Iranian refugees in Turkey are converting from Islam to Christianity in such numbers that churches can't keep up with the demand, experts in the region say.
Sebnem Koser Akcapar, a sociology professor at Istanbul's Koç University, told National Public Radio, that the numbers of Iranian converts to Christianity has “grown tremendously over the years.”
“A small church consisting of 20 to 30 families has become a much bigger congregation housing 80 to 100 people on a regular Sunday,” she told NPR.
One of those converts is 37-year-old Farzana, who didn’t give her last name for fear of her safety. Converts from Islam to Christianity in Iran can face the death penalty.
“It feels good. Our relationship to God becomes closer,” Farzana told NPR of her new faith.
She walked away from Islam because of the way Iran treats women. She had divorced her abusive husband, but a court gave him custody of the children.
“Mostly because of this I became disillusioned with Islam,” she said. “That judge sitting there and giving orders was completely siding with men. Everywhere in Iran men come before women.”
A friend who was a convert introduced Farzana to Christianity.
“Once she began trusting me, she gave me photocopied writings and said, ‘I’m giving these to you as a gift. Go read them. These are the word of God,’” Farzana said.
Meanwhile, a member of a congregation in Denizli, Turkey, told NPR that Iran’s extremism is pushing citizens away from Islam.
"The system of authority in Iran has put Iranians under a lot of pressure, and they don't see any hope,” the unidentified church member and refugee said. “They are in search of God, but they want to find another path because they're discontent with the options they've been given.”
Many of the converts, though, may not be legitimate. That’s because Iranians who convert to Christianity can then seek asylum in the West under religious persecution laws. Rick Robinson of the United Pentecostal Church in Denizli acknowledges this happens. But he hopes these “fake converts” eventually come to faith. Robinson said churches are struggling to keep up with the number of converts.
“There might … be some who start with the help just for the refugee status and become sincere,” he said.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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