Nasrin’s Story

by K.E. Stegall Published and Distributed by:

Kansas Class
721 Mississippi Lawrence, KS, 66044

Copyright 1994, 2000 by K.E.Stegall
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. The publisher or author disclaims any personal loss or liability caused by utilization of any information presented herein. Printed in the United States of America

Nasrin’s Story
“Wouldn’t the church’s time be better spent preaching the gospel to a needy world rather than talking about the place of women?” We had been talking about the decision of the Anglican church to open all church offices to women. My friend works with the Anglican Church of the Middle East headquartered here in Cyprus. He didn’t take a position for or against women in office, but summed up his opinion on the issue with the above statement. With that remark our discussion of this controversial decision in the Anglican church ended and we went on to talk about his work with Christians in the Islamic world. We shook our heads sadly at the seemingly impervious and rigid face Islam turns toward Christ. *** “Why was it, and why is it, one asks, that while other areas see growing churches and flourishing congregations, the countries where Islam holds sway remain in such bondage to fear?”1 “The book targets the 400 million Muslims living in cities across North Africa, the Middle East, Central, and South and Southeast Asia where there are virtually no churches composed of converts from Islam. It probes the question as to why these cities have been infertile ground for church planting.”2 *** I was browsing through the bookstore looking for something to read. The book cover was a photo of a veiled woman with only her eyes visible. The eyes
1

Patricia St. John, Until The Day Breaks, O.M. Publishing, 1990, page 55.
2

From a book review by Roger Greenway of Calvin Theological Seminary of, Planting Churches in Muslim Cities: A Team Approach by Greg Livingston, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 2, April 1994, page 217.

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were black lined and mascara heavy, yet clear, large and beautiful. But they were without expression, opaque, closed without being closed. So much was hidden. The book was entitled Princess and the back cover said it was the story of a woman from the Saudi royal family. “A woman glittering with jewels, living a life of unbelievable luxury. But in reality she lives in a gilded cage. She has no freedom, no vote, no control over her own life, no value but as a bearer of sons. Hidden behind the veil, she is a prisoner, her jailers her father, her husband, her sons.”3 Seemed a little too sensational. I passed it by. *** She didn’t fit my stereotype of a refugee. She was young and beautiful, radiating health and vitality. She greeted the room full of strangers with an open, confident smile, and extended her hand in friendship. This is Nasrin. She and her husband are Christian converts from Islam. Along with their two sons they are now refugees from Iran living in Cyprus and are a part of the small congregation of believers with whom my husband and I work. They began their spiritual search by reading many religious books, but as time went on they found themselves studying the Bible more and more as the other books began to collect dust on the shelf. One day as they were reading the Scriptures, they looked at each other and realized, “We are Christians!” That realization eventually made life for them in Iran impossible. Many months after that first meeting Nasrin and I were talking of our children’s activities. She mentioned that her boys had gone to a school sports day. “I’m glad they can go to these sports things. I never went and I’m happy when I see my sons happy to do such things.” I asked her why she had never gone. Didn’t they have sports events in Iran? “No. They have. My brothers go often. But not girls. Girl is not allowed to go out. Boys are free. They do whatever they want, but girls - no. Girls are not free.”4
3

Jean P. Sasson, Princess, Bantam Books, 1988.
4

Please do not assume, since I have chosen to report Nasrin’s words in her own unique English, that she is ignorant or uneducated. Nasrin has an excellent education and is very well informed about world history as well as current events and philosophies. Nasrin is now teaching herself English, her fourth fluent language.

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I asked her how she felt about this. In sprite of her lilting Persian accent her answer was very clear. I nevah ak-cep dis. Nevah!” She went on, “Most Iranian women accept this. They think they are nothing, do nothing, say nothing. But I cannot. “Always in my heart I know I am equal to a man. We are the same. “This is why when I read about Jesus I am ready to accept him, because he love women. He talk to them, forgive them. He make them equal with men and say how important they are.” *** I went back to buy the book Princess after I heard a missionary from Saudi Arabia, underground missionary working as a medical doctor, say the book gave an accurate picture of the lives most Muslim women live in that country. Princess is the autobiography of Sultana. Her station in life is that of a pampered pet. As long as she fulfills the expectations of the men to whom she belongs all is well. But Sultana cannot accept her lot and is constantly pushing the limits which so narrowly bind her life. Her story is often one of her impassioned, though unsuccessful rebellions. I felt many things upon hearing Sultana’s story. I was surprised to learn that according to Saudi Arabian law a woman may not drive, testify in a court of law, travel without her husband’s permission, or divorce her husband while he may divorce her by simply saying, “I divorce you.” three times. I found it difficult to imagine a life in Sultana’s shoes - growing up in a family consisting of a father, his four wives, and their many children; never seeing or speaking to males outside of my own family; having to wear a black veil covering my entire body, including my face5, any time I left my own home; facing the possibility of my husband taking a second wife. I was appalled to learn of the reality of female sex slaves, daughters executed by fathers, and adultery punished only by the stoning of the woman involved. I was saddened to see the adversarial relationship between men and women accepted as a societal presupposition. So much self interest. So much loneliness. So broken. So separate.
5

The veiled woman on the book’s cover had great freedom compared to Sultana whose eyes also had to be veiled. The type of veil with eye openings is worn by nomadic bedouin tribes women.

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So bereft of the knowledge of God. So far from the love of Christ. *** Nasrin and her husband gave us some newsletters published by the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, a resistance organization seeking the overthrow of the dictatorship of the Islamic mullahs. What follows is from an article entitled, “Women Under Khomeini Regime: Bearing Brunt Of Oppression.”6 Discrimination, degrading treatment and numerous political and social restrictions and barriers for women as the embodiments of ‘sin’ form the cornerstone of the mullahs’ religious’ dictatorship, and are key to its survival. Present day Iran is characterized by ... -Compulsory veiling or hejab, only the face and hands may be seen, in the dark colors of black, brown, or blue/black only. “Bad hejab” is punishable by 74 lashes of the whip. -The public flogging and stoning of women. -Political prisons where pregnant women, elderly mothers and teenage girls are tortured and executed. Children are tortured in front of their mothers. “Mutilation, burning alive and rape are but a few examples of the ferocious practices of Iran’s rulers.” -Women are banned from 91 fields of college studies. -Twice as many female suicides as male, usually by setting fire to themselves as a public protest. -A plague of begging, prostitution and addiction resulting from the destitution of women cast off by their men. Could all this be true? Perhaps the newsletter was overstating things just to gain sympathy for their cause. I’d ask Nasrin. *** As I drove out to Nasrin’s village I thought about the way God had readied her heart for the indwelling of his only begotten Son by giving her the courage to reject this despicable Islamic view of women, of herself. I wanted to know more. We settled in her simply furnished living room with orange juice in hand.
6

Iran Liberation, News Bulletin of the People Mojahedin of Iran, No. 119, September 1993, page 4-.

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I told her I had found the newsletters very interesting and wanted to know more about her life in Iran. I said I was interested in how God had prepared her heart for Christ by assuring her of her own value, even when her whole culture degraded her worth. I explained that I was interested because I believe men and women are exactly equal in God’s sight, both in the gospel and in the church, but that even some Christian churches did not believe this... Nasrin interrupted my tedious explanation, “Yes. Yes, I know. Most of them don’t believe this.” I could see Nasrin was going to do most of the teaching during this visit. She went on, “When I come to church here I see men and women. We all sit together. To the men they say, ‘Please pray.’ But to the women? Nothing. Just sit. It is just like Iran. Sometimes I get discouraged. “But then we come for special night of prayer. The pastor say everyone can pray, man, woman, children, everyone. It is a wonderful time to pray. Isn’t this the church? Why this not the church? Why on Sunday woman just sit?” We sit silent for a moment. ... What should the missionary say? ... I look at my notes and change the subject. *** “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” The whole assembly became silent... “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:7-12, 19)7 *** We talked for hours.
7

All Scripture quotes are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society.

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Yes, what the newsletters said was true. Nasrin has seen stonings herself. “When a woman makes adult she is stoned. Everyone throw a stone.” “Why do people throw a stone?” “Because the Koran say that anyone who throw a stone is one step closer to paradise.” “What happens to the men who are caught in adultery?” “Men? I don’t know. I never see one.” She showed me her passport where her husband has written that she has his permission to travel anywhere. She proudly held it up and said, “This is good.” Then she held up her husband’s passport and asked, “But where is my name in his passport?” In Nasrin’s passport photo her lovely face was tightly bound from eyebrows to chin in a black head covering. I didn’t recognize her. The reality of the picture stunned me. “That is what I look like in Iran,” she said. “All the women look the same.” Tightly bound in black, in darkness, I added to myself. Nasrin’s mother was the daughter of a second wife. Life was very hard for them. Nasrin’s father believed women should be in the kitchen and caring for the children, nothing else. The Koran says that a woman is half of a man. It takes two women to equal one man. A son’s inheritance is twice that of a daughter’s according to Islamic law. *** You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,... But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son,...to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father,.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 3:26, 4:4-7) *** “It is obvious...that there is no present effectiveness in winning ... Muslims (to Christ), so that attempts at new strategies are mandatory.”8

8

H.L.Richard, “Is extraction evangelism still the way to go?”, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 2, April, 1994, page 170.

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“What do Islam and Buddhism have in common? ...both have challenged the Christian faith in unique theological ways. Both demand a clear and persuasive declaration of the good news. At issue here is the nature of that gospel.”9 *** Could it be that a gospel which values women to even the smallest degree as less than men, or assigns them a role which is even in the least bit subordinate to men, or excludes them, even a little, has lost its saltiness (Matthew 5:13). A rationale which supports the smallest degree or the least bit can be made to support a larger degree and a bigger bit. Such a gospel may not be salty enough to truly satisfy. It’s not that Christ’s blood is not sufficient for salvation even though this piece of the gospel is missing. Women have been coming to Christ for healing and salvation for centuries knowing that their place in the church may be a subordinate one, just as Nasrin has done. It’s just that if this one mystery of the gospel message is missing, the whole gospel may be judged not authentic. It just doesn’t taste like the real thing. *** This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24) There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) *** Nasrin and her husband have left all to follow Christ. They have given up property, livelihood, home, family, language, country, and all political rights and status.
9

From a book review by William Saal of Arab World Ministries of, The Word and The Way Of The Cross: Christian Witness Among Muslim And Buddhist People by Mark W. Thomsen, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 2, April, 1994, page 219-220.

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What could motivate them to do such a thing? Willingly? Even eagerly? Nothing less than the full and complete promise of the gospel. *** I found two statements in the book Princess very sad. One is at the beginning of the book where Sultana tries to defend Islam by saying, It is wrong, however, to blame our Muslim faith for the lowly position of women in our society. Although the Koran does state that women are secondary to men, much in the same way the Bible authorizes men to rule over women, our Prophet Muhammad taught only kindness and fairness towards those of my sex.10 Does the world think that Jesus Christ and Mohammed, the Bible and the Koran, Islam and Christianity place the same value on being female and give a similar role to women? Sad indeed! The second statement is at the end of the book, the Epilogue. The haunting sound that lifts the heart of every Muslim with joy filled the air. The faithful were being called to pray. ... I stood on the bedroom balcony and watched my husband and son leave our palace grounds and walk, hand in hand, to the mosque. I saw that many men were gathering, greeting each other with the spirit of brotherhood. The turbulent memories of my childhood came back to me, and I was a young girl again, shut out from the love exclusive to my father and his treasured son, Ali. Nearly thirty years had passed, yet nothing had changed. My life had come full circle. Father and Ali, Kareem and Abdullah (her husband and son), yesterday, today and tomorrow, immoral practices passed from father to son. Men I loved, men I detested, leaving a legacy of shame in their treatment of women. My eyes followed the movements of my beloved flesh, my most precious blood; my husband and son entered the mosque hand-in-hand, without me. I felt quite the loneliest figure ever to have lived.11

10

Jean P. Sasson, Princess, Bantam Books, 1988, page 20.
11

Jean P. Sasson, Princess, Bantam Books, 1988, page 288-289.

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The Christian Church must tell Sultana, indeed, all the women of the world the gospel’s message of hope. ...you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. ...remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13, 2:12-22) *** As I am about to bid Nasrin good night my mind goes back to that stretch of silence after Nasrin’s question, “Isn’t this the church? Why on Sunday woman just sit?” I take a deep breath and begin, “You know, Nasrin, at home in America I say what I believe and I try to show people how the Bible really teaches that women are equal with men. But here, well, we came here to teach the gospel and help this church get started. I haven’t said anything because the church is new and still small and weak...” Nasrin didn’t wait for more, “You know in Persian we have some words, ‘If you want a nice house you must make a good...,’ how you say - the part under?” “Foundation.” “Yes, ‘...you must make a good foundation.’ Everything you want the house to be you must put in the foundation. “Or it is like when two people arrange to marry in Iran. They speak about the life they will have. But if the girl want very bad to marry she say yes to everything. ‘Yes, yes. Anything you like, I am happy.’ But later, after they marry, there is much trouble. It is better if she say the truth. Maybe they even get angry. Maybe they not marry at all. But if they do marry, after - it is good. “Or it is like a child. Maybe you say he is too young, to small to teach. But if you wait for when he grow up, he will not allow you even to talk!” Nasrin’s English may not be perfect, but she knows how to make a point.

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*** Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, ... This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. ... Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19, 3:6, 6:20) *** Remember my Anglican friend with whom we began this story? He seemed to think of the issue of the role of women in the church as unimportant or at least a peripheral issue for the church, a waste of time. But worse than that, he saw this issue as a distraction, perhaps even an impediment, to the Church’s real mission of preaching the gospel. Is this true? Nasrin doesn’t think so. Neither do I.

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