Muslim converts face persecution in Egypt

Muslims in Egypt who change their faith face persecution by the state and rejection from their families, an investigation by Release International has shown, according to the latest edition of the ministry's magazine.

A Muslim woman who became a Christian told Release how she was kidnapped by her relatives, who pulled out her fingernails to try to make her renounce her new faith.

Mary, not her real name, works secretly to help women like herself - those from a Muslim background, who have chosen to change their religion. She described how some relatives tortured her to try to get her to return to Islam.

"They tortured me, pulled out my nails and burnt me but God gave me a way out," she said.

Mary became a Christian at the age of 21, after working for a Christian lawyer. She told Release: "I saw that Jesus was fair with everyone; he was gentle with the needy."

After changing her faith Mary had to leave her family and resorted to living on the streets. Christians she met were suspicious of her, fearing she may have been a spy. They refused to take her in.

"Some priests even told me to return to Islam and my family," she said.

Eventually she was helped by an Orthodox priest and met other believers from a Muslim background for the first time.

Mary began to help them. But state security were aware of what she was doing and informed her family that she had become a Christian activist. Her relatives kidnapped her and tortured her for seven days before she was able to escape.

Mary is still followed by state security and has had to change her address five times.

Christians from a Muslim background also face other problems. "State security tell their employers they are converts and they fire them," said Mary.

"Families also marry off convert girls to Muslims, or lock them away in their houses. They even disfigure the girls' faces with acid."

Others told Release that they have been arrested and tortured by state security for changing their faith to Christianity. Another faces a fatwa calling for his death. They are forbidden from changing the religion shown on their identity cards.

Many are under pressure to leave Egypt, yet choose to stay and bring the gospel to their people.

Despite the danger, Mary says she will carry on working to help girls who have become Christians. "Jesus Christ is someone who is worth doing this for. It is our gift of suffering for him."

Release CEO Andy Dipper adds: "Mary has asked for prayer for protection, wisdom and power, as she cares for young girls who have converted to Christianity.

"Release is helping believers like Mary. We are supporting a safe house for Christian women from a Muslim background, and funding education for children who have lost their parents as a result of persecution. Help us to help our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt."

Egypt was a major centre for Christian scholarship until taken over by Islam in AD639. Today Egypt has the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Christians, mainly Copts, make up around 10 per cent of the population. Yet Christians are denied political representation and discriminated against in education and employment. Muslims who change their faith are regarded as apostates, who have betrayed not only Islam, but their families and their country.

Through its international network of missions Release supports Christians imprisoned for their faith and their families in 30 nations. It supports church workers, pastors and their families, and provides training, Bibles, Christian literature and broadcasts. Release is a member of the UK organisations Global Connections and the Evangelical Alliance.