A persecution watchdog is urging prayer for a former Christian man, who, after suffering extreme abuse at the hands of the Egyptian government, reverted back to Islam in a heartbreaking turn of events.
Open Doors USA, an organization serving persecuted Christians worldwide in more than 60 countries, shared the story of Mohamed Hegazy, who, back in 2007, converted from Islam to Christianity, even changing his name.
However, his decision to follow Christ brought extreme heartache: He endured years of persecution for his faith, including brutal torture and jail time. In 2013, Hegazy was arrested, reportedly for inciting sectarian activity, and in June of this year, he was finally ordered to be released on grounds of false or expired charges.
However, the actual process ensured he wasn't actually a free man, and in July, Hegazy announced he could no later withstand the persecution, and publicly declared his return to Islam.
Emily Fuentes of Open Doors told Mission News Network that it's unclear whether Hegazy's conversion was forced: "There's been cases like this before in other countries where someone might do that just to get out of the situation, or just to calm things down even though they still believe in Christ and have to live as secret believers," she said.
Either way, Fuentes said it's of the utmost importance that believers worldwide unite in prayer for Hegazy: "We know it's vital to be praying for this man, especially because he's gone through so much," she said.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of more than 90 million people, have long complained of discrimination in the predominantly Muslim country.
Egypt is 22nd on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution, and sectarian violence against believers has peaked in the south of the country.
In May, the 70-year-old mother of a Christian man accused of having an affair with a Muslim woman was beaten and insulted by the mob before being publicly stripped of her clothes. She was then paraded naked on the streets while the Muslim mob chanted Allahu Akbar, or "God is great."
In June, a Muslim mob in southern Egypt stabbed a Coptic Christian to death over a personal feud and attacked the families of two priests with knives and batons.
In July, group of Muslims attacked and torched houses of Christians in the village of Abu-Yacoub, also in Minya, following a rumor that a Christian intended to turn a kindergarten into a church. Security forces arrested at least 14 people. In another Minya village, Kom al-Lufi, a group of hard-liners attacked and torched houses of Christians after a similar rumor.
Fuentes told MMN that these stories and Hegazy's case is a reminder of how important it is to stand behind Christians who are facing persecution.
"It's really about strengthening Christians, meeting them where they're at where persecution materializes to help them stand strong in their faith throughout their life," she said.