Overcoming Abandonment in Egypt: Part 2

By Claire Evans

In case you missed it, you can read Part 1 here.

06/20/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – When Salma married her husband, she never imagined that he would one day convert to Islam and threaten their family’s well-being. A messy divorce, a short period of homelessness, health issues, and her son’s subsequent drug addiction gave her life a new, unexpected rhythm. She found housing with her ex’s mother, who didn’t “feel ashamed of her son. She doesn’t care if he is Muslim or Christian. In the end, he is her son and she loves him regardless of anything he did.”

For five years, everything remained calm. The pain of ridicule from the few neighbors still aware of her husband’s conversion was all that remained of her ex-husband’s influence. But everything changed last fall.

Salma’s ex-husband often visited his mother, and thus remained in her life. One day, their normal interaction took a turn for the worst when he began severely sexually harassing Salma. He attempted to rape Salma, who struggled. Infuriated, he knocked Salma to the ground and beat her.

The incident occurred in front of Salma’s daughter, Menna, and her daughter’s fiancé, Abd. Instead of interfering and protecting his future mother in-law, Abd stood back and watched. Menna was surprised by his apparent passivity.

The following days, however, showed that the incident deeply affected Abd, who was not aware that Menna’s father had abandoned his family because of a conversion to Islam. He felt deceived. Anger began building within Abd, who took it out on Menna. He would frequently heap abuse on her, saying, “It brings shame on you that your father is Muslim,” and, “You should be ashamed that your father married a Muslim woman (Menna’s step-mother).”

Menna’s relationship with her fiancé grew increasingly tense. Instead of offering emotional support in the wake of a traumatic experience, he was verbally and emotionally abusive. Four months ago, Abd broke off the engagement. Their troubles, however, did not stop there.

This past April, Abd “attacked my son, Ashraf, and injured him his face. Then he started to attack us in the house,” recalled Salma. Pleading for help, she asked the priest to encourage Menna’s fiancé to leave her family alone. Although Abd promised he would not relent, he has not caused problems since then.

Even so, the situation was a serious blow to the family. It took five years for the community to forget the shame of her ex-husband’s conversion, but now the event is fresh in people’s minds. They don’t remember how Salma and her family kept the faith, despite her ex-husband’s aggressive pressure. Salma can survive the fresh wave of ridicule, but the situation is more challenging for her daughter, who is now considered untouchable.

Salma said, “It’s painful for a young girl, getting engaged and then having the fiancé cancel the engagement. Many people say bad things, and Menna always feels humiliated. It’s not easy to get engaged again.”

“The most painful thing for me is that sometimes people humiliate my sons and my daughter. They tell them, ‘How bad and shameful of your father, and you also,’” she continued.

Her two sons eventually moved away from Upper Egypt. Anonymity meant that they could gain employment. Even so, Salma struggles with her family’s situation. She has maintained some friendships, and they sympathize with her problems. But Menna has encouraged Salma to find a path forward that maintains their independence from others, just in case their environment once again becomes hostile.

Agreeing to follow her daughter’s wishes, Salma has moved to a new location and is in the process of opening her own hair salon. She is confident that this will give her a new lease on life.

Her story is not unique in her village of Abo Helal. Many Christian women have experienced a similar ordeal when their husbands suddenly convert to Islam. The community shame coupled with the harassment from their new Muslim relatives creates intense pressure which can be difficult, and sometimes dangerous, to withstand.

The outcome of Salma’s story, however, is unique. She has taken steps which will greatly improve her circumstances. Most Christian women in her village, however, do not have this opportunity. Shame often keeps their stories hidden. But Salma’s story serves as an inspiration to others that this shame is not final, and that good things can happen in time.

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