Nonie Darwish, director of Former Muslims United, spoke to participants in a March 1 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about the challenges facing Muslim converts to the Christianity, or Muslim Background Believers (MBB).
Although Christians face oppression throughout the Islamic world, Muslim converts to the faith face an even harsher climate because Islamic doctrine condemns apostasy and conversion away from the Islamic faith is deeply taboo. Islam "was created 600 years after Christ as a rebellion against biblical values," said Darwish, and therefore "to choose the Bible over Islam ... Jesus over Muhammad, is the ultimate insult to Islam." Muslims living in the Middle East who convert to Christianity often claim to have seen Jesus in a dream – maintaining, in effect, that Jesus chose them, not the other way around.
Islamic law sanctions the killing of apostates. Although civil laws in some countries may nominally protect converts, in most countries "the percentage of Muslims who believe in killing apostates is huge" and authorities often turn a blind eye to it, so the threat of "vigilante justice against apostates" is ever-present.
Darwish, who became an MBB after immigrating to America, said that she cannot return to her native Egypt for fear of being targeted. "I could be killed, and ... the police will probably announce that [I] was robbed and killed during a robbery. It will never be recorded as killing an apostate."
Muslim converts who manage to escape execution face a range of repercussions from losing their jobs to being shunned by friends to being disowned by relatives. "I was disinherited ... my family [members] don't talk to me anymore."
Another challenge facing MBBs in Middle Eastern countries is practicing the faith. Churches in the region typically do not permit MBB's to attend, fearful it could result in their being burned to the ground. The only option for converts is to attend "underground churches" in homes with other MBBs. The failure of "Western churches [that] choose to be silent" rather than defend persecuted Christians and MBB's in the Middle East only makes their isolation and plight worse.
"I was disinherited ... my family [members] don't talk to me anymore."
In the Middle East, converts are frequently obstructed in transmitting Christianity to the next generation. In addition to being shunned, the children of MBBs are often "treated as Muslims" in school, "forced to attend Islamic education" and "encouraged to view their parents as apostates."
MBBs also encounter a frosty reception among secularists in the Middle East because they have been influenced by "anti-biblical" beliefs of the leftist intelligentsia in the West. Darwish said the secularists do not understand that the "freedoms in the West are the product of the biblical values that brought [about] our Constitution ... They see that this land that was built by biblical values is abandoning them."
Darwish expressed hope that the freedom to practice all religions will eventually become tolerated throughout the Middle East, but acknowledged this possibility is remote for the foreseeable future.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.