When divorce breaks up a family, most courts put the interest of the children first when deciding custody. Not so in Iran. If you are a Christian married to a Muslim, the children must live with the Muslim. That’s the law. So Christians with a Muslim spouse can find themselves being forced to choose between their faith and their children.
Lured into a marriage with a man pretending to be a Christian, Magda Montazami was forced to make that grim choice. Here she tells her story, and why she has no regrets for choosing Christ.
A ‘love’ marriage
I was raised in a Christian family and had a passion to serve since I was a teenager.I really loved going to church and I even remember one day telling my mum how I wished I could live in a church. As a teenager I was an active member of the worship group and served in the Sunday School
I was the only Christian in our university,and my classmates used to say I was different from the rest of them. I could not talk openly about my faith, but I was glad people still knew I loved Christ. In the second year at university, I got to know a man who seemed to know quite a lot about me and my family. He had found out that I was a Christian and told me: ‘I love Jesus too. I want to get to know your family.’
At the time, our home served as a house church for local believers, and my father was its pastor. My new friend used to come to our meetings, and after a while, he told me that he had fallen in love with me and wanted to marry me. Three months later we got engaged and then married. I thought his love was real.
The ‘dark reality’
As soon as we were married, I faced a dark reality: my husband was not a Christian. The way he treated me got worse and worse. He didn’t like me visiting my family, and he hated me for my Christian faith, calling me an ‘infidel’ and an ‘apostate.’ He kept on threatening me that he would report me and my family to the Islamic authorities so they could hang us for being Christians. Though he was not a practicing Muslim, he would deliberately recite verses from the Koran every night in a loud voice, just to annoy me.
One day I asked why he had married me since he hated me and my family so much. He shamelessly replied that during our days at the university he had followed me home after the class one day, and seeing that I lived in an affluent neighbourhood and was a pretty girl, he decided that I was worthy of him! This was like pouring cold water on my emotions! I couldn’t believe someone would marry for such superficial reasons.
Birth and separation
Feeling helpless and lonely, I prayed that God would give me a child. I wanted to be a mother, but my husband said he didn’t want a child from an ‘apostate’ woman. God heard my prayers and gave me a child. I had a really stressful pregnancy, and my husband kept saying a child who has a mother like me would be useless. After the birth of our daughter, his attitude only hardened, and when she was just four and a half months old, he forced us to leave his home. Life was tough. My husband refused to divorce me, but still he would not provide for me and my daughter and would not even give me permission to find a job. According to Iran’s Islamic law, the husband must give permission for his wife to work. Thankfully, my family supported me financially. Every once in a while my husband would come to our house to take our daughter for a few hours, and then would bring her back again. One day he took her, but didn’t bring her back. He argued that according to Islamic Law, as ‘an infidel’ I was not fit to look after the child. In the meantime, he had also divorced me.
‘Recant your faith and we’ll give you your daughter’
I immediately hired a lawyer to regain custody of my daughter. She was just two and a half years old and my lawyer told me according to the Iranian constitution a little girl can stay with her mother up to the age of 9. But on the day of the court hearing, the judge told me that the law in the constitution did not apply in my case. The judge told me: ‘There’s only one way you can take custody of your daughter: If you come back to Islam and recant your Christian faith, we will give you your daughter.’
My lawyer was very happy. He urged me to accept the court offer and pretend I was not a Christian. It was a nightmare moment. On the one hand I really loved my daughter and wanted to get her back at all costs, but on the other hand I loved Jesus and had felt His living presence with me throughout my life. There was no way I could bring myself to deny Jesus. Deep in my heart, I felt peace that God was in charge. During those tense moments, I felt as if Jesus was waiting for my answer. Would I choose Him over my daughter? I told the judge that I would never deny Jesus. So the court ruled in favor of my husband and took my daughter away from me.
This was the darkest chapter of my life. I missed my daughter terribly. I spent my days smelling her clothes, thinking of what she might be doing, and weeping. I became more isolated and was easily offended. I felt wronged and became depressed. I spent hours alone in my room crying.
Bam earthquake: Magda becomes a mother to many
I was forced out of my isolation by one of the worst tragedies in our history: the earthquake in the city of Bam in southern Iran. I saw horrible scenes of devastation on TV: people wailing and mourning the loss of their loved ones. I could easily identify with them, as I was also mourning the loss of my beloved daughter. One day, a friend of mine who is now in prison for his Christian faith, called me and asked me to work with him and others helping the people of Bam.
A mother’s wise words
I told my Christian friend that I couldn’t be of any help, thinking that if I had been a good mother God would have let me take care of my own child. After his telephone call, my mother came to my room. She said: ‘I want to tell you something: When you trusted God in the court and did not deny Jesus, God was with you. He is also with you now and has not abandoned you. Put your trust in Him, and like Moses’ mother, commit your daughter to the caring hands of God. He will take care of your daughter and will guide her in the river of life, and one day He will bring her back to you.’
My mother’s words greatly encouraged me, and I decided to call my friend and let him know I would be coming to help. I stayed in the city of Bam for one year, and while helping the orphaned children, God taught me many valuable lessons. He did wonderful miracles in my life, the most important of which was that He brought me to believe I am a valuable instrument in the hands of God.
I was a mother to many
He allowed me to shower my motherly love on children who had not only lost their mothers, but their whole families. We had the opportunity to sing Christian songs for them and tell them about God’s love for them. And despite the potential dangers, we also had the opportunity to pray with the people of Bam and tell them about Jesus. I was mother to many children, and God was abundantly making up for the dark days of my life. God gave me a chance to re-discover myself and my talents, and realize that I can use my talents for His glory. Most important of all, He put songs of joy and gratitude on my lips, things that had been absent from my lips for a long time.
After Bam, God used me in other places too. As I write this, I have yet to see my daughter, though I sometimes talk to her on the phone. But I can say with absolute confidence that not even for a moment do I ever regret my decision in the court to choose God over my daughter. It is hope in the truth that God has loved me and my daughter that has kept me going. I am still waiting, but I know that God is faithful. He has heard my prayers for my daughter, and He will have the last word.