Sep 11, 2014 / 16:03 pm
A former Muslim imam who converted to Christianity believes that God protected him from death threats and torture at the hands of his family members.
"The holy Quran converted me to Christianity," said Mario Joseph, a former imam who shared the story of his conversion and subsequent persecution with the HM Television program "Changing Tracks," broadcast by the EUK Mamie Foundation run by the Home of the Mother religious community.
The English-language interview, first posted in April 2014, now has more than 250,000 views on YouTube.
Mario Joseph grew up in India in a Muslim family. His mother dedicated him to God when he was a baby. She had rejected doctors' advice to abort him when she had an infected womb during pregnancy.
Enrolled at a young age in a Muslim Arabic college in the southern Indian state of Kerala, he studied philosophy and theology for 10 years. He became an imam before he reached the age of 18.
After someone asked him about who Jesus was, Mari Joseph began to investigate Christianity. Studying the Quran, he noticed that the name of Jesus was mentioned more often than the name of Islam's prophet Mohammed and that Mary, known in Arabic as Mariam, was the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran. In Islam, Mary is recognized as a perpetual virgin who was conceived without sin.
It struck him to consider why the Quran would "give more preference to Jesus" and why it says "all these things about Mariam."
The Quran describes Jesus as the "Word of God" and the "Spirit of God." It says Jesus healed the sick and brought the dead to life and went to heaven alive. It does not depict the Prophet Mohammed doing any of this, he explained.
In addition, Mario Joseph came to understand God as a father, something also taught by Christianity.
"Whenever I think that the creator of the universe is my dad, I have a kind of joy which I cannot express," he said in an interview.
With this motivation, he explained, "I decided to accept Jesus."
However, this conversion to Christianity triggered a violent reaction from family members, he said, recounting that his father found him at a Catholic retreat center and beat him badly, to the point that he lost consciousness. When he awoke, he found himself naked in a small room at his family's home. His arms and legs were bound and hot chili had been placed in his mouth and his wounds.
Mario Joseph said that his father was obeying the law of the Quran, which punishes those who leave Islam.
He said that he was deprived of food and water for several days and that his brother forced him to drink urine as a punishment.
The lack of food and water affected him severely, he recalled, adding that after as many as 20 days, his father entered his cell, choked him and threatened him with a knife unless he renounced Jesus.
"I knew my dad well that he would kill me," Mario Joseph said.
"When I knew that it was my last moment… I thought, 'Jesus died, but He came back. If I believe in Jesus and die, I too may get my life'."
He said at this point he felt energized, pulled his father's hand down, and cried out Jesus' name.
His father then fell down and was cut severely by his own knife, causing him to foam at the mouth, Mario Joseph said. When family members took his father to the hospital, they forgot to lock the room.
The young man then ran out and caught a taxi. The driver was a Christian and helped get him food and drink.
"That day, really I understood, my Jesus is alive even now. When I called him for my need, he saved me."
Mario Joseph is now staying at a Catholic retreat center in India, where he gives talks in various languages.
He took the name "Mario," a male version of Mary in Italian. He also took the name Joseph for Mary's spouse.
"I ask (for) the intercession of Mary and I know she is protecting me wherever I am," he said.
In addition, the Catholic convert stressed the importance of Church teaching, especially the Eucharist.
"Jesus clearly said: If you eat my body, if you drink my blood, you shall never die. And even if you die, I will raise you'," he commented, paraphrasing the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.
Mario Joseph said he did not expect that he would still be alive 18 years after his conversion. He said people are still trying to kill him, and his parents held a mock funeral ceremony for him to signify that he was an outcast. On the mock grave, they marked as his death date the date of his baptism.
Although he has had no contact with his family members, he prays for them and believes that "God can touch them within a moment."
Even if they never accept Christianity, he explained, "I'm always saying 'Jesus, please take them to heaven'."