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."