I once met two Middle Eastern terrorists, trained for this work since the age of nine. While they were university students on stand-by for terrorist duties, they received hospitality in a Christian home. One of them responded to what he saw of the love of Jesus and became a disciple. Saul of Tarsus was a terrorist until God changed him. We are not called to judge but to treat everyone as a human being created in the image of God. We are to share good news. Our faith is about relationships with God and people. Neither the Muslim in Islamabad or New York nor the Christian terrorist in Northern Ireland portrays valid Islam or true Christianity. They should not be confused with the majority in both faiths who abhor violence.
I have often referred Islamic radicals as “proto-evangelists” for the Christian faith. The first of these was the Ayatollah Khomeini. His brutal regime in Iran, whose atrocities and policies have lead many Iranians to leave Iran, has also led to an exodus of Iranians out of Islam. Estimates are difficult, but the numbers significant. Outside Iran the numbers are firmer but no less astonishing. In Sweden, fully ten percent of the Iranian immigrant population has converted to the Christian faith. That is approximately eight thousand out of a total of eighty thousand in the entire country. Some Iranian believers have called the Ayatollah the greatest missionary because he showed us what Islam is really like.
After many years, I am finally sharing some of my story of why I think it took me so long to leave Islam and become a Christian. I am sure that I focus on some things and fail to see some of my own personal failures, pride and otherwise, that contributed to the timing of my conversion. I pray that you give me a break and read it as a Christian who was, is, and most likely will always be a mess—getting some points and missing larger more fundamental points.
So, what took me so long to declare myself a Christian after years of being a Muslim? Of course, there were my own intrinsic weaknesses and faults, but I would be hiding the truth from you if I didn’t acknowledge that one major factor in keeping me away from living the truth was Christians. I lived in the buckle of the Bible belt and was surrounded by congenital Christians—people who read their Bible, faithfully attend church, could craft an elegantly worded prayer, and knew by heart the words of more than ten hymns. It was these same Christians who baffled me because they told me that God was love; that Jesus called them to love all people, including their enemies; and yet I just didn’t seem to see the love.
What I experienced in my life on the buckle was hateful words directed toward gays, liberals, Muslims, Catholics, and the list just seem to grow more and more. I also experienced being on that list and was the recipient on more than one occasion of those hateful words. It just didn’t add up. What did add up was that I knew that I didn’t want to have anything to do with those Christians. The problem was that they were unavoidable. In life on the belt buckle, they surrounded me in Walmart, the Dairy Queen, college classes, sitting around me in the DMV, the doctor’s office, just about everywhere. As soon as they heard that I was a Muslim, out came the Bibles that were used as a weapon against me, my beliefs, and the ones I loved. When that tactic didn’t work, I was either labelled as deceived by Satan or just ignored, cut out of their lives. The latter was the most common occurrence.
The wild reality was that inwardly I loved Jesus and had come to believe that He was not only the Lord and Savior, but He was my Lord and Savior. I just couldn’t stand being around Christians. I will never forget one interaction with a Christian who told me what I believed as a Muslim and when I responded that I didn’t believe that, he said that I was practicing taqiyyah (a form of planned lie). Unfortunately, I got angry and told him that if he wanted to know what taqiyyah really was he might look at Christian missionaries who lie about why they travel to Muslim populated countries and live there. Instead of saying that they were professionals hired to convert Muslims, they said things like they were helping build the infrastructure. While it wasn’t a total lie, it was what my Roman Catholic friends called, lying by omission. That scene didn’t go very well. It was not one my proudest moments, but hey.
Will Evangelical Attitudes Toward Muslims Continue to Harden?
The purpose of this post is not to beat up on evangelicals but to help us stay focused on the mission of God. We may never understand what motivates Muslim militants, but what we do know is that Islam is reeling. Humanly speaking, the future is bleak for the Middle East and much of the Muslim world. One hundred years ago, Samuel Zwemer advised against stereotyping Muslims and urged Christians to “awaken sympathy, love and prayer on behalf of the Islamic world until its bonds are burst, its wounds healed, its sorrows removed, and its desires satisfied in Jesus Christ.” “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).