A Sudanese Muslim imam who converted to Christianity five years ago has revealed that he was imprisoned by a Khartoum court for six months during 1991 on apostasy charges.
Sylvador Ali Ahmad, 38, told News Network International in July that he had been arrested April 22, 1991 for having converted to Christianity.
A graduate of Islam's most prestigious university, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Ahmad served for 11 years as imam of the Shagra district of Khartoum.
Militantly anti-Christian as a young imam, Ahmad started to read the New Testament in preparation for beginning a Ph.D. in comparative religions.
He found himself deeply disturbed by what he was reading in the Bible, recalling, "I didn't believe it, and I was afraid to follow it, but it touched my heart." After six months of comparative study of the Bible with the Koran, he finally decided to become a Christian in September 1988.
Although his wife initially went along with the decision, eventually she bowed to her father's denunciation of Ahmad as a kafir (infidel). Taking their four children, she left him and sued for divorce, which was granted her after a two-hour interrogation before a Sharia (Islamic law) court in Khartoum.
When Ahmad volunteered to give his wife all of his salary from both his teaching and military jobs, the Sharia judge responded, "You still have a Muslim spirit. You will come back to Islam."
Ahmad, however, said he remained committed to his new faith and was baptized on March 14, 1990.
Nearly a year later, under the intensified Islamization drive launched by the government of Lt. Gen. Umar al-Bashir, Ahmad's former wife requested security authorities investigate his "apostasy" case.
When Ahmad was called in for questioning, he said he readily admitted that he had attended church the previous Sunday, and that he was a Christian. He was immediately arrested and put in chains in solitary confinement.
The following day, Ahmad was arraigned before six judges in the High Court who asked why he had left Islam.
"I came to know the truth," Ahmad replied.
"So Islam is not the truth?" one judge asked.
"That question is not for me," Ahmad said. "I can only answer questions for Christians."
"So, have you left Islam? Do you know that the penalty for this is to be killed?"
"Yes, I know the suras very well. I have already told you that I was an imam for 11 years. I know that Islam requires that I be killed for this."
Finally the judges gave him a six-month prison sentence. Ahmad was stripped of his military rank, dismissed from his teaching position, forbidden custody of his children, and dispossessed of his car, house and bank account.
The judge then warned, "If you refuse to return to Islam, and keep your belief in Jesus Christ, then your prison term will be renewed for another six months, until you repent."
But after six months, Sudanese prison authorities apparently changed their minds. Undaunted in his Christian witness, Ahmad soon had small Bible studies and prayer groups started all over Omdurman Prison.
"By the end of three months," Ahmad told NNI, "there were 305 known Christians in our prison, at least seven from Muslim background."
Finally labeling him "a very dangerous man," the prison imam requested that he be transferred to Gerif Prison, a work facility in east Khartoum.
But there, Ahmad continued evangelizing, and soon there were eight Christians meeting together. A week later, 50 were gathering around a tree in the prison courtyard. And after two months the 115 believers were given a room for Christian services.
In both prisons, inmates were reportedly drawn to the Christian faith by a number of miraculous answers to prayer, as well as by Ahmad's bold exposition of Jesus' teachings.
His six months sentence was not repeated as the judges had promised. "I think I was put in prison because I was not just an ordinary Muslim," Ahmad told NNI. "I was an imam, so I had a group of Muslims following me, and that made me dangerous to them.
"But when so many were getting converted around me in the prison," he concluded, "they must have decided it was better for me to be outside the prison!"