Even though we have had security problems since we moved to Jigjiga (the Somali region of Ethiopia) in 2019, things got worse than ever after May 2022, when some Islamist mullahs found out that we were preaching Christianity and distributing Christian literature and started to threaten our lives.
Though I promised them few times that I will not be involved in any evangelistic activities, they continued to harass and threaten us almost every week, regularly observing our activities, movements and those visiting us.
Soon we put on hold our prayer and Bible study fellowship meetings but continued distributing Christian literature covertly and very carefully. We also started planning and preparing ourselves to flee from the country to somewhere else anytime we sense an imminent danger. My wife applied for her Ethiopian passport, and I applied for our
children’s passports from the embassy in Addis Ababa. We kept ourselves underground taking all possible safety measures for ourselves and our residence.
In the second week of September 2023 when our children started to attend school, they faced constant persecution from the Muslim students as well as some of their parents. They encountered verbal abuses, beatings, stripping off of their clothing, and destruction or damage of their school materials. When my wife complained to the school administration, she was treated very harshly and even called kafir (apostate). Since then, our children stayed at home without school.
Between Sept. 17-25 while I was in Europe for a short family visit, several mullahs related to my wife visited my family three times to persuade her to renounce our marriage, take the children and go with them to Degahbur (a town about 170 km east of Jigjiga.) When she refused, they left threatening that they will forcefully abduct her and the children soon.
My family and I were in an uncertain security situation as some of my wife’s extended-family members were threatening to separate us forcefully. For a long time, they were trying to convince her to renounce our marriage and desert me, but when she rejected their demand, they now opted to use force.
In the afternoon of Oct. 20, two mullahs and three Somali police officers from the powerful presidential guard unit came to our house looking for me. When my wife opened the door and greeted them, one of the officers said, “Lady, call your husband. We need to talk to him.”
When we sat together in front of my house, one of the officers inquired, “Mohamed, are you Christian?”
I nodded silently, and one of the mullahs said, “We know that he renounced Islam many years ago, but we never expected that he would preach and teach Christianity and distribute Christian books. His presence is disgrace to our family dignity and honor as well as this city, and we will not tolerate that any more.”
“Gurhan, if you rejected our beautiful religion, we are Muslims and our faith prohibits infidels to have marriage relationships with our Muslim daughters. Therefore, we demand you to pronounce the dalqa (divorce) right now, here! If you don’t comply with our demand peacefully, then you will be punished and forced to abide by the sharia,” said the other mullah.
“No. That is impossible. I love my wife, and we have four children. How could you ask me to divorce her?” I asked them nervously.
When the discussion turned into a heated quarrel, one of the mullahs rose from the chair saying, “Why are you quarreling with the infidel? You must obey the order of your commander. Handcuff him and put him in jail. He does not deserve respect.”
When two of the Somali Liyu Police officers grasped me by the shoulders to handcuff me, my wife and some of my kids cried loudly. My wife tried to prevent the officers from handcuffing me, but one of the mullahs slapped her on the face a few times and pushed her back away from me.
They shoved me into their vehicle which was parked on the street in front of my house and headed toward the city’s main police station.
At the police detention center, one of the officers who brought me informed the guards, “Shaleka Ahmed instructed this man to be arrested. Keep him in custody until further notice.” He turned towards me and added, “Kafir! You will remain in prison until you either return to Islam or officially divorce our daughter.”
Once Rev. Gurhan was in the detention center, two high-ranking police officers revealed that they had arrested Rev. Gurhan for his own protection, though they would not be able to protect him for much longer. Several sheikhs and clan elders had long been complaining about Rev. Gurhan’s Christian activities on behalf of LHF, and the officers recommended that the Gurhan family flee Ethiopia as soon as possible.
“If you accept this condition that you will abandon this country instantly, then we will let you go. Take your family with you and leave. Are you ready to leave this country for good?” asked one of the officers.
“We will abandon Ethiopia,” I assured them, and they told me to go home.