الصراط المستقيم

The Right Way – Al-Siraat Al-Mustaqem


 From Crescent to Christ

I was born and raised in a secular family.  Growing up as the middle child of the family I never understood my parents love and care for us.  My aunt, known as one of the “funniest” members of the family joked with me over the years asking, what special reason I had to be loved by my parents.  Since my sister was the first born, and my brother was the “baby” and “the son”, nothing was left for me.  She did not understand the deep impact of her jokes on me and I never understood why I wasn’t loved.  Nobody knew that I needed the truth explained to me; that I needed to know that my parents loved me just because I was their daughter.  For years I felt rejected and unloved.  As time went on, the only purpose of my life became trying to earn my parents’ love.

When I was five years old my parents couldn’t find a nanny to take care of me while they were at work.  My mother, who was an elementary school teacher, started to take me to the school where she taught leaving me in one of the first grade classes.  After this my days were pretty routine.  I was in class during the day, and at home I played with my books.  I didn’t know how to read yet, but I would look at the letters and make up stories based on how they were shaped.  One day when I was looking at my books, all of a sudden the letters made words rather than pictures, the words made sentences, and I no longer needed to make up stories–I could read them.  My parents rejoiced when they discovered that I learned to read “all by myself”.

Near the end of the school year my mom’s school was going through the yearly teachers’ evaluation.  One day the principal of the school came to my class with an Evaluator.  I was the only one in the class who could answer their questions.  When my parents heard about this they were surprised and quite pleased with me.  So, along with everything else I learned in first grade, I learned that the easiest way to earn my parents’ “love” was to be successful at school.

This discovery changed my life dramatically.  From that day I became very competitive, doing better was my only desire–better than my classmates, better than my siblings, and even better than myself.  As a result, I became one of the best students in my school.  My dad loved science and planted that love in me at a very early age.  He seemed to accept me regardless of my performance, but I felt like my mom’s love was dependent on my achievements.  Thus my father become a good friend but I isolated myself from my mother.

When I was getting ready for the college entrance exams, my big dream was to get into a biology department.  I found I was fascinated with nature, and this, together with the love of science that I had learned from my father, fueled my desire to study biology.  When the results of the exam were posted, I found out that I was qualified to be in the Biology department, my third choice.  Upon my father’s request my first two choices had been the top medical schools of Turkey.  I was so excited and happy.  I could hardly wait to give the good news to my parents.

However a big disappointment was in store for me.  The idea of having a daughter in medical school was so appealing to them that the news that I had “only” qualified for biology was a let-down.  Their disappointment showed me that I had failed, first in my studies, and then in not being able to earn their “love”.  I had worked so hard for such a bitter ending.  So when I started college my heart felt sour within me.

But when I began college things within me started to change.  I was spending the majority of my time immersed in my biology books, and was awed by the complexities and perfection of life on a biological scale.  I realized that I loved learning purely for learning’s sake and not in order to gain my parents’ approval.  I was growing up!  So my bitter feelings shortly were crowded out by overwhelming enthusiasm.

Another change that started to occur in me was regarding religious belief. I had grown up in a secular household.  Although my family was not religious, we observed all the usual traditions: celebrating my siblings’ and my birth with mevluds, reading our names into our right ear when we were only a few days old, having a big party when my brother was circumcised, visiting family and the neighbours for the Eid celebrations.  However, we did not observe the prayer rituals, nor did we fast.

During summer vacations my friends went to the Mosque to learn Namaz, the Islamic prayer ritual, and to learn to recite the Qur’an.  But in our home, we didn’t even mention these things. Growing up, I had believed that the universe was formed as a result of the “Big-Bang” and that life was formed through a series of random events.  What I believed about God was quite different from my friends’ beliefs, too.  For me God was created by men.  Evolutionary speaking, in all primate societies there had been a need for a strong, unquestioned leader. However, as humans developed the abilities to live outside social groupings, the need for an unquestioned leader disappeared.  Because the instinct to believe and obey something unquestionable is still strong, man created God.  I was very content with this belief.  In truth, I was even proud of my unusual beliefs.

However, my first year in college, I felt that everything I believed was disintegrating in my hands.  When I started to take classes like Zoology, Botany, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, and Cytology, I started to realize that life was too perfect to be the product of random events. One day I remember looking through a microscope and watching this little cell with awe, thinking there must a be a God, the Creator of this life!

I became very confused.  I didn’t know what to do.  One day–a little embarrassed–I went to talk to my father and told him what I thought.  He listened to me carefully, without interrupting, as was his habit, and then answered me with a smile; “I don’t want you to be ashamed of your thoughts.  If you believe there is a God, go search, and you shall find”.  Two years of studying and practicing Islam started at this time period.

My interest in Islam pleased my mother’s mother the most.  She immediately got a Qur’an and books on Islam for me.  She brought some Zamzam water, had me drink it, repent of my sins, make a promise to stay away from sin, and recite the Shahada.

Initially, I didn’t care much about what Islam and Qur’an was all about.  All I wanted to know was God.  I learned the basics: memorized suras, learned wudu and prayer, read Qur’an every Thursday night, fasted during the Ramadan.  And my grandmother started to teach me how to become a nice, upright, elegant Muslim girl.  For years, I had barely been able to suppress my dislike at being a female because I believed that if I had been born a “son”, my parents would have loved me more.  I had been raised as a tomboy, and that didn’t help.  All my friends were guys, I played soccer on the streets with the boys, dressed like them, played masculine sports, and went to the coffee houses to play backgammon with them.  For years, my parents, my teachers, and even our neighbors tried to change this, but I was pleased with myself and didn’t see any reason to change.  My grandmother, for all those years, knew that a good Islamic education would take care of me, and now, the new interest of mine in Islam gave her the chance to transform me.  As she continuously painted a picture of the perfect Muslim girl, I started to feel uncomfortable.  I didn’t want to do something God was not pleased with, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to change either.  What bothered me the most was that I could not believe that what was commonly understood as a woman’s role in Islam could really be the true role.  For years, I had believed that all the inferior treatment women received in my country was merely a result of culture.  It made perfect sense to think that men, being the powerful ones in the society, would keep women in inferior positions and treat them unfairly, but how could God, creator of this universe and life, do it?

I couldn’t believe that He would.  I decided to show my grandmother that what she believed about women wasn’t Islamic.  All in all, she had received only a little Islamic education and didn’t know any better.  Or so I thought.

I obtained some books on women in Islam, pulled out our dusty Sahih Bukhari Collection, and started to read.  The things I read were enough to puzzle and dismay me.  My conclusion was that Islam portrayed women as intellectually and religiously insufficient creatures. According to Islam, women have to obey the desires and whims of men.  If they fail to do so, or even if men suspect that they might fail to do so, then men were to set their beds apart and even beat them.  A woman is not able to object in any way.  “As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.  Then if they obey you, take no further action against them.  Surely God is supreme.”  (Al-Nisa 4:34).  In addition to this, a lot of ahadith about women are insulting and condescending.

The Prophet said, “I looked at Paradise and found poor people forming the majority of its inhabitants; and I looked at Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women.” (Volume 4, Book 54, Number 464: Narrated ‘Imran bin Husain)

The Prophet said: “I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were ungrateful.”  It was asked, “Do they disbelieve in Allah?” (or are they ungrateful to Allah?) He replied, “They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favours and the good (charitable deeds) done to them.  If you have always been good (benevolent) to one of them and then she sees something in you (not of her liking), she will say, ‘I have never received any good from you.”(Volume 1, Book 2, Number 28: Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas)

Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) to ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer.  Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).”  They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands.  I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you.  A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.”  The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?”  He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?”  They replied in the affirmative.  He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence.  Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?”  The women replied in the affirmative.  He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.” (Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301, Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri)

The sun eclipsed in the life-time of the Prophet (p.b.u.h).  Allah’s Apostle offered the eclipse prayer and stood for a long period equal to the period in which one could recite Surat-al-Baqara.  Then he bowed for a long time and then stood up for a long period which was shorter than that of the first standing, then bowed again for a long time but for a shorter period than the first; then he prostrated twice and then stood up for a long period which was shorter than that of the first standing; then he bowed for a long time which was shorter than the previous one, and then he raised his head and stood up for a long period which was shorter than the first standing, then he bowed for a long time which was shorter than the first bowing, and then prostrated (twice) and finished the prayer.  By then, the sun (eclipse) had cleared.  The Prophet then said, “The sun and the moon are two of the signs of Allah.  They eclipse neither because of the death of somebody nor because of his life (i.e. birth).  So when you see them, remember Allah.”  The people say, “O Allah’s Apostle! We saw you taking something from your place and then we saw you retreating.”  The Prophet replied, “I saw Paradise and stretched my hands towards a bunch (of its fruits) and had I taken it, you would have eaten from it as long as the world remains.  I also saw the Hell-fire and I had never seen such a horrible sight.  I saw that most of the inhabitants were women.”

The people asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! Why is it so?” The Prophet replied, “Because of their ungratefulness.”  It was asked whether they are ungrateful to Allah.  The Prophet said, “They are ungrateful to their companions of life (husbands) and ungrateful to good deeds.  If you are benevolent to one of them throughout the life and if she sees anything (undesirable) in you, she will say, ‘I have never had any good from you.’ ( Volume 2, Book 18, Number 16, Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Abbas)

[Hadith related by ‘Aisha:] The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, “Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people).”  I said, “You have made us (i.e. women) dogs.  I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla.  Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away for I disliked to face him.” (Volume 1, Book 9, Number 490, Narrated ‘Aisha)

I heard the Prophet saying.  “Evil O men is in three things: The horse, the woman and the house.” (Volume 4, Book 52, Number 110: Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar)

And the list went on…

Women didn’t have a good place in this world, but that wasn’t all! Women’s destiny after death was even more horrifying.  Mohammed said, “Hell’s inhabitants were shown to me, and majority of them were women.”  And the ones who could make it to Heaven didn’t seem to have a good life there either.  The picture of Heaven that the Qur’an painted was very offensive to me.  I couldn’t understand why a woman would want to be in such a place.  “As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph.  Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed maidens for companions: a truly overflowing cup” (Al-Naba 78:31-34).

After reading this sura, I started to think about what it would be like being in Heaven for my family and for me.  It was certain that my dad was going to be with some huris enjoying himself, but how about my mom?  After being married to my dad many years now, what was she going to feel when she faced such a scenario?  My parents had a very loving and respectful relationship–I never saw them argue to the day of my dad’s death.  They were married for 23 years.  My mother loved him and respected his authority, and my dad loved and respected her.  They were always shown as a model couple in their friends’ circle.  And so after years of having a loving, respecting, and faithful relationship, in Heaven, my dad was going to have fun with huris, and my mom was going to watch him!!!  It just didn’t make any sense.  Of course my grandmother had the solution to that.  My mom was going to be the huri!!!!  I couldn’t believe that either.  Being used in Heaven for the pleasure and needs of men??  If I were to act like this in the world, my father would have shot me to death, and he wouldn’t even be harshly penalized for doing it.  How come God would ask me to do it in Heaven???  What kind of place is this Heaven anyway?  I knew that I didn’t want to go there. If the choice was burning in Hell versus being someone’s “huri”, I was ready to take the fire. In my mind, I could not comprehend how self-respecting women would want to be in Heaven and accept the role they were to be given.  Then, it became evident to me that Islam was such a convenient religion for men–everything about it was for men.

For example, women have to cover themselves because men have a lustful heart.  How convenient! Men don’t have to deal with their sin, they can just put the women into hijab and then, the issue is taken care of.  My faith was strongly shaken by this, but I fought with myself and made a conscience decisions to obey and accept these teaching, since they were from God.  I wanted so much to know God!

However, there was more to come.  Learning more about the life of Mohammed disturbed my whole being.  I was quite surprised to see that he himself didn’t obey the rules that he claimed were from God.  The Qur’an says “If you fear that you cannot treat orphans with fairness, then you may marry other women who seem good to you: two, three, or four of them.  But if you fear that you cannot maintain equality among them, marry one only or any slave-girls you may own.” (Al-Nisa 4:3).  He had thirteen wives in total.  When I questioned this, I was told that many noble Muslims had fallen as martyrs, leaving behind their wives.  So, it was the duty of the prophet and his companions to ease the sufferings of the widows and the orphans.  The prophet took the major burden on himself and married three of them.  This made a little bit of sense until I read a sura in the Qur’an that said; “You must not speak ill of God’s apostle, nor shall you ever wed his wives after him; this would surely be a grave offense in the sight of God.” (Al-Azhab 33:54).  I didn’t understand why the rule about protecting widows and orphans didn’t apply to his wives.  If at the time widows really needed the protection, why were his widows to be treated differently?

He also married the widows of his enemies.  When I questioned all of these marriages, I was told that these were very strategic marriages.  It was important for the peace of Arabia. Again, Mohammed chose to take the burden on himself!

Then, there was his marriage to Aisha, who was only six when she was engaged and about ten when she was given in marriage to Mohammed.  The reason again was the sake of Islam. Mohammed was sacrificing and taking the burden on himself with this marriage, too.  Since she was quite influential among youth in the region, her talents and influence on them was the only reason for this marriage.  How did they know she would be influential when she was only six, and how influential could a ten year old be among the youth?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to train their mothers so that they could train their daughters?

In another instance, he wanted to set the example that for a man to marry his adopted son’s divorced wife is acceptable.  So, he married Zaynab, the wife of his adopted son (and former slave) after receiving a revelation allowing his adopted son to divorce her so that he could marry her!

As I questioned the life and marriages of Mohammed, I was told that he was the bearer of God’s message not only for men but also for women.  The womenfolk needed the prophetic guidance, training, and instruction in the same way as men.  So, Mohammed married women from different social groups with different intellectual capacity and personally nurtured and trained them according to the teachings of Islam so they could be pillars of light to women. One or two women could not undertake this heavy responsibility.  A whole group was required to meet this need.  And he sure had a whole group!  For some reason, they had to be married to him.  They could not be trained by his wife.  Initially, it seemed to me that Mohammed himself had some sort of authority over and above the Qur’an since the Qur’an allowed for marriages of only up to four women at a time.

However, I later I found out that there is a whole part in the Qur’an about his privileges in marriage:

Prophet, We have made lawful for you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave-girls whom God has given to you as booty; the daughters of your paternal and maternal uncles and of your paternal and maternal aunts who fled with you; and any believing women who gives herself to the Prophet and whom the Prophet wished to take in marriage.  This privilege is yours alone, being granted to no other believer.

We well know the duties We have imposed on the faithful concerning their wives and slave-girls. [We grant you this privilege] so that none may blame you.  God is ever forgiving and merciful.

You may put off any of your wives you please and take to your bed any of them you please. Nor is it unlawful for you to receive any of those whom you have temporarily set aside.  That is more proper, so that they may be contented and not vexed, and may all be pleased with what you give them.

God knows what is in your hearts.  Surely God is all-knowing and gracious.  It shall be unlawful for you to take more wives or to change your present wives for other women, though their beauty please you, unless they are slave-girls whom you own.  God takes cognizance of all things.

Believers, do not enter the houses of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless you are given leave but if you are invited, enter; and when you have eaten, disperse.  Do not engage in familiar talk, for this would annoy the Prophet and he would be ashamed to bid you go; but of the truth God is not ashamed.  If you ask his wives for anything speak to them behind a curtain.  This is more chaste for your hearts and their hearts. You must not speak ill of God’s apostle, nor shall you ever wed his wives after him; this would surely be a grave offense in the sight of God.  Whether you reveal or conceal them, God has knowledge of all things (Al-Azhab 33:50-54).

More and more I saw that the Qur’anic suras given to Mohammed were very convenient for him in every area–his marriages, his lifestyle, even including his dinner guests!  Finding out that the Qur’an and Islam were for men was disturbing, but it was something that I decided that I could accept if it was from God, but more and more, I started to suspect that the Qur’an and Islam were from man.  This, I couldn’t live with!

I was quite disappointed–even hurt–by my findings.  After days and nights of struggling with myself, and feeling ashamed that I was wrong, I went to my father and told him that I was not able to find my God.  I was heart broken.

The summer of that year, I started to work as a reader at the School for the Blind.  There, I met with a lady who was associated with a Hindu group.  I was quite excited to hear about this group, and I started to go to their meetings with her.  All summer long, I studied with them the essentials of Hinduism–as well as of Buddhism.  Because Islam had failed me, I was a lot more reserved about taking a step of faith in either of these.  One of the members of this group was also interested in the old Turkic religions, and he helped me to understand the basics of those religions.  At the end of the summer, the conclusion of my search was quite clear.  All these religions were created by men to bring regulation to society.  There was no God.  I was stuck with Atheism.

Then followed a time of confusion and bewilderment.  All joy and peace left my heart.  I had lost hope–hope for the future, hope for finding God, or that there was anything greater than human existence.  So, I went back to doing what I knew best, being an excellent student.  I thought that I could find satisfaction in myself.

But it didn’t work.  The inner restlessness that I had grew stronger every day, and I couldn’t live with myself anymore.  So, I tried other things.  You know what a party animal is, right? Well, that was me.  Drinking, smoking, rebelling–everything you can imagine!  Yet, these things didn’t satisfy me.  More and more, I knew that I had no peace in my heart.  I longed to change–but I didn’t know how.

In this sorry state, I finished college.  On graduation day, as I was walking downtown, I started to think about my future.  I knew that I had a long life ahead of me, but I didn’t know what I would do with it.  Frustrated, I walked into a store and stood in front of a mirror.  As I looked at myself, I realized that I didn’t like what I saw.  Tears welled up as I considered who I was.  This was a turning point for me.  I decided that I was going to change my life and be a different person–have a good job, a good career, a good family, and a good income.  I looked around at all the ordinary people in the world, reflecting that their lives were no different than mine but that they seemed happy.  I decided to try being an ordinary person.  So, I quit smoking, drinking, and hanging around those of my “friends” who had that kind of lifestyle.  I got my first job, a very good-paying job, in fact.  At the same time, I went back to school and earned my Master’s degree, and then started to work on my Ph.D.  But even all these things didn’t satisfy me.  In my heart, I fought with myself day and night.  In Jeremiah 2:13, God says, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water”.  My heart was a broken cistern, and I tried to fill it myself.  As Islam had failed me, I was failing myself.

In September 1992, I was nearing the end of my Ph.D. program when one of my professors in the department told me about a scholarship to go overseas to study for a different Ph.D.  First, I thought, “No, I’m about to finish one; why bother starting all over again?”  But it took me only half an hour to decide, “Yes, I would like to try”.  I got the scholarship and quit my Ph.D. program.  Leaving everything behind, I packed my whole life into two suitcases and came to the United States to start all over again.  I had a feeling that it was going to be different there.

It was different in the U.S., and I didn’t like it.  Honestly, I hated it with a passion.  I didn’t know any English, I didn’t know the culture, and I didn’t know anybody there.  Everything was so strange to me.  I asked myself again and again, “I had everything I needed back home, so why did I come here?” Of course, I didn’t know the answer, and I didn’t even know if there was an answer.  But I didn’t go home.  I studied English, tried to understand American culture, and made some friends in the dormitory.  It so happens they were all born-again Christians who talked about their faith with me.  They were all very nice, helpful, smart, religious … and very brainwashed!  I didn’t believe that one could be smart and religious at the same time.  Since they had helped me to adjust to my new life in the U.S., I decided I could help them to see that they were all deluded.

If you are going to fight against something, you need to know it well, so I asked them to give me a Bible. Knowing that I would find contradictions and inconsistencies, I started to read it. However–and there’s really no other way to describe it–a miracle happened!  Each day, the words brought more and more peace to my heart and hope for my life.  Also, Christianity deeply impressed me because of its differences from the other religions that I had studied.  It was unique in a lot of ways, but four of them were particularly important to me.

First, Jesus was the only one who claimed to be the only way to God.  What confidence that gave me!  This was no vague instruction on how to reach God.  This was a certain path.  Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me”.

Second, people’s sins could be forgiven without the need for good deeds to cancel them out. In every other religion, one has to be punished for the sins one has committed, but in Christianity one’s sins can be forgiven.  Having lived in sin as long as I had, I knew that I could never finish paying the penalty for them.  I needed forgiveness.  Human beings, in their weakness, don’t know the real meaning of forgiveness, I think.  This generous forgiveness can only come from God.

Third, one doesn’t have to work for one’s salvation.  Salvation is by the grace of God.  My whole life, I had tried to earn the peace and hope that I longed for but saw that I didn’t have. Therefore, it was very meaningful to see that God was reaching out to me instead of my trying to reach Him.

Fourth and last, God loved me as I was.  I didn’t have to do anything to earn His love.  This was quite new to me.  I discovered that I was important to God just because I existed.  It seemed to me that this truth was different from other religions.

I became convinced that Christianity was not a man-made religion.  So, I continued to study the Bible, more and more enthusiastically.  But there were so many issues that I didn’t understand.  The Trinity and Jesus as the Son of God were the biggest obstacles in my way.  I asked my friends, but they didn’t have much to say about the Trinity other than “It is a difficult concept to understand”.  I knew that much anyway!  And they didn’t understand what the big problem was about Jesus being the Son of God.  One day, one of my friends asked me if I believed that I could find the answer to every question that I have.  My answer, of course, was no.  He added, “Then if you wait to find the answers for every little detail, it may be too late when you feel ready”.  Another friend said, “You are looking at us and seeing us enjoying God and He enjoying us.  But instead of coming and joining us, you prefer to watch and wonder, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could have it too?’  Go ahead–don’t be shy!  It is offered to you–you just need to reach out and take it.”

On February 6, 1993 while I was reading my Bible, a verse greatly impressed me: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name… ” (John 15:16).  Then, I realized that I found the answer to my question.  I had come to the U.S. because God had chosen me and had brought me there so that I could come to know Him.  That day, I prayed and accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.  My decision was, simply, I don’t understand everything, but I will take a step of faith and wait for God to teach me.  John 20:29 gives Jesus’ conversation with His doubting disciple, Thomas, “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed'”.  I was one of those at the time.  I haven’t always understood, but I have believed, and as Jesus promised, I truly have been blessed in all these years since I gave my life to Jesus.

That night, as I prayed and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I was very restless.  I tried to sleep, but questions kept bothering me all night long.  “Was I being culturally assimilated?”  “Was my transformation a result of cultural shock?”  I got up in the morning and decided that I might be going crazy, but I couldn’t do anything about it other than wait and see.  A few months later, God answered my questions again.  He showed me that even as long ago as when I was 12, He had chosen me and had been preparing me for His kingdom. At that time, I had a dream in which I was swimming.  It was very dark, without any stars in the sky.  After swimming for a while, I stopped and looked up at the sky.  Suddenly, I saw a star shining.  I closed my eyes and made a wish.  I said, “Morning Star, teach me the secret of life”.  When I woke up, I was deeply affected by my dream.  I told my family and my friends about it, but nobody seemed to care.  Because I took the dream so seriously, I was even mocked about it.  A few days later, however, I forgot about the dream.

But the dream did not forget me.  About a month later, I had it again.  Although I thought it was strange, I didn’t really think about it much.  But then, a few months later, the same dream came again.  I kept having this dream for years almost every other month and this pattern continued until a few months after my conversion, when I read Rev. 22:16, which says, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.  I am the Root and the offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star”.  After reading this verse, I realized that God had been working in my heart for years and that He is a living God.  He had brought me to this point to teach me the secret of life–eternal life.  That very day, I decided that I would dedicate my whole life to God and follow Him wherever He might lead me.  Now, my deepest desire is to follow my Lord as long as I live.  In case you’re wondering.  I’ve never had the dream again–when the sun rises, one blows the candle out.

After I became a believer in Jesus, my life changed significantly.  In the beginning, my family rejected me, but over the years, they observed the positive changes that happened in my life.  A couple of years after my conversion, my mother told me that when I first told her that I had decided to follow Jesus, she thought that she had lost her daughter, but now, she knows that she has received back a better one.  She tells me now that she believes this has been the best thing that ever happened to me.  For years, I didn’t believe that my mother loved me, and I hadn’t forgiven her for that.  But with God, all things are possible.  Now, my mom and I are best friends, and she has a desire to know more about God and Christianity.

When I was studying Islam, the identity crisis that I had as a female reached its peak.  In the Middle East, women find their identity by being connected to a male member of the family. A woman is always referred to as so and so’s daughter, wife, sister, or mother.  It is hard to be just who she is?  At one point in my life, I decided that I was not going to find my identity in any man.  I was going to be me.  I rebelled against the rules of my society on this issue. Shortly after my taking faith in Jesus, when I realized that God accepts me as I am, I started to accept myself as I am, too.  My long search for identity ended.  My family, teachers, friends, and neighbors had tried to influence me for years with no success, but God had changed my whole thinking in mere months.  Most importantly, the change has not only been outward–I am not just obeying rules–it has been an inner change as well.  Now, I freely enjoy myself as God created me.  My respect for women has been restored, regardless of their lifestyle, independence, beliefs, careers, intelligence, or thoughts.  And my self-respect is no longer based on my accomplishments.

And that wasn’t all!  After my transformation, my family was greatly distressed.  They thought that I had brought shame on our family.  They thought that we were born as Muslims and destined to die as Muslims.  Not only my family, but also many of my friends rejected me.  Sometimes, the things I went through lay so heavily on me that many times a day when I thought about my situation, I felt weak and helpless, but I also felt that God was in control.  Since the day of my conversion, I have learned what it means to trust God with my life.  This takes a lot of faith, but I have learned to live on God’s provision “day by day”.  Exodus 16 talks about how God provided for the Israelites day by day when they were in the desert.  In the past, I used to think that the Israelites were being ungrateful for God’s provision, but as I learned to live on God’s provision day-by-day, I understood that, physically and emotionally, this is a difficult place to be.  Yet, through it all, I have been thoroughly blessed spiritually.

A lot of people ask me if becoming a believer in Christ has been worth it.  I have asked myself the very same question many times.  I love travelling, and I travel a lot.  One day while driving alone to give an academic presentation at a national conference, I was trying to practice my talk.  But my mind was focused on problems I was facing as a result of my believing in Christ.  Suddenly, my disappointments and my fatigue overwhelmed me.  Then, I remembered a game (that helped me cope with difficulties) that I used to play a long time ago, a game based on ‘dreaming’.  When I was five, I was in my grandma’s home for summer vacation.  One morning, I woke up and found bubble gum all over my bed and on my face.  I was pretty sure that my sister had done it.  As a little girl, I used to think that my sister was responsible for all of the bad things in the entire universe.  I called my aunt and started to complain about my sister.  But she didn’t listen to me.  I think that she knew that my sister was not responsible for all of the bad things that happened in this universe, especially the ones related to me.  She took me to the sink and started to clean me up.  Angry with me, she spanked me a few times, saying that I wasn’t supposed to go to bed with bubble gum.  I kept telling her that I didn’t chew gum, which was true.  But she wasn’t listening.  It was obvious that we had a communication problem.  Then, I stopped listening to her and started to try to make myself believe this was not real, that I was only dreaming.  I wanted to wake up and find everything fine.  But I didn’t wake up.  Years later, when my father died, I thought of this incident.  As before, I tried to make myself believe that this was not real.  In the morning, I was going to wake up, and Dad was going to be with us, and everything was going to be fine. But once again, I didn’t wake up.  So, that day when I was travelling to the academic conference, I thought, “Yep, this is a dream.  I will wake up, the problems will be gone, and everything will be fine”.  Then, immediately, I realized that if I woke up, my faith would be gone too.  I would lose my relationship with God.  Suddenly I knew that it was worth going through all the problems I have.  I would even be willing to endure a lot more in order to have my relationship with God through Christ.

My prayer for you is that you can experience the fullness of eternal life in Christ Jesus in your personal life. – Khatija

Testimony of Farooq Ibrahim

I was raised in a typical Muslim family, where we would go to the mosque on Fridays and on special occasions; fast for the month of Ramadan; and celebrate the typical festive holidays of Islam. When I was a teenager, I completed the recitation of the Quran; and that in essence was a confirmation of the duty of a Muslim youth. Later, in my teen years, I was not satisfied with just reciting the Quran in Arabic; a language I could only read, but not comprehend. So my father got me a Study Quran by Abdullah Yusuf Ali and also a copy of the Sahih Bukhari Hadith collection. I studied it for a short while during my late teen years.

After I finished my twelfth year of schooling, I started studying engineering at an Engineering College in Karachi, but desired to study in the United States. My desire was to go to one of the best engineering university in the US. I had aspirations to do wonderful things for my people and country. Unfortunately, I was not admitted to my first choice of engineering university. Then in August of 1973, I came to the US and started in a community college. I lived a typical life in the States; spending time in getting my education and holding onto part-time or full-time jobs so that I could afford to put myself through college. My parents who were still in Pakistan helped, but there was not enough money to support the family and my education here. After a short while, I got plugged back into the local Islamic community and was involved with other Muslims in the study of the Quran and Hadith and its applicability in the local culture. After getting my 2-year associates degree from a community college, God in his mercy and grace provided for me to get into my choice of engineering university as a transfer student with an academic scholarship. By the time I had completed my BS degree, I had veered away from the daily practice of my faith, and focused my life’s interest in the academic and secular things in life. After working for a short while to gain experience and decide what I wanted to do for further studies; I chose to get my MS degree. Once in the work place, I started doing what most typical men do in the US culture – start planning and working my way to the top of the corporate and financial ladder. I married a woman who had grown up in the States, had children, and life was typical and stressful. My eyes were focused on making a name for myself and getting all I could out of life – my earlier aspirations to do wonderful things for my people and country disappeared.

Then in March of 1987, I was in a bad accident and was very badly burned, while some others were killed. I had to take time away from work to recover. During this time, I had to face my mortality and deal with my blind ambition. I started to consider what legacy I was going to leave behind, and where was I going to go when I die. I wondered if I was spared from death for a purpose? Being a Muslim I believed that I would end up in heaven; but because of my life being the way it was – not actively performing the duties of a Muslim, I feared that I may perhaps be penalized in hell for a while? I then started again looking into the Quran and Hadith and Islam to find answers. This times my zeal to know my faith was fueled with the knowledge that there had to be a purpose to life; I was spared and had been given a chance. I wanted to know this Quran – which I believed to be the revealed word of God for all eternity, and the Prophet of Islam – his life and teachings. By this time I was back on my feet, starting to go back to work, but now I decided to take a job in the company that required minimum travel, so I would be spending a lot more time closer to home and with my family. I adjusted my priorities, and side stepped onto the slower track, away from the fast lane of the corporate world. Later on during this time, I was challenged by my Christian friends that Jesus was the only way to Heaven and that the Bible was the revealed and uncorrupted word of God.

So this challenge ignited an even greater zeal to study the Quran, Hadith and the life of Mohammad to prove Islam to be the true way and Christianity to be a false hope and Jesus being merely a man and not God. My desire was also to teach my children about Islam and to raise them Muslim. I spent the next few months studying the Quran and comparing it to the Bible. I compared the lives of Jesus both in the Quran and the Bible. Also compared the life and teaching of Mohammad and that of Jesus.  I checked into the early history of Islam and Christianity and the sad but unfortunate atrocities committed by both religions, and the reasons why. I also read articles by others who denied the existence of God.

I reached a point where I was not sure how to deal with some of the difficulties in the Bible that were very unclear such as:

  1. Why four books to present the “gospel” and not one, as Quran teaches of one gospel.
  2. The whole issue of Sin and the need for shedding of blood and a Saviour.
  3. Jesus being God and Man and the whole concept of the Trinity.
  4. Did Jesus really die on the cross and was he resurrected or not?
  5. How could followers of Jesus commit the atrocities that are part of the church history such as the crusades?

But also in my quest to use the Quran as my standard, and the teaching and life of Mohammad as a model for life, I had some significant difficulties, for example:

  1. The whole concept of “abrogation”. That God chose to reveal verses in the Quran that supersede earlier revelation in the same Quran. How an eternal revelation of God could have such time bound revelation seemed at odds with the nature of God.
  2. The inconsistency of the messages, for example facing Jerusalem and then Mecca; or fornication being a sin, but one can have sex with many slave women that have no legal marriage status; tolerance and peace message of earlier revelation, but the command to fight all unbelievers in later revelation.
  3. The need for revisions of the Quran to standardize it and ordering the burning of all the older copies. Why this need to leave no trace of what the edited version did not contain and why.
  4. The unequal status of woman compared to men in area of marriage, rule of law, social etiquette, modesty, etc.
  5. Treatment of non-Muslims in the community and the command to Jihad.

At this point, I reached a place in my study that I could no longer defend the faith of Islam as it was clearly at odds with issues of truth and character of God as depicted in both the Quran and the Bible. However, I just was not ready to walk away from Islam. Christianity had its own set of issues, most of which revolved around the person of Jesus. At this point, I recalled from my childhood knowing some of the tenets of the Indian religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. In all of my study of life and the sciences, it had become clear to me that there was a great creator and designer who had formed the universe and us. So there was no point in venturing into the philosophy of the Indian religions. I found they provided no answers that were consistent internally within it own teaching and externally consistent with the world around us.

Even though I had issues with Islam, I believed that there was a Creator God that I could and should pray to for answers. For me this was the God of Abraham (Ibrahim). I felt “safe” to pray to the God of Abraham as Abraham is highly regarded as a patriarch of Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. So, I ventured, that just as God had revealed the truth to Abraham, I would pray to this God to understand what was true and direct me on the right path. As I continued to regularly pray and meditate, I studied the passages in the Quran and the Bible on Mohammad and Jesus and reviewed books and articles by Muslim and Christian apologists.

Some weeks went by, as I prayed and reflected on Mohammad and Jesus. Finally, the evening of Good Friday of 1989, I was jogging and reflecting on the importance of this evening for Christians. Did Jesus really get crucified as taught by the Bible and some secular historians or was it some big hoax as claimed by Islam? What was this Sin that required payment by blood? As I prayed I sensed a burden lifted of me. I looked up, as it felt like some heavy weight was gone. I then looked down, to see if I was still on the ground. There was no external evidence, but in my spirit there was a clear sense, and this particular phrase came to life “Jesus is Lord” and occupied all of my thoughts. I responded in my mind, but what about Sin and the Cross? Did Jesus die on the Cross? The response in my mind came back loud and clear – “Jesus is Lord”. I asked again, but what about the Trinity and this concept of three persons and one God, and again, the response was “Jesus is Lord”. At this point, all that I had read in the Gospel accounts of Jesus came together. It was as if a veil had been lifted. That is why the Jewish Council had condemned him to death, because he claimed to be God, – blasphemy; that is why this Jesus had authority to forgive sins; that is why he told the Pharisees, before Abraham was I am, etc. He truly is God. Now the same old words in the Gospel that seemed to be vague about his deity, were suddenly crystal clear. Jesus is God. His crucifixion and resurrection were the ultimate calling card of this God-Man. It all started making sense, and I was at total peace accepting Jesus as Lord. At this point, I also realized it did not matter that for so many years I had been a Muslim, that my brothers, sisters and some of my best friends were Muslim; I now believed – Jesus is Lord, and I would follow him. Soon thereafter I understood what had happened to me. Jesus talks about this topic as to his real identity and what people misbelieve about him in the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-17: ‘Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”’

That has been the start of a journey, of getting to know my Lord Jesus better, accepting him as my Savior and his full payment for my sins. My desire has been to live my life worthy of my Lord as he empowers me.. My Muslim family did not accept me at first. They tried to convince me that I was wrong; while I tried to challenge them with the Truth of the Gospel message. When they realized I was convinced of my faith in Jesus being God, I was considered an outcast. Some time elapsed after which my mom’s desire to bring the family together was resolved by them respecting my faith. Over the years, the mutual respect has resulted in a closer bond between us, and they have also been kind, generous and supportive as a family. During these years I also developed some very close friendships with Christians who challenged me as well as met some new ones once I got involved with a local church fellowship. I was welcomed as a brother. Also in the process, my character has changed over time. Some of the traits that he has exposed and dealt with me include pride, arrogance, anger, selfishness, and control among other sinful traits. He continues to change me from inside out to be more loving and kind to all.

Today, over 15 years later, having further studied the Bible, the Quran and various books and articles on Christian and Muslim Apologetics; and having discussed with many Muslims and Christians alike, I am sure of my faith in the Lord Jesus and continue to follow him, even more than at that day he chose to reveal himself to me and called me to him.

Please feel free to contact me with questions, comments or any thoughts you have at email: Farooq_Ibrahim@hotmail.com

My Spiritual Journey

I am Raza.  I was born and grew up in Lahore, Pakistan.  I went to school in Lahore where the education system was like schools in Britain.  Many teachers were from Britain in my school.  I studied in very different culture that was a mixture of the east and west.

When I went to High School, all the teachers were local.  They were very strict and the atmosphere in the classes was very different from my previous school.  My classmates were unreasonable and rebellious.  They liked to fight with each other.  A few of them had a fight with me without any reason.  They had no respect for the teachers and the classmates.  In the same way, the teachers had no respect for the students.  They used to punish and beat the students very badly because of their bad behaviors.

I was badly affected by the atmosphere, teachers and students in the school.  Therefore, I dropped out from the school.  My parents tried hard to send me back to the school but I lost interest in studies because of the situations at the school.  Finally, my parents gave up on me and they did not force me to go to school.

I started to find some friends but I did not find any good friend.  The friends I found they always cheated me and they made troubles for me.  In spite of the good things I did for them.  Then I decided to talk to some Muslim religious people.  I tried to find the good friends among Muslim religious leaders for the guidance but I did not find any good friend among them too.

The Muslim people I met they claimed to be the follower of Allah and the prophet Mohammed but they were doing something opposite to the Islamic teachings.  They were hiding behind the religion and the religious practices.  So, I grew up in such atmosphere where there was hypocrisy everywhere but there was not a good friend anywhere.  I was completely suffocated by such atmosphere around me and I started to hate my own people, the culture and the religion.  I did not want to live among my own people anymore.

Now, one day someone came to me and said to me that the cricket team is going to England, would you like to go to England with the Cricket Team?  I accepted the offer then and there.  When I came to England then I felt that I have been released from the jail.

In England I went to see my relatives but they were not very happy to see me.  They thought that I would become a burden for them.  They also left me alone in a strange country.  I was sad, upset, lonely and depressed.

In this situation, I met someone who promised with me that he would be able to send me to my uncle in Canada.  So, he took the money from me and gave me some papers.  I did not know anything about the papers.  When I went to the airport, the police caught me for forging the papers.  They put me in the prison.  In the prison I was very depressed and I looked like a mad person.  I did not eat and drink a few days.

One day I noticed that a copy of the Bible is lying around in my room.  I thought that the previous prisoner might have forgotten his bible.  I took it and I started to read it.  Suddenly, I remembered that the Muslim religious leaders in Pakistan taught me: “Do not read any other religious book except the Quran”.  I hesitated for while but then I started to read the bible first time in my life.

Now, when I started to read the bible, I felt peace in my heart.  I felt that I am not alone any more but there is someone with me.  I started to read to the bible every day.  But when I met some other Muslim prisoners in the prison.  So, I could not read the bible and I hid it because I did want to get into more troubles.

One day I prayed: God, If you are real and if your Bible is the real one then please help me.  If you help me to get out from the prison, then I will put my trust in you and in your book that they are the real one.

God heard my prayers and I was released from the prison.  I believed that God came to help me and to rescue me and also to prove Himself to me, so that I would believe in Him and His Bible.

I left the prison and I went to live with a person from Pakistan.  One day when I was not home, he went into my luggage and he took all the valuables including the money.  When I asked him about it, he completely denied even though I was very sure that he has taken the things.  When I insisted then he sworn on the Quran and said that he did not take anything.  I also went through some other experiences like these.  In the end I was convinced that these people do not even respect their faith and the Quran.  I left the place and I was left alone again.

One day on Sunday after-noon, I was feeling very lonely.  I decided to go out to spend sometime outside.  I saw a few people standing around the book-table.  I also went to see, what is going on?  I met Mr Nick, who was standing at the book-table.  He started to talk to me.  He asked me a question: Do you know God personally?  He explained to me that you could know God personally through Jesus.  He gave me his phone number.

Now, one day I was very lonely, upset and depressed, so I called Mr Nick.  He was very happy to receive my call.  His first words were these: Can I help?  His words were like an ointment on my wounds.  He invited me at his place and comforted me.  He took me to the Hounslow West Evangelical Church.  I found a New World in the church!  But, many people came to me and asked about me.  They also encouraged me.

I was very happy after meeting Mr A, who knew my language, culture and religion.  He spent lots of time with me to understand my situation.  He encouraged me and took me to the prayer meeting, where I met many other believers.

I have found the family, relatives and friends at the Church.  Now, I don’t feel alone any more and I believe that Jesus lives with me always.  I have found peace in Him.  I am sure that Jesus has changed me from inside out and I am different person now.

Today, I am making a public declaration of faith in Jesus.  I am joining the family of Jesus Christ through baptism.