Muslim Convert Describes Hardships in Bangladesh
Abdul's family almost beat him to death when he turned his back on Allah. Only his mother's love - and God's grace - he says, spared his life. Even 18 years later, Abdul says he risks his life every day in his homeland, Bangladesh, by urging other Muslims to accept Christ as Savior.
Abdul told his story during a recent trip to Texas, where he visited Baptist churches that are supporting Christian ministry among Bengali Muslims. "Abdul" is not his real name; he uses it, he said, to hide his real identity in order to protect his life and the lives of other Christians.
Located on the northeastern border of India, Bangladesh is about the size of Arkansas. But it is home to 150 million people - 87 percent of them Muslim, 10 percent Hindu and fewer than 1 percent profess to be Christian. "In Bangladesh, we have had the idea that no Muslim can become a Christian," he said. "That idea already has been changed. People are coming to the faith." But the journey is long, hard and often dangerous, he continued, recounting his own story of family, fear and faith.
"When I was 7 years old, my parents sent me to 'madrasa,' language school, to learn Arabic, he said. "The Koran (the Islamic scripture) is in Arabic. It is Allah's language, holy language.
"After about two years, I started asking questions about Allah. I just wanted to know, but I was treated as a sinner boy." His teachers scolded him: "Your head is too small to understand. If you think too much, you may become mad." Still, Abdul persisted, infuriating the school's headmaster, who reported the boy's misbehavior to his father. His father apologized on behalf of the family, but Abdul was expelled from the school for asking questions.
That led to virtual ostracism. "For seven years, I had no friends," he noted.
In 1982, Abdul found a copy of the Koran in Bangla, his own language. In its pages, he recalled, he read two very important messages - Islam teaches that salvation is only for Arabs, and Jesus was holy. A year later, he met a Baptist missionary, the first white man he had ever known. "I doubted he was a man," Abdul recounted. But they visited for about 30 minutes. "I asked him, 'Are you Muslim?'" Abdul said, "He said, 'No, I am a Christian.' So I asked him, 'What do you believe?' He said: 'I believe in Isa (the Islamic name for Jesus). The New Testament is my holy book.'" Abdul asked for a New Testament, and the missionary gladly gave him a copy.
"I had to be very careful," Abdul said. "I hid the book in my shirt. I took it home and read this book -- the whole thing -- in a night, just like a novel. I didn't sleep. The next night I read it again."
Abdul found two verses that he said changed his life, John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
"As a Muslim, I was treated as a sinner boy - no love," he said. "I thought I should commit suicide. But these verses promised eternal life. That night, I received eternal life." Abdul then got a copy of the Old Testament and began to study it. His missionary friend introduced him to a Christian pastor, who at first was afraid to deal with a Muslim, but overcame that fear to teach the 17-year-old boy about Christ.
"I started to join the church," Abdul recalled. "But my dad was very angry, upset with me. 'Why are you going to a Christian church?' he asked me. 'I will tell you - Christians worship the wrong God.'" His father forbade him from attending the Christian church anymore, but Abdul instead obeyed his heavenly Father. "I tried hard not to go, but I had to go," he said.
So, Abdul's father called an emergency family meeting to discuss the boy's conversion. "One of my uncles said they should beat me up, so that the 'evil spirits' would leave me," he reported. A cousin beat him. That night, the family tied him to a bamboo pole and ordered him to burn his Bible. He refused. Bound outside in the night air, he was covered in mosquito bites. Later, after his father, uncles and cousins went to bed, his mother sneaked out to him and set him free. "She was very sad in her heart," Abdul said. "She untied me, put some money in my pocket and said, 'Run away, or they will kill you.' That was the last time I saw my mother." Abdul escaped to Dhaka, the capital city of 10 million people.
"It's a nice place to hide," he said. "I compared the Bible and the Koran, and I decided to take baptism. I wanted to break the idea - that a Muslim cannot become a Christian."
He presented his desire to the church, which primarily was comprised of believers who had not formerly been Muslims. "I told the church: 'I don't want to give you too much trouble, but I need to take baptism, because Jesus did.' When the message of my baptism got home to my family, my father went to court and said, 'This son is no more related to me.'" For the next three years, Abdul continually wrote letters to his family, declaring his love for them, even though he had embraced Christianity. Then, he returned to his village, although he was not allowed to meet with his family.
He instead lived with his best friend, who became a Christian after six months. Three years later, Abdul baptized his father, his brother and his sister. He since has seen three other brothers, another sister and the cousin who beat him, all embrace Christianity.
Abdul's family represents a trend in Bangladesh, he said, noting that in the past six years, 91,000 Muslims from across the country have become Christians. But that hasn't stemmed the tide of persecution, he said.
On the last day of 1998, Abdul visited a hospital to take food to an evangelist who had been beaten because of his faith in Jesus. The same group of people abducted him, beat him until he was unconscious and bloody and left him in a drain for dead, he recounted. He said it took him 15 months to recover from the attack. Abdul said he has been beaten four times, his financial accounts have been frozen three times and his house has been searched four times. Others are less fortunate. Muslim militants reportedly killed four Christian evangelists in 1997 and 1998 and two more last year. At least 16 homes of Christians have been burned. "In every day, in different ways, we are getting persecuted," Abdul said.
Abdul describes himself as a "servant of the whole movement" of Christianity in Bangladesh. "My job is to travel everywhere to serve the people." Specifically, Abdul equips evangelists to spread the gospel. He has a master's degree and owns at least three businesses. He employs and encourages the evangelists, who use their jobs to support themselves while they focus on spreading Christianity throughout Bangladesh.
Despite persecution, Bengali Christians see bright prospects, Abdul said. "The people have been in prayer, and the Holy Spirit is working," he reported. "The people of Bangladesh have been coming to the faith. Pray for Bengali Muslims."
(This report out of Dallas by ABP:
Religion Today - February 6, 2001
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