Imagine being thrown into prison and interrogated. Imagine being poisoned, tortured and threatened with execution simply for having questions and changing your mind.
Of course here in the west one is free to abide by which ever ideology/religion one deems fit and if one should so choose to leave a religion in which they grew up with the “stigma” is only associated to the individual. It is within the family that one may be the recipient of judgement or within the community; nonetheless there is always support but ultimately specifically here in Australia as we are so secularized our Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Expression is highly valued – usually in society overall nobody shows much interest at all. Nobody cares what you believe!
With these glorious freedoms that we take advantage of it is almost fictitiously ridiculous to envision a world where one could be jailed and threatened to be executed for having a different opinion.
As a sort of continuation of the previous article let us focus on the current news worthy Iran and its treatment of certain individuals in this case Christians. Around the world today 100 million Christians are persecuted for their faith, today we will dive into one tragic yet inspiring story of this very persecution.
Marziyeh Amirizadeh and her friend and flat mate Maryam Rostampour document their struggles in their book Captive in Iran from being Muslim women converting to Christianity and the perils that followed.
It was 2005 when Marziyeh and Maryam studied theology together in Turkey as it was not possible to study this in Iran subsequently each woman has a personal testimony of an encounter they had with Jesus and it was this encounter…irrespective of if one believes the claim is irrelevant; the objective is to illustrate the treatment the ladies endured under the Iranian government. It was this encounter that changed everything for these women and gave us in the western world a lens to see how a corrupt government attempts to enforce a law that cannot be done on any practical level.
Here in the west we have much division with Left vs Right we have people trying to restrict our speech or worse police our language and thoughts to the point where we are admonished for thinking a certain way. We are told that if we don’t find heavy people attractive that we are bigoted in some capacity or if we are uncomfortable with the idea of dating someone transgendered then we are discriminating and bad people for thinking that way. Legislating thought patterns and implementing laws that are put in place to control the populace in practice does not work effectively. It is only with a tyrannical government where the people are confined to a specific way of thinking and believing.
Iran should serve as a guide of what not to do. We could have a bleak future if those who fight to restrict language and freedom of expression were to gain power in our government. Every day we seem to come closer to an element of this chilling reality.
Iran is a country which is dictated by Sharia Law and under Sharia one is not free to ask any questions, being a free thinker is not encouraged as it is here. Curiosity is an admirable virtue but in Iran it can be punishable by death. Marziyeh explains at HTB Church that having very basic questions regarding her imposed Muslim religion such as “Why she was required to pray in Arabic when her native tongue is Farsi can’t Allah understand other languages?” and “Why must she pray specific choreographed prayers routinely every day which seemed to distance her from Allah rather than strengthen her belief in him?” These questions went unanswered.
With Islam being enforced so strongly and little being done to offer closure and fulfilling answers it is understandable that there would exist a congregate of individuals who share disappointment and disillusionment with the Islamic religion.
Marziyeh and Maryam had a life changing supernatural experience which led them to faith in Jesus Christ and knowing full well that women in Iran are not equal to men and additionally that evangelizing is a punishable offense the ladies believed they had a mission. As Marziyeh states “In Iran there is a false and distorted version of Bible, which called Barnabas Bible and in that Bible it says that after Jesus, Mohammad will come. Jesus was a prophet which is not true…” this Barnabas version of the Bible is not the accurate Biblical account that the rest of the world has access to and this distorted version is available in all bookstores in Iran.
In the Islamic faith it is widely known that the Bible is the predecessor to the Qur’an the Qur’an is the final word of God, so if it is a reliable source why then is the nation of Iran selling the Barnabas Bible? The answer could be due to the fact that the narrative strongly supports Muslim teachings. This book imitates the Islamic analysis of Christian origins and denies the godhood of Jesus among other things.
If Islamic teaching can stand on its own and has a strong enough foundation to be debated and challenged why sell a distorted version of a Christian Bible? According to respected Muslim website talktoislam.com the Bible itself is to be believed it is a reliable source and a valued book in the religion with the added caveat conversely that it has been changed throughout the years. Though if it belongs to Christians, Jews and Muslims then this is a strange assertion considering that there are 26 different versions of the Arabic Qur’an yet doubt is placed on the one traditional Bible…?
Are Muslims even aware that originally there were 26 Qur’ans one of which was canonized in 1924 the most common one is known as the Hafs Qur’an and one that is predominantly used in North Africa known as the Warsh Qur’an. It appears that there is no one Qur’an.
So due to this breach grew the incentive for the ladies, they contacted their pastor who was living in London and they asked him for thousands of New Testaments so to remedy the injustice of the propaganda that was being distributed in Iran.
Marziyeh and Maryam travelled through snow storms for over 9 hours on some days distributing the New Testament to as many people as humanly possible. In over 3 years they distributed over 20,000 New Testaments to every part of Tehran. Four years had gone by when Marziyeh and Maryam committed to their Christian walk and even began 2 house churches one for prostitutes who were seeking hope.
In March of 2009 their worst fears were realized when they were arrested for evangelizing and told to renounce their Christian faith or face execution, the ladies refused to turn their backs on Christ and consequently had their apartment ransacked and were thrown into Evin Prison.
If you’re unfamiliar with Evin Prison here is a very brief synopsis. The prison was built in 1970 during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi the prison itself administers executions. One noteworthy prisoner was photojournalist Canadian-Iranian Zahra Kazemi who was imprisoned on the 23rd of June 2003 for taking photos in front of Evin Prison. Zahra died on July 11th of 2003 a physician upon examining her body revealed that there were signs of torture, signs of rape, a fractured skull and a broken nose. Evidently Evin Prison has a justifiably daunting reputation.
Marziyeh and Maryam could not have had the foresight to comprehend exactly what was to come and what was to come was 259 days of a prison sentence. What was the crime that they were being imprisoned for? Anti-government, blasphemy, apostasy and promoting Christianity. Unimaginable to think about over here if a Mormon knocks on your door to discuss Joseph Smith and his teachings one has the liberty of politely refusing to hear their prepared speech and shut the door in their face because we have freedom. In Iran one could be executed for sharing their faith in Jesus and dispensing Bibles.
It was the ladies time in prison that caught the attention of Christian’s around the world. Marziyeh and Maryam initially prayed to be freed until they noticed that many of the prisoners were political prisoners, intellectuals, prostitutes, addicts, homeless, doctors and other Christians. They saw a need and used their faith to witness to the prisoners. Maryam explains that in Iran today most people but specifically women are under so much pressure specifically because of Islam. It is an exhausting religion and government. Allah appears to be petty and distant and constantly angry and punishing the masses.
Marziyeh and Maryam were able to push through the impossible overcome incredible an d utter adversity after believing that they would have surely been hanged for their faith.
Dearest reader please recognize that this is merely one particular account of something that is incredibly vile yet common. The Iranian government has attempted to place sanctions on one’s heart and mind. How is this even permitted to be enforced? The ladies were put on trial and asked if they were Christian and they proudly responded with “We love Jesus”. After much pressure globally and Christian’s uniting in prayer ad media attention the women by some miracle were freed and are now living in Atlanta in the USA sharing their story around the world.
The lesson to be taken here is not the amazing miracle that is their life or the trials and tribulations they went through simply because they doubted a State recognized ideology the take away here isn’t even how they found Salvation it is the incredibly corrupt government that dictates to the people what is allowed to be taught and believed and if you show any signs of curiosity and dare to doubt the state sanctioned belief system then you are subject to prison whether gay, Yazidi, Christian, Jew or Atheist.
We need to wake up and fight for our human family it should not matter that this particular story was about a Christian experience the next story could be about a Yazidi being sold into sex slavery or a Jew being beaten and tortured or a homosexual being hanged. We must never allow history to repeat itself though it seems we continue to keep making the same mistakes of old.
To read the full account of Marziyeh and Maryam’s story you can purchase a copy of their story Captive in Iran in bookstores. Let us hope and pray that Iran will one day return to its former glory when it was a fast growing economy and more secularized.
Sadly it seems like only a wishful thought that may never become a reality.
Written by Dia Benitez