Faith

Iranian Ex-Muslim Contrasts 'Male Rule' in Islam with Women's Equal Dignity in Christianity

Samira Page, an immigrant former Muslim from Iran who now runs a Christian ministry reaching out to refugees in Texas, hit on a key contrast between Islam and Christianity. She emphasized the two religions’ different approach to the relationship between men and women, saying it played a large role in her conversion and later ministry.

In summarizing an interview with Page, Christianity Today‘s Kate Shellnut explained the minister’s approach to women’s dignity in the two religions. “Gender has played a significant role in her Christian journey,” Shellnut wrote of Page.

“Page sees a vast contrast between the notion of male rule she came to understand in a Muslim context and the biblical framing of wifely submission, since Christians teach that women and men are equal in dignity and equal heirs to the kingdom of God,” Shellnut wrote.

Perhaps ironically, Shellnut presented this important contrast in the context of Page attempting to enter ministry. “The more Page studied theology, starting with her master’s in 2010, the clearer she felt a call to ordained ministry, which ruled out traditions such as Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist,” the Christianity Today writer explained.

Even so, Page said, “God has given me a lot of favor with Christian leaders across denominations,” in the Episcopal tradition and with her ministry, Gateway of Grace.

Page also contrasted her spiritual life growing up in Iran — “when she felt forced to study, pray, and fast to please God, only to be spun into cycles of guilt over her missteps” — with her relationship with God as a Christian. In Matthew 25, the former Muslim said she met a savior who “cares about the day-to-day struggles of the people and promises to bring healing, restoration, and dignity.”

The former Shia Muslim grew up in extremely restrictive Iran, where religious law forces women to cover their faces with a veil — called a “hijab” — in public. Indeed, police in Iran recently warned that women caught protesting the forced hijab would be charged with “inciting prostitution,” and will face up to ten years in prison for the crime. Women have continued to engage in anti-hijab protests, which formed a critical part of the widespread unrest bordering on revolution late last year.

From its inception, Christianity has given women a pivotal role. Not only did God choose women to serve as Jewish heroes across history — the judge Deborah, the assassin Jael, the queen Esther — but Jesus praised women and treated them in counter-cultural ways. Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well when most Jews would look down on Samaritans, especially women. Jesus appeared toward women first after rising from the dead, despite the fact that women’s testimony was not even permitted in court.

Perhaps most importantly, when a woman impertinently rushed to Jesus and poured expensive perfume over him, Jesus’ disciples berated her for wasting money that could have been spent on the poor. Jesus defended her, however, and added, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26:13).

As with many Muslim converts to Christianity — like Nabeel Qureshi — Page saw a vision that led her toward Jesus. She did not see Jesus, however.

“When I was 6, I had a vision of the Virgin Mary and I had no idea who she was,” Page told Faithwire. “There was this huge rock — this lady came from behind a rock, she took my hand and said she was Mary.” She said the vision was very clear, but she did not know what it meant at the time.

The vision did pique her curiosity about Mary, Jesus, and the Christian faith, however. The 1943 film “The Song of Bernardette,” a movie about a French woman who had visions of Mary and later became a Catholic saint, only increased her interest. “God planted those seeds in my heart,” she told Faithwire. “It was an ongoing process that led me to submit finally to Christ.”

While many Christian denominations insist that women cannot serve as pastors or priests, Christianity has a high view of women’s dignity. Some versions of Islam present a view of heaven where Muslim martyrs in Jihad spend eternity with a harem of women. Jesus, by contrast, said there will be no marriage in heaven, and that women and men both inherit the kingdom of God as adopted children.

In the Middle Ages, Muslims misunderstood Roman Catholics, explaining that they believed in a Trinity — Father, Son, and Mother (Virgin Mary). Eastern Orthodox Christians revere Mary as the Theotokos, God-bearer, and Roman Catholics have multiple feast days for her. Christians do not worship Mary as part of God — the real Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — but even Protestants look back on Mary as an exemplar of faith in Jesus.

Christians have not always treated women well, but the Bible does teach that women are equal in dignity — if different in role. Islam — and especially the Shia Islam reigning in Iran — has a much more restrictive view of women.

In her interview for Christianity Today, Page said, “My life has always been about being a bridge between two cultures.” Leading a Christian ministry to help refugees involves explaining that not all Muslims are terrorists or Islamic State (ISIS) sympathizers. This work also involves preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims, and creating new Christian communities.

Page has launched a weekly Bible study and worship service that now draws around 70 people, both Christians from persecuted backgrounds and Muslims seeking to learn about Christ. The event involves prayers in Arabic, Farsi, and English.

“If you are really concerned about the number of Muslims coming to America, love them,” she said. “Share the gospel with them. Only Jesus can transform the hearts of his people.”