The science lectures Asim was hearing at university didn’t seem to agree with his family’s Muslim faith. Doubtful and disillusioned, he began hanging out in cafes with atheistic friends, mocking the Koran.
Although he had no interest in religion, Asim agreed to join a Coptic Christian friend at her church’s Christmas Eve service. After leaving the service, he couldn’t get the words of one song out of his mind: “You died for me and you took my burdens for me.” Curious to learn more about the mysterious words, he returned to the church and soon began studying the Bible with a man he met there.
Zealous for Islam, Zarah began studying under an ultraconservative Salafi Muslim cleric, even joining him as an anti-Christian Muslim missionary. She would stand outside the Bible Society office in Cairo, passing out leaflets and berating anyone who walked out with a Bible.
But as she continued to study Islam and search for ways to attack Christians, the flaws in her own religion grew increasingly apparent. Zarah’s doubts caught up with her one day as she stood outside the Bible Society. “Why am I attacking these people?” she asked herself. “Why am I not letting them do whatever they want?”
From that day I committed my life to Christ
One night, Asim began to weigh everything he had learned about Christianity. He knew that it was something good, and he believed that God was loving and merciful. The problem was Jesus: He was described differently in Islam than in Christianity. Asim prayed and asked God for guidance. “At that moment, faith came from the heart, not from thinking,” he recalled. “From that day I committed my life to Christ.”
He eagerly set up a new Facebook account, where he refuted Islam and praised the goodness he saw in Christianity. Then, one night his mother woke him from a sound sleep and began asking some pointed questions.
“Your sister told me that you became a Christian,” she said. “Are you a Christian?”
“I am,” he told her. His family panicked. They locked him in the house for a week, brought imams to argue with him and beat him. But he wouldn’t give in. Finally, they stripped him to his underwear and tied him to his bed, lashing him repeatedly with a garden hose.
After days of abuse, he gave in. “OK,” he promised, “I will not talk about Christians anymore.”
But Asim had been transformed, and even if he couldn’t be honest with his family he had to share his new faith. He returned to the cafes where his atheistic friends met, but instead of ridiculing Islam, Asim told his friends about Jesus. One by one his friends turned to Christ and would meet regularly for fellowship and discipleship. After meeting for eight years, a woman named Zarah joined their group.
She found freedom
During her time as an anti-Christian missionary, Zarah realised that the conservative Muslim ideology she had been following was deeply flawed and walked away from both her Salafi mentor and Islam.
Members of Asim’s discipleship group invited Zarah, whom they knew was a Muslim, to their meetings. At first Zarah refused their invitations, but then, finally decided to attend.
Zarah had studied Christianity in order to disprove its claims; in fact, her Salafi mentor had given her a Bible just so she could learn how to attack Christianity. She had always assumed that Christianity was restrictive, a set of laws telling you what you could and couldn’t do.
Instead, she found freedom. Rather than praying at specific times each day, she could speak to God whenever she wanted. He was always with her, and He accepted her as she was. “In Islam we have to work to please Him, but in Christianity God works for us, doing the best for us, like dying for us,” she said. The questions that had long been in her heart were answered, and she gave her life to Christ.
United in faith and purpose
Separate paths had led them to Christ, and soon Asim and Zarah fell in love and married.
While Muslim families generally object to one of their children marrying a Christian, Zarah’s family welcomed Asim presuming he was a Muslim. Likewise, Asim’s family thought he was still an atheist and that Zarah was a Muslim. “Being an atheist is acceptable,” he explained, “but to be a Christian is not.”
On their wedding day, Asim and Zarah were secretly married by their pastor before proceeding with the traditional Muslim ceremony with their families. For Zarah, Christian marriage provided liberation from Islam’s patriarchal culture. “There is no dignity for a woman in Islam,” she said. “I was happy to find we are equal; we became one together, not one higher.”
As with many families in the Middle East, Asim and Zarah live in the same apartment building as Asim’s family. They must therefore be very careful to conceal their Christian faith. In Egyptian culture, visitors can walk in at any time rather than first knocking on a door, and the discovery of a Bible in their home would cause big problems.
“What happened to Asim when his family first thought he had become a Christian would happen again, but not only to Asim,” Zarah said. “I would also be punished.”
Trusting Jesus despite the difficulties
Since they can’t have a Bible of their own, the newlyweds listen to sermons together on Friday mornings and attend church during the week. Asim’s family is suspicious, and when they visit they always pressure him to perform the Muslim prayers with them. His older brother also lectures Zarah, telling her that if she were a better Muslim she could help her husband be strong in the faith.
Asim’s brothers are ashamed of him and want him removed from the building. The neighbours also know that Asim once acknowledged the Christian faith, so he and Zarah are considered highly suspect. “We are all the time under threat of being shown as Christians to the family,” Zarah said.
Life is difficult, but the couple trust in Jesus every moment of the day, and Asim continues to visit the cafes to engage with atheists. “The first day I met Asim until today, he has become more excited about this faith, about Jesus,” Zarah said. Although they followed separate paths toward faith in Christ, by God’s grace they face difficult circumstances united in faith.SUBSCRIBE