Saturday, January 14, 2006

Religious freedom in Egypt

(The true) God bless this man:
NEWARK — Seven hellish days of torture in an Egyptian prison did nothing to diminish Muslim-turned-Christian Majed El Shafie’s faith in God, but it did ignite a passion for helping other persecuted Christians worldwide.

El Shafie, founder of Toronto-based One Free World Ministries, will share his harrowing story and testimony at 7 p.m. Sunday at Em-manuel United Methodist Church in Newark. Through his ministry, he has reached out to lawmakers in the United States, Canada and Israel to relieve the plight of persecuted Christians in Asia and the Middle East. El Shafie urges love and forgiveness in the face of terrible hardship.

“I decided to forgive those who tortured me, but with forgiveness comes action,” he said. “We have to help the people that are suffering for their beliefs.”

Born into a prominent Muslim family in Cairo, El Shafie seemed destined to go into law. His father and brother are successful attorneys and an uncle serves as a judge on a high court.

“When you’re born into a family like this, you have lots of books on law, justice and freedom,” he said.

While studying law in Alexandria, El Shafie was shocked to see the harsh treatment of Christians. Building churches is illegal in Egypt, he said, and Christians are treated worse than second-class citizens.

Struck by this intolerance, El Shafie began studying the Bible. In 1998, when he was about 20, he converted to Christianity and organized an underground congregation that attracted 24,000 worshippers within two years.

It was literally an underground church, worshipping in caves near the outskirts of the city.

El Shafie ran afoul of the Egyptian government when he appealed for equal rights for Christians. He also took issue with the harsh teachings of the Koran, which the government used to justify persecuting Christians.

“It’s not that they’re bad because they’re Muslims,” he said. “Our problem was with their teaching of Islam.”

Obviously, the problem is not "their" version of Islam, but Allah's.