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Hard road for young Muslim women turning to faith in Christ


By Ava Thomas

NORTHERN AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST — Sadiqah* has heard plenty of stories about what sometimes happens when people in her country turn from Islam to Christ.

She heard once about some whose family tortured them with electricity and told them that’s what it will feel like when they burn in hell.

One young couple was burned to death.

Another young man was put in a mental institution. One young woman was fatally poisoned by her family, and another was forced into a marriage with a Muslim.

This is what the climate was like when 26-year-old Sadiqah approached Lisa Langworthy* in a McDonald’s and asked her how to know Jesus.

“I went to a university where there were Christians, and when I heard the girls going to pray and read, I wanted to know what they were doing, but no one would tell me,” Sadiqah said. “They’re very afraid that someone might be from government security.”

When she saw Langworthy — a Christian worker — eating in the McDonald’s where she worked, she had been waiting four years for someone to tell her who Jesus really was.

“I felt something that made me know I wanted to talk to her, and when I did, I finally met the Messiah,” Sadiqah said. “I see things differently now — I can tell you how it was before and what’s changed. I want to tell many more people. If I tell my friends, it (faith in Christ) can grow like a tree.”

She has a small group of friends who have also come to faith in Jesus since she shared what she believes with them. In the country where they live, it’s not easy — renouncing Islam comes at a cost, she said.

“Many Christians are afraid, so they leave. But we can’t do that — we can’t leave everyone here behind. We can change the darkness here,” she said.

Sadiqah still wears a head covering — something required for Muslim women — because she feels it would draw too much attention if she stopped. When another young woman she’d heard about chose to follow Jesus, her mother cut the girl’s hair short and scratched her arms so she would be forced to cover her head and wear sleeves.

It’s “very, very, very hard” being a Christ follower in her country, Sadiqah said. It’s also difficult being a forward-thinking woman.

For most women there, the No. 1 goal in life is to find a good man to marry, she said.

“But the ideas in men’s head are really difficult, and I don’t think that will change unless someone makes it right,” she said. “There are so many examples. A small one is that if a man is riding by on a motorcycle, it’s OK for him to slap a girl on the rear.”

It’s also OK for a woman’s husband to ask if one of her friends is pretty — and if she is, it’s OK for him to sleep with her, Sadiqah said.

But for the woman who makes the wrong move, it could mean death, she said.

“All eyes are on the woman here,” Sadiqah said. “It’s a big problem if a girl sleeps with a man before she’s married. If, when she gets married, she doesn’t bleed, her husband’s family can kill her.”

It happens more in the countryside than in the city, but it can happen anywhere, Sadiqah said. Sometimes women secretly have reconstructive surgery so that they will bleed on their wedding night, she said.

“The surgery is very dangerous — women can die. But they would rather risk dying now so they don’t die later,” Sadiqah said. “In this country, there are all the wrong ideas.”

Sometimes women do think differently than cultural traditions dictate, she said. “But when you see a girl with forward thoughts, it’s always because of outside reasons — she’s studied or traveled.”

Many young women like Sadiqah hoped that when the Arab Spring swept through their country and others like it last year, things might change. But so far, that hasn’t happened.

“Most women don’t have the ability or education to change things, or people are worried about looking shamed,” she said.

So, despite her passion for the plight of the women in her country, her greatest desire is that they and the men they marry come to know freedom in Christ.

And she’s starting with her own family.

“It’s hard for girls who turn to Jesus,” Sadiqah said. “They have a hard time finding husbands who believe in Him. If you marry someone who is religious (Muslim), he would make you pray (to Allah).”

When the man who became Sadiqah’s husband started pursuing her, she didn’t tell him right away that she was a Christ follower — she sent him emails anonymously sharing the Gospel for a while, then sent one of her Christian friends to go to talk with him.

“When she spoke with him, he told her he wanted to believe, and he asked if she could also tell me about it so that I would believe,” Sadiqah said. “I knew then I could marry him.”

They’ve been married three years and are happy, she said. “But things are hard, too — he’s afraid to tell people he’s a Christian. I pray often that one day things will be different here.”

Please pray for the young women turning to Jesus Christ in Northern Africa and the Middle East:

  • that these young believers will have the courage to follow Christ whatever the cost.
  • that they will boldly and wisely share their faith with friends and family members, and that their numbers will grow.
  • that all of these young women will discover that true happiness is not found in finding the right husband or securing greater freedoms but in knowing Jesus Christ.

*Names have been changed.

Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe.

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