Facing Islamic Hostility with Gentleness

July 21, 2016

A security camera captures jihadists attacking a church building in Samsun, Turkey.

More than a decade ago a young man fled his native Morocco after a radical Islamist infiltrated his house church, threatening his life. He and his wife were safe once they settled in their adopted country, but his conscience was troubled.

He had come out of Islam, but he felt he still had to face Islam, the man known as Brother Rachid said at a recent conference on persecution in Washington, D.C. After settling in their new country, he asked his wife, then pregnant for the first time after eight years of trying to conceive, why they weren't still proclaiming Christ to Muslims.

He answered his own question: "'Because we are cowards.' I opened the Book of Acts and asked, 'Didn't these people preaching Christ also have families? If we don't do it, who's going to do it?'"

Having begun in radio, in 2006 he began a program on satellite TV in which Muslims and others call in to ask questions about Islam and Christianity. Friends and relatives advised against doing the program, saying it was too dangerous. Rachid pushed ahead, and the broadcast has helped bring thousands of Muslims to Christ.

"Every Thursday at 9 p.m., people will call us up, some to curse us, some to give their lives to Christ - we're fishing for all kinds of fish," he said.

As a high-profile Christian in the Muslim world, he now has a target on his back, which is nothing new for him. After hearing the gospel through a radio ministry at age 12, followed by four years of correspondence courses, Rachid found himself homeless when his family kicked him out because of his newfound faith. He lived on the streets for two years, and for three more he lived with a missionary family.

"If communism were a religion, should we stop criticizing it?" he said. "No one calls critics of Christianity a Christianophobe."

The son of an imam, he learned early on the opposition that converts face. Relatives of those who leave Islam in the Middle East and North Africa, he said, initially try to bargain with them, offering or withdrawing things to persuade them to return to the fold. Failing that, rejection follows, sometimes violently. In one country in the region, the father-in-law of a Muslim woman who recently came to faith in Christ stabbed her to death after discovering her conversion through a text message she had sent. The father-in-law was convicted but sentenced to only a few months in prison because it was an "honor killing," Rachid said.

Socially, a kafir ("infidel") loses all status in Muslim culture, he said; they cannot marry or claim inheritance, for example. Rachid said he lost 90 percent of his friends when he converted.

In the legal realm, authorities will tend to believe that any crime befalling converts came about because "they brought it upon themselves," he said. Governments will deny or deprive them of official papers so that they cannot obtain a bank account or work. They will receive threats from unknown persons.

Rachid said the more Muslims learn about Islam, the more likely they'll be to leave it.

"As people find out what Islam really is, there are lots of people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia becoming atheists," he said.

Though religion should be subject to critique in free societies, he recommended deflecting accusations of being an "Islamophobe" by describing Islam as an ideology, more than a religion.

"If communism were a religion, should we stop criticizing it?" he said, adding that Islam is an ideology that encompasses every aspect of life, including political and social structures. "Islam preaches violence and hatred. Besides, no one calls critics of Christianity a Christianophobe."

Though forthright in his assertions, Rachid has a kind, gentle demeanor. The same gentleness helps a pastor in Turkey to earn Christianity a good name amid a hostile culture. At a recent court hearing for Islamists who on Feb. 25 damaged windows and a security camera of his rented church building in Samsun, Pastor Matta (full name withheld for security reasons) surprised the judge.

"During the trial, the judge asked me whether I am pressing charges or not," he said. "I replied, 'I'm not pressing charges because the Lord asked me to forgive.' The judge waited for some seconds and asked again, saying, "You're not even asking for the damages they caused with the broken windows and the camera?' I replied, 'No, I don't want to; the only thing I want is it to be known that we are not bad people.'"

The magistrate smiled and said that the pastor may not have wanted to press charges, but that he as judge was going to try them for causing harm to a place of worship.

Syrian refugees inside a Turkish church.
A church in the Black Sea region of Turkey, under threat from Muslims, overflows as Muslim refugees and others put their faith in Christ.

"I then remembered the verse from Exodus 14:14, "The LORD shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace,'" Pastor Matta said. "We praise God because after this attack good reports for us were published in many papers, and some officials came to visit us."

After the suspects were released from jail the day after the attack, some of them had yelled the jihadist slogan, "Allahu Akbar [God is greater]." That same slogan is invoked in jihadist movements such as that of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, where Christians are targeted for their faith. Pastor Matta recently met a Christian refugee from Iraq who fled with his family to Turkey when ISIS began to approach their area after burning neighboring villages.

"As we were Christians, we had no chance of survival," the refugee told Pastor Matta. "So we left everything behind and came to Turkey."

A smuggler offered to take them to Greece by boat, and his son agreed to take family members against his father's advice. The refugee stayed behind as his wife, two of his sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren undertook the voyage.

"Seven people from the family of this man lost their lives when the boat in which they were crossing the Mediterranean to reach Greece from Turkey capsized and sunk," Pastor Matta said. "He told us his sad story with tears in his eyes. There are many stories like this, of those whose lives are broken by the ugliness of the deeds of ISIS and then come to a church and hear the words of Jesus Christ, 'You shall even love your enemies.'"

Those who hear such preaching are impressed, want to know more about Jesus, and gladly accept a New Testament, he said. To help indigenous missionaries to meet the needs of persecuted Christians, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 400PERS.