When eighteen-year-old Hayat Hussein (pseudonym) called out to Jesus in her sleep, her strict Muslim father responded by tying her with ropes and threatening to kill her. Hayat has now been on the run since last November. Open Doors recently met with her to hear her remarkable story.
Born into the Harari tribe of Jegol, an extremely devout and largely unreached lineage of Ethiopian Muslims, Hayat’s conversion to Christianity is a miraculous testimony of God calling His own, and of her courageous quest for truth against all odds.
Trained as a devout Muslim in the Koranic School, Hayat’s family expected her to be a model student of Islam. Conversion to Christianity within Hayat’s tribe would inevitably be life threatening. However, the Lord’s Spirit of truth was on the move.
To the discomfort of her teachers, teenage Hayat began asking questions about “the prophet Isa” (Jesus). They warned her to not be overly inquisitive. When news of her inappropriate curiosity reached her father, he decided to send her to Saudi Arabia for more intensive Islamic schooling.
Hayat refused to go. Determined to know more about Jesus, she believed Christians could help her and she quietly devised a way to meet them. She left her parents’ house, and enlisted the help of her unsuspecting friends in finding a job in a barber shop.
When a Christian visited the shop, she secretly expressed her desire to go to church. Soon after, she was able to attend a church service, and received Christ as her Savior! Hayat was so excited to learn about Jesus, but the real battle for her life and faith was just about to begin.
Her family quickly discovered where she was working and forced her to return home, unaware of her conversion. Hayat’s faith was eventually revealed when she became ill and she unwittingly began to recite Christian prayers in her fevered sleep, calling out the Name of Jesus to save her. Shocked, her father searched her mobile phone for further evidence, and found some Christian songs and an audio Bible.
In the face of her father’s anger and threats, Hayat refused to give up hope. She waited for the opportune moment to escape from the house, and sought help from Christians. Today, Hayat’s father is relentlessly searching for her, using her friends in his attempts to uncover her hiding place.
The regional state of Harar is the smallest in Africa, and is situated about 325 miles east of Addis Ababa. Considered by Ethiopians to be the fourth most holy Islamic site after Mecca, Medina and Al-Quds (Jerusalem), Harar was the Islamic research and training center in East Africa for millennia, and is still home to countless Koranic schools. Harar’s fortified sub-city, Jegol, is registered as a world heritage by UNESCO for its historic resemblance to a Middle-Eastern town that is home to over one hundred mosques. Since the crushing of the Sultanate by Ethiopian King Menelik II toward the end of the 19th century, the “City State” of Harar has had members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Evangelical Christians living alongside the Muslim majority.
Hayat says that she is happy to have escaped, and that her main priority now is to receive Bible training and learn more about her Savior. “I want first to know more about Jesus, and then would like to return back to my family and friends to share with them about Him,” she says with astounding courage. “I would not be ashamed to die after doing that.”
The amazing fervor of Hayat’s new found faith is inspiring, and church leaders are doing everything they can to facilitate her further Bible training. Even as the threats from Hayat’s father continue, she remains determined to grow in her faith, despite the opposition. She is grateful for all the support given by her Christian friends, but longs for freedom. “I do not want to be a burden for anyone,” she says. “I want to be self-supporting and free to focus on my life with Jesus.”
For now, she has no other option than to rely on the generosity of her new faith community. To ensure her continued safety, church leaders have more recently relocated her to another town for shelter.
Father, we are in awe that all You have accomplished in Hayat’s life, that You have brought her out of the darkness of Islam into the light of Christ. You have protected her from those who would try to harm her and destroy her faith. And now we pray that You would hide her in the shadow of Your wings as she studies Your Word. We pray for her church; that You would provide the resources they need to support her and increase her knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. Strengthen her faith, and grant her wisdom, courage and protection as she seeks to one day return to her family. Use her as a mighty witness among her Muslim friends and family; that many souls might turn to worship Christ. In the name of Jesus, who is gathering His church into the light of His gospel, Amen.