In a house in Bradford, north England a scene is being played out that is as old as Christianity itself: the faithful gathering in a home to share fellowship and the gospel. The guests, some of whom have travelled from many miles away, are kept well supplied with food and drinks by Mrs Kubra Hussain: cups of tea to quench thirst, spicy chicken and chickpea curries served with chapatti to assuage hunger.
But Mrs Hussain and her husband Nissar are also victims of that other enduring feature of religious life: persecution. Nearly 2000 years ago, just a year after the crucifixion of Jesus, St Stephen was stoned to death for his faith. A few years later, St Paul was jailed and then beheaded for his. Today, in Syria, the Christian faith is fast disappearing entirely, centuries old communities wiped out by Islamic jihadists with barely a whisper of condemnation from the west.
In the UK, three weeks ago, Nissar was beaten to within an inch of his life by Muslim neighbours to revile him as an apostate and a blasphemer. “They split my kneecap,” he told Breitbart London. “The doctor told me that’s the hardest bone in your body, it takes a lot of force to break it. But when they were beating me I kept my arms around my head and kept moving. One blow like that to my head and I would have been a gonner.”
As shocking as the episode was, it was merely the culmination of fifteen years of persecution that the Hussains have endured since they left Islam and converted to Christianity.
“I never thought in my wildest imagination this would happen” he said. “When I first converted I knew I knew I’d be shunned. I’d get a few name calls, maybe angry reactions through confrontation here and there, but I never thought it would come to this – years of physical, verbal, criminal abuse and then suddenly almost my life being snuffed out. All because of their taking offence to me being a convert.”
Nissar was born in England in the 60s to Pakistani immigrants. Growing up in a Muslim household, his first encounter with Christianity came at the age of 15, when a fellow school pupil – “a skin head, a racist, a real bovver boy, hard as nails” – changed his ways overnight. “He comes into school completely transformed, in his dress, in his conduct, in his manner. Tattoos covered, civilised dress, boots gone and the like, and I was blown away.”
Nissar approached the boy who handed him a copy of the New Testament, and later invited him to fellowship meetings. The pastor was a former Sikh. “Again, I was blown away,” Nissar said. “I literally saw that the gospel salvation message was for everybody.”
But he was forced to hide his burgeoning faith from his family. Islam teaches that the Bible is full of lies, and to read it is taboo. Nissar read his copy only in his bedroom at night, away from the gaze of his family. One night, however, he fell asleep reading it. His mother came into the room and found the book next to him.
“All I remember the following morning when I woke up was her screaming and tearing the place down, threatening to go to my father about my discovery of the New Testament. I knew she would have gone to my sisters who would have told her that it was the gospel, which is considered taboo, lies. All sorts of things are said about it. Just the word ‘Christianity’ tends to strike anxiety and upset within them [Muslims].”
The reaction is telling as it highlights a cultural stumbling block for Muslims in the west: many Muslims conflate Christianity with Western culture, which they see as decadent. According to Nissar, equally divisive is their tendency to view Muslims as superior to westerners.
“They view non-Muslims as second class citizens, as infidels.
“They seem to have this superiority complex that they are God’s best. And therefore they denigrate – they view others as second class or of a lesser standard as they simply because they’re not in the Islamic faith.
“On the whole, the religion differentiates them from non-believers, and therefore as God’s best they end up in their own communities.
“You get the liberals and the very nominal Muslims. The vast majority are nominal. The Muslim community has a huge issue with drugs for example, yet they seem to have this warped idea that they can go to Friday prayers, be forgiven for that, and are still better than the likes of you and me simply because we are non-Muslims.”
Nissar fell away from Christianity following his mother’s reaction, returning to the faith some years later, as a married adult. When his wife first found out “her natural reaction was to withdraw herself and the kids, and not let me near her. [As a Christian] you’re considered defiled, unclean.”
When Kubra herself turned to Christianity some months later, the other Muslim mothers on the school playground had a similar reaction: “[T]hey asked her, with disdain, why don’t you now wear a blouse or a miniskirt? Why don’t you take off your shalwar kameez?
“My wife was mortified by their perception. She tried to explain to them that Christianity is actually a Middle Eastern faith, it’s not an English religion.”
“They treat you with absolute contempt. They dehumanise you, like second class citizens. Which we now know is called dhimmitude in Sharia law. We’re seeing the same thing as we’re seeing in Syria, where they [Christians] have been given a choice to either convert, or pay the jizya tax, or they have their heads cut off. The same spirit is here.”
Nissar has had numerous cars vandalised and destroyed by young Muslims in the local community, and seven years ago the family was forced to move home after a local gang set fire to an empty house adjoining their home, in the hope that the fire would spread.
Yet as shocking as those attacks were, the most chilling episode came not long after he and his family had converted to Christianity.
“I was in a video shop with my eight year old and six year old at the time, and a young Pakistani man I knew fairly well was working there. He used to roll out the red carpet and be all wonderful: ‘brotherly this and brotherly that’.
“He found out [that the family had converted] through the community grapevine. When I went up to pay for the film, he said to me “If you were in the Middle East or Pakistan, I would be the first to chop off your head”.
“I was numb in silence. I had to say “Lord, give me strength,” still pay him, go away with the video and still come back the following day in grace.”
But Nissar has not found solace within the Church of England, who he says have abandoned him and other persecuted converts like him. In 2005, when he first spoke out to the media, Nissar was invited to meet the then Bishop of Bradford, David James.
He attended the meeting with three allies, one of whom asked the Bishop “Would you welcome converts to the church?”
According to Nissar, James replied “Yes, that is to say, No”
“I died,” said Nissar. “According to him, the reason he gave was that he didn’t have the houses and resources to look after us. My friend, a Jamaican pastor, was livid with the man. He leapt to his feet and was wagging his finger, and said “all you’re fit for is appeasing the Muslims.”
“He didn’t utter a word. It was a complete betrayal and they’re still betraying me. I have had nothing, no support, no input, no moral support.”
Nissar and his family do not currently attend a church, as he has found it hard to find fellowship and friendship, especially when the attacks started up again. He says people are just too frightened to be seen helping the family.
But the majority of his ire is directed at the church hierarchy, who he believes should be making a stand for persecuted Christians, wherever they are in the world.
“I’m not the only convert, there are many in fear. But the church has never spoken out.
“Why can they not just stand up and say: look, this is unacceptable. It is a free country which welcomes everybody and affords all the religious freedom in the world. We afford you your places of worship, mosques galore and all the rest of it, we now need for you to denounce these certain rogue elements within the community who are attacking Pakistani converts to Christianity.
“Our brothers and sister in Pakistan are paying with their lives!
“But they are petrified. All they want to do is keep the peace and keep these people happy, but it’s at our expense. At my expense, at my daughters’ expense, at my wife’s expense. Our lives have been sabotaged.”
The office of the current Bishop of Bradford, Toby Howarth was contacted by Breitbart London for a response to Nissar’s allegations of abandonment, but no reply has been forthcoming. However, on the weekend he released a joint statement together with Mohammed Rafiq Sehgal, President of the Council for Mosques rejecting “hatred or violence” towards converts.
Since the physical attack, which happened outside his front door, Nissar said the house has been like a prison. “My children never go outside, they never play in the street. I fear not only for my own children’s future, I fear for this country and what it’s becoming.
“The police have created this two tier law system and the churches seem to condone Sharia law.
“I’m lying here thanking God for my life, but the moral of this story is that this is a direct outcome of their faith and what they believe should happen to apostates.”
The family are now planning to leave Bradford entirely and move to a majority white area, turning their backs on the British Pakistani community entirely.
“I’ve tried to stick up for the Muslim community, but they’ve looked on. Most have turned a blind eye, and some even condone it. Yet they themselves enjoy this wonderful liberty, religious freedom. They enjoy all the fruits of the west and every opportunity the west affords them.
“There’s something seriously amiss. In a free, democratic country, this shouldn’t be happening.”