Locked in a Room: Part 1
By Claire Evans
04/07/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “Stay home for the Muslims!”
It is a chant that has become a normal cadence in Egypt, where Christians joke that they hope the stay at home mandate includes them too, lest they are accused of infecting Muslims. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the authorities struggle to keep Muslims at home, while Christians struggle facing the reality that after years of violence, it is something invisible that finally closes their churches.
These are all new challenges for the broader Christian community, but for Muslim Background Believers (MBBs), the situation is not completely unfamiliar. For them, isolation is their daily reality, an experience promised for a lifetime.
Mohammad was comfortable before he discovered Christianity. His wealthy parents provided many opportunities for his wife and sons. Yet, something was missing. As an Egyptian, Mohammad had many occasions where he could interact with Christians. But it wasn’t until he started watching Christian media that things began changing. “I met Jesus and discovered the lies of Islam, so I refused the fake,” he says.
Eventually, Mohammad’s entire family would realize that he left Islam. This was when the isolation started, as a form of duress meant to pressure Mohammad away from Christianity. “My family locked me up in a room for 7 days without food. (Later) Jesus appeared to me and asked me to forgive them. It was very painful for me.”
This experience persisted for six months. His family would force Mohammad to meet with Imams, who tried forcing him to recite Islamic prayers. The pressure of increasing isolation drove Mohammad to flee his parents, taking only his wife and children. Today, though they are free of Mohammad’s parents, they still spend much of their time locked within a room. They are hiding from neighbors, trying not to gain the attention of their landlord. “I’ve changed my apartment many times because my ID says that I’m Muslim. Also, my wife is not wearing the hijab, so some Imams visited and asked us to pray in the mosque. I wish I have a safe place where I can stay safe, inside.”
Mohammad’s story is not unique. Many MBBs have had similar experiences of having their families restrict their movement, and feeling fear of discovery after their escape. Mary, another Egyptian MBB, often feels anxiety over her situation. “My family has a very widespread situation,” she explains. “They are members in parliament.” Since her family is well-resourced, she lives in constant fear of discovery.
Her family violently responded when they caught her reading a Bible. She remembers how “everybody at home hit and injured me. My leg was broken, and they didn’t let me visit doctors. They brought Imams to convince me to turn back to Islam.”
Mary’s conversion to Christianity had shamed her family. She was an embarrassment and kept in isolation. One day, “I heard them say that they want to get rid of me. So I decided to escape and wore my hijab and jumped from the window.”
She fled, but anxiety keeps her at home. Leaving the house frightens Mary, making all aspects of daily life difficult. “I don’t feel safe because the family is looking for us. The only friendships that I have is with people in the discipleship group. I visit the church one time per week, and the only one I know is the pastor.”
First isolated and abused by their families, both Mary and Mohammed have chosen to continue self-isolation for their own safety. Social distancing is their daily practice, a routine that will persist for the rest of their lives. It is an experience not unique to Egypt.
Click here to read Part 2.