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The True Nature of Islam - Insights from a Former Muslim
Publish date: Dec 30, 2013
Summary: What do we have in common with Islam? What is the truth?
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As an ex-Muslim I find myself challenged to the core by a teaching that is being promoted in the Seventh-day Adventist church and by individuals who mean well but who are genuinely mistaken. This teaching challenges our traditional perspectives about 1) the nature of God, 2) the person and mission of Jesus Christ, 3) the authority of the Bible and 4) the method of evangelism. This teaching is not as widespread as its proponents would like it to be but in recent years it has gained momentum and the support of some of our leaders. Below I will focus on this false teaching and attempt to provide facts that will correct this error.
Islam: An Abrahamic Tradition?
The teaching that Islam is inherently an Abrahamic tradition is not supported by the Bible or by logic. Just because some Arab tribes in the Middle-East are of the lineage of Abraham does not give legitimacy to the idea that Islam is in harmony with the faith of Abraham. Some reason that since Arabs are the descendants of Abraham, Islam, the religion of the Arab world, must be an extension of Abraham's faith. This leads many to conclude that Islam is fundamentally good. That Abraham had anything to do with the formation or practice of Islam is an impossibility since Islam did not even arise until 2000 years after the time of Abraham. Therefore, the conclusion that Islam is somehow endorsed by Abraham is erroneous.
What We Have in Common with Islam
What about the notion that the Seventh-day Adventist church has much in common with the Muslim faith? Actually, on the substantive doctrines of Scripture, we have very little in common with the Muslims. True, we don't eat pork and we abstain from alcoholic drinks, but Islam has never had what we call a "health message" as we do in the Seventh-day Adventist church. Muslims can smoke cigarettes and freely partake of the flesh of camels, crabs or any other form of scavenging sea creatures. In Islam, diet restrictions are of little consequence with the exception of eating swine's flesh which, incidentally, in times of dearth is permissible according to Shari'ah law.
The idea that the "prophet" of Islam was at one time a "chosen" vessel, a "reformer," or even a "true prophet" is Biblically unsupportable. The "prophet" of Islam early set himself on the opposite side of the Gospel. If Mohammad had the spirit of prophecy, surely he would have supported the most basic fundamental doctrine of the Bible. He would have pointed to Jesus as the "Lamb of God which taketh away the Sin of the world," but he did not do that.
What about the teaching that is going viral in Adventism today that Allah is the same God the Christian worships. My answer to people who think this is simple. If Allah is the God of the Bible, then he would agree with His own words which He spoke testifying about Jesus saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17), or "This is my beloved Son: hear him." (Luke 9:35).
Are Allah and God the Same?
What about the teaching that makes Islam somehow a "forgotten blessing" because Islam was used as a scourge against the Papacy in the Dark Ages? Didn't God use many nations to both bless and curse Israel and to oppress and punish Israel's enemies? Cyrus, the Persian king, was used to bless Israel while Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, was used to punish Israel. We don't credit Persia and Babylon with any more than they deserved for their role in the lives of God's ancient people. Why do we give so much credence to Islam when all they did was fulfill God's providence in the lives of His people living during the time of the Reformation?
Our Traditional Position in Regard to Islam
As a Seventh-day Adventist I want to defend our traditional position in regards to Islam which teaches that Islam is a false religion and its error needs to be overthrown. Here is the only statement on the religion of Islam from the pen of inspiration:
Mohammedanism has its converts in many lands, and its advocates deny the divinity of Christ. Shall this faith be propagated, and the advocates of truth fail to manifest intense zeal to overthrow the error, and teach men of the pre-existence of the only Saviour of the world? O how we need men who will search and believe the word of God, who will present Jesus to the world in his divine and human nature, declaring with power and in demonstration of the Spirit, that "there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." O how we need believers who will now present Christ in life and character, who will hold him up before the world as the brightness of the Father's glory, proclaiming that God is love! (The Home Missionary, September 1, 1892)
This was our denomination's position during the time of Ellen G. White and our pioneers, and it ought to be our position today.
Islam's True Purpose
These are very subtle teachings that are being promoted by well-meaning individuals who do not understand the real purpose of Islam – to make of no effect the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This, I submit, is the real reason for the existence of Islam. If God chose to use Islam as a scourging agent during the Dark Ages, that does not make the religion of Islam a blessing. That Islam was used as a scourge in the hand of God to punish the enemies of God only proves God's sovereignty over the entire affairs of man. Just as God used idolatrous Babylon to punish or bless Israel, God also has used Islam. Below I will attempt to compare the Koran to the Bible and focus on the truth found in Scriptures that will undoubtedly help clear the misconceptions that are being taught in our church today.
In 1 John 4:1 we read, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
If we are going to take the apostle's counsel seriously, then we must look at what it is that Islam teaches and compare it with the Bible so we won't be deceived. Let's compare the spirit of Islam with the Spirit of God because John has admonished us to do so.
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world (1 John 4:2-3).
What the Koran Says about Jesus
Advocates of Islam may say, "Islam is not an antichrist religion because it teaches Jesus was chosen by Allah to be his prophet and that Jesus came in the flesh according to the Koran." Now, it's true that Islam teaches that Christ was chosen, but only as a prophet and not the Son of God. Jesus is only mere flesh, according to the Koran. Look at the following statement taken from the Koran: "...the example of Jesus, as far as Allah is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; he created him from dust, then said to him, 'Be,' and he was" (Surrah 3:59). According to Islam, Christ was created from dust just as Adam was. This, my friends, is blasphemy!
There are many Surrahs in the Koran that talk about Jesus. Some of them talk about His birth. Others talk about His character, His mission and teachings. But the big question is, do these verses in the Koran agree with the Bible?
John the apostle, in 1 John the fifth chapter, has much to offer that is important to us as Christians seeking how to relate to Muslims. In fact, I believe the first thirteen verses in 1 John 5 are buffers placed in the Word of God to protect His church from any false advances against the truth, and that includes the Koran.
Let's look at these verses and do a comparison.
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him (1 John 5:1).
Right at the start John expounds on eternal truths that are central to Christianity. According to John, if we say we are believers we must 1) believe that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah, 2) believe that Jesus is born of God, 3) love "him also that is begotten" (Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of God), if we love "him that begat" (here, "him" refers to the Father). All this Islam denies.
In the Koran Surrah 19:90 we read these startling words:
Those who say: 'The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,' preach a monstrous falsehood, at which the very heavens might crack, the earth split asunder, and the mountains crumble to dust. That they should ascribe a son to the Merciful, when it does not become the Lord of Mercy to beget one!
The Antichrist sentiments in the preceding Koranic verse could not get any clearer or stronger.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2-5)
In the preceding verses John focuses on the most powerful expression of who God is, and that is love. As we surrender to Him, He causes to grow in us love for God and love for the "children of God." This God-given love helps us keep God's commandments. If we are "born of God" (see verse 4), we overcome the world through faith. And what helps us to overcome the world? Unless we believe that Jesus is the Son of God we cannot overcome the world. No wonder Islam teaches violence at its core; Islam denies the Sonship of Jesus and therefore cuts itself off from the Source of power and love.
Let's read another verse from the Koran: "Creator of the heavens and the earth. How should He have a son when He had no consort? He created all things, and He has knowledge of all things" (Surrah 6:101).
And yet another verse: "Allah forbid that He should have a son!" (Surrah 4:171)
Let's continue with the rest of what John has to say:
This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth (1 John 5:6).
What the Koran Says about the Cross
Islam denies that Jesus ever died on the cross. This is an attempt to undo the plan of salvation and make it appear that it was never God's plan to offer Jesus for the salvation of humanity. Salvation in Islam is merited by good works and not by faith. Let's read from the Koran the account that denies Jesus' death on the cross:
And for claiming that they killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of Allah. In fact, they never killed him, they never crucified him - they were made to think that they did. All factions who are disputing in this matter are full of doubt concerning this issue. They possess no knowledge; they only conjecture. For certain, they never killed him (Surrah 4:157).
What the Bible says about the Godhead:
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one (1 John 5:7-8).
Islam is opposed to this important truth about the nature of God which teaches of the unity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and whom the Bible refers to as the "Godhead."
Here is another verse from the Koran that teaches against the Godhead:
People of the Book (in the Koran, Christians and Jews are referred to as the "people of the Book"), do not transgress the bounds of your religion. Speak nothing but the truth about Allah. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was no more than Allah's apostle and His Word which He cast to Mary: a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His apostles and do not say: "Three." Forbear, and it shall be better for you. Allah is but one God (Surrah 4:171).
About the Sonship of Jesus to the Father, John warns us not to receive the witness of men over the witness of God.
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son (1 John 5:9-10).
Let's read more:
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:11-13).
A False Christ
Islam is bent on destroying Christianity at its very core, and it does so by subtly attacking it on three fundamental points, the eternal truths that make Christianity what it is: The Sonship of Jesus Christ to His Father, His divine character and Oneness with God, and His death upon the cross as a substitutionary offering on behalf of mankind. Take away these fundamental truths and what do we have left to stand upon? What hope is left to us? If Jesus is not the Son of God, He ceases to be our advocate. If you take away Jesus' divine nature, He suddenly becomes incapable of being the One that alone can save us to the uttermost. Finally, if you take away His great sacrifice for humanity by dying on the cross, then you take away any hope for the salvation of man. With the overwhelming evidence provided in this paper, one must conclude that the Jesus of the Koran is an impostor. And the Allah of the Koran is not the Ancient of Days, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot use the "Isa al Masih" (Jesus Christ) mentioned in the Koran to convert Muslims to Christ. Yes, Jesus and Mary are mentioned in the Koran, but we cannot use the Koranic Jesus as a bridge to Muslims. The Jesus of the Koran is a false christ. He denies the position the true Biblical Jesus claims as His own, that of being One with the Father. Islam is a false religion and its Allah and Isa al Masih are false gods similar to what other pagan religions have. You can't use a false christ and convert people to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.
If a Muslim accepts present truth and the Biblical Jesus as his Savior and is born again, he will no longer be a Muslim. He will be a born-again Seventhday Adventist Christian. Islam is not a culture. It is a religion. And today God is calling His children to come all the way out of fallen and false religions.
20/20 Evangelism: How Shall We Work with the Muslims?
When we consider modes of evangelism, there seem to be as many ideas out there as there are church denominations. It seems everyone wants to be original and come up with a fresh way that no one else has tried before. Please do not misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with trying to learn of ways that can help us in our outreach to others. Choosing how to do evangelism becomes even more problematic when we consider Muslim evangelism. There are so many ideas about how best to reach Muslims with the Gospel that the choices can be baffling. If we're going to accomplish anything for God, it must be as Jesus leads us.
What did Jesus mean when He said to His disciples, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (Matthew 28: 19, 20)?
We are supposed to go into all the world and teach the people. But, what method do we use, and where can we go to learn the methods? Who has the final say on matters like this anyway? It's really simple. Jesus clearly has shown us the correct method for evangelism both in His own life and that of His apostles. One famous Christian writer and an authority in the area of evangelism wrote this:
Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me' (The Ministry of Healing, 143).
The statement above is really the recipe for success. If Jesus is our great pattern, then we must always endeavor to copy Him; we must become familiar with His teachings and example. We do not necessarily learn about evangelism by only reading books or learning theories. The best way Jesus taught His disciples was through modeling. He was an ever present example to them. His disciples saw Him work in the lives of the people around them. They saw Him minister to the needs of old and young alike; they saw Him deliver the people from their bondage to sin. His love and care for the masses was unmatched. Experiencing Christ's methods of evangelism first-hand prepared the disciples of Jesus to become the apostles of the church of Christ on earth.
When considering evangelising the Muslim world, it is expedient that we continue the Biblical tradition. To put it mildly, let's not deviate from the methods of Christ, our pattern.
Some try to use Paul's experience on Mars Hill to say it is okay to contextualize the Gospel so it is palatable and easily understood by Muslims, or any other difficult to reach people groups. But what was it that Paul said and did on Mars Hill that would give such an impression? It seems some evangelists would like us to believe that Paul's attitude toward evangelism was that "the end justifies the means." Was that Paul's attitude? Does the end really justify the means?
Let's pick up the story in Acts 17:16. Paul was in Athens waiting for Silas and Timotheus to join him. While he was waiting for them his "spirit" was "stirred in him," because "he saw the city wholly given to idolatry." At this point Paul could have contextualized the message and delivered an Athenianized version of the Gospel so the people of Athens could better relate to him. But Paul didn't do that. Instead, as we see in verse 17, Paul went out and disputed in the synagogues and in the open markets of Athens: "Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him" (Acts 17:17). The Greek word "disputed" in verse 17 is dialehomai where we get the word "dialogue" which means conversation. The word dialehomai literally means "to reason with, reason, preach unto, preach, speak, to ponder, to converse, argue, discuss".
While Paul was busy disputing, "certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, met with him." (See verse 18.) Right from the top, those philosophers had a difficult time understanding Paul's message to them. Paul told them things they had never heard before. "He preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection," and not some twisted form of the Gospel so he could build a bridge to the Athenians. In fact, Paul openly promoted Christianity to the idolatrous people of Athens. In verse 19, when the Athenians made further inquiry of Paul, they did so with the intent of wanting to know "what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is....". Obviously, what Paul was telling the philosophers was radically different than what they were used to hearing. Paul in no way changed the Gospel or gave them a different variation of it, or mixed it with the Athenian doctrines, so as to make it easy for them to understand. He plainly told them about Jesus and the resurrection. The confusion of the Athenians testifies of Paul's plain delivery of the message. "And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know. For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean" (Acts 17:19-20).
Paul took in the situation. He saw the people were starving for new ideas. (See verse 21.) He saw their lost condition. He saw his chance and seized the moment. He fearlessly told them they were "superstitious" people. (See verse 22.) Then in verse 23 Paul carefully pointed the Athenians to their own altar, which they had erected to the Unknown God.
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
Notice Paul did not ascribe an Athenian name to God. He did not point to the great number of idols sitting close by, but instead he pointed the people to the Unknown God. Why the Unknown God? Wouldn't it have been easier to tell them about the common points between their idols and the God of heaven? After all, wasn't Paul trying to bridge the gap between himself and the Athenians? But Paul did not do that for a singular reason.
Paul being an educated man, a man of reason and intellect, of great wisdom and understanding, chose to deal with the Athenians through the unknown. But why the Unknown God? It was because that title was neutral. It was not ascribed to any other deity. There was no room for misunderstandings and misapplications. Paul could, through that name, reason with the people and awaken in them a greater desire to want to know the Unknown God. By ascribing a neutral name to God, Paul was able to turn the attention of the Athenians to the God of creation without smearing God's character, honor and glory. The Athenians had no presuppositions about this Unknown God. To them He was simply the unknown. This was a redemptive act on the part of Paul which did not compromise principle. In the verses that follow, Paul further expounded on who this Unknown God is, being ever careful not to ascribe to God any of the characteristics that, in the minds of the people, belonged solely to the idol deities they worshiped. Should we be less cautious and ascribe to the God of universe the attributes of the god of Islam? God forbid! Let us stand unmoved by this type of reasoning.
The Power of Love
How do we then minister to Muslims or any other people groups? Following are two testimonials that highlight my work for Muslims. These personal stories tell how God condescended to use my family and me to touch the lives of three Muslim families. These stories can easily be applied to anyone or any people group no matter what their religious or cultural persuasion. Love knows no boundaries; all come to the foot of the cross the same way.
While in Europe, I met Shahram* and his wife Shirin*, an Iranian Muslim couple who had immigrated there a few years earlier. I remember the beautiful late summer morning. After I had finished my personal devotions, I felt a strong impression that I should go out and share my faith. I told my wife of my plan and we prayed together for God's blessing and protection. As I rode my bike through the streets leading to the shopping mall, I could feel God's special presence with me, sustaining me, telling me He was with me. Filled with love for Him, I arrived at my destination armed with my Bible and several tracts in Persian and other languages, in case I met people from other countries.
Almost immediately, I began my search for Iranians in the crowd. There weren't too many of them there that day, and yet I had the privilege of sharing my faith with several people of other nationalities. Eventually, I found a good spot on the second floor of the mall near one of the exits; there I took my position. I scouted the surrounding area and the stores to see if I could spot any Iranian people that might pass my way. I waited awhile but didn't see any.
Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a man holding the hand of a boy who obviously was his son. The man appeared to be in his late thirties, and they were heading in my direction. I felt a strong impression to talk to this man. I stood there until he reached me, and as he passed by I stepped forward at an angle next to him and politely asked him if he was an Iranian. He told me he was. Then I said, "Jesus loves you." He thanked me. Then I quickly pulled a Persian tract out of my pocket and handed it to him. He received it, glanced at it for a few seconds and thanked me for it.
For the next few minutes we talked about the love of God and the end of the world. He was especially interested to know more about the end of the world and appeared very attentive to what I shared with him. As I continued to talk with him, he interrupted me and asked if I would be willing to come to his house and bless it with what he called "these wonderful words." Although ecstatic, I carefully did not betray my true feelings right then. He told me his name, Shahram. After we exchanged phone numbers, we said goodbye.
The next day I called Shahram, and we agreed to meet at his home on Thursday that week. Of course, according to Persian culture, going to his home also meant having dinner. So he asked me what I wanted to eat that night. Knowing Iranians are meat eaters for the most part, and knowing my answer could be problematic, I had to think quickly. "I am a vegetarian," I told him. "What—you are a vegetarian?" He was surprised. I was probably the only Iranian he had ever met who was a vegetarian. This presented a challenge for both of us; would he reject the whole idea of my going to his home? Or would he be considerate and receive me just the same? The Lord gave me the right words to say, and he graciously promised to prepare the only vegetarian dish he knew—an Asian dish made with vegetables.
When I arrived at Shahram's home the whole family gave me a warm welcome. After more formalities and getting acquainted with Shahram's wife, Shirin, they led me to the living room where they lavished me with their Persian hospitality. It seemed Shirin would never take her place with us and sit down. She made several trips to the kitchen and each time more treats were set on the coffee table. Everything that could be offered to please the appetite was set before me.
Finally, Shirin did take her place with us in the living room, and just then Shahram stood up and informed me that he was brewing some tea in the kitchen and that he would be back with some shortly. Although I am not opposed to drinking a hot refreshing cup of herbal tea from time to time, I am, however, careful not to drink black tea, which is saturated with caffeine. I knew beforehand that my Iranian hosts would be drinking tea just like the other 99% of Iranians around the world.
Trusting in the Lord, I exercised every ounce of amiable talent I possessed, and I carefully informed my host: "I don't drink black tea!" I will never forget the puzzled look on Shahram's face.
"You don't drink tea? I have never heard of such a thing before; all Iranians drink tea! You are an Iranian, aren't you?" I assured him I was an Iranian.
"Then why won't you drink tea?" he exclaimed.
I knew my refusal to accept his courtesy would strike a sensitive nerve, but I also knew that no Iranian in history had ever lost consciousness over someone else's refusal to accept their tea. I briefly explained my position on the issue, and with uncertainty, he offered me a glass of orange juice instead which I gladly accepted. The rest of the time we spent talking about the Bible. I was pleasantly surprised by this Muslim family; they were more interested to hear about the Bible than they were to tell me about the Koran. The vegetarian meal was very good, and we managed to talk more and get more acquainted with each other. Before I left that evening, Shahram invited me to come back again for more Bible studies.
For the next seventeen months, I made many visits to share Jesus with Shahram and his family. We spent hours talking and studying the Bible together. In all our conversations, only once did we talk about Islam. One evening I shared an important Bible truth with my hosts and felt it would be appropriate to end the study with a call for them to consider the truth they had learned and to embrace it wholeheartedly. I was surprised when Shahram informed me about his wife's fears over making such a commitment. I asked Shirin why she was so afraid and she told me she was concerned with retribution from Imam Ali who, according to Shiite tradition, replaced Muhammad after his death.
I was not at all prepared for this situation. I didn't know how to respond to her. I prayed for wisdom and received the impression, "Leave it alone for now." Although Imam Ali has been dead for almost 1,400 years, Shirin was seriously afraid of him. I wanted so much to tell her that "The dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6). I had, however, received my orders to hold my peace and to "leave it alone for now."
Our families became very close as we continued to spend more time together. The Holy Spirit was working upon the hearts of Shahram and his family and perhaps more upon my heart and also of my family's hearts. This was a two-way street because as we ministered to them, the blessing only increased for us. As we ministered to their needs, they began to see in us something they had never before seen in anyone else. They saw a family truly interested in them. They knew that our profession was real, that we were truly concerned for their salvation. They understood that we loved them deeply, and all this gave power to our witness to them. Unbeknown to us, Christ was giving them a practical view of the Gospel.
On one occasion while Shahram and I were talking, he asked me why my wife and I were such happy people; he wanted to know why our faces shone. I didn't know how to reply. I reminded him that it was not us but Christ in our lives. I also told him that he too could have this happiness in his life if he would decide to follow Christ.
Toward the end of our stay in Europe, as my family and I were preparing to return to the US, I knew that Shahram and his wife needed to make a decision. Were they going make a decision to follow Jesus? We had spent seventeen months ministering to this dear family. The thought of their missing eternity troubled me greatly. I longed to see them surrender all to Jesus, but I had time for only one more visit.
I can recall the events of that day very well. On this occasion Shahram came to our place and picked up my son and me so we didn't have to take the bus to their home. Later that evening after we had finished our dinner, we were sitting at the dining room table while Shahram washed the dishes. As we talked over important spiritual matters, I knew in my heart that my time with them was nearing its final moments. I spoke up.
"Shahram, Shirin, you know you are very precious to Christ. He loves you and He died to save you from eternal death. Now, as we get ready to say goodbye, will you make the decision to surrender all to Jesus and follow Him?"
It was my last heartfelt plea to both of them. The atmosphere was intense. Important decisions with eternal consequences had to be made that night and the Spirit of the Lord presided powerfully over us all. It seemed that the angels of light were involved in an intense battle with angels of darkness. What was at stake? The salvation of a whole family.
Shahram turned toward me while holding a dish cloth in his left hand; I could see he was perplexed. He glanced at his wife, then at me, and said, "My wife is afraid of Ali, that he will punish her for turning from Islam."
It was that same old fear that had kept Shirin under cruel bondage, but the Lord had impressed me not to deal with this issue months before. This time was different. My whole being filled with a freedom I had not sensed before when dealing with this subject. I knew the Lord was giving me permission to address the issue once and for all. As I began to speak, the Lord showed me through impressions what I should and should not say to them.
I turned to Shahram and then to his wife and asked them a simple question. "How many people did Imam Ali kill during the time he served Islam?" The two of them were silent for some time. They looked at each other as though I had asked a question I should be able to answer myself.
"It's simple," they said, "Ali killed thousands upon thousands."
I then asked them a second question, "What was the weapon he used to do the slaughter?" They answered simultaneously, "A double-edged sword." Again, I was impressed to ask them another two-part question, and this time about Christ. "Do you know how many people Jesus killed during His life on earth? And what type of weapon did He use?"
This time they were unable to answer my question. They pondered it for awhile and looked at each other hoping one of them knew the answer. Then, looking at me, they shrugged their shoulders and said, "We don't know."
I knew in my heart that God was leading our conversation and my thoughts. Those questions were so calculated that, rightly comprehended, they would cut through any superstition and unbelief. Since they had hit dead end and didn't know how to answer the questions I had asked them, I continued to answer the question myself.
"In all His lifetime, Jesus never killed anyone; He had come to save." I continued, "And the only sword He ever used against His enemies was the Word of God."
At this Shahram turned to his wife and with an agonizing plea asked, "What else do you want to hear? What else do you want to know?" His wife said nothing. She sat in her chair and gave no opposition at all. She appeared to understand the response I had given to the questions addressed to them; however, she seemed unable to overcome the fears that were controlling her.
I knew she would not make the decision to follow Christ and be saved. So I turned my attention to her husband Shahram, and asked him, "Will you give your heart to Jesus?"
He looked at me and asked, "What must I do?"
I asked him if we could go to a private place and pray. In a moment we were kneeling inside his son's bedroom. I led him through the prayer. He confessed his faith in Christ, asked to be forgiven for all his sins, and invited Jesus to come into his life.
After our prayer, I looked upon Shahram and what I saw filled me with joy inexpressible. For the first time in seventeen months Shahram's face shone with a light expressive of the peace he now felt. He had a smile on his face I will never forget. He had truly surrendered all to Jesus, his Savior.
When we walked out of the bedroom, we found his wife clearly agitated and confused. She had rejected the greatest opportunity of her lifetime. The two paths they had chosen were representative of the choice of two paths the whole world faces. A husband and a wife - one basking in the sunlight and peace of Jesus' great love and the other held in bondage, fearful and uncertain.
As Shahram prepared to take me back home, he asked, "What happens to people after they die?"
"The Bible says there is no knowledge in death. The righteous will receive their reward when Christ returns to the earth the second time, and the wicked will receive their reward at the end of the one thousand years," I explained. The answer satisfied him, although we did not spend too much time studying this subject.
At my home, I embraced Shahram once again and wished Him God's blessings and with tears of joy we bid each other farewell. A few days later my family and I were on board a plane heading back to America.
It was the summer of 2000 when we returned to California. I wondered about Shahram. We didn't communicate much during those first few weeks after we left. Shahram had gone to Iran to visit his aging parents, and we were trying to settle in back home. Around forty days after we had returned to the US, Shirin called me. She sounded frantic. I tried to understand her words in between her bouts of sobbing. She finally said, "Shahram is dead!"
"What?" I demanded. "What do you mean he is dead?"
She related the events leading up to his death. He had gone back to Iran and was traveling around the country visiting relatives and loved ones. At the time of our first meeting, Shahram had been ill for a few years and was taking heavy medications. While visiting in Iran, he had had a heart attack and died instantly.
I felt overcome; I didn't know what to say. I wept! After hanging up the phone, I went to my room and knelt down to pray. "Why Lord? Why did you allow Shahram to die?"
I waited for God to answer me, and He did. I was impressed to read the following text from 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18:
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
I stood up thanking God for His great heart of mercy. I understood now God's purpose. He had allowed Shahram to go to sleep so that his life would be sealed for the resurrection morning. Although difficult for us to comprehend, God had made the best choice for Shahram. Also, as difficult as it would be, I felt I needed to tell Shirin about God's providences.
I called her and shared with her the Bible verse God had given me. I realized this would be hard for her to grasp, but I wanted her to know that the death of her husband was not Ali's revenge but God's design. I reminded her of the resurrection morning when Jesus will return to take His own back to heaven with Him. Again, I asked Shirin to reconsider her decision and to follow Jesus as her husband had done. She told me she could not do that because she feared the retribution of Imam Ali. I have now lost all contact with Shirin and her son, but I feel a great burden to share the Gospel with Shahram's son who knows very little about his father's conversion to Christianity. Perhaps the Lord will open that door for me and help me find him one day.
Two Families One Destiny
About two years after the death of Shahram, we returned to Europe once more. I planned to continue my work for Iranian immigrants living there.
I decided one day to go back to the same mall where I had first met Shahram, again armed with many tracts in several languages. After about an hour of pacing back and forth through the mall looking for Iranians, I stopped and prayed that God would lead me to whomever He had prepared for me to meet. Just then I noticed two women walking at a far distance from me; they had their children with them. I somehow knew they were Iranians and felt I needed to reach them quickly.
After catching up to them, I cautiously approached and greeted them. I asked if they were Iranians. They said they were. I gave them a copy of the little tract which I had given to Shahram. One of the women, whom I will call Shahla, said she thought she had seen that tract somewhere before. I could not remember ever meeting them and told them they probably got it somewhere else. We talked for about twenty minutes about the love of God and the signs relating to Christ's coming. They were very interested in what I had to say.
Shahla told me that she and her husband had studied with some Jehovah's Witnesses. She said they had a difficult time understanding them because of the language barrier. In fact, they were dissatisfied with the little they could understand about their doctrines. I was pleasantly surprised when Shahla asked me if I would go to her home and study the Bible with them. Of course she had to get her husband's consent first. Mehri, Shahla's friend, and her husband were staying at Shahla's home for the next two weeks. I gave the ladies my phone number and said goodbye. All the way home I praised God for His great providence.
Later that evening, Shahla called me and told me I would be welcome in their home for a Bible study the following week on Tuesday. Since their home was close to my work I decided to go alone. I arrived at their apartment on time but to my surprise, the women's husbands were not there which was rather strange. Shahla told me that their husbands did not care too much to meet with me, but that they had their permission to study the Bible with me. I silently praised God, and we had our first Bible study that day. They had so many questions for me. We studied for about three hours. I found out later that each time I studied the Bible with them they would rehearse everything they had learned to their husbands when they returned from the park where they had taken their daughters to play.
I studied the Bible with these ladies for about a month at least twice a week. Sometimes we studied two lessons in one day. It was a wonderful experience. The Lord had orchestrated it so well that, although I had never met their husbands, I studied with them through their wives. Finally, the day came when I met the two men who so graciously allowed their wives to study with me. Ali and Amir were gentle in appearance. These two families were true seekers after knowledge, and God had seen it and now honored them.
Only six weeks after we met, Shahla and her husband Ali were baptized at the local Seventh-day Adventist church. About one month later Mehri and her husband Amir were baptized at the Adventist church in their own town. Today, Shahla and her husband Ali have moved to another country where they are keeping their faith and attending the Seventh-day Adventist church. Mehri and her husband Amir still live in the same country and continue to attend church and keep the Lord's Sabbath.
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