A Christian campaign group is launching a national network of safe houses for Muslim converts who face ostracism or violent reprisals for leaving their religion.
It says it knows of up to 1,100 former Muslims at risk in Britain but the true number could be 3,000.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, which is organising the network, said: “We are motivated by a deep sense of love and compassion for those that feel trapped in a situation from which they cannot escape.
“The penalty for them at best is to be cut off from their family; at worst they face death. This is happening not just in Sudan and Nigeria but in east London. The government has failed to deal with the rise in anti-Christian sentiment.”
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News of the support network for converts comes in the wake of international outrage at Sudan for imposing a death sentence on Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a pregnant Christian woman, for refusing to renounce her faith. Her estranged father was Muslim.
Michael Nazir-Ali, a former bishop of Rochester, said a “mistaken respect for culture” meant that British converts were not being protected.
He said: “It is entirely unacceptable in this country that these people should not be protected by the law. Everyone here must be free to believe what they like or not to believe and we must all be committed to that as common citizens.”
The support group, due to launch in the autumn and provisionally called Converts for Jesus, is to be chaired by a Bradford man who was attacked and ostracised after he and his family converted from Islam to Christianity.
Nissar Hussain, 48, had his car torched and an empty property next door was set alight. He said he was given a warning a week earlier, but he said police told him such threats were rarely carried out.
Hussain said his wife, Qubra, had been sworn and spat at, and contemptuously told to swap her modest shalwar kameez for a revealing mini skirt. His relatives shun him, failing even to tell him when his father died two years ago. He says he used to be called “Christian Jew dog”. He said his second youngest child, Leena, was ostracised at a Church of England school in Bradford, which is about 95% Muslim. “Her closest friend was told by her parents not to talk to her.”
He said he refused to hide his beliefs for a quiet life. “It tells us in the New Testament that trials and tribulations are part of the Christian world.” However, he was also upset by the reception he got from Christians.
He said: “We are broken people. I have given up on the Anglican church and independent churches. We are in a no man’s land: we are completely and utterly isolated.”
The first woman intending to take refuge in one of the safe houses is a student at Birkbeck college, part of the University of London. She said her studies had led her to question her Muslim faith.
She received a death threat six weeks ago, posted to a friend’s Facebook account.
Other pressures are closer to home. “My sister’s fiancé said he would call off their wedding if I left home and gave up being a Muslim.”