Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Abdul Rahman was on death row with little prospect of avoiding execution. The case against him was air-tight. He confessed his crime, one allegedly committed some 16 years before. There was a public outcry as well to execute the bearded, sad-faced man for what he had done. Thousands of people rallied in the streets demanding that he be executed. And what was the crime that he had committed?
Some 16 years before, at the age of 25, Rahman had converted from Islam to Christianity. Just a minute, you may be thinking, wondering, “Is that all he did? Don’t thousands of people do what he did every day?” Yes, but not in a Muslim country where the Sharia or religious law condemns a person to death. When the international press reported the forthcoming execution, a fire storm of reaction erupted which eventually saved his life.
But I’m ahead of the story. Rahman was living in Afghanistan where the constitution affords religious freedom, but a different set of laws contained in the Sharia or the religious law condemns a person to death who converts from Islam to another religion. When international pressure was brought to bear on then President Hamid Karzai, he was adjudged mentally unfit to stand trial. In other words, he was pronounced crazy. Why? When the prosecutor would ask him questions, according to a court spokesman, he would talk to himself and mutter. When asked what he was saying, he responded: “I am speaking with God.”
When the missionary, Mary Slessor, having spent most of her life ministering in Nigeria, returned to her native Scotland, she also seemed to be talking under her breath. When people began to think she had lost her sanity and she was asked about the practice, she quickly explained that she was praying—talking to Jesus. It seems that Rahman had taken up the same practice.
The life of Abdul Rahman was spared and he ultimately found asylum in the UK, but had there been no international outcry, he would have been a nameless casualty. A multitude of unknown individuals who convert to Christianity do not fare so well.
Take, for example, the person who responded to Christian programming in Arabic produced by Trans World Radio, a major Christian broadcasting group. Writing to the broadcaster, the listener told of his response, trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. A few months later when the broadcaster was traveling in the area where the listener lived, he came to his village and inquired as to where this person could be found. “I will take you there,” he responded. The broadcaster followed the neighbor who led him—not to his house—but to the local cemetery. “This is where he is,” he said, adding, “This is what happens to someone who converts to Jesus Christ.”
There has been a movement in Islamic countries to reject secular law in favor of the Sharia where Imams and clerics who demand harsh and severe reprisals upon victims carry far more authority than governments. The laws based on Sharia show no mercy, no compassion, but demand absolute and unswerving compliance. The penalties are brutal and harsh—not simply upon those who convert to another religion but to those who do not comply completely with its demands.
The real battle ahead is not Islam versus the West but radical or extreme Islam versus the rest of the world. “I have full awareness of what I have chosen,” Rahman told an Italian newspaper, adding, “If I must die, I will die.” His was the attitude Jesus spoke of when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Undoubtedly more will face the challenge that confronted Rahman. Will you pray for those Christ-followers today?
Resource reading: Galatians 2