Converted more than twenty years ago, Djamila lived the early years after conversion to Christ under pressure from her Muslim parents. Djamila only found full freedom to live out her Christian faith once she was married to a man who shares her faith. She currently serves her Lord alongside her husband in a local church in northern Algeria.
Djamila is well qualified to elaborate on the suffering of Christian women in Algeria and about their needs. Although in her story she talks about the Algerian situation, much of what she says applies to the other North African countries, as well.
What is the situation of Algerian women in general? Algerian women, she tells us, have always been under pressure, injustice and inequality at all levels. Islam has not been kind to women. They have few rights, except for the right to exist as long as they remain silent. Despite the many movements fighting for women’s emancipation in society, the women of Algeria remain under a yoke that continuously weighs on them. In most circumstances, women are not free at all.
What about Algerian women who have converted to Christianity? Djamila shares that women who have come to follow Jesus Christ are freed by God from humiliation and contempt. God gives them dignity. “I know many women who have embraced the Christian faith and were filled with God’s love and freed from their chains,” she says. “On the other hand, many women who have converted to Christ face new challenges that sometimes cost them dearly.”
Djamila continues, “Some of them live in rejection and humiliation from their families. Others are renounced by their husbands because of their faith. They may even be deprived of their children in the case of divorce from a Muslim spouse.” This is because the Algerian Family Code does not grant custody to the spouse who confesses a religion other than Islam.
“I have witnessed several cases of injustices committed against Christian women,” says Djamila. “I know a woman whose husband had divorced her because of her new faith. He sent her a letter of divorce claiming custody of their daughter. The mother was dragged into court, humiliated, abused by her husband as well as by her own family. For the family, the converted daughter was a shame. Religious leaders claimed that the woman was possessed by demons and that the demons should be expelled from her. She was not allowed to see her daughter for three years.”
Djamila continues to tell of other women who are forced to wear the hijab (Islamic headscarf) in order to leave their homes. Can Christian women show their faith freely? “Many believers live their faith in anonymity and total silence to avoid being exposed to the pressure I spoke about,” she explains. “They feel obliged to be discrete, and they don’t attend Christian meetings or even go to church. Some of them are in hiding, constantly in fear of being spotted by a family member.” Djamila continues, “For a woman, this could mean house arrest imposed by the family. Sometimes they are forced to undergo the rites of Islam. I can say however, that these women often still hold on firmly to their faith. They live in a constant struggle because we live in a society hostile to the Christian faith.”
Djamila goes on to describe other pressures, such as forced marriages. Parents can force their Christian daughter to marry a Muslim man, something that is contrary to the Word of God. Once married, she suddenly finds herself in a situation of conflict and incompatibility, which sometimes ends in a divorce. If the girl wants to marry a Christian and the parents refuse this marriage, things become complicated. Algerian law requires a woman to be under the tutelage of someone, and the law requires that her guardian—the father, brother or uncle—must witness a marriage to have it be official.
What do Algerian women need? First, Christian women in Algeria need prayer. “Personally, I believe that the church in the country should provide an infrastructure to accommodate women who have gone through a divorce because of their faith, or for girls hunted or rejected by the family for the same reason,” Djamila asserts. “We [in the church] must help them to find jobs and give them responsibilities in the church so that they can regain confidence in themselves and even in God. I believe that when these women are not built up in their faith, they can easily get discouraged.”
Are Christian women actively involved in church life in Algeria? “Yes,” she assures us. “There are women who freely come to church and participate in service during worship. Generally, women have all kinds of tasks in church. Even young girls and students who have a heart to serve despite the constraints and challenges they face are involved.”
“For Christian women,” Djamila summarizes, “it is important to have the support, encouragement, blessing and trust of their Christian family to start taking up a task. For this, it would be good to encourage women, to offer training and to help root them in the Word of God. Women should gain more experience and learn to embrace responsibilities.” She points to the many biblical stories where women played significant roles—women such as Deborah, Esther and Lydia. “I believe women can then train future generations,” Djamila concluded.
Father, thank You for women like Djamila who serve Your church in Algeria. Thank You that You have released them from the tyranny of silence, and have honored them as co-heirs with Christ of the promise. Give them joy in who You have created them to be. Encourage and protect them as their faith in You reaps the hostility of their families. We pray Your fatherly protection over them from marriages outside of their faith. Teach them from Your Word; that they might be rooted and grounded in the truth, and that it might sanctify them so they might live lives that honor You and reflect the light of Christ to family and friends. Give them a place in Your church- a place to learn and grow, and a place to serve. In the name of Jesus, who loves them with an everlasting love, Amen.