An imam’s daughter whose family threatened to kill her after she converted to Christianity at the age of 16 has told The Times that, because of her faith, she is not afraid to die.
But Hannah, now 32, has been forced to live under police protection for the past month since her brother told her that he could not be responsible for his actions if she did not return to Islam. Hannah, who hopes to marry a fellow Christian next year, uses a pseudonym and has moved house 45 times since her conversion.
She said: “Yes, there is a possibility I will be killed, just as there is for anyone that they can get run over by a bus. My faith means that I am not afraid to die. If I was to focus on that, I would spend my life at home, trapped. I am not going to let it stop me being who I am, from being a Christian.” She said that her freedom was made possible by living in Britain. “We are protected by the law in this country, which means I should be free to live the life God has called me to live.”
Hannah was speaking to The Times after the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, launched a new charity last week called Lapido Media, which aims to improve “religious literacy” about world affairs. Dr Nazir-Ali said that although the Koran did not specify the death penalty for apostasy, the four main Sunni and two Shia schools of Islamic thought agreed that this was an accurate interpretation of the hadith, or the oral tradition.
However, two of the world’s leading Islamic scholars suggested recently that the death penalty was intended to be carried out only in the next life.
Hannah, who was born in Britain but whose father is from Pakistan, said that she had a strict religious upbringing. She prayed five times a day and wore the full hijab from the age of ten.
Although she attended a Church of England primary school, 80 per cent of her fellow pupils were also Muslim. She learnt to read Arabic and had read the Koran by the age of 8. “I did not really know what was beyond that Pakistani community.” When she started secondary school she became more aware of the outside world – and when, aged 16, she overheard her father on the phone arranging her flight to Pakistan to marry a cousin whom she had never met she was shocked into action. “I went to college and did not go home,” she said. “I had nowhere to go. Everyone I knew was Muslim and knew my dad. I was on the street for about a week.” She slept in bus shelters until her religious education teacher offered her a bed. Against the teacher’s wishes, she started going to church.
“I watched everyone and saw how they lived their lives. I heard about God’s love, about how Jesus died on the cross. I was totally blown away by it. I asked someone how I could get to know Jesus. They said, ‘Ask him to come into your life. Ask for forgiveness’. So I did and that night I became a Christian.”
Hannah was still in contact with her family but they did not take her conversion seriously. Three years later she was baptised and invited them to the ceremony. They told her she was bringing shame upon them and the death threats began. At one point, 14 men with stones and knives came to her door and shouted at her to come out. When the threats became more serious a month ago, she went to the police. She said: “I pray that one day there will be a reconciliation with my family. But I have no regrets, not one.”