Once again, Zahra’s father lashed ropes around her wrists and hands and hung her in the doorway. The young woman’s fingers went numb. Her hands and her arms swelled. There was a searing pain in her chest and stomach, but the worst part was not getting enough air. Her compressed lungs made it hard to breathe. When Zahra passed out, her father temporarily let her down. When not suspended in the doorjamb, she spent the rest of the time locked in her room. Her wrists became rawer by the day, and that only intensified the suffering.
Zahra, which means “flower” in Arabic, was raised as a Muslim. She came to faith in Jesus four years ago and memorized as much scripture as possible. She kept her new faith a secret as long as she could. When Zahra’s father discovered that she was no longer following Islam, he went into a rage. The hanging routine would not kill her, but he hoped it would force her back to the Islamic faith. It’s a common practice for new believers in Christ.
Her body drooped, but her spirit stood strong as scripture verses repeated in her mind. “Be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24 NKJV). “So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 NIV). “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4 ESV).
Despite the self-encouragement, four years of torture and captivity drove her to try both suicide and running away — twice. This spring her mother left the house and forgot to lock the doors. Zahra discovered this mistake and walked out of her home for the last of only three times since her conversion was discovered. She traveled to another city where the Christian friends who had led her to Christ lived. They welcomed her with praise and thanksgiving and promised to protect her. As of the second week of June she is a resident of a safe house in North Africa. Her body and mind are healing as she is surrounded by fellow believers who are tending to her.
In the most radical Muslim families, a convert is locked in a room and given three days to return to Islam. If they refuse, they are slaughtered. If they escape, they will be hunted by family for years. If children are involved when a husband comes to Jesus, they are considered bastards because they no longer have a Muslim father. They are either given to another family member or killed.
In a less religious family, a convert like Zahra may be taken to the imam, who may lead the family in beating the believer. If the convert is a woman, her family may force her to marry a Muslim cousin to avoid shame and scandal. Many have been restrained with ropes, burned with acid or hot oil, and subjected to electric shocks. Sometimes families commit converts to mental institutions, thinking that leaving Islam is a sign of insanity. Others are forced to leave the home, family, and the community they know.
Supporters of the organization Advancing Native Missions have made it possible to rent twelve safe houses in five Muslim countries where men, women, and families can live their lives in peace. Zahra can now start anew in a different city with a changed identity, and hopes to find work to support herself.
Other followers of Jesus from a Muslim background know the struggle, and lead the rescue of many other Zahras throughout the Middle East. Please pray for their protection and wisdom as they bring many lives to freedom.
“For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 John 5:14 NIV).