CWN.org-When Halima Bubkier of Sinar town converted from Islam to Christianity last year, initially her husband accepted it without qualms.
"After watching the 'Jesus Film,' I felt I needed a change in my hopeless and meaningless life," the 35-year-old mother of three told Compass. "I lived a life of alcoholism and lacked self control, hence tried Christianity and it worked well for me. I shared this experience with my husband, and he was quite positive about it and allowed me to attend church services."
News of her conversion spread quickly, she said, and last Sept. 14 she came face to face with Islamic hardliners who felt her conversion to Christianity was an act of betrayal. A few weeks later, during the daily fasts and nightly feasts of Ramadan in Sinar, near Khartoum, the Islamists blocked her husband from the communal meals because of her change in faith.
"My husband was totally rejected by his colleagues," she said. "They even refused to eat the food that I had cooked for him, saying that Muslims could not eat food cooked by infidels."
Bubkier said she never expected her change in faith would lead to the ordeal that followed.
"He was so angry that he threw an armchair at me and injured my back," she said. "As if this was not enough, he took out all his belongings from the house then set the house on fire. After I lost all my belongings, he then chased me away."
She decided to run for refuge to her older brother, Nur Bubkier - who, having been informed of her conversion, responded by thoroughly beating her and trying to knife her.
Two Christians from the Sudanese Church of Christ, Maria Mohamud and a church deacon, managed to rescue her from the violence, but Halima Bubkier was jailed for three days at a police station, she said, on the false charge of "disrespecting Islam." During that time Mohamud took care of her 2-year-old baby.
After three days in jail, she was waiting to appear before a judge.
"Before my case was heard, a Coptic priest knew of my case and talked with a police officer, privately telling him that according to the law, no one is supposed to be jailed because of religion," Bubkier told Compass. "I was then freed."
Bubkier left her two children, ages 6 and 8, behind with her husband, who is said to have married another woman. She said that although her main concern is the safety of her children, at least she is in hiding and her husband does not know her whereabouts.
"I expected my husband to appreciate my positive change, but instead he responded negatively," Bubkier said. "Indeed there is something wrong with Islam where good is rewarded with evil. But I feel normal. Now I have a better life to live for. I was lost and in darkness. Let God forgive all those who have wronged me. I know I cannot go back."
In Sahafa, five kilometers south of Khartoum, another woman who left Islam is under a kind of house arrest by her family members for converting to Christianity.
Senah Abdulfatah Altyab was formerly a student of laboratory science at Sudan University of Technology, but today she is out of touch with the outside world. Her education came to an end after a film about Christ led to her conversion.
A close friend of Altyab, Ebtehaj Alsanosi Altejani Mostafh, said Altyab's family closely monitors her.
"She cannot receive calls," Mostafh said. "Her brother forbids her from moving outside the homestead or even attending St. Peter and Paul Catholic church" in Amarat, Khartoum.
Last Christmas, Mostafh said, she met Altyab near a public market during an Islamic celebration day, prayed with her and advised her that she should present her case to a commission dedicated to guarding the rights of non-Muslims. The Commission for the Rights of Non-Muslims in the National Capital, created by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 following Sudan's long civil war, was designed to advise courts on how to fairly apply sharia to non-Muslims.
Made up of representatives from Muslim, Christian and traditional religious groups, the commission "made little headway in changing official government policy towards non-Muslims in Khartoum," according to the U.S. Department of State's 2008 International Religious Freedom Report, though it did obtain release or leniency for some non-Muslims accused of violating sharia.
Altyab said she feels the commission would do little for her case because most of its members are radical Muslims. Moreover, she said her uncle, Yusuf Alkoda, is a radical Muslim and will make her life more difficult.
"I find life very difficult," Altyab said. "I feel lonely and isolated. How long will I have to live in this state? Life without education is miserable."
Sudan's 2005 Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of religion throughout the entire country, but Altyab said that stipulation is brazenly flouted. The constitution enshrines sharia as a key source of legislation in northern Sudan.
The 29-year-old Mostafh, for her part, said she converted from Islam to Christianity in 2005 and as a result was immediately fired from her job. She later obtained another job. A member of All Saints Cathedral Church in Khartoum, she told Compass that since her conversion, she has suffered total isolation from her Muslim friends. During communal celebrations, she said, she is looked down upon and seen as a lady lost and destined for hell.
"Life is very difficult for me for the last four years, since joining Christianity," she said. "I have been living all alone in the rental house here at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church-Borri, which is something unusual for a Muslim lady who is unmarried. My former friends are saying that there must be something wrong with me."
Her immediate family lives in Saudi Arabia. Her only chance of seeing them, she said, is to go on the Islamic pilgrimage or hajj, and that option is now closed.
"My big challenge is how I can be accepted by my family members," she said. "For me to go to Saudi Arabia, pilgrimage is the only opportunity, but this is not relevant for me as a Christian."
The many instances of Christians suffering in northern Sudan go largely unreported. The president of the Sudanese Church of Christ, Barnabas Maitias, told Compass of one church member, a convert from Islam identified only as Ahmed, who received Christ in April 2007 - and quickly had his wife and children taken away.
Hard-line Muslims also planned to kill the convert, Maitias said.
"The church had to take him to another location in the Nuba Mountains, Korarak area, where he is employed as driver," Maitias noted. "Most of the churches in Khartoum are housing Muslim converts who have no place to stay or get their daily basic needs."