BY WILLIAM STARK
Did you ever wonder how much it costs someone to convert to Christianity? Many Christians in the West, including myself, have the benefit of living under a government that respects the freedom of religion and do not seriously consider this question. For us, conversion is a personal choice that may be, at worst, questioned by one’s friends and family. What if converting to Christianity could cost you your life? Would you do it? For many Somalis, including the suffering Christian described in this blog, the decision to follow Jesus Christ is literally a question of life and death.
Adija is a Somali who converted from Islam to Christianity. Her and her husband, Mohammad, moved from Somalia to a neighborhood called “little Mogadishu” near Kenya’s capital Nairobi. After converting to Christianity, Adija began to attend an underground fellowship of believers. Her husband became suspicious when she started to come home late with more frequency. Mohammad began monitoring Adija’s movement and soon discovered she had embraced the Christian faith.
“One day my husband questioned me [about] whether I had become a Christian, but I kept quiet,” Adija said. “[After] that time, the relationship with my husband became sour.” Little could have prepared Adija for the unspeakable act of barbarism she was about to be victim to.
Enraged by Adija’s conversion to Christianity, Mohammad decided to kill her. On July 2, he approached her on the street with murderous intentions and set her on fire. “My husband poured what looked like paraffin on me and there after set me on fire,” Adija said about the day of her attack. “I began screaming for help, but do not know what happened from there. I just found myself in the hospital after regaining consciousness a day later.”
It’s Not Over
Adija’s burns were so severe that her husband believed she was dead. “The husband thought that he had killed his wife and immediately fled to Somalia [before he could be apprehended by police],” a source said. Unfortunately, Mohammed has discovered that Adija survived and is looking to finish the job he started. “I have heard rumors that after I recover Mohammad will take me back to Somalia by force and kill me because I have become an ‘infidel,’” Adija said. Fortunately, Adija was hidden by her underground fellowship and is having her burns cared for by ICC.
This story is not as uncommon as one would hope. Adija’s story is only one of many stories I could tell about a suffering Christian being attacked for converting from Islam. Why does this happen? What causes people to kill members of their own family for converting to Christianity? Answer: the concept of Apostasy.
What is Apostasy?
Apostasy in Islam is commonly defined as the rejection of Islam, in either word or deed, by a person who was formerly a Muslim. According to Islamic law, apostasy is identified by a list of actions which includes, among other things, converting to another religion. The Quran itself assigns no earthly punishment of apostasy, yet apostasy is often punished by execution. Why? Based on several Hadiths, Islamic jurisprudence meant to interpret the Quran, earthly punishments, such as execution, are assigned for apostates (people who have converted from Islam).
In Somalia, the extremist group al-Shabaab promotes an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam, that includes the execution of apostates. That is why we see cases like Adija’s in Somalia and Somali communities across the world. As a part of their religious upbringing, many Somalis are taught that they are required by religion to kill people that have converted from Islam, even if that means killing a family member.
When I interviewed another suffering Christian about the hardships he faced after converting to Christianity, he cited the concept of apostasy as a major contributor to his persecution. “To be Somali is to be Muslim. It is part of the culture to be Muslim,” the suffering Christian said. “When you are no longer Muslim you become infidel, and according to teachings, you are to be killed. To become Christian is very difficult because you have to separate yourself from your friends, family and culture or risk being killed.”
Both of these suffering Christians were willing to give up their lives to follow Christ’s teachings. Although Adija paid dearly for her faith, she continues to follow Jesus Christ. After she was safely hidden by her underground fellowship, she continued to have fellowship with them each week growing deeper in her relationship with Jesus. There are still thousands of Somali Christians continue to face persecution in its most extreme form. Christians that have the luxury of living in a society where the freedom of religion is protected should say a prayer for each suffering Christian in Somalia who has to daily face the threat of death in order to follow Jesus Christ.