I was taken to an interrogation room where an officer was seated at a beat-up wooden table. He stepped out from behind his desk.
“You don’t like Muhammad’s name? You don’t want the holy prophet’s name?” He backhanded me across the face. “You took a dog’s name.”
He pushed me in the chest, causing me to lose my balance and fall to my knees. “How could you do something so blasphemous?” he said, looking down on me.
With the officer still shouting at me, two guards in combat boots began kicking me. One blow to my abdomen knocked the wind out of me. I gasped for air. It was pretty clear why I was in so much trouble—my religion.
I was sent to a place referred to as the Investigations Prison, where accused criminals were held until they got a hearing. The jail had a ripe smell of urine. Cockroaches moved along the ceiling. I was put in a giant holding cell with more than 60 other accused criminals who were waiting for their cases to be heard.
After nearly nine months in detention, I was finally taken before a panel of judges. I was charged with drug possession and falsifying my identity. I didn’t know what to say. I had never used illegal drugs in my life. Yet there I was being accused of using cocaine and heroin.
I was in the middle of a silent prayer when I heard my case called. The judge pronounced a guilty verdict and ordered me to serve a life sentence.
His words just hung in the air.
At first it didn’t sink in. I wanted to bury my face in my hands. But I couldn’t even do that. My hands were cuffed behind my back. Instead, I just let the tears flow down my cheeks. I didn’t care who saw me. I told myself: The Lord knows best. But at that moment, I wasn’t sure I believed that anymore. I was trying to cling to my faith, but I felt like a man hanging by his fingertips from the edge of a high rock cliff. I lacked the strength to pull myself up. And there was no one around to lend me a hand.
I went to prison.
After 10 years in prison, I began having severe health problems. I started losing weight. I felt weak and tired all the time. I started feeling sharp pains in my chest. I feared I was going to have a heart attack. On a couple of occasions I thought I might have suffered minor ones.
I hit rock bottom. I couldn’t help thinking that I wouldn’t be in this mess if I hadn’t become a Christian. I had accepted Christ as my Savior. Since then I had lost my fianc.e. My father had disowned me. My mother had killed herself after being blamed for my choice to leave Islam. I was in prison on trumped-up charges. And after all that, my health was failing. Meantime, where was God?
I was dwelling on this one night when a guard opened my cell and pushed in a prisoner. The guy had white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. He was twenty-something. “He’s staying the night,” the guard said.
I’d seen this sort of thing before. Every once in a while a foreigner would be arrested and thrown in with the general prison population overnight. Then in the morning he’d be taken to court, and you’d never see him again. This guy was one of those cases.
His name was Simon. He was from London and was arrested as a tourist on immigration violations. I told him I was a Christian, and it turned out he knew a lot about the persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East. He said he belonged to a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Christians who are persecuted for their beliefs. The organization was called Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), and it was based in England. I had never heard
of the group. But one of CSW’s main areas of emphasis was conducting public awareness campaigns to free Christians who had been jailed or imprisoned for their beliefs.
Before this Englishman was released, he told me this group could make my situation known to Christians around the world. I was pretty skeptical. This was 1997, well before Facebook,
Twitter, and YouTube. Very few people around the world even had email at that time.