“When I was a child, I saw images of Ashura [one of the holiest days in Shia Islam, when some self-flagelate to commemorate the killing of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet] on TV and I asked myself: ‘What’s the relationship between all that blood and religion?’”
The middle-aged man speaking to Al-Jazeera from his home in Iran continues: “My grandfather was originally from Azerbaijan and he was a communist. Religion was not acknowledged in our house; [our talk] was all about politics. So I had to find the answer to my question elsewhere.”
That question marked the beginning of a journey that would eventually lead him to a church far from home, where he converted to Christianity.
But in a country where apostasy, which in the case of Iran means the abandonment or renunciation of Islam, is a crime, it was a journey he had to undertake alone.
Roughly 90-95 percent of Iranians are Shia Muslims, about five to 10 percent are Sunni and less than one percent adhere to a different religion. The country recognises other religions and freedom of worship, as well as the opportunity for parliamentary representation, but for a Muslim to convert to another religion is illegal.
“When I started questioning faith, I was really young. I was not even 10 and the main themes that were discussed at school were Islam and the Quran. I was growing curious to know more about it,” he says, his words spoken softly but with conviction.
“I did not want nor could I share my doubts with my family. When I became an adult I started to attend a church. Then I started to read the Bible and to wear a chain with a cross around my neck.”
“When I was 46, I went to Sweden and I converted to Christianity. Initially, not even my family knew about it.”
Holding a black and white photograph of the moment he converted, he explains: “Every time I look at it I get the same feeling of warmth.” Now his house has become his private place of worship; his bedroom the alter at which he speaks to God.
But, even at home, he must guard his secret carefully.
His house is in a complex with several other residences. There is a caretaker and a common car park. Each window threatens to expose him. He lives with the fear that a nosey neighbour or a moment’s indiscretion could be his downfall.
So he hides his Bible and rosary among the pots in his kitchen and ensures that no other sign of his faith is left visible. But he doesn’t feel it to a hardship. “My faith is a source of energy and my God is a guide who knows how to direct me. I do not need anything else,” he says.
- Pray for Christians in Iran, who live in fear of persecution and imprisonment because of their faith.
- Pray for resources for Iranian Christians to help them to grow in their faith, especially access to and the use of the internet and satellite TV, through which they can access teaching and discipleship material.
- Pray for courage for Iranian Christians to share their faith, and to witness to their faith through their lives.
- Pray for the Iranian government to allow freedom of worship for all Christians.
Ephesians 6 vs 19: “Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel”