Fighting For Freedom | Interview with Rev. Majed El Shafie
What motivates somebody to risk his life fighting for the freedom of others?
I first encountered the work of One Free World International on 21st July 2012. Our church, Catch The Fire Toronto, was holding a special service where medals were being awarded to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.
One of the people awarded a medal on that Sunday was Reverend Majed El Shafie, a member of our church and founder of One Free World International. One Free World International is a human rights organization focused on the protection and rescue of people being persecuted for their faith.
When El Shafie received for his award, multiple families stood up who had been rescued from dire circumstances by Majed and his team. I was astounded that without the help of One Free World International, these beautiful people might not even be alive. One family had arrived in Canada just days before from Afghanistan. They were being tortured severely because by the Afghan authorities because they had converted to Christianity. El Shafie and his team were able to smuggle them out of Afghanistan and into Canada where they now live in safety. Another little girl, Neha, who was a victim of rape at just two and a half years old, stood with her family who are now free from the persecution they had suffered in Pakistan.
This is a shocking reality. While I can easily attend church every Sunday, the families represented that day were carrying with them scars and recent memories of violent persecution and torture, simply for being followers of Jesus.
I was immediately fascinated, that one man could have such a passion to risk his life to rescue other believers. I spoke to Rev. Majed El Shafie a few weeks ago to find out what motivates his work in human rights.
"In my opinion, you don’t persecute somebody unless you are scared of the truth that they carry."
Majed El Shafie grew up in a Muslim family in Egypt. He recounted to me the values that were foundational in his upbringing, “My father was a lawyer, my uncle is the judge in the Egyptian supreme court. My brother is a lawyer. When you grow up in a family like this, the only thing that is in front of you is books about justice and law.” Growing up with this strong sense of justice, El Shafie noticed something that didn’t make sense to him, “There were 6-7 thousand Christian activists in prison just because they are Christians and not for any other reason. As a Muslim young man, I wondered why there was persecution happening to the Christians at this time. In my opinion, you don’t persecute somebody unless you are scared of the truth that they carry.”
It was while studying to become a lawyer in Alexandria that Majed became close friends with a Christian named Tamar. El Shafie eventually asked Tamar the question that had been on his mind for some time, “I told him, ‘Tamar, why is persecution happening to your community?’ And he answered me, ‘I don’t want to answer your question because if I am scared that I would put our friendship in jeopardy. But I will give you a book. If you seek any answers, you’ll find them on your own in this book.’ This book not only contained judgements, laws and regulations, it was also about love and forgiveness. We call it the Holy Bible.”
The first place that Majed opened the Bible was in John 8. The story of the woman caught in adultery caught his heart; “This was the first time I met Jesus and His forgiveness.” He went on to study the Bible, comparing it to the Quran. After 9 months Majed came to Tamar with the decision that he would become a follower of Jesus. Tamar was delighted.
Soon afterwards, Majed and Tamar started an underground Christian organisation with 7 other members. With his newfound faith in Christ, El Shafie became very proactive in supporting other believers: “In 2 years we became 24 thousand. We built 2 churches in caves inside mountains. We built one bible school and a medical clinic. I established a newspaper asking the Egyptian government to give us equal rights, Christians and Muslims alike. I also wrote a book about the difference between Islam and Christianity.”
"I was tortured for Christ and I still have the scars on my body."
But things took a turn for the worse on August 15th 1998. At 1:30am Majed had a knock on his door. 5 soldiers and 2 officers broke in and arrested him. They questioned him, asking for the names of the other members of Majed’s organisation, but with no answer from Majed, they took him to prison to be tortured. El Shafie discusses the prison that he was taken to: “If you ask somebody from the Middle East, they will tell you it’s hell on earth. 25% of the space of that jail is underground, like a basement, and that’s where they persecute the believers."
"The officers torturing me were always wearing masks, so you could not see their faces. They called each other by numbers not by names. They take you to a higher level of torture each day. If you don’t speak on day number one they will take you to a higher level of torture on day two. So they test you to see how far you can take it. There is a military doctor behind you whose mission is not to stop your pain, but to make sure that you are conscious.”
As Majed goes into further detail, you can tell that his experience of torture is still very painful for him to talk about. And perhaps it is this pain that motivates him to help others being persecuted for their faith, “I was tortured for Christ and I still have the scars on my body. Until now when I go to take a shower, I prefer to cover my mirror because I don’t want to see the scars that I have.
“The torture made my faith stronger. I tell you, Christians are like a bag of tea. You don’t know how strong they are until you put them in the hot water. This is the reality.”
After 7 days of increasingly brutal torture, El Shafie was admitted to hospital where he nearly died. He was later taken to court and given a death sentence: “They charged me three charges. The first charge was that I tried to make revolution against the Egyptian government. The second was that I tried to change the official religion of Egypt from Islam to Christianity. Third, believe it or not, that I worship and I love Jesus. I will tell you what I told the judge on that day: ‘If loving Jesus and worshipping him is wrong, I don’t want to be right any more. If loving him and worshipping him is a crime, I am guilty as charged your honour.’ I received the death penalty.”
El Shafie was put on house arrest pending execution. It was there that his friends made a daring plan to release him. Majed escaped and hid for months in Egypt, eventually escaping to Israel, using a jetski to cross between the countries. He was imprisoned on his arrival to Israel, but because of pressure from Amnesty International and the United Nations, the Israeli government agreed not to return him to Egypt until they could investigate his case. “I was kept in the Israeli jail 1 year, 3 months, 15 days, 12 hours and 24 minutes” he recounts, “You count the minutes. During this time I learned the Hebrew language. And before I left that prison, two Israeli guards and one Israeli prisoner came to the Lord. After 1 year and 3 months, Kofi Anan, who at the time was the general secretary of the United Nations, recognised me as a refugee. I was the first person recognised as a refugee coming out of Egypt in the last 70 years of their history.”
Eventually El Shafie was given freedom to move to a country where he could live freely. “The UN gave me three options, Australia, Canada and Denmark. I prayed to the Lord and He told me Canada. (The Lord forgot to tell me it’s 20 below zero in the winter.)”
Shortly after moving to Toronto, Majed set up One Free World International, and the work has been building to this day: “We’ve been operating now for nearly 8 years, and we have branches in 28 countries. In Canada we have 4 branches. We have taken over 300 cases and never lost one of them.”
"When you are speaking the truth, people will listen."
It is amazing to talk to a man who really has no fear of death, “When I go to these countries and I face the enemy head on. And when I face the extremists and I go to mosques and tell them about the Lord, I am not scared of them. I believe that they are scared of me. When the day comes that a bullet will finish my life, this will mean that my mission is over. I’m not scared of this. It will come. God gave me life and he will take it back in His time, not in our enemy’s tme, His time. So I am here and I will fight until the end.”
As you might expect, Majed is straight talking in all situations, not submitting to political correctness, “When you are speaking the truth, people will listen. When they see you resisting, not giving up, and loving everybody people will listen. And I do love everybody, not just the Christians. I will help anyone facing persecution, even if he is not Christian I will help him. I will not just help him in the name of human rights, I will help him in Jesus name, because Jesus told me to help everybody.
“I received the Jubilee award, and I was one of the very few human rights activists that actually received it. But why did I receive this award? Because when I go to speak with the politicians and decision makers, I have an influence on them because I speak as a lawyer and a human rights activist. I say, ‘Here is the truth, we have to do something.' If they don’t listen, we come again and knock on their door again. And we don’t give up, it’s as simple as that.”
It can be overwhelming for many Christians to know how we can help and make a difference. How can we help our brothers and sisters suffering in other nations? “Our world is divided into two zones. A conflict zone and a comfort zone. The conflict zone is where there is persecution, it’s the front lines of the church. The comfort zone is where we are right now. The more that you go to the conflict zone, the church is strong and united. The more that you are in a comfort zone, the church is torn apart, it is broken.
“The number one way that people can help is prayer. Number two is action. The Bible says that faith without actions is a dead faith. You can go to our website for example, and you can sign up for our action alerts. You’ll receive emails from us when they arrest a Christian somewhere, we will you the name, the reason they are under arrest and the prison. Then you can send an email to our Prime Minister, your MP, your Congressman, your Senator, the media, even to the embassy of the country of this believer, and together we create public pressure. Then, when they know that the world is watching, they have to release the prisoner. We have around 7 thousand members in Canada, and when we send an action alert and they all send an email at the same time, they create a public pressure on these countries.”
"Persecuted christians are in a very deep, dark night, but they still have the candle of hope."
So, what motivates Reverend Majed El Shafie to risk his life for others? Faith in Jesus, compassion for those who are suffering, and passion to for victory of God’s Kingdom on Earth. El Shafie ended the interview with the following statement, summing up his deep convictions, “Persecution is not about pain and suffering. It’s about the victory in Jesus’ name. We are not victims, but we are victors in Jesus’ name, that’s very important. Remember this: Persecuted Christians are dying, but they are still smiling, they are in a very deep, dark night, but they still have the candle of hope. Our enemy has very strong armour, it’s true, he has strong weapons, it’s true, but we have the Lord Almighty. After every night, there is new morning and new day. After every storm there is sunshine. And after every persecution there is victory in Jesus name. Make no mistake, they can kill the dreamer, but they cannot kill the dream.”
To find out more about Rev. Majed El Shafie and One Free World International, watch the award winning documentary movie, Freedom Fighter.