitting me with kicks and blows,” Nabafa told Morning Star News. “He then took a blunt object and hit my right leg. I started bleeding, and the next thing I knew, I found myself in the hospital bed at Palissa Health Centre.”

She was discharged after six days at the hospital, on Feb. 22, she said.

Still unable to undertake much activity, Nabafa has taken refuge with one of her church’s elders.

“The doctor said that the unborn child is well,” the church elder, whose name is withheld for security reasons, told Morning Star News. “At the moment she needs support and encouragements as she recalls the ordeal she has gone through after giving her life to Jesus Christ. At times I find her weeping. She needs food, clothes, medication and hospital check-ups.”

Nabafa’s journey to Christ began after she heard a series of radio sermons by a pastor in the region, she said.

“The pastor preached about Jesus as the only Way, the Truth and Life, which touched my heart,” Nabafa said. “That very night I had a dream of attending a church service, and the pastor was telling me that that the only way to escape from destruction was to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Immediately after the dream I became restless.”

Increasingly without peace, she began looking for the pastor, whose identity is withheld for security reasons. She met him and two elders at the church office on Jan. 11, she said, after getting past wary church staff members.

“It was quite difficult for me to meet the pastor,” she said. “After interrogation from the watchman and a search, I was allowed into the church. I was very fearful as I narrated to the pastor and his two elders about the dream that I had had, as well as the condition of my heart.

“The pastor prayed for me, and immediately I felt a great relief from my heart, and thereafter he prayed for me to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of my life. After confessing with my mouth my sins and praying for the Lordship of Jesus in my heart, I was full of joy as I returned back home.”

The cases are the latest of many instances of persecution of Christians in Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.

Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another. Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country.

Former Muslim from Sudan Forced into Hiding

An ethnic Messiria (Misseriya Arab) elder at meeting on status of Abyei administrative area. (Wikipedia, Sudan Envoy)

Sudan (Morning Star News) – It was more than a year ago that Muslims in the disputed area between Sudan and South Sudan noticed that Ahmed Alnour was no longer reciting his Islamic prayers five times a day.

The tribesman of the ethnic Misseriya Arabs was helping support his wife and seven children in Sudan working as a scrap trader at the Ameth common market in Abyei, a 4,072-square mile special administrative area on the border formed from the peace agreement that ended civil war in Sudan in 2005.

Alnour would soon have to leave that work, forced to flee when area Muslims confirmed that he had become a Christian.

“I saw them and heard them saying, ‘We will kill you because you left Islam and became infidel,’” he said of their attempt to burn down his home the afternoon of April 1, 2019.

Neighbors were able to douse the flames and he escaped unharmed, but on April 8 the assailants returned at 1 a.m. as he slept. He awoke to find his house in flames.

Alnour told Morning Star News that before Christians arrived to rescue him, he heard one of the assailants say in Arabic, “Let us throw him back in the fire, since he has abandoned Islam.”

The Christians took him to a hospital for treatment the following morning. He had lost all his possessions in the fire, including 600,000 South Sudanese pounds equivalent to US$6,000, but he had not lost his faith in Christ, he said.

The 43-year-old father of seven children ages 4 to 24 had put his faith in Christ just a few months prior. Paralyzed from an illness for three months in Agok, Abyei area, he received a visit from two evangelists who prayed for him and told him of salvation in Christ.

Alnour said he felt a conviction in his heart, and that after placing his trust in Christ he was healed.

“I was able to get up and walk after three months of sickness,” he said.

He was baptized at a church last Christmas. In hiding since the attacks last year, he has obtained a job and temporary quarters from church friends at an undisclosed village in the Abyei area.

Risks are growing as Muslims are looking for him, he said. Fear of Muslims’ reactions in Sudan and lack of economic opportunity keep him from going home to his family, but someday he hopes to be able to return and tell them about Christ, he said.

“I want to tell my family about my new faith in Jesus, and I am sure they will believe with me,” Alnour said.

In light of advances in religious freedom since Omar al-Bashir was ousted as president of Sudan in April 2019, the U.S. State Department announced on Dec. 20 that Sudan had been removed from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom” and was upgraded to a watch list.

Sudan had been designated a CPC by the U.S. State Department since 1999.

Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Bashir had vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Church leaders said Sudanese authorities demolished or confiscated churches and limited Christian literature on the pretext that most Christians have left the country following South Sudan’s secession.

In April 2013 the then-Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population. Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who did not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians.

After Bashir was deposed, military leaders initially formed a military council to rule the country, but further demonstrations led them to accept a transitional government of civilians and military figures, with a predominantly civilian government to be democratically elected in three years. Christians were expected to have greater voice under the new administration.

The new government that was sworn in on Sept. 8, 2019 led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, an economist, is tasked with governing during a transition period of 39 months. It faces the challenges of rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” rooted in Bashir’s 30 years of power.

Sudan ranked 7th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Unable to Finish School for Becoming Christian, Young Man in Uganda Faces Bleak Future

(Morning Star News) – Asuman Kaire is missing his last year in high school in eastern Uganda for having become a Christian two years ago.

Homeless and without money to pay school fees since his Muslim stepfather disowned him earlier this year in Lelya-A village, Kabweri County in Kibuku District, the 20-year-old Kaire said he wouldn’t be able to finish high school even if he had the money.

“I fear my classmates who are Muslims, as they might plan something bad for my life,” Kaire told Morning Star News.

He spoke from experience. Having been informed that Kaire was living at a village church building, local Muslims with sticks and Somali swords on June 15 attacked, demanding his death as they tried to enter the church compound shouting the jihadist slogan, “Allah Akbar [God is greater],” sources said.

Christians and Muslim neighbors in the predominantly Muslim area with the help of a local official managed to repel the assailants, sources said. Kaire sought shelter at the home of a Christian at an undisclosed location.

After putting his faith in Christ in 2017 and secretly meeting with an undisclosed church, Kaire’s life began to crumble this year when Muslim relatives began monitoring his movements after his mosque attendance dropped. In March a Muslim classmate told his stepfather he attended a church, sources said.

On April 7, his stepfather, Abdu Talisuna, waited for him along with seven other radical area Muslims on a roadside as Kaire made his way home from a church service. Talisuna alone beat him with a blunt object, leaving him unconscious, his clothes bloodied, his left leg broken and his right hand injured, sources said.

“The Muslim stepfather caught hold of him close to the church and started beating him at around 7 p.m.,” a church elder told Morning Star News. “He cried for help. Several members of the church were still around who rushed to the scene. When the Muslims saw the big number from the church, they ran away, leaving the young man unconscious.”

Kaire was rushed to a Kibuku hospital and discharged after a week, the church leader said.

He has not been able to go home since then.

“My stepfather beat me saying I am a disgrace to the family,” Kaire told Morning Star News by phone. “After recovering, I feared going back home because I knew they were going to kill me.”

Kaire needs a long-term place to stay and an opportunity to attend school elsewhere, area Christians said.

The attack is the latest of many cases of persecution of Christians in eastern Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.

Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another.

Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, but with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country.

Christian Mother from Somalia Beaten, Raped in Kenya

Kenya (Morning Star News) – Somali Muslims who beat and raped a Christian mother of four last month began sending threatening messages more than a year ago at a refugee camp in Kenya, she said.

The 41-year-old Somali woman was a Muslim living in Somalia with her husband when he sent her and their four children to Kenya’s Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Somali border, in February 2016. She put her faith in Christ a year later, though it remained a secret until Somali Muslims saw her coming from church worship at Dadaab International Worship Centre in February 2018.

“We have known that you are a Christian, and one of us saw you come out of a church on Sunday,” read one threat, sources said. “If you continue attending the church, then we shall come for your head soon.”

She stopped attending the church services and relocated nearby.

“But it looks like we had already being marked,” the woman (name withheld) told Morning Star News. “Soon four of my children converted to Christ, and I cut all links with my husband in Somalia.”

When she stopped attending the church, the pastor visited the family and began praying with them in their house, an area source told Morning Star News.

“I think the enemies of Christ might have being monitoring their movements,” the source said.

On Jan. 2, four Muslims from Somalia forced their way into her home.

“I was beaten and then raped by four men who threatened me, telling me not to say anything about the ordeal that I went through,” she told Morning Star News. “As they left the house at 1 a.m., one of them said, ‘We could have killed you for being a disgrace to Islam and joining Christianity, which is against our religion, but since you are a single mother, we have decided to spare your life with the condition that you should not mention our names.’”

The woman is in dire need of trauma counseling, the source said, adding, “We as the underground church in Dadaab need prayers and support for our persecuted believers in Christ.”

Somalia’s constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and prohibits the propagation of any other religion, according to the U.S. State Department. It also requires that laws comply with sharia(Islamic law) principles, with no exceptions in application for non-Muslims.

Somalia is ranked 3rd on the Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be  a Christian; Kenya is ranked 40th.

Pastor Found Dead in Tamil Nadu, India

The body of Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy of Maknayeem Church in Tamil Nadu, India. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – The body of a pastor in southern India was found hung from the thatched roof of his house early Saturday morning (Jan. 20), a week after he complained to police about opposition from Hindu extremists, sources said.

Congregation members said they found the body of pastor Gideon Periyaswamy of Maknayeem Church hanging from a rope in his one-room house beside the church building in Adayachery village, Kanchipuram District, but that his knees were bent stiff, as if others had placed him in the noose after his death. He was 43.

A convert from Hinduism 25 years ago, Pastor Periyaswamy was single and served as pastor in Adayachery for more than 12 years, his close friend, pastor Azariah Reuben, told Morning Star News.

“The local Hindus were not happy with growing Christianity,” Pastor Reuben said. “They had several times tried to stop the ministry.”

At pastors’ meetings and on other occasions, Pastor Periyaswamy spoke of Hindu hostilities to his church services and requested prayer, he said. Pastor Reuben said that Pastor Periyaswamy once remarked, “I have no problem – if needed, if the Lord permits it, I would die as martyr for Christ, but the ministry should not stop.”

A deputy superintendent of police identified only as Rajendiran told Morning Star News that a week before his death, Pastor Periyaswamy had filed a complaint with police “on some village people troubling him.”

“Our investigation was underway, and now we found him dead,” Rajendiran said.

A congregation member identified only as Indira said that the previous Sunday (Jan. 14), Hindu extremists were upset about a car sitting outside the area designated for church parking.

“They pelted stones at the car, and the pastor made an announcement requesting the church members to park their vehicles within the church premises only,” she said.

For the past six months, the local hard-line Hindus have harassed the pastor every Sunday, Indira said.

“When they see the pastor, they laugh, giggle and crack humiliating jokes at him,” she said. “They would always look for something to pick a fight over. But pastor told us, ‘We should be at peace with our neighbors – let’s not give them a reason to fight.”’

Last year local Hindu extremists kicked and beat him, Regina said. She and Indira found the pastor’s body.

“On Friday night [Jan. 19], our pastor visited the church families,” Regina said. “He told me and other sisters that there will be a fasting prayer on Saturday morning at 10 a.m., so please come early and clean the church hall.”

When they arrived on Saturday morning at 5 a.m. to clean the church building, they were surprised to find the pastor’s room bolted shut.

“We opened the door and were shocked to find Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy hanged,” Regina said. “A rope was fastened to the roof and tied to pastor’s neck, but his knees were slumped towards the ground. When the police came to unhang the pastor’s body, we saw a cut in his neck area. There was blood clotted.”

Police initially refused to file a complaint from congregation members, sources said. After church members and pastors from neighboring villages blocked a road in protest, his body was transported to Chengalpattu Government Hospital, where it has been placed in the hospital mortuary, Pastor Reuben told Morning Star News.

The Vanniyar community and other upper castes in Adayachery hate the lower caste of the pastor and his congregation, said pastor Immanuel Prabhakaran, who worked with the deceased leader of the church, which belongs to the Synod of Pentecostal Churches.

“They threatened the pastor, ‘How dare you set up a church in our locality? This area is of upper castes. Stop running church here. Stop inviting schedule castes to our area. You leave this village else we will make life difficult for you,’” Pastor Prabhakaran told Morning Star News.

Church members suspect Vanniyar and village leaders were behind the killing of the pastor.

“These people had cut the church’s water supply by disconnecting the pipeline,” said one church member.

Originally Pastor Periyaswamy had led the congregation as a house church, and before the current structure was built, they met in a shed. In 2016, area Hindu nationalists demolished the shed, church members told Morning Star News.

“We filed a complaint at Kalapakkam police station, but no action was taken,” one member said.

Pastor Periyaswamy’s cousin, Shiv Shankar, told Morning Star News that Pastor Periyaswamy was involved in many charity activities and led a simple life.

“We come from a Hindu family, and he was the first to convert to Christianity at the age of 18,” Shankar said. “He boldly professed his faith. I can never think my cousin would commit suicide. He was murdered.”

Two weeks ago, he invited all relatives to the church’s anniversary celebrations, he said.

“He was elated. My other cousin and her husband, Gideon’s sister and brother-in-law, gifted him a gold ring,” Shankar said. “He refused, but they forced him to accept. He did. Even that ring is missing.”

Nehemiah Christie, director of legislations and regulations for the Synod of Pentecostal Churches, urged police officials and government to conduct a fair investigation.

“There is urgent need for an autopsy in the presence of a judicial magistrate,” Christie told Morning Star News. “Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy’s death can’t be ruled out as suicide.”

The deputy inspector general of police of Kanchipuram Range, identified only as Thenmozhi, told Morning Star News that officers would carry out a fair investigation.

“There is no doubt in that – we will ensure a fair investigation,” Thenmozhi said. “If there is any troublemaker involved, we are looking at all angles regarding this. We ensure fair investigation. The post-mortem begins once the enquiry starts. Let the family and relatives come out with the facts they have; once we are given the witnesses statements and some supportive material, we will ensure post-mortem.”

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.

Convert explains journey to Christianity, and why he left Iran

 

 

World Watch Monitor

World Watch Monitor

In Iran, converting from Islam to Christianity can land you in prison or even get you killed. However, many Iranians – considered “Muslims” regardless of personal beliefs – still “convert”. World Watch Monitor spoke to one such “convert”, a 27-year-old now living in Europe, about the challenges he faced along the way, and why he left Iran.

(Mohabat News)  “[My family] were Muslims, but never very strict. We had a good life; my parents were both teachers and my father had some small businesses aside from that. My father was always busy finding ways to earn more and more money. He always followed Islam, except when it had to do with money; money was more important than religion.

“Like my dad, I also loved money. Money gives you friends, respect and fun. I just wanted to have fun growing up. Every night I spent time with my friends, going from place to place in the city; at the same time I genuinely tried to be a good Muslim. But it was hard. Sometimes I would try to say my prayers regularly, but I soon forgot about them or skipped them to sleep in, or have fun with friends. As a Muslim, I often had the feeling that I was failing on so many sides. Then I thought, ‘I’m lacking in so many ways. I will not go to heaven anyway. What is the point?’

“I was sent to a religious leader – trained especially to help Christian converts from a Muslim background return to Islam – by a friend who was worried about my sudden interest in Christianity.”

“I was surprised when one day I found myself having a strange thought: ‘Go and find out about Christianity’. I was startled. Why would I find out about Christianity? I didn’t know any Christians, and from what I’d heard, it was an old-fashioned religion and Christians were weird people. On top of that, it was dangerous. Why would I choose the chance of imprisonment and death above having fun?

“Time passed, but the thought didn’t go away. So one day I thought: ‘I’ll just do it. I will go and talk to some of those weird guys.’ So I took the bus to a church in a different part of the city. When I finally found the church, I asked the porter if I could ask him a question. ‘No,’ he replied curtly. I remember thinking all the way back to the bus: ‘Wow, what I’ve heard is right. These are seriously weird guys.’ It was only much later that I found out that the government had actually forbidden church members to answer any questions about Christianity to me or any other Muslim.

“I tried to go to other churches, but I got the same response there. I had already given up when one night the thought came back in a very intense way. I can’t find words to describe it. The thought reoccurred in my mind: ‘Go and find out about Christianity and learn how these people think about God.’ The feeling confused me. Did I drink too much alcohol? I had trouble sleeping that night because I was thinking how I could find out more.

“Then I remembered my friend. He worked for a security force investigating illegal ‘underground’ activities. His job was to track all underground activities, including ‘underground’ Christianity and illegal evangelism. Asking him was my last chance. I knew that my friend could get into a lot of trouble by helping me to contact with someone who could tell me more about Christianity, so I decided to bring up the issue playfully so he wouldn’t notice I was actually being serious. My plan worked. My friend gave me the address of a church that he knew was open to Muslims.
“I was so excited! I’d learned that Sunday was the day of the Christians, so the next Sunday I went to the address my friend gave me. When I got closer I saw that there was a worship service going on. At the time I knew nothing about Christianity, so I didn’t know exactly what they were doing. I didn’t know how long it would take. But I just decided to wait outside until someone came out.

“When the service ended a man came out. ‘Can I ask you a question?’ I asked him. He looked at his watch and replied, ‘Sorry, I am in a hurry now, but please come back next week and ask for me. I thought he might be acting out of politeness, but I decided to try anyhow.

“The week after, I stood by the door of the church again. I was looking for the man, but didn’t see him. I started to feel quite uncomfortable. Then someone came to me and asked: ‘Can I help you?’ I told him I was looking for the man who had told me to come back. He said: ‘Unfortunately, he is not here right now.’

“I was about to walk away, when he asked me a dangerous question: ‘Do you want to come in and enjoy the service?’ Now, I have to explain to you that this is something you just don’t do as a Muslim in Iran. So, my first thought was: ‘No, no, no!’ But at the same time I knew this was the moment. So I took a deep breath and said yes.

“My parents weren’t happy about my new faith, but they didn’t give me a lot of trouble. It was because of the people who discipled me that I eventually chose to leave the country. If the authorities would have found me, it would have led to those people, and they would have been in big trouble.”

“The man opened the door for me. I had seen many mosques from the inside. Big ones, small ones, old and modern. But the feeling I had when I entered the church was something I’ve never felt before. It wasn’t even the way it looked.

“I had seen churches on TV. So it wasn’t so much the sight that startled me, it was the way it felt. It felt so peaceful. Walking past the pews I felt like I was in an aquarium; it was like I had a lot of weight on my shoulders. I sat there and felt overwhelmed. I stood up when everyone stood up and sat down when everyone else did. I don’t remember anything from the first sermon, I was too consumed with my feelings.

“After the service there was coffee and tea. A man asked me: ‘You’re here for the first time, right?’ I said yes. I asked him if I could ask him questions about God. He said: ‘Not here, but please come to my home’.

“So I went to his home. I came with a lot of questions. The answers were strange, but in a good way. It was, for instance, the way he talked about heaven. ‘A place in God’s absolute presence,’ he [called it]. ‘A place in which your spirit is at peace totally with your creator.’

“In Islam heaven is a place where you can have all sorts of things you can’t have on earth – different sorts of women for your satisfaction, wine, etc. I hadn’t heard about the Christian idea of heaven before, but somehow his words about heaven made complete sense to me.
“[He] also told me that God isn’t a far-away person but someone who created the earth and put us as humans in the centre. He made us in his image. He even gave us a piece of his very own Spirit. I compared him to Allah, who was far away and got angry about the little things. But with the Christian God I was welcome the way I was. He created me with my weaknesses, he even used my weaknesses to be more like Him. This was a big difference from Allah, who would punish me for any small thing. No, God was my Father, someone who knew me as a person.

“Still, my Muslim background was too strong to just let go. It took a lot of struggling. I told God: ‘If you really care, please show me the way.’

“The funny thing is that apart from that church member, one of the people who helped me understand Christianity during that period was someone who had exactly the opposite intention – a ‘mini-Ayatollah,’ as I call him. This religious leader was trained especially to help Christian converts from a Muslim background return to Islam. I was sent to him by a friend who was worried about my sudden interest in Christianity. But with everything the religious leader said about Islam, I found an alternative in the Bible that was much better.

“It wasn’t a specific moment, a lightning flash or a dream. It happened gradually that I became a Christian. It was like the curtains that had been hanging in front of the truth for a long time had been opened for me. What I saw was beautiful.

“I didn’t tell my family: ‘Surprise! I am a Christian now!’ They discovered gradually. I had always been a bad boy and I started behaving differently. For instance, I brought the [dramatized life of] “Jesus” DVD home and watched it with my little brother. They’d expected me to go on drugs, or get in trouble with the police. They didn’t expect me to become a Christian.

“My parents weren’t happy about my new faith, but they also didn’t give me a lot of trouble. It was because of the people who discipled me that I eventually chose to leave the country. If the authorities would have found me, it would have led to those who discipled me, and they would have been in big trouble.

“I was 18 when I left home. Now I am 27. I haven’t been back in Iran since. I haven’t seen my family in 10 years. It’s a big sacrifice. But despite everything, I am undoubtedly happy and thankful.”

VOP Note: It’s quite interesting how God used an unlikely source to help this young man find the Truth. Please remember Iranian Christians in your prayers.

  • Pray for Iranian Christian converts choosing Jesus despite the danger and reality of persecution.
  • For those seeking to find the life saving message in the Gospel.
  • Though unhappy about his conversion, the young man’s family didn’t put extreme pressure him. This is not the case for many others. Pray for discernment and wisdom. Pray families will see the light of Christ shining through their converted family members and be drawn to faith by the Lord.
  • Pray for the authorities. That their hearts will soften.
  • Pray for Christians being pressured to return to Islam to endure and not deny their Christian faith.
  • For those imprisoned for their faith to be released.
  • Pray for the move of the Holy Spirit over the land of Persia and the spread of Christianity now taking place—second only to China.
  • For God to have mercy on the people of Iran. That they will come to know Jesus and have a place in His Kingdom.

Key Figure in Fight for Religious Freedom in Egypt Freed, Declares Return to Islam

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(Morning Star News) – After more than two and a half years of unlawful detention and abuse at the hands of the Egyptian government, a prominent convert from Islam to Christianity has issued a public statement declaring he has returned to Islam.

Mohammed Hegazy, also known by his Christian name, Bishoy Armia Hegazy, posted on Saturday (July 30) the statement of Islamic faith known as the Shahadah on YouTube (recorded the previous day) and declared the supremacy of its prophet, Muhammad. Hegazy then said he wouldn’t discuss his return to Islam or speak to the media again.

“I went through an experience with all its good and bad and all that is in it, but it was an experience,” Hegazy said on the video. “But praise be to God who strengthens me in Islam. I am not coming today to talk about specific things, because it was a personal thing between a person and God. But I am coming today because I hurt a lot of people in my family and my friends and caused them a lot of problems.”

Hegazy apologized to family members, who had threatened to kill him after he became a Christian.

The fact that Hegazy declared that he wasn’t speaking under duress but at the same time would no longer speak to media has aroused concern among human rights activists in Egypt that he may have been coerced or threatened to make the statement. More likely, they fear that after Hegazy’s time in prison, where he was subject to a constant stream of beatings, abuse, humiliation and held for more than a year and seven months without charge, he simply succumbed to the pressure and, rather than face a lifetime of indefinite imprisonment, chose to make a public act of conversion.

After Hegazy’s initial release in July, attorney Karam Ghobrial asked that Morning Star News not publish the information to protect his safety. Since then, Ghobrial has declined to talk about the case other than to confirm that he thinks that Hagazy made his confession of faith because he was a terrified and broken man.

He noted Hegazy seemed stilted in he video, and that the statement he gave seemed scripted.

“I personally think that he recorded this video to get out,” he said.

‘Thinking about Suicide’

Hegazy was released on bail on July 23 after spending more than three weeks being transferred from prison to prison across Egypt, under the direct orders of the Ministry of Interior (MOI), according to Ghobrial, Hegazy’s attorney during his imprisonment. It was unclear if he still faces charges.

On June 26 a judge ordered that Hegazy be released from prison, and the next day, after posting a bond of 5,000 Egyptian pounds (US$565), he should have been released. But instead, in what his lawyer said in June was part of an ongoing multi-year effort to break Hegazy’s will and force him to convert back to Islam, the government’s internal security police detained him without charge June 29 at a local jail in Ain Shams. It was the second time the MOI denied Hegazy his freedom in defiance of a standing court order for his release.

Since June 29, security agents from the MOI transferred Hegazy to at least four different prisons or police holding cells no less than six times with no hope of ever being released, and without giving any reason why he was being detained, his attorney said. With each transfer, Hegazy became increasingly suicidal. The last time Ghobrial saw Hegazy, the prisoner was at a breaking point, the attorney said.

“It broke my heart to see him crying at the police station today,” Ghobrial said after a rare visit to see Hegazy. “I couldn’t do anything to help him. He’s lost hope in life and is thinking about suicide.”

‘Here He Is – Kill Him’

After being transported to the jail in the Ain Shams police station, authorities started giving Hegazy the first in what would prove to be a long list of conditions in order for him to be released, according to Ghobrial. The terms seemed designed to keep Hegazy in police custody; they were impossible to complete, or, if successfully completed, would have exposed him to attacks from Muslims still enraged about his leaving Islam.

Among the terms the MOI said Hegazy had to meet before he could be released was providing a valid residential address to security police. In effect, this meant he had to rent an apartment or find some other place to live while detained in jail with no access to any form of communication.

It was a task that would have been difficult to achieve anywhere, but in a country where more than 80 percent of the population thinks the national government should execute apostates from Islam, according to Pew Research Center figures, it was impossible. An alternate condition officials set, and the one that Hegazy finally met, was to return to live with his parents, who were the first people to turn him in to the government for leaving Islam and who have made no secret about their desire to see him dead for converting.

“I feel like [releasing him to his parents] would be the end of Hegazy,” Ghobrial told Morning Star News in July. “Because Port Said is a small city, and it isn’t only his parents who live there but his whole extended family. Port Said is where he converted to Christianity. He will be easy to recognize and easy to kill. I don’t understand the police’s insistence that he live with his parents. It’s basically like saying, ‘Here he is – kill him,’ and then handing him over on a silver platter.”

Trying to Protect his Child

Hegazy, 34, left Islam when he was 16. He began to suffer persecution almost immediately, and in 2002 he was jailed and tortured by the Egyptian internal police, then known as the State Security Investigations services (SSI).

On Aug. 2, 2007, Hegazy filed a lawsuit to force the Ministry of Interior to change the religious affiliation listed on his state-mandated national identification card from Muslim to Christian. Hegazy said in 2007 that he filed the case mainly to protect his soon-to-be-born child from being forced to suffer the same persecution he experienced. In 2008 he lost the case, but never appealed the decision.

In response to the lawsuit, some Islamic leaders in Egypt called for Hegazy’ death, and he suffered through numerous attacks, including having his home set on fire by a group of militant Muslims. Eventually he was forced into hiding.

In 2011, when the “Arab Spring” revolution started in Egypt, Hegazy was able to come out of hiding, convinced that he could enjoy relative anonymity in the chaos that ensued through out the country. Hegazy tried to make a living as a freelance journalist during this time. He could also occasionally be seen on Christian talks shows broadcast by satellite into Egypt, raising his public profile even higher. For some Christians, especially converts in Egypt, he became a symbol of a sort.

During the summer of 2013, one of the worst waves of anti-Christian attacks in the history of Egypt took place. The spree of violence, documented at length by numerous journalists but largely denied by the government, included public kidnappings, assaults, destruction of property and attacks on several church buildings that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground. Hegazy went out to document the attacks.

On Dec. 2, 2013 in Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, Egyptian authorities arrested Hegazy at a café at the Agricultural Association and accused him of working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite. The government claimed that Hegazy was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Egypt.

From the start, human rights activists said the charges against Hegazy were without merit. In an official complaint filed with the Egyptian government in March 2013, 18 different human rights groups from Egypt and around the world stated that the charges against Hegazy were “clearly related to his religious conversion.”

“Mr. Hegazy’s detention, treatment, and prosecution blatantly violate Egypt’s recently established constitution, which clearly states that ‘freedom of belief is absolute,’” their complaint read. “His case is also a violation of international agreements to which Egypt has been party for decades.”

Internal documents from the MOI obtained by Morning Star News showed that during the time of his arrest, the ministry was employing at least one informant to follow Hegazy. The documents also showed that the MOI had extensively documented Hegazy’ religious life, including his conversion and even details of his baptism. The same documents also showed that, unlike Hegazy, three female journalists arrested with him were all questioned and then released.

Sometime during Hegazy’ detention, security agents from the MOI resurrected inactive blasphemy charges filed against him about the time he went into hiding in 2009. Two lawyers supported by a group of Islamists sued Hegazy for allegedly defaming Islam on the grounds that the very act of leaving Islam cast the religion into ill repute. The lawsuit was never settled and, and according to Ghobrial, passed the Egyptian statute of limitations. A court later struck down the statute of limitations.

On June 18, 2014, six months after he was arrested, a judge found Hegazy guilty on three charges stemming from the 2013 arrest, sentenced him to five years in prison and levied a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (US$70) against him. Ghobrial immediately filed a request for appeal, and on July 20, 2014, a judge granted the appeal and ordered Hegazy be released on bail. But in the 24 hours that state prosecutors had to comply with the judge’s order, Homeland Security (HS), the post revolutionary successor to the SSI, took Hegazy into custody to be interrogated in Cairo for the 2009 lawsuit.

According to Egyptian law, HS then had to apply for 45 extensions of the detention with a time limit of six months to detain Hegazy in connection with the investigation.

On Dec. 28, 2014 while Hegazy was still in HS custody, an appeals judge upheld the charge of spreading false information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” and sentenced him to a year in prison. He dismissed the two other charges against him.

Because Hegazy had already spent more than a year in prison waiting for his trial to take place and then his appeal to be heard, he should have been automatically released at the conclusion of the appeal hearing for having spent “time served,” according to his attorney. But technically, because HS only had him in its custody for five months, officials kept him in detention for another month. On Jan. 21, 2015, however, when the six-month time period expired and Hegazy should have been released, HS refused to release him and also declined to file charges against him.

In all, Hegazy has spent two years, seven months and 26 days in prison. All but one year of that time, he has been held without charge. During that time, according to his attorney, Hegazy was beaten, had his head shaved by force and suffered through constant harassment to force him to convert back to Islam. All through his ordeal, Ghobrial said, his captors offered him freedom if he would convert back to Islam.

Although the issue of the treatment of converts in Egypt doesn’t receive as much public attention outside of the country as does the persecution of the Coptic Orthodox minority by the Muslim majority, it is one of the most contentious subjects regarding religious freedom inside the country. Numerous Christians in Egypt who have left Islam to embrace their new faith have found themselves living in hiding from relatives in fear for their lives.

Although the Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of expression and belief, security agents from the Ministry of the Interior routinely harass and arrest coverts who are suspected of leaving Islam.

In June, during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, Al-Azhar Mosque’s Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyib, arguably the most respected Islamic scholar in the world, said during a daily TV program that leaving Islam was “treason” and that apostates should be executed.

“The penalty for an open apostate, departing from the community, is well stipulated in Sharia,” El-Tayyib said. “An apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed.”

VOP Note:

Please pray for Christian converts who face extreme pressure, even at the hands of their own families. Pray for endurance, patience, a refreshing of faith and hope in the Lord. Pray they will fix their eyes on Jesus and be filled with peace and joy as they put their trust in him.

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