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'Iran was my Egypt': Christian convert from Islam finds asylum in the UK

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Christian Concern's Camilla Olim interviews Christian Legal Centre client Noushin, a Muslim convert to Christianity who was granted asylum in the UK in February 2017.

Iran is a nation of rich culture and history. It is modern, developed, and renowned among its visitors for its hospitality.

But it is also the 8th most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian, according to Open Doors. It is particularly difficult for those who have converted from Islam, apostasy being punishable by death under Islamic law, and even more dangerous for converts who actively evangelise.  

Yet God had His eyes on Noushin G. with a plan that would see her reaching many with the gospel.

Noushin was born into a middle-class, Shi'a Muslim family. Her family were traditional but not especially strict.

In 2002, Jesus appeared to young Noushin in a dream.

15 years later, with the help of the Christian Legal Centre, she has been granted asylum in the UK, as the outworking of her Christian faith has made it too dangerous to return to her own country.

The story in between, told through a mixture of laughter and tears, is harrowing yet hopeful; a sobering yet inspiring reminder of both the cost and reward of following Jesus.

It reminds us, too, that the freedoms we enjoy here are precious and must be defended before they are further eroded.
 

Began with a dream

When I met Noushin in the Christian Concern office, she was open, warm, and more than willing to talk. Dressed casually, hair in a braid over one shoulder, she sat down and immediately began to ask about the Christian Legal Centre team, eager to express her gratitude for their involvement in her new-found security.

She asked me what I wanted to know. I told her to start from the beginning.

Noushin became a Christian in 2004, she said, but her first experience of Jesus came in a dream two years prior to this.

In her dream, she told me, Jesus reached down from Heaven and placed a crown on her head. Because she was a strict Muslim she didn't understand the dream's meaning, but it left a deep impression on her.

"I believe," she said, "that when God put that crown on my head I was filled with the Holy Spirit and before I woke up I witnessed many people rejecting me, telling me to go away because I didn't belong to them anymore."

Noushin did not have any idea then how real this experience would become in the future.
 

Questioning Islam

Although Noushin didn't recognise what was happening to her, it began the quest for truth. Given that she had always had an independent mind, she found herself questioning aspects of Islam – something a strict Muslim is not supposed to do.

Her doubts increased when she began to study law at university in Amal, in the North of Iran.

As a student of sharia law, she began to question what she was being taught. But she was told by her peers to stop questioning.

"Leaving Islam is not an option, stop asking these questions," Noushin was told, but her doubts would not be silenced.

"One day in frustration I said 'God I don't think you are righteous because only the prophet of Islam, Mohammad, goes to Heaven. We are not going to Heaven because you said there is no forgiveness. We have to work hard, everything is based on good works, it's not anything about grace or forgiveness'".
 

Given a Bible

Noushin continued: "There was a yearning and a desire to read the Bible, but there was never the opportunity. But I remember the day I met a lady – a Christian lady who was kind, who befriended me and gave me my first Bible."

Although she believed this lady and her sister were trying to convert her to Christianity, she felt there was something interesting about them, something drawing her towards them. Of course, it was the Holy Spirit.

"If Jesus is alive, I want to see Jesus", said Noushin to herself as she began to wonder whether the claims made by her new friends were true.

"You know, you never know exactly how Jesus comes into your life, in which moment, but it was all the time in my mind – I had to know."

She began to study the Bible alongside the Qur'an, comparing the two. She found herself unable to concentrate anymore on the Qur'an. Instead, her mind was on the Bible. There was an emptiness inside. "On the outside your hair is covered and you look so 'Muslim', but inside there is nothing," she reflected.

Desperate for answers, Noushin went to her friend's home one day, Bible in hand, and gave her friend (and Jesus) an ultimatum.

"If Jesus is alive, show me he is alive, and if he touch[es] me, if I see him, I will become a believer. If not, here is your Bible, take it and never talk to me anymore.

"And I was so angry with her... all the time she would talk badly about the prophet Mohammad, she told me 'Noushin, look, Mohammad [is in] hell and anyone following him will go to hell.' It was shocking in my brain, you know, as a Muslim, this is such disrespect."
 

Encountering God

Despite being told these things, Noushin allowed her friend to pray for her. She was desperate to discover the truth and repeatedly asked God to show Himself to her. As her friend prayed in tongues, Noushin encountered the Holy Spirit who brought about a conviction of sin.

"It is a moment that is not easy to describe," she said. "It was both wind and fire together inside of me alongside speaking out the truths from His Word about Jesus being the 'Alpha and Omega'."

She went on calling out: "Jesus, show me that this happened to you." In response, she felt a sharp pain in her wrists where the nails would have been driven through, and heard Jesus say: "This is what happened to me…I died for your sin. Noushin, go out and preach what I am saying to you."

Noushin explained that she now believes the good news of Jesus being crucified and rising again is "the light that can open the eyes of Muslims."

On 27 February 2004, Noushin left Islam and embraced Jesus as her Saviour and Redeemer. He had bought her back and she in turn knew it might cost her everything.  
 

Interrogation

Noushin took God's call seriously. She and her friends began conducting church services in their homes. After some time, she was asked to become a leader in the underground churches both in her university in Amal, and in the capital, Tehran.  

She was eventually reported to the university authorities for her involvement with the underground church. Her home was raided and she was interrogated by the police. For 8 hours, she was subjected to intimidating and hostile interrogation techniques. They even threatened to kill her.

She was finally released, but told that if she continued to evangelise, she would be removed from university. She was later forcibly transferred to another university in Tehran to curb her activities. Undeterred, she continued to share the gospel in Tehran, and the movement grew.
 

Leaving Iran

Noushin became increasingly prominent during the following years as she took on greater responsibility within the Iranian underground church. She went by a code-name to protect her identity.

Happily, her mother and younger sister also became Christians, but her father disowned her. It was also during this time that Noushin got married to a new believer, but sadly this ended in divorce as the man she had married committed adultery.

At the time she was practising law as a consultant, but after her divorce, her life changed direction. She knew that she was being monitored and hunted by the Iranian authorities, and friends were advising her to flee the country. Some of her friends were being arrested; others were fleeing to Turkey.

Noushin gave up practising law and began travelling. During a trip to Georgia, she met a Brit who asked her to accompany him on a cycling trip around the world. With a group of European travellers, they spent three months backpacking in India, Tibet and China. Afterwards, in 2014, they embarked on a cycling journey, touring India, Central Asia, the Far East, New Zealand and South America.

Some of the tourists she met on her travels had been to Iran and spoke highly of it – some said that Iran was their best experience because of the people's hospitality.

Noushin said that the positive comments often made her feel emotional, as they contrast with the negative portrayal of Iran painted by the media. For tourists, Iran is very safe, even for Christian tourists.
 

Instagram fame

Noushin said that during her cycling tour she became popular on social media, as she'd built up a large following on Instagram.

But Noushin realised that she had made a crucial mistake: Having already been granted a tourist visa to visit Peru, she got excited about also getting a visa to visit Europe. In her excitement she posted a photo of it on Instagram. The visa showed all her personal details.

After posting the photo, her Instagram following boomed overnight. She also began receiving strange messages from a man who generously offered to sponsor her if she came back to Iran. It was obvious that he worked for the Iranian government , which left her situation even more at risk.

"Being a Christian doesn't matter very much to the Iranian authorities", she explained, "until you actively share your faith because then you are attempting to change the minds of people and this is not acceptable."
 

'You don't have freedom like this in Iran'

Noushin LondonWhen Noushin arrived in the UK, she told me, her intention was not to stay. She had hoped to return to Iran where she wished to connect with her social media followers and celebrate the end of her two-year journey. But whilst in the UK, she visited the Iranian Christian community in London, at the Iranian Christian Fellowship Church (ICF). She described it to me as "the best time in my life, to just see how many Iranian people are free to worship God".

"I am really grateful because you don't have freedom like this in Iran. My church in Tehran is watched by the authorities, checking that pastors don't say anything against the regime."
 

Warned not to return

During this time, Noushin reconnected with an old pastor from Tehran. He had been very helpful in giving her good counsel whilst in Iran, having spent six months in prison himself.

However, when she told him she wished to return to Iran, he warned her that the situation there was worsening. He advised her to pray and seek God's plan. Given Noushin's high profile status, it was likely that it was now unsafe to return. This was confirmed by her mother too.
 

Seeking asylum

As Noushin's visa expiry drew closer, and still unsure what to do, she began to feel anxious.

She was reluctant to seek asylum at first, but it became increasingly clear that it was the only option left available to her.

With fear and apprehension, Noushin approached the Home Office. She realised the enormity of the decision she was making - she might never be able to enter her home country again. Having seen some of her friends arrested and imprisoned, she knew she risked the same fate. "If they take your friend, they definitely would take you," she said. 

Noushin's experience at the Home Office was anything but straightforward. She said she believed that the man interviewing her was a Muslim. In addition to this, the Home Office claimed her baptism was contrived. Most of the interview focused on Islam rather than the core reasons behind her request for asylum. Because they did not believe she was truly a Christian, her application was refused. Although Noushin was aware that some abuse the system, this was a devastating blow, especially given the biased and unfair way that she was interviewed.

Happily though, with the help of the Christian Legal Centre team, which Noushin described as "the miracle supporting me," she was eventually granted asylum some months later.
 

'The truth will set you free'

As the interview drew to a close, I asked Noushin about what she would say to the UK church. Noushin expressed how life in Iran made her fully appreciate the freedoms we have here.

"It's only when you don't have something you realise what is the meaning of 'having'," she said. 

"Living in the freedom I have now is amazing but Jesus said it is the truth that sets us free. So my real freedom is knowing that my sins are forgiven. All other freedoms like the privilege of living in the UK are a bonus."
 

'Iran was my Egypt'

Noushin went on: "The Bible records the story of the Hebrews escaping life in Egypt. The word for Egypt in the Hebrew language is 'Mitzraim' which means narrow, not just because it is a narrow strip of land but a narrow place because the Hebrews were not free to worship God. Iran was my Egypt.

"Just being in freedom to worship the God I love and serve is such a blessing to me... it's difficult to express with words in English to say how grateful I am... From the simple act of not having to wear a head scarf to the freedom of not worrying about being watched is like being saved all over again."

"Tragically I see many Muslims living the freedom of the UK but in reality they are living in the narrow place of Egypt bound in chains."

Noushin told me that the interest in her story from the churches she visited surprised her, and built her faith as she realised what God had done in and through her life.

She has shared her story many times since coming to England.

As a nation we have no understanding of this kind of persecution.

But as we are beginning to see our Christian freedoms slowly eroded, Noushin's story serves as a reminder of the importance of freedom and why we must defend it.
 

Related Links:
Christian Concern launches 'Safe Haven' initiative to help those leaving Islam 
Muslim convert to Christianity forced to relocate as safety threatened 
Ex-muslims face threats and violence for leaving Islam 
 

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