Although some are beaten “black and blue”
for their faith, others suffer even more. The family of an 18-year-old
girl whomYasmin was helping found that she had been hiding a Bible in her
room, and visiting church secretly. “I tried to do as much as possible
to help her, but they took her to Pakistan ‘on holiday’. Three weeks
later, she was drowned — they said that she went out in the middle of
the night and slipped in the river, but she just wouldn ’t have done
that,” said Yasmin.
Ruth, also of Pakistani origin, found out recently that she had only
just escaped being murdered. When she told her family that she had
converted, they kept her locked inside the family home all summer.
“They were afraid I would meet some Christians. My brother was
aggressive, and even hit me — I later found out he wanted me dead,”
she said. A family friend had suggested taking her to Pakistan to kill
her, and her brother put the idea to her mother, who ruled against it.
“You are very isolated and very alone. But now, my brother is thinking
about changing and a cousin has made a commitment to Christianity.”
Noor, from the Midlands, was brought up a Muslim but converted to
Christianity at 21. “Telling my father was the most difficult thing I
have ever done. I thought he would kill me on the spot, but he just went
into a state of shock,” she said. He ended up almost kidnapping her.
“He took drastic actions — he took the family to Pakistan, to a
secluded village with no roads to it. He kept us there for many years,
putting pressure on me to leave my Christian faith. I endured mental and
emotional suffering that most humans never reach,” she said. Eventually,
her father realised that he could not shake her faith, and released her
with strict conditions. “In desperation, my father threatened to take my
life. If someone converts, it is a must for family honour to bring them
back to Islam, if not, to kill them.”
Imams in Britain sometimes call on the apostates to be killed if they
criticise their former religion. Anwar Sheikh, a former mosque teacher
from Pakistan, became an atheist after coming to Britain, and now lives
with a special alarm in his house in Cardiff after criticising Islam in a
series of hardline books.
“I’ve had 18 fatwas against me. They telephone me — they aren’t
foolhardy enough to put it in writing. I had a call a couple of weeks ago.
They mean repent or be hanged,” he said. “What I have written, I
believe and I will not take it back. I will suffer the consequences. If
that is the price, I will pay it.”
The most high-profile British apostate is Ibn Warraq, a Pakistani-born
intellectual and former teacher from London, who lost his faith after the
Salman Rushdie affair and set out his reasons in the book Why I am not
He recently edited the book Leaving Islam, but finds it hard to
explain the hostility. “It’s very strange. Even the most liberal
Muslim can become incredibly fierce if you criticise Islam, or, horror of
horrors, leave it.”
He himself has taken the precaution of using only a pseudonym, and
lives incognito in mainland Europe. He thinks that Islamic apostasy is
common. “In Western societies, it is probably 10-15 per cent. It’s
very difficult to tell, because people don’t admit it.”
Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Barnabas Trust, which helps
persecuted Christians around the world, said that it was finding
increasing work in Britain: “It’s a growing problem. Today, conversion
is seen as linked to Bush trying to convert the world — democratisation
is confused with evangelism.
“The difficulty in Britain is the growing alienation between the
minority Muslim communities and the mainstream Christian one. Christian
mission work in inner cities is seen as an assault,” Dr Sookhdeo said.
“We are only asking that freedom of religion should be applicable to
everyone of every faith.”