(Photo: REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot)
Christians in the community of Gaza in Palestine are protesting this week over what they describe as kidnappings and forced conversations of some former believers to Islam.
The historically turbulent community, where Christians are a minority among a Muslim-dominated population, is demanding that a man and a woman "kidnapped" in separate incidents by Islamists and forced to convert to their religion be returned to them. The Christians are blaming the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Scholars Association and its chairman Salem Salama for the incidents, Reuters reported.
However, Hamas is rejecting that the people in question were forced to convert, and said that they turned to Islam on their own free will.
One woman, Hiba Daoud, reportedly left her husband and took their three young daughters, converted to Islam, and is now raising them with the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
"We are living with a (Muslim) family, they bring us all we need, they teach us how to pray and everything," said Hiba, who was wearing a full Muslim dress and a scarf covering her hair. "I love you all, I hope no one feels upset with me, it was my decision which I made months ago." The mother of three and former Christian's comments were shown via video on a pro-Hamas website, according to Reuters.
Another case involves a 24-year-old man whose name was not given who shared with reporters that he decided to become a Muslim on his own free will.
Despite these accounts, Christians in the Gaza community are saying these conversions are a form of brainwashing and the converts do not fully realize what life they are living.
"My daughter lived in a struggle with them. She did not do this of her own choice," said Hiba's mother, who explained that her daughter was stalked by other employees at an Islamic University who urged her to become a Muslim.
"We are increasingly worried about our sons and daughters. If those people joined Islam of their own will it would not have been a problem. But they were under pressure," added Fatin Ayyad, Hiba's aunt.
The hundreds of other Christians protesting in Gaza this week shared her sentiment.
"We do not want any problem. We want peace and harmony to prevail among us," said Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexios from his Gaza church. He has served in his position for 12 years and is demanding such forced conversions come to an end.
Chairman Salama, however, again explained that no such pressure to convert existed, and said that in the past five months, only 11 Christians have come to his office to announce they are converting to Islam.
"No one is forced to change his religion. This is the instruction of our holy book [Quran]," Salma said.
"We are not strangers. Christians did not come from the outside. Christians are part of the Palestinian body and not a strange body," he added.
There are about 52,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip, and they have their own schools. The West Bank population is totals about 2.5 million people.