Journey as a Muslim - Al-Gharib's Story
General Background: I was born and raised in an Arab-Muslim country. My parents and their forefathers were Muslims for generations. When I was born, my father named me after his ancestor, the prophet Muhammad. I grew up in an Islamic environment from all sides, surrounded by Muslims. I attended national schools, which are pro-Islamic, from elementary to high school and even to college. During my growing and educational journey, I received a balanced Islamic education at every level. When I reached adulthood, I was a very typical Muslim, who has tremendous zeal for his religion and culture. I was very proud of my identity to the point of looking down on all non-Muslims. I was anti-Western (Christians) and I hated the Jews. My encounters with Christians had some tremendous impacts on my life, both positive and negative. However, I was determined to be a Muslim.
First Failure: After graduating from college and working as employee for a little while, I started my own private business by using my father's money, which I inherited. Running my own business was neither easy nor pleasant. My lack of experience in trade made success difficult. My business went bankrupt and I accumulated debts that I couldn't pay back. I realized that I would soon end up in jail and no one would rescue me. To avoid this disaster and also get revenge for my failure, I decide to sell everything that I was able to and then vanish from sight. My plan was to disappear until I could recover, otherwise never to return back home. Through my experiences at work and my first business I was able to learn what no school or university can teach. I learned about the reality of society and life. The failure of my first experience in business caused me a lot of damage and grief. It also impacted me positively at least in one area. It pushed me to move to a new experience and to explore the world from a wider view.
Success: Leaving at home a big mess and debts (thousands of US dollars), I fled to a very far land where none of my debtors or even our justice system could reach me. I settled there, opened a company and started anew. This time business smiled at my face and I succeeded. My achievements caused my pride and greed to greatly multiply. I became blind and very selfish. Meanwhile, I learned from some relatives that if I would return to my country I would be immediately arrested at the borders or at the airport. That wasn't something unexpected, but it made me feel sad to be considered an outlaw. I became the first person in our entire extended family to hold a criminal record.
Defeat: All those things mixed together pushed me to adventure in some 'risky' business. I wanted to get rich very fast so that I could get rid of all my debts and try to regain respect in the midst of my relatives, friends and neighbors. I gambled with all that I had and took some dangerous risks by creating enemies for myself. My foolishness caused me to end up defeated and pursued by one of my enemies. I fled again to another new country and left everything behind. I lost my company and even many of my personal belongings.
Stagnation: This time all circumstances changed and got tough. I tried several possibilities but none of them worked. I was becoming like a fish struggling inside a tiny jar of water. All doors were closed at my face and I found myself in a deep pit. Several times, I had to sleep in the street and even to starve. I was greatly humiliated and I lost all hope. I went to the mosque and I tried to make peace with Allah, but he apparently rejected me. My fellow Muslim brothers turned their backs toward me and some of them even mocked me to my face. Out of shame, sorrow and depression I thought about committing suicide, but I didn’t even have the courage to kill myself.
New Idea: While I was totally hopeless and all my plans were screwed up, a bright idea appeared. An acquaintance advised me to associate with Christians. Perhaps they would help me. He assured me that unlike the Muslim brothers, Christians would help me and even provide me a job. Regardless of my sentiments against Christianity and Christians (Westerners), I decided to follow the friend's advice, to go to Church and to take a chance.
New Plan: I had no proper idea about Churches and the difference between them. Anyway, my motive wasn't to look for a new religion or God but finding a way to exit from my turmoil. One Sunday morning, I found a church in the newspaper. I went and I attended their service, it was very different from what I expected but I enjoyed it. During that first visit I didn't make any friends, but within a few weeks I made several. Most of the Christians there were friendly and they nice to everyone. They welcomed me at their Church services and at their home gatherings, even though I told them that I was a Muslim. Out of curiosity, I joined several of their activities. My bad attitude toward Christians began to change and I began to appreciate them. The job didn't remain as the highest reason for me going to that Church but mostly the friendship with the people. I also began to think about converting them to Islam.
False Conversion: After exploring the church for awhile, for several wrong motives, I decided to convert to Christianity and call myself a Christian. It was an outward conversion, but in the inside I was still a Muslim and the same old person. When I got baptized and immediately after my coming out of the water, I secretly confessed in my heart the Muslim's Shahadah (There is no God but Allah Muhammad prophet of Allah). However, only God and I knew what was really in my heart at that time.
Job: Meanwhile, our Church opened a new branch on the other side of the city. Since I was looking for a job and the Church needed somebody to serve there as a janitor, the pastor asked me to fill that position. It was not the kind of job I wished to have, but I had no other option. I accepted and felt lucky for having it. What touched me profoundly was the pastor's trust of me. He put the building into my disposition without any further questions or checking. He also proposed that I could move and live in the Church to reduce my expenses. My work duties were so simple and easy to accomplish, which allowed me to have a lot of free time. Therefore, I dedicated myself to the study of the Bible. I thought that if I could handle the Bible well, it would be easier for me to lead my Christian friends to Islam. During that time the pastor also volunteered to mentor me. I founded that interesting and a good way to lay the ground for my plan.
LIFE STYLE AS A MUSLIM
Behavior: I was always irresponsible, selfish and self-centered. I rarely admitted to making any mistakes. I always had excuses to justify my actions and to easily blame any misconduct on others. When the time came where I had serious problems, I would just run away and leave the problem for others to take care of. Out of my immature behavior in tough times, I caused trouble and harm to several people.
Morality: Regardless of my countless sins, I often felt proud of my self-righteousness. Whenever I compared my short-comings with those of others' around me, especially the religious ones, I always thought I was better than most or at least not worst than the majority. As a Muslim and according to Islam and tradition, I used to believe that each good work I perform has the power to cancel ten of my sins. My religiousness never bothered me or caused me to feel that I owed God anything. Instead it led me to be proud of myself and of my deeds.
Religiousness: My faith and belief in Islam looked quiet strong and firm. Islam wasn't just a religion for me, it was a part of my culture, identity, pride and being. As with most Muslims, I enjoyed discussing and to arguing about spiritual matters but was also skeptical, and didn’t just believe things naively. There were times where I leaned toward fundamentalism and there were also times where I leaned toward atheism. When I settled overseas, I had a chance to interact with people from different religions and backgrounds. I often thought that I was a person who seeks to know the truth. But actually, I was just trying to prove myself as being right. Whenever, I noticed that truth wasn't on my side, I would quickly run to the other direction and hide behind an excuse. I was also driven by fear in my heart: I was afraid of Allah's curse and wrath if I tried to search beyond what Islam allows. I was also afraid to give up my pride.
EARLY CHRISTIAN IMPACTS
The Wise Nun: When I was a baby I got a dangerous sickness and my mother had to leave me in a hospital for three days in the intensive care unit. The nurse who was in charge of me was a Catholic nun. When I became a boy my father told me several times: "That nun saved your life." I never understood what he said and why until years later. When I became a Christian, the story came back to my memory and I understood what my father's message was. When I was struggling between life and death in that nun's hands, she prayed for me and the Lord answered her. I owe that nun my life and I am so thankful for her gift of prayer and love.
The Foolish Nun: When I was a teenager, my mother got very sick and had to stay in the hospital (another one) which was under the supervision of a Catholic nun. Technically, she was a hard working nun but had what seemed to be little compassion or respect toward anyone. Everybody hated her because of her meanness. Regardless of her many good works, I believe that her lack of love toward people destroyed her true ministry and she misrepresented Christ. I still have a bad memory of her and I find it hard to forgive her still.
Muslim Christian's Debate: Once, a friend invited me to watch a videotape with him, it was a debate between the famous Muslim scholar Ahmed Deedat and a Christian apologist. The topic, I still remember, was about which one is God's genuine Word: Is it the Bible or the Koran? The debate was an entertainment for me just like any of the WWC matches, as opposed to a debate to find the Truth. At the end of the debate, I noticed that none of the debaters won and I benefited nothing from any of the two. First challenge: During my first journey overseas I lived with two foreigners, one was an Arab (outwardly religious) and the other was a Westerner (worldly Christian). We, the Muslims, planned to convert the Christian. We tried very hard to convince him to renounce Christ and follow Muhammad but he was 'stubborn.' During my last debate with him about Christianity, especially the deity of Jesus, we ended up our conversation something like this:
- He asked me: "Do you believe that God is all powerful and nothing is impossible for Him?"
- I replied: "Yes, of course!"
- Then He said: "Would it then be impossible for Him then to come to earth and to take a human form?"
Before answering his challenge, somebody came suddenly, so we had to change the subject. Later on, I tried to find an answer to prove him wrong but I couldn't. To avoid embarrassment, I simply ignored the matter, since it went against my Islamic belief. We never raised that topic again, but deep in my heart a first seed was sown.
CONFUSION: After my outward conversion to Christianity, I began digging in the Bible for clues that could bring Islam and Christianity close to each other. However, I contrarily began to notice that the difference between them was getting deeper and larger to the point that there was no way these two religions could be from the same source. The Islamic idea that the Bible was falsified by the Jews could no longer convince me. Very soon, I accumulated several remarks and doubts that confused me. They were mainly as follows:
1- If Allah is the true and personal name of God, why he didn't use it in the Bible but instead used YHWH?
2- It is obvious that the Allah of the Koran and YHWH of the Bible can not be the same God, who speaks in both books. Which one is the True God or even who is God?
3- Where in the Bible does it mention about the coming of Muhammad and Islam?
4- If the Koran and the Bible are the book of the same God, why then do they contradict each other? (Both the Bible and the Koran often talk in the first person of a heavenly being speaking to men.)
5- Why do Christians claim that Jesus is God and that God is Triune? What biblical evidence do they have?
6- If God really exists and really spoke to the prophets and still speaks to these Christians, can't He speak to someone like me too?
At that time I couldn't open up to anybody and share about my questions. Out of my fear, I kept all those doubts tormenting me on the inside. I thought that if our pastor knew that I had those doubts about Christianity, he would throw me out of the Church and take back the job from me. At the time, I was unaware that these fears were a lie from Satan to keep me in darkness and under his control. We can always be honest before God with any doubt or question.
Seeking the Truth: I couldn't bear it anymore by avoiding the truth and continuing to play a dirty game. This time, I decided to find the truth at any cost. I fasted for three days in a row without any food, except water, and for the first time I prayed earnestly from my deep heart: I called upon the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. I cried out to the Creator of the universe, the Eternal God whomever He might be. I asked him to reveal to me the truth and nothing but His truth. I made a promise to Him that if He would answer my questions and reveal Himself to me, I will follow His path even if it will be different than Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Speaking Out: I waited for several weeks but it seemed that nothing was happening. I became very anxious and depressed. Finally, I decided to speak out and directly ask the pastor. I still remember, it was a Saturday evening. At the end of our meeting that evening, I told him that I couldn't find anywhere in the Bible where it talks about Jesus being God or about God being a triune God. Immediately and in a relaxed and gentle manner, he opened his Bible and asked me to take a look at the following verses:
(John 10:30-33) [Jesus said] "I and the Father are One." The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God."
(1 John 5:8-12) [For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are One.] And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
(1 John 5:20) And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
The lifting of the veil: Suddenly, something incredible happened. It seemed like if I was blind or covered by a spiritual dark veil then I began to see. I began to read the Bible in a clear light and with understanding. The words of the Bible became alive while I read them and carrying power within. Furthermore, I began to decode the hidden mysteries of the gospel and the symbolic prophecies.
First answers: Within a three day period of reading the Holy Scriptures in the light and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit I was able to discover many of the answers I was looking for (i.e. the Trinity, the Deity of Jesus, his crucifixion, resurrection…). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit extended my spiritual sight to see beyond the natural realm like discerning about time and sights. Regarding Islam, I discovered overwhelming biblical prophecies that were bitter for me to swallow. The most shocking answer I received was about Allah. He is not God "YHWH" of the Bible, but someone else.
A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE:
The message: Monday afternoon was a beautiful day in the beginning of the spring. The sky was so clear and blue. It was my third day of new exploration of God's Word. Whenever I felt tired of reading I stood up by the window to enjoy the view outside. During one of these times of relaxation and at the very moment when I lifted up my head toward the heavens something strange began to happen:
* Sight: A bright light appeared coming from the Southwest. It looked like a star heading forward toward me. I got so amazed at the sight because I never saw before a star shining in the sky during the day and while the sun is still standing. I quickly began to think that it was maybe a comet going to strike the earth. As it kept approaching and increasing in light, I began to feel more and more scared.
* Word: I returned to my Bible and tried to look for where it talks about a comet going to hit the earth. But, and I didn't know exactly how I found myself reading from the following passage (Revelation 2:8-10): The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: 'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 'Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.'
Immediately after reading the last sentence I looked again at the star and it stopped right there. I stared at it very closely to see if what I was looking at was real or just a vision. As far as I could tell, it was real and the star was the biggest and the brightest I had ever seen, especially during the day. Another amazing thing, the star remained in that exact location for the whole night.
* Voice: Out of skepticism still, I decided to forget about the whole matter, I put my Bible away and turned on the radio. The first words that came out of the speaker were exactly these: "Yes it's true, all I want is to be with you. Yes it's true, yes it's true!" I can't explain how that happened but I was totally convinced that God spoke to me. I realized that the star was a sign to attract my attention and the sound coming from the speaker was a tool to convince me that what I saw was a real vision and what I read was Jesus' message for me at that very moment. Furthermore, I realized that God is not only a being who hears and answers and does miracles but He is also a God who seeks to develop a very personal and intimate relationship with us. He wants to treat us as close friends, not as slaves. The message, which came from the radio, revealed to me that Jesus is not only a God who is capable of doing amazing and strange things but a God who also has a sense of humor even when He is speaking seriously.
Meanings: I looked at my Bible again to carefully examine the passage. I realized that the communicator was Jesus and that He spoke to me and that He answered most of my questions through those three verses. Respectively, Jesus communicated to me that He is indeed the Eternal God. He truly died on the cross and rose from dead. He showed me that He knows everything about me in the past, present and future. He confirmed to me what I have found regarding Islam. He let me know the consequences of following Him while living in the world. He instructed me how to overcome the world. And He promised me a reward and confirmed that it is a real one. The heavenly sign of the star was meant to attract my attention and to show me that God wants to talk to me in person. The voice, which came from the speakers was meant to confirm to me that it was truly Jesus who shared with me the message and that He meant to invite me to become His.
Confirmation: One year later an evangelist came to our Church to preach. While he was sharing his message, he suddenly turned toward me and prophesied to me God’s plan for my future. After the service I went directly to him and asked what made him tell me those words. I noticed he had no clue why, except that he felt that God put those words in his mouth while he was sharing. His prophecy was a confirmation that it was indeed God who spoke to me, since the context of his prophecy was identical to the context of the second part of the message in Rev. 2:8-10.
Renounce of Islam: By Monday evening, I made up my mind and determined to renounce Islam, along with my Muslim name and to put my faith in Christ, the only True God, and to follow Him forever. The next morning, I called my pastor and told him about my decision. I also suggested that I must be re-baptized. At first he disagreed to re-baptize me, but since I insisted, he decided to pray about it and seek God's direction. When we met later in the evening, he informed me that he was willing to re-baptize me after God confirmed it to him. We went together to a remote place and we burned all of my Muslim items, then we went back to his home to finish the process.
Rebirth: After renouncing Islam and rejected all that linked me to it, I confessed my sin and I received Christ as my only Savior, Lord and God. This time my confession was with faith and total confidence in Jesus. Immediately, I was baptized. When I went into the water, it symbolized my death to my sin, which became buried with Christ. Coming out of the water symbolized my resurrection into a new life, a life in Christ Jesus. During the process we used only my nickname, because my old name was included in all the Muslim things I renounced. Then my pastor prayed for me, for the filling with the Holy Spirit. This time I was truly baptized with faith in Christ and surrendered to Him. I was literally and spiritually born again.
Filling with the Spirit: A few days later, while I was sleeping in the night, I had a dream where I saw a fire coming from heaven and it entered into my chest. However it didn't harm me. Immediately, I got up from my bed (half-asleep) and my mouth began talking loudly in a strange tongue. I tried to control my mouth and stop speaking, but I couldn't. The fire was a sign and the speaking in a strange tongue was the manifestation of my filling with the Holy Spirit. There was only one other time where I prophesied in tongue in such manner, but there were several times where I felt the power of the Holy Spirit's anointing on me. I still can't describe exactly any of those moments, except the fact that they were so real. I don't know why God let me pass through such experiences, but I guess one of the reasons is due to my skepticism and lack of belief in the supernatural.
Realizations: During the whole following week since my baptism, my appetite for food and desire for the things of this world were totally gone. I spent most of the time crying like a child. My tears were the tears of grief and sorrow for my former wicked and foolish ways, because I realized that I have participated in persecuting Jesus, my Creator, Father, Redeemer and God. I realized that I wasn't any better than those who flogged and crucified Him, but verily one of them. I realized that I was completely lost and I was going to end up in hell if Jesus didn't take the initiative and rescue me. I realized that all my life I believed in lies and I promoted them. The most painful thing was the realization that my parents are most likely already in hell and that the rest of my relatives and my people are going to join them if they don't turn to Christ. Meanwhile, my tears were also the tears of joy. I couldn't imagine how Jesus, even the heavenly Father loved me, regardless of all of my evil deeds, hate and mocking of His children and blasphemy against Him. I realized that I have been saved and rescued only by His grace and mercy, but nothing of my own.
Immediate healing: Immediately after my conversion to Christ, all the hatred and bitterness that I have accumulated for years toward the Jewish people and the Westerner world was totally gone. I was also totally healed from a habit, which I struggled with for years without having the strength to overcome it. What was amazing in both of those cases, nobody, except God, knew about my bondage. None prayed for my healing from those two secret diseases. Also, I was miraculously healed from them instantly.
ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS:
My other experiences: After my conversion, I had several dreams where I had direct encounters with Jesus. I have seen Him as a fearful God and I have seen Him as a meek and humble person. He never told me directly that He is Jesus but from His way of speaking and through His deep piercing eyes, I knew in the deep of my heart that it was Him.
Not only me: In the beginning, I thought that my experience was one of the greatest. It was special and unique of kind, and could be compared with the story of Moses at the burning bush or Paul on his way to Damascus. When I later read and heard the testimonies of some other people's encounters with Jesus, theirs were much more powerful and incredible than mine. One of those is the story of a former devout Muslim Pakistani woman. She wrote a book about Jesus literal visitation and miraculous healing of her. ("The Torn Veil" By Ghulshan Fatima [Esther]. CLC Books' publication.)
A GENERAL SUMARY:
Multi-Blessings: It has been three and half years since my conversion. These years have been for me a period of renewal and transformation in my personality, character, thinking and behavior. They have been also my years of “seminary” in Christ's personal school of theology and discipleship, where I began to learn about God through direct experience. Before the end of this period of my elementary training, the Lord has met my needs and provided for me the whole amount I needed to cover my debts. He has begun to open the door for me to get new documents and even the possibility to change my name officially. He provided me a wife, the right one I was looking for and the one I need to be my partner. He gave me a new family and a countless number of relatives and friends. Till now I am still occupying the job of janitor and watchman in our Church. My calling also is to write articles and materials about Islam and to Muslims. This testimony is a part of my writing works.
Who Christ is: It is a true statement that Christ is always the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. In both easy and difficult circumstances, He is so good all the time and His mercy and loving-kindness are renewed every day. He is truly our Father who cares for every detail in our lives and who seeks the best for our interests. He is also the ultimate faithful friend who never fails us even if we fail him.
Christ my redeemer: Without Christ in my life and in the center of it, I was in a mess and in a total ruin. If Christ didn't save and protect me, I may have already ended up in jail and destroyed without hope. Christ has set me free from my troubles and saved my life literally from destruction. Christ has given me a new and abundant life, full of hope, peace and joy. Christ has sucked my troubled water into His vine and transformed it into a clear and clean juice that flows from it.
TO BE CONTINUED…
The very best conclusion I could come with, is the following section from one of Saint Paul's letters (1Timothy 1:12-16) I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love, which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen
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