Life is hard for women in Iran. For women who convert to Christianity, it’s unbearable. But even amid extreme danger, women like Sahar are finding courage to strengthen each other.
Pain, shame and worry overwhelmed Sahar. Tears rolled down her face as she was driven away from her family home, in the back of a taxi—and she cried out to God: “Why are you allowing this to happen? Who will tuck in my children at night?”
Sahar, a new convert to Christianity, was thrown out of home when her furious husband discovered her faith. Separation from her two young children was unbearable. “My heart was broken, as a human, as a woman, but mostly as a mother,” Sahar said.
But while Sahar’s suffering was devastating, it’s not unusual. Christian women who’ve converted from Islam, both in Iran and around the world, face intense persecution.
Inequality and emptiness
As a Muslim girl in Iran, Sahar was a second-class citizen. “Girls are seen as less smart, less valuable and not capable of making decisions,” she said. Sahar felt empty—and began to seek God.
“I joined Ramadan, prayed frequently and even dressed very conservatively,” said Sahar, “but it didn’t help.” She read the Quran but could not ignore the inequality between men and women.
Then, after 24 years, Sahar’s sister-in-law gave her a New Testament.
“I read it from cover to cover, and when I closed the book I said, ‘This is truly the living Word of God.’ I felt a calmness covering my spirit, soul and life. I knew it was divine. I was transformed through Christ.”
From that moment, Sahar began to secretly pray and read the Bible. When she discovered how Jesus loved women, Sahar finally felt complete. “This made me sure about my identity as a daughter of God. Step by step, I was delivered and healed,” she said.
But in choosing to follow Jesus, Sahar took an enormous risk. As a woman, she already had few rights in Iran. By converting to Christianity, she became vulnerable to the most extreme persecution. Her husband, a devout Muslim, could divorce her—and if that happened, she’d never see her children again.
Iran is the eighth most dangerous place in the world to follow Jesus, according to the 2023 World Watch List
. The government is strictly Islamic and has a rigid grip on people’s lives. When protests broke out following the death of Mahsa Amini
in September 2022, the regime responded violently. (Amini was arrested for wearing her hijab “improperly” while visiting Tehran, and died in police custody.) Brave women continued to campaign for equal rights, but hundreds have been killed, tortured and ill-treated.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, it’s a similar picture. According to Open Doors’ latest report on Gender-Specific Religious Persecution,
women and girls from the region with a Muslim background are among the most persecuted Christians in the world. While persecution of men and boys is focused, severe and visible, for women it’s hidden, complex and often violent.
Females can be married without their consent, divorced and disinherited overnight, or raped and beaten behind closed doors. Persecution of women, which often happens in the home, has even become culturally acceptable in some places. It means millions of women and girls suffer in silence.
Sahar leads a Bible study with other women like her.
‘I do whatever I can’
Back in Iran, Sahar was unable to keep her faith secret. She was arrested for her church activities and thrown into prison. But because of her arrest, her husband worried about her—and realized he wanted her back. So, on her release, Sahar was reunited with her husband and the family fled to start a new life in Turkey
. Though her husband is still a Muslim, they live at peace with each other, and her husband accepts her faith.
Even in a new place, her family’s life won’t be easy. As Iranian refugees, it can be difficult to find work or go to school, and the family’s movement can be restricted. And that’s not to mention the massive earthquakes that struck Turkey
on February 6, 2023.
Praise God, Sahar and her family were safe during the earthquake. Their area wasn’t affected. But Sahar was devastated by the destruction left by the quakes. “We already face so many problems as refugees,” she said. “We barely receive our basic human rights, and now with this crisis, the discrimination is worse than before. Seeing my people in pain, with no solution at hand, breaks my heart.”
But even now, Sahar ministers to other women who’ve left Islam behind to follow Jesus. “I do whatever I can, I am by their side to pray with them, consult them and comfort them,” she said. But it’s only possible with your support.
Women suffering hidden persecution need to be seen, heard and equipped to reach their God-given potential. Your gifts and prayers are vital to teach women about their new identity in Christ, provide discipleship and leadership training, and run income-generating projects so women can be financially independent.
“There is such pressure on women and girls,” said Sahar. “But all this I have been through means I can share with other women what God has done in my life.”