Ayesha is a Somali Christian whose relatives rejected and abandoned her when she converted from Islam. She was brutally attacked and almost died – and her relatives defended her attackers.
“We are thankful to those women who tried to kill her.” That’s what Ayesha’s* uncle told the authorities, after she was brutally stabbed for being a Christian. Can you imagine your own relatives being grateful to your would-be murderer?
"We are thankful to those women who tried to kill her." Ayesha's uncle
Ayesha is a Somali Christian, living in the Horn of Africa outside Somalia. The attack happened one Sunday when Ayesha was returning from work. “I came home, in front of my door, and a woman stabbed me in the back with a knife,” Ayesha remembers. She turned to face her assailant. “She stabbed me again, near the heart. I fell and was taken to hospital.”
Ayesha underwent life-saving operations. Later, she learned that three women had attacked her, not just one – but even more shocking was her family’s cruelty. “My uncle went to the authorities and told them, ‘She is my niece, and we are happy that she was about to be killed, because she became our enemy.’” The women were all released. Ayesha has been to court three times, but the authorities will not punish the people who tried to murder her.
Why did Ayesha’s family consider her ‘our enemy’ – to the point where they wanted her dead? It’s because she decided to follow Jesus. Like most of the small number of Somali Christians, Ayesha converted from Islam. It wasn’t a decision she made lightly. She knew it would cost her a great deal.
"When I received Jesus, I lost my family, my husband and my people." Ayesha
A foreigner shared the gospel with Ayesha when she was pregnant with her first son. She started asking questions about her Muslim upbringing. “I researched Christianity and the Quran for three years,” she says. “After that, I knew where the truth is: I received Jesus.”
She quickly learned that this choice came at a price. “When I received Jesus, I also received many problems – I lost my family, my husband and my people.”
Somali culture is collective, so everybody depends on their family and community – for work, for support, for security and for respect. Leaving Islam is regarded by many as a betrayal of culture and clan – so Somali converts face total rejection by their family.
Ayesha wasn’t thrown out of her home, but she was treated cruelly in it. “If I spoke, my mother-in-law would say, ‘Keep quiet – you are an infidel; you are not allowed to speak to us like we are your equals’.” Her husband left, and her in-laws even tried to stop Ayesha being a mother to her young sons, Hussen*, Hassen* and Ali*.
"The family tried to take my children from me forcefully." Ayesha
“The family tried to take my children from me forcefully,” she says. They’ve kept doing it over the years, trying to persuade Ayesha’s children to leave her. “They say, ‘We are a wealthy family. We will give you a good life, we will take you to a very expensive school, we will take you to the Islamic school – the Quran is the truth, and you can be forgiven and earn paradise.’”
Ayesha is proud to say that Hussan, Hassen and Ali refuse these offers. They have also chosen to follow Jesus, and continue to do so despite this opposition and ostracism.
This came to a head when Ayesha was so brutally attacked – and her wider family supported the attackers. It was the first time she had really questioned her decision to follow Christ. But she couldn’t renounce Him. “I decided 100 times to leave Jesus and not to follow Him – but I couldn’t do it,” says Ayesha. “The person who believes and receives Jesus cannot go back, no matter what.
“We see what Jesus went through, even though He is God,” she continues. “They persecuted Him; He endured all this. When you remember this, it motivates you to be strong.”
In Somalia, there is no such thing as church life. It’s impossible to gather formally with other believers, and it’s hard to even know how many Christians there are – at number two on the World Watch List, it is an extremely dangerous place to be known as a believer and almost all Christians in the country keep their faith secret. There are churches where Ayesha lives, in a county in the Horn of Africa that we can’t name for security reasons, but anybody who attends them is immediately labelled as an outsider and faces even greater danger.
“To go to church is not easy for us,” she explains. “It’s good for us to have fellowship in our homes. Where the churches are located is very far and requires a lot of travel, which most women cannot afford because they are day labourers.”
Ayesha’s painful experiences help her to encourage and have empathy for other believers going through similar situations. “I remind all my brothers and sisters, who are Christian converts from Islam and are persecuted, of the verse that says those who follow Jesus must carry their cross,” she says, referring to Luke 14:27. “He did not hide anything from us. He told us the truth: if you want to follow Him, take up your cross. That is the decision you make the day you choose Christ.”
She adds: “Do not be afraid; you are stronger than any situation. You are a child of God. We are saved.”
"Do not be afraid; you are stronger than any situation. You are a child of God. We are saved." Ayesha
Christians from the countries on the World Watch List face extreme persecution every day, and the support and prayers of their global family are so vital. Open Doors partners are standing alongside Ayesha, and have done for years – from paying some medical bills to helping her start a small business to providing trauma care.
“I want to give thanks to Jesus,” she says. “He showed me the light, and I thank Him – and I thank you all.”
*Names changed for security reasons
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