This week marks the beginning of Ramadan. It’s a time of the year when Christians in Muslim-majority countries or regions can encounter increased persecution – as Samil from Central Asia discovered soon after giving his life Jesus.
When Samil* joined a local football club, little did he know that it would kick off a journey of faith that would transform his life – but invite persecution from those closest to him.
The club was set up by the youth leader of a local church. Growing up a Muslim, Samil had no interest in Christianity, but he was desperate for somewhere to play sport. He made new friends and ended up at a youth event which inspired him to occasionally attend church. It wasn’t long before Jesus captivated him, and he decided to give his life to Christ. He was so excited about this decision that he quickly set about telling others his newfound faith – even at the mosque.
"I had a great passion to tell people about the hope which they can find in Jesus" Samil
“I went to the mosque to share the gospel on Fridays, when it was prayer day,” Samil recalls. “I took New Testaments with me. I had so little knowledge then, but I had a great passion to tell people about the hope which they can find in Jesus.”
It’s an approach he took following his grandmother’s funeral – much to the anger of the mullah (an Islamic teacher), who falsely accused Samil of accepting money to convert to Christianity. Despite his fervency, Samil struggled to counter the mullah’s remarks. “I was, one might say, a child in faith,” he says. “I felt so confused.”
Undeterred, Samil began attending training run by Open Doors local partners which equipped him with the knowledge and confidence to articulate his faith and respond to questions.
But this brought a fresh challenge, because the more Samil spoke about Jesus, the more exposed he was to opposition. Even his mother, who had expressed some interest in Christianity, urged Samil to step away from church and faith in Jesus, such was her fear of the consequences.
At this point hostility only came from locals, including neighbours, but that all changed at the beginning of Ramadan one year. The mullah visited the family’s home to say a prayer in honour of his grandmother, after which Samil began asking him questions about Islam. Unable to answer them, the mullah became enraged and told Samil’s parents that he had been brainwashed.
"My father was furious. He beat me, but I didn't feel any pain." Samil
Suddenly, Samil’s father was under pressure to do something about his son’s faith. “Every time when somebody came to our house, I knew for sure they would speak about me and that hurt my father so much and he oppressed me,” says Samil.
Pressure also came from his sister and her husband, who is also a mullah. After talking with Samil, his brother-in-law said, “He will no longer be a normal person, there is no hope for Samil, he has already been brainwashed.” The two of them refused to have any relationship with Samil.
When his mother tragically died from bowel cancer, Samil not only lost his mother but also the one of the only people he could rely on for support. “Even though she did not agree with my decision to convert, mum understood me,” he says. “The only thing that brings me comfort is that, three days before her death, my mother accepted Christ. We prayed together. I am sure that she is with the Lord.”
After his mother’s death, the mullah continued to turn Samil’s father against him, and things came to a head when Samil was due to get married to a Christian woman. They went against tradition by deciding not to have a mullah preside at the ceremony.
“My father was furious. He beat me, but I didn't feel any pain, and he kicked me out,” shares Samil, who was left to walk the streets in the middle of the night, not knowing where to go or what to do. “Then one of my sisters, Amira*, secretly opened the door for me, and I went into my room. She is the only person from my family who understands me and is not against my faith, even though she is very far from accepting Christ.”
“It is very difficult for me to endure the persecution within the family,” continues Samil. “But over the years, God has done so much. I have seen so many miracles from God. For example, my wife is a wonderful answer from God. All the relatives said that no one would want to marry me as a ‘traitor of the faith’. But God gave me a wonderful, kind, believing wife, we have a daughter growing up and now we are expecting a second child.
"No matter what, God does not leave me." Samil
“He changed my attitude towards women,” he adds. “I believed that women have no value compared to men, but now I understand that in God men and women are equal. Amid persecution, God helped me through women – first my mother, now my wife and sister.”
The opposition remains but Samil knows he is not alone. “No matter what, God does not leave me. I get up every morning at 5am to pray, ask Him questions, sometimes shout with tears to Him. And He answers prayers. God has never left me in any difficulty. Peace always comes to the heart. Yes, I have not seen any great miracles, but the biggest one is the miracle of tranquillity – peace in the soul.
“God also changed my attitude to persecution, before it was difficult for me to love people who hate and hurt me for my faith, now I can bless them, I can pray for them.”
Please pray for Christians like Samil who are at heightened risk of persecution during Ramadan, the annual Islamic month of fasting in order to seek Allah. This includes secret believers, who can struggle to remain hidden during this month – especially if they are not seen to observe the fasting period.
*Names changed for security reasons
Would you like to hear first-hand from your persecuted family? This year, Standing Strong is going regional, as we host multiple events to make it easier for you to gather with others to support, and pray for, our persecuted brothers and sisters.
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.