04/03/2012, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Ex imam convert to Catholicism almost killed

Maria Gomes
Muslim leader first becomes Presbyterian abroad. After meeting a Catholic woman, he marries her and converts to her religion. Back in Bangladesh, he is totally rejected by his community. Despite the violence and social banishment, his faith remains strong: "I believe in Christ. I welcomed him" for "he is my saviour".

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - "I believe in Christ. I welcomed him" for "he is my saviour," said Vincent (not his real name for security reasons), a former Bangladeshi imam who is now Catholic and for this reason has endured persecution for a long time in his native community.

His journey towards conversion began abroad, far from Bangladesh. It led him first to baptism in the Presbyterian Church. After that, he fell in love with a Catholic woman, married her and then converted to her faith. Once they were back in Bangladesh, Vincent and his wife were welcomed by threats and violence. Members of his community beat him almost to death.

Islam in the state religion in Bangladesh but the constitution does not recognise Sharia and guarantees freedom of worship. This makes it one of the most open Muslim states, where conversions can occur in an atmosphere of general tolerance.

However, Islam's social and cultural ascendancy is such that in many communities all sorts of pressure is put on people. In some cases, notaries refuse to sign papers testifying to conversions. In other cases, like that of the former imam, people resort to physical and psychological violence.

After almost two months in hospital, Vincent is back home. But the same Muslims who followed him and held him in high esteem when he was their imam now cannot accept his new "status".

Beating is also not enough. Other forms of violence can be used. Both husband and wife have been ostracised, forced to move from home to home. Vincent eventually lost his job and now has to do odd jobs to survive.

Today he is a troubled man. Yet, his community's banishment has not pushed him away from Jesus. He continues to attend Mass now more than ever, and repeat, "I believe in Christ. In him, I was reborn. He is my Saviour."

 

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