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Christian woman recalls horror of forced conversion to Islam

AMBON, Indonesia (BP)–“My scar healed quite fast, but the sad, humiliated feeling stayed. I feel like I’m no longer complete, both as a person and a woman.”

That is the testimony of Christina Sagat, a 32-year-old Christian from Kasiui, Indonesia, who was forcibly circumcised by her Muslim neighbors. Unfortunately, as traumatic as her story sounds, hundreds of women have endured similar oppression.

“My niece, Cecilia, who at that time was eight months pregnant, was also circumcised,” Sagat said. “My mother, who was in her 70s, was also circumcised. Teenagers, and even infants, were circumcised. I don’t understand these people.”

As Muslim jihad warriors press their efforts to kill or convert all Christians in Indonesia, many Christians are forced to choose between their faith and their lives.

Sagat, who is Catholic, was born and raised on Kasiui island with her seven brothers and sisters. Until recently Catholics, Protestants and Muslims lived peacefully on the island, even helping each other build places of worship.

Then the fighting began.

“At first we did not believe when we heard about the bloody conflict in Ambon,” she said. “We said it was impossible that our own friends and neighbors would attack us.”

Jihad leaders from other islands began visiting Muslim villages on Kasiui last October. Christians did not realize until later that the leaders were pressuring local Muslims to attack their Christian neighbors. One of the first victims was Sagat’s uncle.

While returning from a neighboring Muslim village he was surrounded and attacked by a mob. Bleeding from numerous machete and spear wounds, he somehow managed to return home.

“Still he told us not to take revenge,” she said.

But when Muslims murdered another Christian man, Sagat’s Christian neighbors fled into the mountains. Sagat’s family stayed in the village until late November, when advancing mobs forced all Christians to seek refuge in the mountains. More than 260 people hiked an exhausting three days to escape the Muslim forces.

On the fourth day, they were discovered.

Muslims urged the Christians to convert to Islam, and promised them protection from the jihad fighters.

“It’s very hard for us,” Sagat said, “but we finally decided to follow the Muslims to their village and do whatever they told us to do in order to save our lives.”

When the Christians filed into the Muslim village they discovered their neighbors had lied. A crowd of people, including jihad warriors, lined the path leading to the mosque.

“I felt like we’re just a group of hopeless sheep being led to a slaughter house,” she said.

Once inside the mosque, Christians were forced to repeat the “Al Fatiha” prayer, which is recited when a person accepts Islam. They were then stripped of their clothes, given a ritual washing and re-clothed in traditional Muslim garb. Muslims searched the Christians’ belongings and burned all copies of the Bible and rosary necklaces.

The women were sent to stay with local Muslim families while the men stayed in the mosque. It was then that the Christians were circumcised.

“All of us, men and women, young and old, even infants and pregnant women, were circumcised under threat,” she said.

Ironically, none of the Muslim women living in the village had ever been circumcised.

Using only a kitchen knife and warm water, a female religious leader performed the procedure on the Christian women without anesthesia and left them to heal without antibiotics.

Widely called “female circumcision,” the procedure actually is a genital mutilation, often performed with crude instruments. Though illegal in many places, it still is widely practiced. Human rights groups decry the practice, which is falsely believed to suppress a woman’s sex drive and ensure chastity.

During the next two weeks the government repeatedly tried to evacuate the Christians from the mosque. Each time the government forces encountered Muslim resistance. Finally on the third attempt, Sagat was able to sneak aboard a government ship.

“The ship took off with only 41 people, including me,” she said. “I saw my parents cry because they could not board the ship.”

Sagat found refuge in Ambon. But she is far from secure.

“I don’t know what to do with my future,” she said. “I guess the first thing to do is to find a way to get my parents off of the island. But I don’t know how.”

Southern Baptists need to pray for both the victims and the perpetrators of the violence in Ambon, said Charles Cole, a Southern Baptist representative who serves in Indonesia.

“Our hearts go out to Christians in Indonesia who are suffering injustice,” he said. “We pray that God will comfort them and draw them closer to himself.

“But God also loves the people who are committing these acts. We need to pray that he would make his love known to them and help them understand the injustice of these horrible acts.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: OPPRESSED FOR THEIR FAITH.

For more information about conditions in Indonesia, contact the International Mission Board’s human needs office at (804) 219-1675. Financial contributions for Ambon relief efforts may be sent to International Mission Board, General Relief Fund – Ambon, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
— Search for video reports on Ambon at www.imb.org/video.
— “Ambon’s Silent Scream,” reported by TC Online: www.tconline.org/Stories/Dec00/Ambon.html
— Contact your congressmen with the “Find Your Reps” feature at http://congress.org.
— Encourage media coverage of the atrocities in Ambon by e-mailing [email protected] and [email protected].
— Encourage diplomats to act on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Maluku Islands: U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, e-mail [email protected], fax 62-21-386-2259; Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C., e-mail [email protected], fax (202) 775-5365.
— Photos from Ambon: http://www.imb.org/Media/PhotoDownloads/ambonreport.htm.

    About the Author

  • Brittany Jarvis