“My body is in prison, but my soul is free”

June 25, 2014

I recommend this article from the New York Times, a profile of a 32-year-old man in Afghanistan named Josef. He briefly escaped civil war in his home country by emigrating illegally to Germany, where many of his siblings live. At that point, he had already abandoned the Muslim faith he was born into. Out of curiosity, he attended a Protestant church whose services were in Farsi, his native language.

“When I threw away my Islamic beliefs, I was living in a space of spiritual emptiness,” he said. “During that time I was studying different religions — Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. I was studying Islam as well.”

After 15 days in Germany, he turned himself in and applied for asylum, and was held in a refugee camp where the monotony was broken by visits from missionaries.

“I think I was impressed by the personality of Jesus himself,” he said. “The fact that he came here to take all of our sins, that moved me. I admired his character and personality long before I was baptized.”

After being released from the refugee camp, he later converted. His petition for asylum was rejected, and he was deported.

Today, back in Afghanistan, he’s hiding from his own extended family, who vow to kill him for renouncing Islam. A brother-in-law named Ibrahim even offered the New York Times reporter $20,000 to tell him where Josef is hiding.

“If I find him, once we are done with him, I will kill his son as well, because his son is a bastard,” Ibrahim said, referring to Josef’s 3-year-old child. “He is not from a Muslim father.”

The article explains that his wife and child are also in hiding, in Pakistan with his wife’s family.

As for Josef, his faith is unshaken. “I inherited my faith, but I saw so many things that made me discard my religious beliefs,” he said. “Even if I get killed, I won’t convert back.”

The article concludes:

For Josef, who has recently changed hiding places, the time passes slowly now, with little company other than his Bible. He can hear the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer, a reminder of danger’s proximity and the paradox he lives now.

“When I threw away my convictions, it was hard to speak with people about it,” he said, a red ember pulsing on the tip of his cigarette. “It was like an imaginary prison.” He paused, the light from his propane lantern casting a long shadow on the wall. “Now it is the other way around,” he said at last. “My body is in prison, but my soul is free.”

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