Friday, March 06, 2009

Plight of an Afghan Christian

Family and friends have disowned him, and the British authorities are suspicious of his religious conversion by Reza Mohammadi, Friday 6 March 2009 07.00 GMT

'Many people in Afghanistan have turned to the faith of Jesus Christ in recent years. A few of them have done so openly, though most have kept their conversion secret. The new converts have either been influenced by travelling and settling in Christian countries of the west or by the audacity of Christian missionaries who have travelled to Afghanistan.

The converts number in thousands and congregate in secret churches in Afghanistan or in the blossoming Afghan church which has been set up in England. They all decided to turn away from the faith of their ancestors – some in search of food; others in search of a better world and yet others in pursuit of a better faith. Accepting never-ending fear of rejection and animosity as a consequence of conversion, they have been born again in the Christian faith.

Abdul Wakil Shamsi is one such convert. He used to live in Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, where he led a comfortable life in comparison to many others in the city. Wakil's chic outfits, white from head to toe, his street-wise and laddish disposition, his constant curiosity, are all still remembered on Mazar's street corners.

Tempted by the dream of finding a better world, Wakil one day set off to foreign realms. Through Russia's harsh roads, he went to Eastern Europe, from where the mountains led him to Western Europe. There he saw Great Britain sparkling in light and eventually arrived in London.

For Afghans on the ground, London seems like the far end of the world. There's even a local proverb that says "Your hand is open from here all the way to London" – meaning you should do whatever is your power.

In his first year in London, an Iranian man took Wakil to a Persian-speaking church. Wakil then started reading St John's gospel and St Paul's letters. He tried to read the Bible sentence by sentence, to understand each sentence, to interpret and to memorise them all. And so he soon discovered that he had found a better faith. He officially confessed an account of his tumultuous life and was subsequently baptised in the new faith. Little did he know that his conversion would lead to a future that was destined to be even more eventful.

One by one, Wakil's fellow Afghans deserted him. Even his closest friends, those who had accompanied him on his travels, those who had shared his home, refused to speak or eat with him. There were times when Wakil was aching to speak in his own language but not a single Afghan from his community invited him to a dinner of Uzbek-style rice so popular among Afghans.

Soon news of his conversion reached Afghanistan via the same Afghan community that had isolated him. At midnight in London, which corresponded with early morning in Afghanistan, Wakil's father telephoned him. In a voice in which anger was mixed with sorrow, the father asked Wakil: "Is it true that you've become an infidel?"

Wakil didn't what to say and fell silent. He wanted to deny, change the subject or just hang up the phone. Instead he said: "Father, I've not become an infidel. I've found a new faith. Maybe, if I could talk to you face to face, I'd be able to convince you."

But his father cursed Wakil and hung up. Wakil rushed to the nearest newsagent's, bought a phone card and rang his parents. He tried to explain to them the meaning of his conversion but both his mother and father said they had disowned him and that his family's curses would pursue him.

Wakil was now lonelier than ever before. In London no Afghan would talk to him; back home in Afghanistan, his family had disowned him. His wife and two sons stopped talking to him exactly at a time when he was required to prove to the Home Office, in trial after trial, that he was a true convert to Christianity.

For seven years Wakil has been trying to convince the Home Office of the sincerity of his conversion but to no avail. There have been seven years of legal limbo in which Wakil has been treated like a social pariah by his former friends. He carried his new faith around with him in a world that no longer seemed fresh to him. Later, he managed to establish contact with other Afghan converts and together with them set up an independent Afghan church in London. He even managed to establish contact with Afghan converts inside Afghanistan and other countries. And despite doubts on the part of many of his English acquaintances, he even found a new family, a new Christian father and mother.

In the last seven years, Wakil hasn't missed a single Sunday sermon. Since his social encounters are mainly with English people, to Afghans he appears like a true Englishman and yet the Home Office doesn't believe that his conversion is authentic. But Wakil is a true Christian who reads the Bible with the sweet accent of a pure Mazari. He is fluent in five languages and uses them all to promote Christianity and encourage others to search for God. Every week, he arrives in church in time to light a candle. He has learned all the mysteries of living and slaving in England.

Wakil – a man who can't leave this country but is aching for his family, a man who has no permit to stay in England but doesn't know what to do if immigration officials arrest him. Wakil – whom his own family and the Muslim people of Afghanistan have rejected and isolated. Wakil – whose words, "Is there any use in running against the wind?" have stayed with me. Wakil –who by telling this story, made me party to his astounding destiny.'

Reza Mohammadi, is an Afghan poet, writer and journalist. This article was translated by Nushin Arbabzadah.

Shamshi is a friend who i want to help stay in England. Click on the title and read the comments of Grauniad readers. I thought the paper was bad until I read these people's appaling comments. Most of them have really no idea about reality.

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