Finally, I said to myself: "Sultan, consider that you are the child of an hour and the world is fleeting. When you die, your country and your inheritance will be of no benefit to you; nor will your family and friends be of help to you. All these belong to this world alone. Nothing but your faith can go beyond the grave. Therefore, it is not wise to forsake eternal life and spiritual happiness for the sake of this transitory life." Then I bowed my knees before God and offered this prayer: "O omnipotent, eternal God, Searcher of hearts, I yield myself to Thee. Accept this offering and protect me from all the snares of the devil and from spiritual dangers. Remove from my heart the world and its desires. Grant me courage and strength that I may be able to confess Thine only Son Jesus Christ publicly before all men. Hear and accept my prayer for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen."
Sultan Muhammad P. Khan
I had been reading Nietzsche, Camus, and Sartre for months. Even before that, I had entertained doubts about the value and meaning of life, but by immersing myself in the pessimistic philosophies of these men I became convinced that there was no reason for living. My discouragement with life had turned into bitter despair.
The one unshakable impression such philosophers left with me was that God is dead. For them he was dead, and for me he was dead. There was nothing that justified my existence - nothing for which I could live.
The path that led to this despair had its beginnings in my early childhood. I was born in 1951 in a town whose compass pointed in the direction of the nearby city of Algiers, a place that held a special fascination for me because it was alluringly tinged with European sophistication and glamour. The fact that I was a girl did not hinder my parents from giving me the best education they could afford. I began in a Quranic school where I learned many portions of the Surahs by heart. I wee also taught the forms and techniques of ritual prayers.
As far back as I can remember, I had a deep desire to know God. From a window of my house I could see the minaret and I often thought about God and wondered if I could know him personally. I wanted to talk to God directly and not limit myself to the prescribed prayers. Of course, I was expected to recite my prayers according to Islamic stipulation, but there was something about them that left me deeply dissatiafied. Consequently, I began to grow lax in complying with the requirements of the formal prayers. Nevertheless, I continued to observe the fast of Ramadan - primarily because of social pressure and the fear it induced.
My growing indifference to Islamic practices was undoubtedly encouraged by my father's religious skepticism. Although he was from a Muslim family, he regarded himself as a freethinker. That was difficult for me to understand then, but as I grew older I began to realize that he was only one of a host of skeptics who veiled their doubts under a cloak of external conformity to traditional Islamic practices and customs. My own belief in Islam was severely tested by the empty formality and unconcealed hypocrisy I witnessed in virtually every aspect of its social and institutional life. I finally came to the place where I cried out to God, "If you exist, show yourself to me; prove yourself." There was no reply. There was only silence.
When I had my first contact with the teaching of the Bible I was only ten years of age. A friend of mine invited me to a meeting where a Christian woman showed Biblical and historical films and had sewing classes for the young girls in our neighborhood. She also lent the girls books about the Christian faith. The first time I went to her house I found that a film was being shown on the life of Abraham. This made me very happy and I continued to go to her house for a number of weeks.
I also borrowed some books from the woman's library. Some of the books were about the life of Jesus and the prophets. One day I was reading one of the books as I was walking toward my house, and as I was not paying much attention to where I was going, an automobile ran into me and sent me sprawling on the street. But to my surprise, I found that I was not seriously injured. Little did I realize then, however, that this accident would have far-reaching consequencs.
Some of the people who saw the accident reported it to my parents. And they also told them about the book that I had been reading. They had seen the book lying next to me in the street. When I returned home, my father was waiting for me. I could see that he was very angry. He told me that I could no longer go to see that Christian woman.
I accepted the new restriction without too much complaining, for the time that I had spent with the Christian woman and girls did not mean very much to me anyway. I had learned some Christian hymns, but whenever I came to the name of Jesus I substituted the name of Muhammad. I thought that Jesua was good and that he was a prophet, but he really meant nothing to me. Also I had been warned by my friends to be careful to withstand the Christian woman's influence and especially to avoid singing about Jesus. So I went there with the determination to cling to Islam and not to change my religion. After the accident, however, and the resultant warning from my father, I had no contact with Christians for the next seven years.
I had a renewed interest in trying to live as a Muslim until I was about thirteen years of age. But then a great tragedy occurred in my life. My father killed my mother and he was sent to prison for a year. This left me in a terrible state of shock. I had no desire to see my father again. My mind was deeply troubled over the nature of God. After that incident I began to wonder if God was truly loving.
I had heard from the Christian woman that God is love and I had also read that in some of the books that she let me read. But I couldn't believe that he would have allowed my mother to die if he was a God of love. And if he was not a God of love, I didn't want him. So I began to ignore every thought about God and religion. At least, I tried to ignore such thoughts. I was going through a time of great struggle, however, because I found it difficult to believe in the goodness of God, and yet I could not entirely let go of my thoughts about him.
My relatives sent me to a boarding school shortly after my mother died. I was glad that I would not have to live with my father after he was released from prison. It was during those years at the boarding school that I began to read philosophy and to fall under the spell of Nietzsche, Camus, and Sartre. I felt that living was pointless and I had no motivation to strive for any goal in life.
During the vacation periods from school I stayed with my aunt. She told me that my father had become very ill and it seemed that he was going to die. She too had become sick. She called me to her room one day and told me that it was time for me to consider marriage. She had a friend who was a policeman and she insisted that I marry him. I surrendered to her insistence and agreed to marry him. In any case, it seemed that I had no choice, for she had convinced me that this would be the only way my younger brothers would be cared for in the event of my father's death.
When my father heard about my decision, he said that he did not want me to marry until I had completed secondary school. Although I had become engaged to the policeman, I knew that he didn't love me. I didn't know at that time whether I could actually go through with the marriage.
As I drew near to the end of my secondary school training, I became more and more convinced that I should not marry that man. He was a nice person and he said he would take care of my younger brothers, but I realized that I had no desire to marry him. It seemed to me that the only way I could prevent it was by failing in one of my final exams so that I wouldn't get my diploma. After all, I reasoned, this was my father's requirement, and by postponing my graduation I would escape marriage - at least for a little while longer.
So during one of my final exams, I simply walked out of the room without completing it although I knew the subject well. My teacher was amazed at my behavior, for he knew that I could pass the exam without any great difficulty. My father and aunt were extremely upset when they found out what I did.
Before I left the boarding school, I happened to run into the Christian woman I knew when I was ten years of age. She was with some of my classmates in the school corridor, and I recognized her immediately although she did not recognize me. When I greeted her, however, she remembered who I was. She saw that I was unhappy and she wanted to help me. So we set a time to meet on the following Saturday to discuss my problems. Not only did she try to give me some encouragement, she also invited me to spend three weeks at a camp on the Mediterranean seashore. This was to be a Christian camp for young people, and she said I would hear about Jesus there. With contempt I replied, "Your Jesus - what do I have to do with him ?" But I decided to go because I wanted three weeks away from my family. I told the Christian woman that I had no other interest in going. Nevertheless, she agreed to let me go.
When I arrived at the camp, I found that the group had prayer every night before they went to sleep, and every day a preacher was scheduled to give a talk on the Bible. I rebelled because I found it almost intolerable. I particularly did not like the Christian teaching that everyone is a sinner.* I did not think that I had done anything evil and I certainly did not think that I was a sinner who needed to repent. The very idea upset me and made me furious. With nothing but bitterness in my heart I left the first meeting and returned to the dormitory. I was appalled to hear the other girls mocking the Christian leaders that evening. They returned to their rooms saying, "These Christians think that we are believers too, but we only come here for the fun."
Their attitude bothered me deeply, because I had been honest and frank about my feelings. I had openly told the Christian leaders that I did not want to have anything to do with the Christian faith. I felt that the girls in my dormitory were being very hypocritical in covering up their true motives. I was so upset by what I was hearing in the meetings and by what I was hearing in the dormitory that I decided I couldn't stay another day. So that night I tried to run away from the camp. As I was climbing over the wall surrounding the camp, the director happened to see me. She came and took me to the infirmary and I began to weep.
When the Christian leaders gathered around me, they asked me why I was trying to leave the camp. I blurted out that I didn't want anything of their Jesus. At that point, I saw how kind they really were, for they showed great patience and understanding. As we talked, they asked me if I believed in God. I knew that all of my efforts to resist God did not avail to eliminate him from my thoughts, so I nodded agreement. Then they asked me if I was earnestly seeking for God. I answered them in the affirmative, but I also told them that it was difficult for me to believe in him because he didn't answer my prayers. Then they asked me if I was sincerely seeking the truth, and I replied, "Yes." They responded with the assertion that Jesus Christ is the truth. I said, "This may be the case for you, but I have never learned that - it is not for me."
They explained that Christ had come for everyone - not just for Christians - and that since he is the truth, to reject him is to fall into the greatest of all errors.
At that point I became concerned about my relationship to God and I asked them what I must do. They urged me to talk directly to God and ask him if Christ is really the truth. They said that I should ask God to show me his reality. By then I had recovered my composure and I was sitting there in quiet reflection. They did not put any pressure on me but simply took me back to the dormitory.
I talked to one of my friends in the dormitory and I told her that I would like to talk to God but didn't know how. I asked her what language I should use in speaking to God. In Islam the only language to be used in prayer is Arabic. I didn't know if the God of Jesus would listen to me if I prayed in Arabic, so I prayed half in French and half in Arabic and I said, "We will see if he understands."
I now know that such a notion was foolish. I was not only ignorant of God's wisdom but I was also unaware of his love and personal care. The next day held a wonderful surprise for me. The Christian leaders said that I did not have to go to the meetings. However, I had prayed that Christ would show himself to me in reality and power, so when I heard the group singing in a joyful way I decided to attend the meeting.
The Christian woman who spoke in the meeting told us about the love of Christ and the forgiveness he came to bring. It seemed that every word she said was just for me. When she explained that Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, I began to understand what it meant for me to be a sinner and for God to be a God of righteousness* and love. I realized that there was nothing I could do to make myself acceptable to God, for there was no way I could redeem myself. Somehow I saw that God is love in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. This was what I was looking for, and when I realized that this was the truth and believed in such a loving Savior, I felt a great burden roll off of me. I no longer had the sense of guilt and despair that I had felt in my heart for many years. The relief and joy were written all over my face. This was a great miracle to me, because I never thought that I could be converted to Christ. A friend of mine was also converted in that meeting, and my other friends were all amazed at what had happened to us.
Although I now believed in Jesus as Savior and Lord, I did not know what lay ahead for me. All kinds of new questions came to my mind. And when another woman spoke to us at the camp, many doubts were kindled in my mind. She told how she had been a practicing Muslim for a long time and how only in Christ did the living God come into her life. After she told how she came to trust in Christ, I went to her and asked, "Do you really know the Quranic verses by heart? If so, recite them to me." I was amazed when I found that she knew them far better than I did. I also asked her many questions, and she was not only very kind in her manner but also very reasonable and knowledgeable in her answers. My faith in Christ was greatly strengthened.
I now had the assurance that God would hear and answer my prayers. I asked God to do something about my impending marriage to the policeman. Without my attempts to prevent it, God caused the policeman to dissolve the engagement and stop the plans for the wedding.
Another serious problem was the reaction of my father and aunt to my faith in Christ. At first they were very angry, but when they saw that my life had been changed for the better, their attitude was changed from hostility to acceptance.
What changes did Christ bring into my life? He brought assurance and confidence in the place of the doubt and uncertainty that had previously plagued me. I had personally witnessed my mother's murder and after that I was continually tormented by fear. But Christ removed my fear and gave me courage and peace. He also took away my confusion about the meaning of life and my anxiety about death.
Furthermore, after my mother's death, I withdrew from others and shielded myself from anything that could hurt me. I was once aloof from other people, but Christ gave me a genuine love for others and a desire to be with them and help them. Whereas I was formerly impatient and unkind with my younger brothers, I now have an entirely new relationship with them. Christ has given me a patience and gentleness that I never dreamed I would experience.
Before I put my trust in Christ I would tell lies whenever I felt it was to my advantage. In my home and in my society it is natural to tell lies and to invoke the name of God in the act. I became aware of this and other evils around me, and I knew that as a believer in Christ I could not condone or practice these things. Since Christ is with me, I can now tell the truth without fearing the consequences. Moreover, studying at the university put me in a very immoral atmosphere, but with the presence and power of Christ in my life I am enabled to escape this corruption without feeling the pride and self-righteousness that come from assuming that one can do this in his own wisdom and strength.
One of my severest tests came when I returned to the boarding school prior to enrollment in the university. I was having a difficult time trying to see if the Bible and the Quran were compatible. When the month of Ramadan came, I yielded to the pressure of my peers and for fifteen days I observed the fast. But then I realized how hypocritical it was for me to maintain that I was a true believer in Christ in front of Christians but not in front of Muslims, so I quit fasting and took a firm stand for Christ. The isolation and persecution I suffered as a result were not easy to bear, but I learned much of the Lord's sustaining grace during those days.
What have I found in Christ that I did not find in Islam? The main thing is that God is a God of love, and he has proved his love by giving himself to us in Christ who died for us and rose triumphant from death. There is also the great discovery that I did not have to try to earn my salvation by my efforts or works. It is free, and there is no place for merit. In trusting my life to Christ for time and eternity, I found that there is a unique relationship between God and the believer - a personal relationship of love and fellowship that brings the highest furfillment and meaning to life.
I was once attracted to the views of Karl Marx because of his interest in humanity. I came to realize, however, that without changing the heart of man, human beings would not serve others unselfishly. Many people give only lip service to the ideal of working for the good of others, but Christ transforms a person so that he has the love and care that makes a difference in the way he lives and relates to others. Improving man's external conditions cannot, by itself, change man.
The decisive difference between the Christian faith and all ideologies and religions is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, for he alone is the Savior - God's one remedy for all human beings. These words from the Bible have become a reality in my daily life: "Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you" (Psalm 55:22). I have had this proved in my experience again and again, and I can truthfully say: God is not dead but gloriously alive!
The second reading of the gospel produced in me the deep conviction that it was THE true "Injil." It was God's word and His Revelation. The inner urge to know God was to find satisfaction through it. The effect produced on the mind by its reading was so very different from that of the recitation of the Quran. The latter in its original language was something sublime, its recitation was charming, its eloquence fascinating, and sometimes its passages had thrown me into ecstasy, but in the "Injil" I found something which spoke to my soul. The gospel spoke to me in my own mother tongue, whispering to me the secrets of God. Its reading was comforting to my soul, every sentence touched it to its very depths, and it roused the slumbering faculties of my soul to a new state of conciousness.
J. A. Subhan
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