How I came to find true peace…
I was born in America to Pakistani parents. As children, we were taught that Islam was the only true religion and that we were blessed because we knew this truth. Jews and Christians had received only a partial truth, which was then corrupted. Hindus were deceived into worshipping idols of wood and stone. We were taught about the life of the Prophet Muhammad and about the Five Pillars of Islam. As a young girl, I was the most zealous of the children and actively read books about Muhammad and Islam. I shared and defended my faith among my grade-school classmates, often standing out as the only Muslim among Christians. I told my whole class about how Cassius Clay had converted to Islam and become Muhammad Ali. I carried my Koran and books on Muhammad when traveling with my parents. I tried to emulate Muhammad in every way, from his eating and drinking habits to his practice of always trying to face East. I prayed and fasted from age 9, reading my Koran all the way through every Ramadan. I even debated a 3rd-grade Christian, asking her how she could possibly believe that God had a son, and how she could worship a man who was just a prophet? She told me, “well, I guess I won’t see you in heaven then!” I answered, “I guess not.”
Despite all these efforts, I was always depressed, always down and had low self-esteem. I thought myself to be very ugly and sinful. No matter what I tried to do, from good works to dressing nicely, I always felt lonely and like an outcast. Yes, I had friends; but inside was so much pain. I cried myself to sleep many a night, and pleaded with Allah on my knees, my Koran open, trying to find peace through the words. Instead, I saw a cold and distant Allah. Sometimes I fantasized about paradise as described in the Koran: reclining on couches of silk and wearing fine clothes and bangles; drinking pure water from fountains; being waited on by virgins…well, that part never made much sense to me. I wondered if this Paradise could give me peace. In the middle of my dreaming, cold reality would hit me: I will never go there. I will never be good enough. I imagined Hell as described in the Koran, with its ceiling dripping with molten brass and boiling drinks.
Nevertheless, I continued reading the Koran, fasting, and praying. As I grew older, I began to understand the Koran a little better. One day, I was reading Sura 4, Women in my room. I was 14 years old at the time. I read about a wife’s inheritance compared to her husband and children. I read about the permission God gave men to marry four wives. Nothing new, so far; I knew that this was written during times of war, when men would die and leave their wives and children as widows and orphans. But the following passage jumped out at me for the first time:
“As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” (Sura 4:34, Dawood)
Stunned, I read and reread the passage. I ran downstairs to my father and showed him the passage, crying. “How could God say this?” I demanded. “How could he tell men to beat their wives?” My father couldn’t believe what he read, but had no explanation. He chuckled uncomfortably. I went back upstairs, distraught. Somehow, I calmed myself and believed that God would show me the reason for this, someday.
As time progressed, I became more depressed and sometimes even suicidal. Sometimes, I couldn’t find a reason to live. To relieve the pain, I involved myself in music, politics, and boys. (Of course, I hid the part about the boys from my parents.) I was successful in high school as a musician, but I would be tormented inside because I never felt that I could ever be good enough at it. I became very interested in the Middle East situation and even wrote an article that was published in a Muslim newspaper. I had numerous crushes on several young men, fantasizing about being loved and cherished as a young woman. However, none of the scenarios ever came into being. I dated one young man, a Christian, for 3 1/2 years towards the end of high school. I would actively assure him that I was a Muslim and could never become a Christian. He never argued with me, just cared for me. All these things failed to give me anything but temporary relief from my despair. When the time came for me to go to college, I was determined to “start over” and find the truth about God.
As I unpacked my belongings in my college dormitory room, I decided that I should take a class on Islam. I met a girl in my dorm who was a Muslim, and I told her about my concerns about Islam and women. She didn’t have an answer either, and was quite puzzled by the passage I mentioned earlier. I told her about my plans to take the class. Sure enough, a class was being offered the very first semester! I was quite excited, confident that my worries would be put to rest soon. As the course began, I was happy to read excerpts from the Koran and the Hadiths, since this was all familiar territory. Even more exciting was to learn about the life of Mohammed and the history of Islam’s beginnings. Some sources were written by British colonists, and were clearly biased. I decided to focus on the Hadiths and the history books written by Muslim scholars.
My excitement turned to dismay as the class progressed. I read about the offensive wars and the bloody conquests made to spread Islam. I turned page after page to read about Muslim attitudes towards “infidels,” Christians and Jews who would not convert to Islam. The Massacre of the Qurayza Jews affected me the most. Dear reader, I urge you to read for yourself the account of this battle (Ibn Hisham: The Prophet’s Biography; vol. 2 pages 40-41). I wrestled inside, thinking, “but Islam means peace! How can this be?” Dismay turned to confusion, and confusion to betrayal as I read further, about the life of Muhammad.
Although I knew men could have a maximum of four wives, I didn’t realize that Muhammad had special privileges, including unlimited concubines. I read about Aisha, his nine-year-old bride. I learned about the “deficiency of a woman’s mind” as narrated by Al-Bukhari. I also found out that the majority of people in Hell were women, according to the same source. Again, I wondered where was the Muhammad that I had been taught: the Holy Prophet, who dressed in white and reverenced his mother. One day, I could not read anymore, because I could not stop the tears from falling. I gathered my books, thinking that if this was who God was, I could not worship him. But it was a fleeting thought. I knew inside that God existed. This God was just not revealed through Muhammad. As I left the library that day, I sensed God looking down at me from above. I felt a strange peace as I forsook Islam that day…as if God was waiting for me to find out who He was.
I decided to search for the truth in other religions. In a big university, there is no want for religious diversity. I spoke with Hindus, Jews, and Catholics alike, trying to understand their beliefs and searching for something that made sense to me. I even met a Buddhist girl who had converted to the Ba’hai faith. I was interested: what made her convert? She explained to me about the emptiness of Buddhism, and how Ba’hais believe that all religions at one point had been revealed by God but were corrupted by man. “This sounds good,” I thought. I agreed to visit a Ba’hai temple with her and I started to read about the Ba’hai faith. Somehow, when I went to the temple service, I felt emptiness. Then I learned some parables about their prophet, Bahaullah that really disturbed me. I knew that the truth wasn’t here, and I began to grow weary and frustrated with searching.
A Catholic friend had given me a Bible. I started reading it from Genesis but I was discouraged by its length. Christmas break was coming, so I decided to take it with me to read on vacation to Pakistan. (I had the Bible with me the entire time, but thankfully, no one found it. I had no idea at the time what the consequences might be for having a Bible there.) Our plane made a stop in Saudi Arabia. As we were pulling into the terminal, I caught a glimpse of the Saudi Air emblem: Two single-edged swords, and a shield. I remembered words of Muhammad that I had read in my class on Islam: “the power is with the sword.” I watched as young soldiers searched our plane for liquor and narcotics. After reaching Pakistan, I was moved by the graffiti I saw on the city walls, reading, “Oh God show us your miracles,” and “Inshallah we shall be saved.” I was grieved by the street children, the beggars and the lepers, lining the sidewalks.
I was also deeply touched by the love of my extended family towards me. I didn’t know whether they knew the truth about Islam, and if so, how they could believe in it. My uncle tried to explain to me about the rights of women in Islam, but I remained unconvinced. Instead, I came back profoundly affected by the sadness and despair of my country. I returned the Bible to my friend.
Late one night, I told another friend about my depression and my inability to see meaning in life. He asked me if I believed in anything. I told him that I believed in God, the prophets, and that if I was good I would go to Heaven and bad I would go to Hell. He asked me, “well, do you basically think that you have been good all your life?” I answered that I hadn’t killed anyone or committed adultery. He said, “so don’t worry about it! You’ll go to Heaven.” Obviously, I was very confused. I asked him how that could be, how could I go to Heaven. He asked me if I had ever read the New Testament. I replied that I had not. He asked me if I wanted to read it, and I did. As we opened the Bible to the Gospel of Matthew, I felt an enormous peace come over me — the same peace that I had felt that day when I had left the library. I knew that the answers lay within. Today, I know that this peace was that which was spoken of in the Letter to the Philippians: “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
We read aloud the first twelve chapters of Matthew. I felt enormously secure, as if God Himself was in the room with me, holding me. The words of Christ filled my dry and parched soul like refreshing water. The way that He spoke was with such authority! One passage made a particular impression on me: when Christ was being tempted in the desert by Satan. Satan told Jesus to throw himself down from roof of the temple. Jesus answered, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:5-7) It was at that moment that I understood: Jesus is the Lord your God! Suddenly, thoughts began to run through my mind such as, “God can do anything. If He wants to come to earth in the form of a man, He can!” Could this man be the same Messiah that was spoken of in the Koran, the babe who uttered, “I am the slave of Allah” (Sura 19:32)? I didn’t think so.
From that night onwards, I had a hunger to read the Bible. I read the Bible all the time. Another close friend bought me my own Bible. I dissected every sentence, every word to try to find fault with it. I brought my questions to several classmates whom I knew to be Christian. They answered me as best as they could. More important than their answers, though, was the love that I saw expressed in them, towards me. One of my friends, Cathy, didn’t even know that I wasn’t a Christian. Because I had a Bible, she assumed that I was a Christian. One night, I was very worried about an exam we had the next day. I left a note on her door, asking her to stop by. When she came to my room, she approached me, knelt down beside my chair, and took my hand in hers. She said, “Don’t worry…He died for you.” When she spoke those words, my heart cried out inside. I had never heard those words before in my life. Someone would die for me? That entire night, I thought about those words, which filled me with a love I had never known.
My Christian friends told me about an event which was coming up, where a man named Cliffe Knechtle was coming to speak on campus. They encouraged me to attend, since he specialized in answering questions about Christianity. After the meeting, one of my friends introduced me to Cliffe. I told him my story, about how I was searching for the truth and for answers. He sat down with me for an hour and a half, just listening to me and answering my questions. He was so kind and gentle and honest. I went home that night, knowing that I had all the answers that I needed. I needed only to make a decision, to believe, or not to believe.
I decided that I could ask anyone questions — but if Christianity was real, God Himself would have to show me. One night, alone in my dorm room, I decided to pray to Jesus for the very first time. I awkwardly said: “Jesus, I don’t know who you are. I don’t know if you’re a prophet; I don’t know if you are the Lord. I don’t know if you’re dead, or if you’re alive. But if you are alive, and if you are Lord, then please show me.”
God answers prayers, my friends! “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Two days later, I received a letter in my mailbox from an old high school friend — an atheist. In this letter, he told me that he had become a Christian! He wrote: “I don’t know why I am writing you this. All I know is that I must tell you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!” I almost fell over, the words jumped out at me so strongly. Later, I found out that he had written that letter at the exact same time that I had prayed — that he had sense of urgency, to tell this to someone. It just happened to be me.
In April of 1989, I made the decision to believe and gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God says, “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). Understanding the fullness of Christ’s atoning death on the cross took many years for me, especially since I was raised believing in the Muslim concept of the “scales.” The truth of the matter is that, as a Muslim, I knew that I wasn’t going to Heaven. No one can enter Heaven without the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 3:21).