By Onan Coca
In a dark and quiet room in Kabul, Afghanistan, a Christian man named Josef quietly prays. He is on the run from his family in Pakistan who are desperately searching for him. They don’t want a happy reunion. They don’t want to rescue a family member who’s gone astray. They want to murder their relative for having the audacity to leave Islam and become a Christian.
Josef’s brother-in-law now literally hunts him across the planet.
The brother-in-law recently landed in Kabul from Pakistan in his desperate search for the Christian. He even offered a reporter for the New York Times $20,000 just to tell him where the man was hiding! Once he finally finishes with his Christian brother-in-law, he plans to turn on his nephew and kill him as well.
“If I find him, once we are done with him, I will kill his son as well, because his son is a bastard. He is not from a Muslim father.”
This is a danger faced by every convert to Christianity in the Islamic world. While many Muslim countries claim to have religious freedom, what they really mean is that they have freedom to be Muslim. For many who convert to Christianity in the Muslim world, their life after conversion is short and violent. The Quran teaches that any Muslim who converts from Islam is an apostate and must be put to death – a penalty many Muslim faithful seem happy to carry out.
The New York Times tells a little about the Jose’s conversion.
“I inherited my faith, but I saw so many things that made me discard my religious beliefs,” Josef said. “Even if I get killed, I won’t convert back. When I threw away my Islamic beliefs, I was living in a space of spiritual emptiness. During that time I was studying different religions — Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. I was studying Islam as well.”
After 15 days in Germany, he turned himself in and applied for asylum, and was held in a refugee camp where the monotony was broken by visits from missionaries.
“I think I was impressed by the personality of Jesus himself,” he said. “The fact that he came here to take all of our sins, that moved me. I admired his character and personality long before I was baptized.”
After Josef’s conversion from Islam he was deported out of Germany into Italy. After months of living in poverty and homelessness, he finally gave up and returned to his wife’s family in Pakistan. He put all of the information about his life in Europe on a flash drive which he protected carefully, knowing that if anyone found it, his life would be in danger.
But he was eventually found out. His wife’s family caught him one evening after work and tied him up in their family home. They were ready to kill him when his father-in-law told them to wait so that he could speak to Josef’s family and see what they wanted to do. While they waited to hear back, Josef was able to escape the house and leave Pakistan to find solace in Afghanistan.
But even now, in hiding and fearing for his life, Josef seems sure of his decisions.
“When I threw away my convictions, it was hard to speak with people about it, It was like an imaginary prison. Now it is the other way around, my body is in prison, but my soul is free.”