Where It All Started
I was in Yemen for a visit in 2007 when I had a Bible study with a Yemeni married couple, former Muslims in their mid-30s. The husband became a believer when he was 19. His father became a Christian before him. His wife's father also came to know the Lord after someone prayed for him and his knee was healed and he was able to walk.
Despite of the fact that both generations are Christians, their faith has to be secret – otherwise they will be harassed, imprisoned, possibly have their children taken away from them, and sometimes even killed.
He told me: "Kamal I want you to speak with my son tomorrow, as I want him to take Islamic classes in school mainly as a subject." (otherwise the whole family will face problems and the son will not be able to pass his exams)
The next day I met the son, a 13-year-old tender and sweet teenage boy, together with the father. My heart was broken as I thought of what this boy has to go through. They are third generation Christians but still have no freedom to practice their faith as former Muslims. The boy is forced to take Islam as a religion in school, not to mention the pressure the family is going through. They don't have the right to exist!
Yemen Is Not the Only Place
I thought of Mehdi Dibaj in Iran. After the 1979 Iranian revolution he encountered difficulties. In 1983 he was arrested and imprisoned without trial in Sari and systematically tortured. He was finally tried by an Islamic court in Sari on 3 December 1993 and sentenced to death on charges of apostasy. At his trial Dibaj declared, "I am not only satisfied to be in prison for the honour of His Holy Name, but I am ready to give my life for the sake of Jesus my Lord."
Following a worldwide outcry initiated by his friend and colleague Bishop Haik Hovsepian Mehr, Dibaj was finally freed in January 1994, although the death sentence was not lifted. Just three days later, Haik Hovsepian Mehr was abducted and murdered. Dibaj was abducted on Friday, 24 June 1994. His body was found in a west Tehran park on Tuesday, 5 July 1994.
I thought of Hussein Qambar in Kuwait. In 1996 after six months in the limelight of unprecedented international advocacy, Hussein Qambar Ali, a Muslim convert to Christianity, fled his native Kuwait to an undisclosed location in the United States.
I thought of Abbul Rahman in Afghanistan. Born in 1965 he is an Afghan citizen who was arrested in February 2006 and threatened with the death penalty for converting to Christianity. On 26 March 2006, under heavy pressure from foreign governments, the court returned his case to prosecutors, citing "investigative gaps". He was released from prison to his family on the night of 27 March. On 29 March, Abdul Rahman arrived in Italy after the Italian government offered him asylum.
I thought of my Jordanian friend Daniel and his wife who couldn't bring their children to church as they were afraid to be discovered. His children were not allowed to take Christian classes in school even if the school is Catholic and the parents are believers.
I thought of Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, (1909 - 1985) also known as Ustaz Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a Sudanese thinker, leader and engineer. He has revolutionary ideas about the second message of Islam. The regime of Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeiry executed him for his views, for which he had been accused of apostasy. He was executed in Sudan at the age of 76.
I thought of Al Fakhi who was in prison in Sudan for 18 months, only released after he got a stroke and left half-paralyzed. He was not able to raise his family of seven children who also followed his new faith.
I thought of Lena Joy, a former Muslim from Malaysia, who is in hiding because of death threats. The Malaysian government forbids her to change her religion on her identity card.
I thought of my two nieces, whose father is a Muslim, who were moved as refugees to other countries because they married Christians.
I thought about the convert who was abused and raped in prison in Egypt as she was stopped from leaving the country. She used a forged passport since they are not allowed to change religion in their identity cards so they have to use deceased Christian's identities.
All this raised rage in me. They do not have the right to exist! They are under a lot of pressure and threat of being discovered. They lose family and have to leave their homeland which they love. I am amazed at the pressure our brothers and sisters from a Muslim background are faced with daily.
This is how the thought of doing something about it came to me, as God has burdened my heart more and more for the situation of my brothers and sisters from Muslim background.
The Time Has Come for This to Change!
Over 1.3 billion Muslims in the world don't have the freedom to change their religion.
We have to push for the application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Articles 18 and 19.
Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The whole world stands up when people are asked not to be veiled or build minarets. Here they lose everything and nobody says anything. We encourage them to stay in their countries but they are not allowed to exist or live as non-Muslims. If you are born as a Muslim you have to die a Muslim. This is why I felt we have to work for the removal of the Apostasy law, and for equality and justice for converts. As Edmund Burke said, "For evil men to triumph, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing."
To Grant FREEDOM of RELIGION to all Muslim peoples:
- To convert to a religion of their choice
- To worship
- To raise their children in their new faith
- To marry freely (for both men and women from a Muslim background to marry someone of a different faith)
In a prayer meeting with some friends they gave us this verse from Exodus 9: "Set my people free to worship me", as we shared with them the burden we have in our hearts and this was the name we gave this network – Set My People Free.
We Want to Raise Awareness
We are raising the awareness around the world about the injustices converts to Christianity are facing in what is known as the Muslim world. I think it is important to expose injustices and as we bring truth it helps to set people free. If we are quiet we are part of the problem. The difference between us and other human rights groups we are not only a human rights movement, but also a civil rights movement. We are going to use all peaceful means to change the situation. We are very influenced by William Wilberforth and Martin Luther King, Jr. Love is going to be our motto. We see a lot of parallels between our struggle and their struggle.
Your Brother Kamal