Mario Joseph was an imam at age 18. Then he became a Christian and his father tried to kill him. Today, he is a Catholic preacher in India. His case is unique in the world: he is the first Muslim cleric to have embraced Christianity, which in the Islamic world is punishable by death. In the cemetery of his Indian town, there is a tombstone with his name, and underneath it, a coffin with a clay sculpture of his size. His father told him, “If you want to be a Christian, I have to kill you.” This man is alive, and Lartaún de Azumendi was able to interview him on “The Night of COPE”:
Mario Joseph, good evening. You were 18 years old and you were a Muslim cleric. What happened to change your perspective?
I was the third of six brothers. When I was eight years old, my father sent me to a Koranic school to become an imam. After ten years of study, I became an imam at age 18. One day, I was preaching in the mosque that Jesus Christ was not God. Then a person from the audience told me not to say that and asked me who Jesus Christ was. Since I had no answer to give, I set about reading the entire Koran, and there I discovered that in Chapter 3, it speaks of Jesus. The Koran often refers to him as Jesus Christ, and in chapter 19, it speaks of Mary. In the Koran, Mary is the only female name that is named, and the Koran also says that Jesus is the Word of God.
Was the area where you lived in India a Muslim area?
Yes. It is predominantly Muslim and Hindu, and there are virtually no Christians.
And starting from that question that arose when you were preaching, how did the conversion process begin?
The Koran says that Mohammed is dead but that Jesus Christ is still alive. So when I read that, I thought, “Who, then, should I accept? The one who is dead or the one who is alive?”
I asked Allah whom I should accept and I began to pray to help me on this issue. And when I started to pray, I opened the Koran and in chapter 24 verse 10, it says that those who have a question like that on the Koran should read the Bible. So I decided to start studying the Bible. Then I realized who the true God is, and from that moment on, I embraced Christianity.
You tell that story so naturally, knowing what you would have to endure to accept it. How did your community react?
When I converted, I went to a retreat center and my family started looking for me. They found me there. My father beat me hard and took me home. When we arrived, he put me in a room, tied my hands and feet, undressed me, put pepper in my eyes, mouth, and nose, and left me there without food for 28 days. After that time, my father came and took me by the neck to see if I was alive.
I opened my eyes and saw that he had a knife in his hand. He asked me if I accepted Jesus and told me he would kill me if I said yes. I knew my father would kill me because he is a very hardline Muslim and he was convinced. I said I accepted Jesus Christ, and at that moment, a very powerful light struck my mind and gave me the strength to scream with all my might: “Jesus!”
At that moment, my father fell and the knife he carried in his hand pierced his chest. It made a big cut and he started bleeding profusely and was foaming at the mouth. At that time, my family was scared for him. They took him to the hospital and forgot to close the door. I was able to go out and catch a taxi to the retreat center where I had been caught, and there I stayed in hiding.
It is incredible that you had the physical ability to get out of the house and go to the Catholic shelter…
Although I was naked and weakened, that light gave me strength and a health that came out of nowhere. However, I am still suffering the consequences of this punishment because I have a stomach ulcer and mouth ulcers.
It seems like a story touched by God. It is not normal for one to come out strengthened with that power. How long ago did this happen?
It was 18 years ago. Suffering still accompanies me, because it is written in the Koran in over eighteen places that he who rejects the Koran must be eliminated.
Since then, have you returned to see your father?
I have not gone back to my village. I never set foot in my land again. Not only that, but I am buried there because my parents made a grave with my name and the day I was born on the headstone.
Listen to the full interview on the website of the COPE Channel
ACN Prayer for persecuted Christians:
Father in Heaven, you make your sun shine
on good and bad alike.
Your Son Jesus Christ died for us all
and in his glorious Resurrection
He still retains the five wounds of his Passion.
With his divine power he now sustains
all those who suffer persecution and martyrdom
for the sake of their fidelity
to the faith of the Church.
Merciful and mighty Father,
do not allow Cain to return again to murder
helpless Abel, innocent Abel.
May persecuted Christians around the world
remain, like Mary, their Mother,
together at the foot of the cross
of Christ the Martyr.
Comfort those menaced by violence
and those oppressed by uncertainty.
May your Holy Spirit of love
make fruitful the witness and the blood
of those who die forgiving.