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She Carries His Stone - Letters To The Churches From Muslim-Background Christians, is now available for download in .pdf, .html, and .txt files. Description: The voices in this book speak from a deep understanding of the difficulties a Christian experiences in seeking to live a vibrant, active spiritual life in an Islamic culture. In this book, you will hear from a new generation of Muslim-background Christians who are helping native converts circumvent pitfalls, and stand firm under persecutions.
Advocates For The Persecuted E-books
She Carries His Stone
Letters to the Churches from Muslim-background Christians
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Advocates For The Persecuted, Inc., El Cajon, California (www.advocatesforthepersecuted.org) Advocates For The Persecuted is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION, unless otherwise indicated. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Some scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.
Cover illustration is a stylized rendering of a photograph, used by permission.
First Edition: July 2009
All donations from the distribution of this book will go toward human rights advocacy projects in the Middle East, and humanitarian assistance to aid those who are persecuted for their faith.
Published in the United States of America.
Table of Contents:
Letter 1: She Carries His Stone
Letter 2: Blind Man From A Nation Of Blind Men
Letter 3: The World In His Infancy
Letter 4: Trumpets of Pride
Letter 5: God Lives Here
Letter 6: A Church Carrying The Revolution Of Struggle
Letter 7: The Church Of God And The Church Of The World
Letter 8: Beach Girl
Letter 9: The False Parallel Homeland
Letter 10: No Greater Love
Letter 11: Transformationalists: Where Are You Taking Us?
Letter 12: A Disciple's Prayer
About Advocates For The Persecuted
We dedicate this to the One who loved us so much; to the One who carved and is still shaping us; and to the One who embraced and is still holding us.
We dedicate this to Jesus Christ -- God and Savior, Friend and Path, Teacher and Warrior -- and to His Bride, who is in His likeness.
And, with the tip of our pencils, we remember the last who are first: Those hiding in the dens and caves of the earth.
-- A Muslim convert in Egypt
No: The only word that remains virgin in the vocabulary of man.1
The voices in this book represent the hard work and dedication of those brave people who bring the Good News to those born into Islamic families in Islamically dominated nations. As the gospel spreads throughout Egypt and other nations in the region, this nascent Muslim-background Church is growing, and it has an awesome gift to offer those of us in the West. We stand to greatly benefit from its unique perspective on church life, Christian living and how to be Jesus to those who have been raised to view Christianity with much distain and hostility.
Here, you will find testimonies, along with unique insights regarding churches and church movements now spreading across the globe -- church teachings that have originated in the Western countries and are being disseminated in Middle Eastern countries through Western publications and media. While we praise the efforts of those who preach the unadulterated gospel, some of the modern-day teachings gaining popularity in the Western churches have created unintended, painful effects among Muslim-background believers (MBBs).
Some of these teachings have actually discouraged genuine evangelism in favor of spiritualized activities that carry no risk for those who do them, because they happen inside churches, hidden from the view of those who might be offended by Christian activities. These teachings foster an illusion that Christians are engaging in effective efforts to win converts. Yet, they actually discourage the one-on-one friendly conversations outside the churches that often lead to conversions from Islam to Christianity, in favor of more and more "inside-the-church" activities. Converts born into Islam, who have been set free through the efforts of high-risk evangelism, see these teachings as a grievous trend to be vigorously resisted. In short, these letters emphasize the pursuit and practice of New Testament, high-risk, loving evangelism of the kind that turned the world upside down, as recorded in Acts 17: 1-7.
In this book, you will hear from a new generation of MBB leaders who are discipling native believers in order to help them circumvent such pitfalls, and stand firm under persecutions. You will also hear of their love for Christ, alongside their frustration with the failures of all too many native churches that have succumbed to a "safe" Christianity hidden behind the church walls. You will read of their hope for the fiery love of Christ to spread and take root in the Western nations, too.
This book demands your full attention, as you read it, and your willingness to open your mind to church writings that come from a non-Western perspective. It will undoubtedly challenge some of your preconceptions. However, if you take the time to absorb some of the insights here, you will be greatly blessed, and we hope, spurred on to pray for and assist, in whatever way God leads you, these brave leaders of this fast-growing MBB movement in the Middle East.
As you read it, we also encourage you to keep in mind that these believers face persecution, death, dismemberment, beatings, loss of possessions and livelihood, loss of families and relationships: in short they are living out the same persecutions as those that afflicted the early Church. They are also seeing the same miracles.
As MBBs have attempted to enter established churches, which are open to native Middle Easterners born into Christian families, but banned by law to MBBs, they have perceived many of these Christians to be enslaved by the fear of evangelizing in a hostile culture. MBBs have seen these Christians focusing on what they can accomplish inside the churches, because of the fear of possible consequences of spreading the gospel outside the churches. Some of these letters are written to native Christians born into Christian families. They are written in the spirit of Jeremiah, seeking to revive these native believers, who have succumbed to this fear. As a result, some have fallen victim to a form of Christian teaching which focuses on mystical experiences, and avoids the in-the-trenches, in-the-world evangelism that mark the pages of the New Testament.
It is hard to be a Christian in an Islamic country, whether you were born into a Christian home or not. We in the West have very little understanding of just how difficult it is. The voices in this book speak from a deep understanding of the difficulties a Christian experiences in seeking to live a vibrant, active spiritual life in these Islamic cultures. Speaking with the love of Christ, the writers seek the edification of the churches, and desire to strengthen their fellow believers' resolve, as they themselves become living examples of encouragement to those around them.
This is the heart from which these letters are written: in the same spirit as when Jesus spoke to the seven churches in Asia. They contain strong words at times, but they are written by those who, like the Apostle Paul, bear the scars of torture for their faith, and have earned the right to lovingly rebuke fellow believers who have forgotten their fundamental duty to Christ: The willingness to pick up His cross and follow him. These letters are also meant for us in the West, who, with all good intentions, may be aiding and abetting evangelistic methods that are not only ineffective in cultivating true righteousness, but are supplanting biblical methods of loving witness and reasoned arguments for the gospel that really do bring people from darkness to light.
The appeal of these mystical methods cuts to the heart of human nature: it's easier to stay inside the churches and thereby avoid arousing hostility and opposition to the gospel. In reality, the gospel's effect on the Middle East -- and even on our own culture -- will bring more division and strife, just as it did in Jesus' day. But, it will also bring eternal life to thousands upon thousands of souls now held captive by Islam in the East and false religions in our cultures. We invite you to join us in prayer for these men and women who are at the leading edge of this beautiful moment in church history.
May we be counted worthy to follow in their footsteps in our own lands, where the lost also perish daily, separated from Jesus Christ.
We hope you will find the footnotes helpful. There are idiomatic expressions, verse references, and cultural information contained in them that are necessary for you to fully understand the intended meaning. For obvious reasons, the contributors' actual names are not used.
One last thing to remember as you read this book:
The book you are about to read is free, but the people who wrote it are not.
If you would like to help these brave people in their struggle for expanding religious freedom in the Middle East, please consider a donation to Advocates For The Persecuted, a 501(c)3 charity.
Click here to make a donation now using PayPal, which accepts major credit cards. Or, you can make a donation through our website at:
May God Richly Bless You With All Spiritual Blessings.
All donations from the distribution of this book will go toward human rights advocacy projects in the Middle East, and humanitarian assistance to aid those who are persecuted for their faith.
Letter One: She Carries His Stone
"Wisdom is fear.
He who fears keeps silent.
He who is silent lives, eats, drinks, gets bloated;
Becomes over satisfied with things."
This is what the preacher said on Sunday.
The audience shared his opinion --
Shared his fear -- his silence --
The silence of the dead.
Let the dead preach to their dead.
I mean, let the dead bury their dead.
-- A Muslim convert in Egypt
"Remove from Christianity the possibility of a Stumbling Block, and abolish the consciousness of dread, and you may as well close the churches and turn them into dance halls."
-- Soren Kierkegaard
Church: The word brings to mind many different images and meanings. Some of us envision an altar within a sacred temple. Others picture a group of believers, united. Still others see an eloquent speaker standing behind an elevated lectern, while below him sit the viewers.
Though the forms of individual churches may vary, the true Church is only one.
The disciples said to Jesus: "Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us."2 We saw someone not from our churches, our meetings, our denomination, our language, our race, or, our country.
The Lord of Lords -- our Savior -- our first-and-last warrior -- answered them: "[A]nd he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad."3
All kinds of men love Him. They bow down before Him. They comprise "a great multitude ... of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne ...."4
In this humble discourse, before this humble God, who forsook himself, taking on the image of a servant, we seek to transcend our differences: differences that have shattered our collective strength to fragments -- differences that could have strengthened us instead.
We begin from the core -- the essence of our faith: Jesus Christ, our Savior. He is the Word, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Stumbling Block, and the Cornerstone. He was and still is rejected by the builders, yet He became the Cornerstone.5
We write from a perspective beyond the reach of conflict, as we ask these questions:
The Church: is She merely a temple, or a group of believers? Is She a consecrated altar of stone, or a humble home?
We flee from the arguments of denominationalism, as we seek the essence of the true Church -- His Bride. He is the Head, and She, the parts of His body. She is the culmination of His will, known by Her fruit -- sweet fruit you can never ignore.
She is not a sight to be desired. Dark and beautiful, she carries the features of the One who is more beautiful than all of mankind. She is His mirror, reflecting His glory. They are one. All He has is Hers. Her beauty and holiness come from Him.
The Church is also the salt of the Earth. If She decays, the flood will come and cannot be stopped, and this time it will not be a flood of mere water. If She decays, more evil will come! More darkness will come! More death will come!
She carries the Spirit of Life, hovering over the face of the world's destruction. She brings the Spirit of Immortality, penetrating to the "dens and caves of the earth."6 She holds the Spirit of Vastness, breaking down walls, prisons, and dungeons.7 She bears the Spirit of Guidance, challenging the delusions of the world.8
She is the light of the world: A city of light placed upon a hill, scattering the darkness with missiles of light. She sets alight hearts, illuminating back alleys, and mansions alike. However, if the light becomes darkness, there is no longer a distinction between a blind man, and a man who can see; no difference between a wise man, and a fool; and no dividing line between a priest and one of the sheep. All alike will be confused and lost. "[T]o deceive, if possible, even the elect." 9
She is the voice for those without voice -- the dreamer for those whose dreams are crushed under the weight of faithlessness, hunger, poverty, humiliation, or oppression. She is the bulwark of those abused within the gloomy, dark confines of dungeons: dungeons of deaf-and-dumb selfishness -- dungeons of tyrants. She is the advocate for those tortured to the very bone -- rejected and cast out by the world -- those who have fallen by the wayside -- those who have been cast as refuse upon the world's rubbish heap.
She neither abandons the naked and cold, nor sends the stranger away to search for warmth apart from her. She does not withhold her tables of blessing from the hungry. Her crumbs do not fall upon the road -- she does not throw her bread and her holiness to the needy in vain. A cup of cold water she will not spill, and it quenches real thirst, not just an illusion. She refuses to hoard those treasures eaten by moths, or consumed by rust and decay.
She refuses to serve two masters. She abhors worldly riches, instead believing and trusting in God alone. Hers is not like the faith of demons that believe and tremble, and are still trembling!
In contrast, she takes this creed to heart: Do not worship anything but God.
Yet, she also loves mankind, valuing the souls of man as something of great worth to God that she, too, covets deeply. She understands that Man is greater than the Sabbath -- greater than gold -- greater than the offering box -- greater than the whole earth and all that is in it -- greater than earthly authorities. He is the crown of all creation.10
You will find Her in the middle of the battlefield, head held high, fighting for the truth -- not compromising -- not relenting -- not fighting the wind, as a man might beat the air with his fists. No, She is fighting against spiritual hosts and principalities with all awareness, power and might.11
She refuses to flee from loving engagement with mankind. Ivory towers, high mountaintops, and the highest heavens are not Her place of rest. All that is separate, all that is far removed from the affairs of men, and all that is unreal, illogical, and saddled with superstition is not Her place of retreat.
Yet, She will not mix with the world as one of the world's own. Although she is in the world, She is not of the world -- not part of its body -- not one of its cells. She does not reflect its likeness, and is not made in its image. Instead, She stands separate, not mixing indiscriminately with the people of the world, yet, at the same time, not fleeing to hide her light.
She does not arm herself as the porcupine, fitted with defensive quills aimed at those who offend her -- withdrawing by Herself, within Herself, and living for only Herself! "I do not pray that you should take them from the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one."12
Her salt and Her light distinguish Her from the world, as one apart. Still, She carries within herself all the particulars -- all the details -- of human realities. She is mindful of human needs, frailties, pains, and dreams, while, at the same time, treasuring in Her heart a river so wide and deep it cannot be crossed -- a river that satisfies the deepest thirst of the land for Good News and sweet, soul-drenching rain from heaven.
She has been entrusted with an authority that holds the keys to true freedom -- freedom that breaks the inner bondage of the heart, unravels the threads of darkness, and unbinds the straps of our coffins. Against myths, denial, and alienation, She stands fit and ready to fight for righteousness, truth and justice.
Her presence in the world is not decorative, entertaining, or amusing. Neither does She exist to fill the desires of Byzantine churchmen or philosophers devoid of spiritual understanding -- those who merely host charity dinners, or hold cultural dialogues.
She does not wield a thick rod, raising it over the heads of sinners. She hurls no stones at those who are caught committing the sinful acts of the World.
She holds neither the sword of halal nor haram13 to the people's throats. She conducts no courts of inspection like the merciless Pharisees -- the master priests -- who attempt to examine the conscience and intentions with laser-sharp probing -- all the while wielding a whip over the people.
To the contrary, She is humble, not arrogant. Unlike the gluttons seated at the head of the tables, she stoops to wash the feet of the dust-laden crowds -- the good and the evil, the righteous and the wicked. She serves all, not discriminating among the favored and those maligned unfairly by the world.
The Church is also a genuine presence. She is not a spiritualized, imagined, or vaporous presence; or, conversely, merely a pragmatic presence that shamelessly justifies any means by which to reach Her goals. She knows holy goals reach fruition through holy means.
She is real: Not neutral, not gray, not a common thing, not usual.
She is, or She is not. Either, She is completely present, or totally absent: a living, active body, or a stinking, neglected corpse left at the roadside of the world.
She is the light of the world, and the salt of the earth -- a genesis for the blowing winds that bring true freedom, working with the Father and Son who are "working till now."14 She shares the heart of God, "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."15
She rises upon the evil and upon the good alike:16 Calling to the sick and to all who think they are healthy -- looking for the lost sheep, as well as the Prodigal Son.
She cares for, and embraces the ninety-nine. She deals with people, not as numbers, or cases, or stepping stones to Paradise, but as beings created in the image of God. She carries within herself the essence of the Savior: His features, His teachings, and His heart.
However, the Church will not be the true face of God until She becomes like Christ, who is a Stumbling Stone to all but the children. Yet even now, in caves and dens and holes in the ground; and in apartments nestled amid millions crowded into large cities bordered by miles of shifting sands, She carries His Stone.
The World rejects God's Stumbling Stone. He tries to remove the Stumbling Stone17 from his way: to break it to pieces -- to consume and assimilate it with his will of steel. Even so, whoever imagines that he owns the borders and limits of the Stumbling Stone is just a pitifully poor beggar. Whoever believes a fantasy that he has shattered or consumed it, has won the world, but lost his soul.
Know this: everything you build will be tested and tried when the rain falls down, the winds blow, and the storms uproot you. You will either fall, or not fall; collapse or stand firm; burn like straw, or shine like gold.
The world was amazed at the God who became flesh, and is still amazed. Thousands of souls, even millions, still quiver, and they discover their Savior and Lord -- they believe and are born again --they change and grow and find that all the old things are gone, and everything becomes new.
He is desired among all people, all nations: Our Lord and Savior, and His glorious Church, to whom He is the Head, and who follows His footsteps and His commandments, as She completes the road of incarnation that He began 2,000 years ago.
He is the Light, and She the light of the world.18 He is the Vine, and She the branches.19
The World despises Her just as he despised Him, because if She was of the world, the World would have loved his own.20
The Church is not of the World. He persecuted her Groom and will persecute Her, too. The more She lives in the righteousness of Christ Jesus, the more persecution, the more rejection, and the more She will be despised. Yet, She, like Her Groom, will continue to love until the end.
"[Y]es the time is coming that whoever kills you will think he offers God service."21 Here, He asks for Her because She is in the World: His representative, His ambassador and the sound of His trumpet, so that all His members be one, as He and the Father are one.
"Oh righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved me may be in them, and I in them."22
Yet, here the World, 2,000 years later, still does not truly know Him. He did not truly swim through the river beyond crossing, for whoever thinks himself a good swimmer in this limitless river is but a corpse lying at the bottom of a lake. Whoever thinks he has completely known God is a fool. In his heart there is no God.23
If Christ is the Stumbling Stone, then the Church is the carrier of the Stumbling Stone. It is Her crown, and the source of Her pride and delight.
She never has and never will compromise the truth and remove Him from Herself. She will not disown the Stumbling Stone, no matter what persecution or cunning the world employs to remove Him, or to shatter our Rock -- our Cornerstone.
He who goes around Her is a snake twisting the truth. He who consigns Her to the shadows -- the sidelines -- shall perish. He shall lose himself forever.
And, all those who deal with Her in the same way they would deal with a thing common and familiar, shall remain erect as a tombstone -- tottering as an idol, with their tongues making clownish movements, as if speaking, but not; listening with all attention as if learning, but not; eyes glistening, as if in pain, but not. Truly they do not talk, do not learn, and do not hurt.
Christ is the Stumbling Stone, and the Church is the proud, delighted, and capable bearer of this Stumbling Stone. She is the warrior.24
Christ is the symphony in the midst of the world's cacophony. He is fresh air for a world whose lungs are choked with pollution and corruption. He is sudden stillness in the middle of what is falsely called "the way," and misleadingly called "the truth." He is the quickening that comes without consent, and on account of no reason -- except for this one, deep, and hidden reason: "the Father's attraction" that happens while you, a sinner, are still in the dead state of selfishness.
The world 2,000 years ago was needy and hungry -- and still is -- to have its death by heart attack, so as to be able to receive the blowing of the winds of life.
The world's copper skies, and parched, cracked lands longed to be pierced by an arrow -- a loop -- an end which is a beginning -- a spirit of rescue.
The Stumbling Stone brings fullness of life -- creativity, vigor, and with them, strife -- to the Church. While impotence, iniquitousness, and misplaced veneration afflict the world, the Stumbling Stone brings
freedom. When doors, windows and walls are closed, and our senses are powerless to guide, and we have become hostages of the "secret place" -- hostages of rituals, slaves to the letter of the law -- prisoners without hope of ransom -- the Stumbling Stone brings life!
The Stumbling Stone is Jesus Christ: God manifested in the flesh.
The Jews stumbled on Him in the past, and they still do today. Others do, too. The question I raise before you is this: In order to convince the world to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, would the solution be to remove the Stumbling Stone: His incarnation, birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, and His message? Would the solution be to remove all this so that the door to heaven becomes wide and the road to life becomes easy?
Many Christians -- both of yesterday and today, with good intentions that I doubt will serve as their defense -- in ignorance or intentionally, I don't know, but the Stumbling Stone knows -- want to break down the narrow door in exchange for a wide door. They want to exchange the road of suffering and pain for an easy road that not only allows for one lost sheep to pass through, but all the ninety-nine as well!
The difference between the one and the ninety-nine is great numerically. Great numbers appeal to the world. However, is the greater number to Her benefit? Does it honor Christ, the Stumbling Stone? Does it befit the true Church?
They try to simplify what is as deep as eternity, and make it superficial until it becomes vulgar -- something to be roughly handled -- something to be cracked like a code. They make you think you can know Him, and know Him too well, all the while trying to simplify His mystery -- a mystery reflected darkly in a mirror that we will not ever grasp fully in this life.25
They try and keep on trying -- to win souls for whom? Their churches, or Christ? To the wide door, or the Stumbling Stone?
They attempt to offer simple, shallow answers to deep, great questions. How do they do this? By avoiding, removing, or shattering the Stumbling Stone. Why do they do this? It's done in an effort to win souls to the Stumbling Stone.
But, how can you remove Him, and, at the same time, still want to win them to Him? How can you deny Him, and yet still believe in Him? Can you have both the eyes of Judas the betrayer and John the cherished one at the same time?
Woe to him who preaches Christianity without a Stumbling Stone! Woe to him who softly, convincingly, and approvingly preaches something sweet and gentle in the name of Christianity. Woe to him who rationalizes the miraculous; who betrays the faith, and distorts it into an ordinary, commonplace wisdom. He removes the possibilities of the Stumbling Stone! Woe to every faithless watcher and spectator, sitting on the sidelines only to record false proof to win friends to Christianity by removing the possibilities of the Stumbling Stone! Oh for the amount of time lost in grandiose activities designed to make Christianity very acceptable -- very worldly -- very convenient and appropriate! Woe for Christianity formed through the credentials of the world, only to suit the world, conforming to it, and carrying its features.
The Stumbling Stone says "No" to the world, and says "Make peace with God." He says, "You will have hardship in the world, but have faith for I have conquered the world."26 He says, "Know that those who rejected the Stumbling Stone in the past will reject us, too."27 This Stumbling Stone is my lover.
So, if you are afraid to love openly, then fear openly. Don't conceal it. Expose it. Uncover it. For exposing fear makes it melt like wax. Spread it before the face of the Son. Then it will vanish, and normal, healthy fear will take its natural place in you, as it becomes a warning bell to save you, and not a fearsome prison to shut you up.
"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."28
Go! Tell everyone about Him. Tell them the blind can see, the lame can walk, the deaf can hear, and demons will flee. Tell them the dead will arise and the blasphemous will repent. His enemies will bow down before Him, because He is the Stone that causes men to stumble.29
Do we consider the incarnation merely a means to win souls, or is it an expression of the essence of Christian life? What do you think of "rice" Christians -- those who provide necessities of life on the condition of accepting Christ as a Savior? Does Christianity really teach that goals justify means even if the goal is to save souls? Does incarnation really mean removing all the barriers and stumbling stones (even the essential) to justify winning others to Jesus Christ?
The true Church -- manifested on the battlefield, contending as one in the heart of the world -- is light -- light that confuses and shatters the darkness.
The true Church is justice that stands before the dark, shameless injustice of the world, because She knows that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.30
The true Church defends the oppressed and persecuted -- a voice for those without a voice.
The true Church is equality in the face of social classes, sexual discrimination, and economic injustice. She is there revealing the light of Christ wherever there is the gluttonous satisfaction of the world amidst agnostic hunger.
In Her, there is no male or female, no slave or freeman.31 In Her there is freedom from all bondage -- both inward and outward -- for "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
In Her there is salvation for all, love for all, both evil and good, black or white, slave or free, rich or poor. All are one in Christ, and in His indomitable Church!
Radical, She, like Him, seeks to change the world: to improve and enrich the lives of others. She spreads the fragrance of unconditional love, freely given. She is all this, and she does all this because the world before the Savior is one thing, and the world after the Savior another thing: A stinking lake before the Church, a flowing river after -- scattered bones before the Church, an army of love after.
For the world before the Church is one thing -- a man before the Church is one thing -- And, I suppose both should be different things afterward.
-- A Muslim convert in Egypt
Letter Two: Blind Man From A Nation Of Blind Men
If man insists on discussing the secret of life we have to remind that this is an everyday secret -- the secret of familiar things -- that accompany us from birth to death. It is the secret we see on a smiling face, loving eye, welcoming hand, also in a suppressed sigh, hidden doubt, closed lips, uncertain word, distracted thought. It is the secret we know each day because we live it each day and because we never want to lose it.
-- Dr. Zakaria Ibrahim, The Problem of Life
I grew up in a rich family. We are three brothers, and I am the youngest in my family.
My father had a good position in an important ministry of our government. My mother comes from a high-class family that is very influential in society. Therefore, my father was intent on providing a good quality education for us. So, like my older brothers, I also went to one of the French schools.
I can honestly say I had a very spoiled and comfortable childhood. I was the center of attention of all the adults in the family. I was able to pursue hobbies, and spend time practicing these hobbies whenever I pleased.
I had a strong fantasy for the piano, and I took piano lessons, because my mother also loved playing the piano. She used to play for us and we would gather around her to listen to her music.
At a later stage of my schooling, when most of my teachers were monks, some of my family expressed their concerns that I was rejecting everything that was Arabic or Islamic that I had learned since my childhood. I always compared the songs the monks sang, and the organ music they played in the school chapel, to the reading of the Qur'an and the loud voices during the Friday speech. I saw how the monks and priests treated us, and I was shocked at the way the Muslims and the Sheikhs dealt with people. I was disappointed in people, especially during my Islamic religion classes, which were a burden to my heart.
During these classes, I had to memorize what I did not understand, and I was required to believe in things I saw on children's programs and perceived as fiction. With time, I started to adapt. I realized that church, icons, and songs are things that belong to Christians alone. They started teaching me Islamic teachings, in spite of my being otherwise inclined.
Yet, even as I read about Islamic history and civilization, I was ridiculed by many of the strict Muslims, because I was not intent on following all the Islamic practices. I surprised them with the information I had gained through reading, as well as with my questions regarding the person of Mohammed bin Abdulla. They cursed me and called me an infidel, especially when I asked them to compare Burak, which Mohammed rode32 on Israa33 and Miraj,34 to Walt Disney characters.
Years passed and my adolescence years were spent rebelling against tradition; but, from time to time I made sure to read religious books as a means of gaining knowledge about something that was all around me. I also read English and French literature and drama, especially since my parents encouraged this.
This reading gave me an idea about the New Testament, for this literature included many Bible verses, referring to it often in many of these writings.
I was destined to live a life comparing Islam and Christianity, and as a result of the conflicts between my education and behavior -- between what I believed, and what I had been raised to accept and respect -- I ended up with a double personality. The killing and the terrorism that overwhelmed our country made me read more about the teaching of Jihad and the legislation regarding the morality of killing in Islam.
After I entered the university, I saw how students that belonged to the Islamic groups harassed their fellow Christian students. I supported the Christians, and would often defend them. As a result, the Muslim students were always suspicious of me. I never swore, or grew my beard, or donned the long flowing dress, or used the distinctive Islamic perfume and swak35.
To me they were things that did not belong in the civilized world today. I felt these were tribal things and Bedouin customs. I could see all these discrepancies, because I traveled a lot during summer vacations and I have seen how, in the West, they tolerate all those who disagree with them, unlike the Muslims, who believe in hating the other who is different -- even fighting him until he believes in Islam.
My real journey with the Lord began at the end of 1999. I was going through a very difficult time in my life. Suddenly, I lost a lot of money I had invested in a business project; I left my job, which I had had since graduating from college; my mother, who was the closest person to me, died; and, my fiancée, who was the only girl I loved, left me.
The picture of my life looked very grim, as I listened to the people around me blaming and cursing me, saying that what I was going through was a divine punishment because of my rebellion against Islam. Truly, it was a very tough time, and most of the people around me deserted me.
One of my relatives advised me to read the Qur'an. Honestly, I admit I fasted in case that should bring me forgiveness and draw me closer to God so that I might find peace and inner comfort. I did as my friend advised, and I prayed and read the Qur'an, but nothing changed.
I truly was not convinced that the Qur'an was able to give me peace in these difficult circumstances, because it was inspired only for the prophet, his friends, his wives and his enemies -- for his life period only, and not for me living in the Twenty-first Century.
During this time, God brought a Christian friend to me, who was a true believer, and a real help to me in this difficult period of my life. I talked to him about all my difficult circumstances, and he welcomed me into his home, and his family received me warmly.
I talked to him about my Bible reading, and he was surprised at how much information I had about the Bible and Christianity. One time, while I was at his home, I watched a Christian television channel. The program presented testimonies of people who were sick and weary, and the living Christ touched them and healed them. From that moment on, I watched that channel regularly, because I was drawn to the personality of Christ, who loves and cares for the worries of people. He did not punish them with sickness, but rather saved them from it. He was truly the Savior.
Here, I began to see Him with the eyes of someone who seeks Him, wanting Him to help me in my difficult circumstances. I only wanted Him to love me. I read this wonderful verse: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."36
One night in my room, I pictured Christ, with me laying my head on His shoulder and crying and saying, "I want to cry in front of you because I feel you are the only one who loved me so much, and you were crucified and died to declare this love." I found peace, and I read more about the person who went about doing good.37 This perfection, this greatness, can only be found in God.
One of the churches in our area had organized revival meetings, so I asked my friend to help me attend this revival. The Word was clear and direct that the chance is open for whomever wants to come to God, because He loves everyone. I listened to the song that says:
Create in me a clean heart, O God
And let your Spirit flow within me renewing the ways of life
Cleanse me from my sins, and lead my steps
May the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O God
I fell to my knees, and my tears were flowing from my eyes. After the meeting, I went home and watched the Christian channel and the program was about Muslims who had given their lives to Christ.
I needed courage to take this step. So I went to one of the foreign pastors, who was well known for his love and great knowledge. I asked him to tell me about Christ and Christianity. We met several times, and he explained many theological lessons to me. He explained the Bible and church practice in a very easy and beautiful way. Before he left the country, he explained the verse that says: "If you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts."38 He concluded by saying, "Christ loves you very much and He is longing for you. What will you do?"
My answer was: "I love Him and I want to follow Him."
When I told my Christian friend that I had accepted the Lord, he looked at me with tears in his eyes. He then took me with him to church and introduced me to the pastor and I attended church regularly. Six months later I was baptized.
Since then, I have carried my cross. I had problems with the authorities. I was summoned several times, because I refused my friends' attacking and criticizing Christianity in a barbaric way. I also refused to go along and pray with them at the times of prayer, even though they insisted I go with them. I was fired another time, and I had a confrontation with some of the strict Muslims after I refused to say El Shahada39 and repent. This is why the National Security officer questioned me, as he had heard that I had become a Christian.
The hand of God was with me all through this difficult time of my life. One day, I was doing my devotions before I went to bed. I heard a sweet voice saying: "Be not afraid, for I am with you. I have called you by your name, you are mine." Three days after that, I found a job in Cairo with one of the foreign companies, and, at that point, I became free to go to meetings. Then, I started sharing the Gospel with everyone I had a chance to talk to, whether in public transportation or public places. I met friends and brothers like me who do this ministry, and I went with them to preach the gospel, for we know the language of our relatives from an Islamic background, and this is why we are closer to them.
During this time I met a girl from a Christian background, and we fell in love. This relationship is a big problem in the Middle East, because the churches do not like to marry their girls off to Christianized men like me so that we don't have Muslim children, according to Islamic Sharia, which says the child's religion follows the father's. Although the church testifies for my faith, still my ID says I am a Muslim.
We both fought to be able to marry until her family gave their consent, after intervention from believers, and prayer and fasting. They became convinced that it is a relationship ordained by the Lord. Now we are engaged to be married a month from now. I hope everyone who reads my testimony will pray for my wife and me, and our home, that the peace and love and protection of God would be there.
Signed: I was blind but now I see.
Letter Three: The World In His Infancy
Man has created idols throughout the ages. He offered them sacrifices -- loyalty and submission -- praise and worship. In return he expected happiness, but found only fantasies and delusions.
-- A Muslim convert in Egypt
"Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifested in the flesh."40
The World in his infancy, in his first stages -- babbling like an infant -- crawling and exploring like a toddler -- climbing up the ladder of growth, development, knowledge and stability -- This World before the Church is one thing.
He had his own imagination and opinions about everything -- especially about the essence of his being and the source of everything that exists. He had questions about God.
He also had his uncertainties and fears concerning God. His were childish dreams -- childish desires to know God and to see His face. This longing to know had never once ceased since his birth.
This dream, this hope and supplication, was urgent in its desire to know God -- to truly know Him: To know His thoughts and His will. Perhaps, then, the haziness clouding both sight and insight would be removed. Maybe then, the curtain of the spiritual reality would be torn, sorrow would flee, and the heavy darkness would be shattered -- a darkness that blinds the vision.
This was the longing of the World in his infancy: that the darkness would evaporate -- would dissipate -- in the presence of the light of the knowledge of God.
Then, the World, as he grew from infancy into childhood, and, later into adolescence, stumbled in the corners of the earth: His worship arising, at times, from fear, while, at other times, from boasting. He imagined himself a semi-god -- a shadow of a god -- sanctifying a people, and defiling the nations. He killed in the name of the gods, showing mercy only to those whom He fancied.
He offered sacrifices, seeking a night's uninterrupted sleep with a clear conscience -- worshipping an idol his hands created -- offering pledges and lighting candles, and burning incense to bribe the heavens!
He imagined God created Paradise only for him and those like him. His soul never quivered in this thought. His heart never wept. His mind never understood that a desire for an eternity spent in a paradise apart from his neighbor would breed only poverty and misery of the soul. In ignorance, he dreamed of seeing his enemies cast into hell, along with all those who objected to his ideas and ways.
But, who were his neighbors? Not understanding the true meaning of these words, "my neighbors," he refused to acknowledge that his neighbors were all those who were, and are, unjustly confined by detestable cultural apartheid, or separated into those artificially contrived camps of separate denominations. He failed to see his neighbors are not only those related to him by blood, but are all of humanity.
The World in his infancy continued to search: questioning -- lost -- uncertain. Then, in the fullness of time, the World saw what no eye had ever seen before. He heard what no ear had ever heard before. He touched what no man or angel had ever touched before.
He saw the face of the Living God: the Most Holy, the Most Honored One.
He saw Him face to face: not just a reflection in a darkened mirror, and no longer veiled in mystery. The World saw Him -- no longer in a metaphor or allegory -- no longer in a code, or reflected in a symbol. No, he saw God himself.
"Who has seen me has seen the Father"41
"God was manifested in the flesh"42
"The brightness of his glory, and the express image of His person"43
The supplications, the prayers and fasting, the hope and the cries of centuries: at last the longing of the World was fulfilled! "God was manifested in the flesh."
Those who had thought God hated His enemies, and sinners -- all who do evil and infidels -- found instead that He is a sun who shines upon all: both the good and the bad. He is a sky who rains upon all: both the righteous and the wicked.
They found Him a loving God. In fact, they found Him to be Love itself.
The World was amazed--he had never seen a One such as this before or since. He had never seen such love as that which would say: "Love your enemies, and bless those who curse you."44
He had never seen such a One doing good to the abusive -- forgiving both big sins and small ones -- deliberate sins and intentional sins -- and casting them all into a sea of forgetfulness! He had never envisioned such a One preaching good tidings to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captive, and opening the prison gates to those who are bound.45 Who had ever seen a One such as this? He guides the lost with His love, in love and to love!
The World suddenly discovered that its veil had been torn. He realized all he thought he knew about God had only been an illusion, a fantasy, and, ultimately, a lie. All he had known before was only his own sick and fragile fantasies -- fantasies of a limited and mortal being.
He had imagined God to be cruel, arrogant, and tyrannical -- One before whom no sin or fault would be allowed to merely pass by -- One whose angels watch, spy and report to Him everything big and small -- every audible whisper or hidden lust. The God of the World's imagination blesses His followers, but curses those who oppose Him.
The World remembered this saying: "Opposing Him breaks any bond of amity." Pleased only with slaves, the God the World imagined refuses all but blind obedience.
The World said:
"Whoever puts questions to God is cast out of His presence."
"Whoever dares to doubt shall surely die."
"Whatever is given needs be accepted -- be it good or bad, stone or bread, snake or fish, curse or blessing. For a slave is born, sold, purchased and dies without his consent -- without choice. He is helpless and lives only to do what he is commanded to do."
And so, the World before Christ was a slave -- a flock worshipping the god of the flock -- living in adultery, sin and captivity.
The World before Christ dealt with women as something merely to own -- goods to be bought, used and enslaved -- temptresses who fall easily into sin, far beneath men, belonging in tents, palaces, and in the end, assigned to tombs.
The World after Christ is another thing altogether.
-- A Muslim convert in Egypt
Letter Four: Trumpets of Pride
Happiness: is it here, or only there? The One who wipes away our tears: is He here, or only there? The One who sets us free: is He here, or only there? The One who satisfies the thirst of our soul for righteousness: is He here or only there? The One who sets us free to soar: Is He here, or only there? The One who treats our wounds, heals our diseases, and clothes our nakedness: Is He here, or only there?
Or, do we have only here a Christian army that kills its wounded: a powerful, pious, spiritual army competing for whom among them shall throw the first stone, for whom shall condemn? Are these nothing more than manifestations in the likeness of angels of light that do to us what nightmares do?
Barabbas, after he was set free, now rules.
Now he rules!!
-- A Muslim convert in Egypt
In Christ, man and woman are one -- both with sound mind, emotions, and will. She praises, prays, creates, and fights against evil.
Is there any record of a woman denying Christ at the cross? Does anyone remember a woman turning her back to the crucified, or leaving to go fish with the disciples? Did not the female disciples wait until dawn of the third day, then went to His tomb only to find Him risen and victorious?
Who laid down all she owned: The rich man, or the widow who gave two mites? Who washed the feet of the Lord of Lords -- the Master's feet: Peter, John, or her? Who took the expensive perfume intended for the groom: The male disciples, or her? Who denied Him three times? Who betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver? Who committed suicide after betraying Jesus, and who is it that betrays him even now: men or her?
Women, too, are created in the image of God:
"Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'"46
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."47
Before Christ came, man divorced her for the slightest reason, and sold her for the cheapest price, because marriage served the man: his desires, his lusts, and his need for heirs to carry on the family name.
The natural result of all this inequity: If she did not fulfill the "sacred" and ever-changing requirements, laid down by the fickleness of man, she was cast out of her home onto the mean streets of divorce. After he had maimed her with the sharp claws of his desires -- after he had eaten his fill of her lovely fruit -- He threw her upon the altar of fraternalism as an offering to be further abused by other men. He had finished using her.
After God was made manifest in the flesh, He said no more divorce -- no more slavery. True manhood is not animal virility, and true womanhood is not something for man to use and abuse, according to his whims.
After Christ, a man with his heart, mind, and soul, and a woman with her heart, mind, and soul will join together, becoming one flesh48 -- one being -- like Christ and His Church.
As the saying goes:
"Cursed is your lover if she could not redeem you at the time of your cross, and cursed is your lover if he could not redeem you at the time of your cross."
Before Christ, the world lived by an "eye for eye and tooth for tooth."49
But Jesus said:
"I tell you not to resist an evil person. But, whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."50
"Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."51
"[You] shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."52
Is there love greater than this? I dare you to find it. Is there? If you find it, I boldly tell you to follow it -- follow it now!
The World responds to perfect love by blowing his trumpets of pride -- displaying his offering in front of the people so they can see and praise and honor the giver. On television screens, and on the pages of newspapers, the World blows his trumpet so as to be heard and known by all -- even the deaf! This is nothing more than a court of hypocrites -- a company of corruption that gives only to garner praise from men, and to take their seats in the first rows and upon thrones.
Whereas, God manifested in the flesh -- the one who forsook Himself, taking on the image of a servant -- the one whose humility is incomparable -- He lived what He taught. He himself did what He told others to do.
The human mind cannot comprehend the depths of such meekness. Instead, humanity is accustomed to audaciousness and nauseating arrogance.
Right now, consider the question: Would you accept a humble God, or do you want Him only when you perceive Him as almighty and omnipotent? Would you accept a God who loves you and respects your freedom, or rather, a God who will enslave you -- tantalize you -- frighten you?
"[W]hen you do a charitable deed do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."53 Did you hear Him, when He spoke these words? Did you hear Him when He said your offering, your giving, and your love should be done in secret, without seeking the praises of men?
Instead, "[T]hey love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets,"54 in order to show people their outward piety -- their decorated tombs that contain rotten bones.
Here is the true prayer:
"[W]hen you pray go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him."55
The whole world is hoarding -- plundering -- stealing -- cheating. All means are justifiable for the sake of obtaining earthly treasure.
Yet, Christ says: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."56
In the face of God manifested in flesh, the world has only two choices: either to be like a wise man building his house upon a rock, or like a foolish man who builds his house on the sand.57
-- Muslim converts in Egypt
Letter Five: God Lives Here
Total Authority is total corruption.
Tyrannical religious authority imprisons souls. Archaic religious authority assassinates minds.
Dreams are of two kinds:
Some imaginary and some real.
Patient endurance will not realize the former, whereas the latter will manifest like the dawning of the day.
-- A Muslim convert in Egypt
Your relatives, the people of your household
The people of your language, country, old religion
How will your eternity be without them?
So, be light for them
Salt for their spirits
And, do not hide your light
What use, what value is there for a light that does not shine?
What greatness is there for a light that does not give warmth?
How will you sleep the night seeing the others losing their way without your light?
What benefit, if a man wins the whole world and loses himself?
Loses his relatives forever?
"I" is a word accompanied or followed, in the past, with the amazing spontaneity, for which we Muslims are envied. "I" -- God save me from the word "I"! It is said as if, "I" in itself is polytheistic, a crime, and a great evil.58
Yet, who created "I"? Isn't it God? (All praise be to Him!) Did He create us so that He might live on our remains? Did He give us life only to place us in His battlefield so that He always conquers, and we always lose? And, in the end He shouts -- for whom to hear I do not know: "Who reigns today, the one and only conqueror!"
Forgive me. Those lies used to irritate me a lot. Nonetheless, I am a girl from a simple, pious family. I have three sisters and a younger brother. You see, my father always dreamed, like most Easterners, to have a son.
The male family member, in our Islamic community -- in our Bedouin "jungle" -- is like the lion that is due all the rights, while we females receive all the duties.
My father is a government employee. As you may know, in our countries half the population is employed by the government, and, as a result, the outcome of elections are 99 percent guaranteed. This is because those whom you feed and shelter will think a hundred times before rebelling against you, or saying no to you. We are all subjects in the court of our inspired rulers and "kings."
My mother is a virtuous woman -- a true home keeper who cares for all of us and never thinks of herself -- like all our mothers do. We live in a big common district, in a city that is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world, with a civilization that has amazed everyone except us. I often felt it was a civilization that glorified death more than life.
Yet, I came to discover that its interest in death came from the strength and intensity of its obsession with life and eternity. But, here it was, in the time of regression, welcoming the invasion -- the invasion that is falsely called the Islamic Conquest. Ancient Egypt was consequently corrupted -- Arabized with the language of the invading Bedouins -- dredged to become an arid place, parched like its invaders, with "neither plant nor water." Bedouinism does not accept the other, nor does it respect a differing opinion or criticism.
As it is customary for families with daughters -- "timed bombs," as they dub them -- they are extremely protective and fearful for their daughters. They shield them from neighbors, friendships, television, windows, books -- even the few solitary moments they are sometimes caught enjoying -- as if it is a crime to spend time with yourself thinking about what they have done to you, what they have engraved into your being, be it characteristics, habits, values, or traditions. These they have instilled in your being in the same random way they place things on a shelf with hands that know no sense of beauty; know neither how to make it, nor to preserve it. You become a stranger even to yourself. You don't know yourself, because you have never, even once, shared in forming your own features.
All this confinement and restriction made us isolated, not knowing anything about the outer world except what they would allow us to know.
My parents are not really to be blamed. They did to us what their parents did to them -- what our governments do to their peoples. They shut all the windows and doors, so that we don't hear, or see, or speak.
Governments, and families are apprehensive of intermingling between the sexes, cultures, peoples, and knowledge, because intermingling makes you compare, discover and know, (and knowledge is half the cure). Then, you rebel and revolt, which is exactly what they do not want.
A branch of our family tree lived in a neighboring city. Among them was a maternal aunt we were allowed to visit during the summer months. Believe me, I do not exaggerate, when I say that my visit to this aunt was like freedom from my prison. So, when I say that this little beautiful town was to me the city of dreams, allow me to stop the train of my life at this station, because this is the start of my beautiful story -- a story I love due to the many choices I subsequently made.
City of Dreams
A city of dreams -- a city full of trees, beaches and quiet, provoking in one the beginning of light, revolution, beauty and innocence, yet with bold inquisitiveness, allowing one to know oneself as one truly is, without any masks, or fragile excuses, as all becomes bare and clear in nature's magical mirror.
My aunt's house is like a city -- a city created in her image, carrying her characteristics. I say this because my cousins Maged, the firstborn son, his brother Assem, and their friends are busy like bees in a beehive. It is a crowded house, but one that respects your privacy, and does not trespass under any condition. This is strange in our community, which trespasses upon all privacy without any apology or logical reason.
In this house -- my aunt's house -- I had almost complete freedom, at least in my own eyes. Yet, it was a kind of freedom that made you feel responsible without any supervision or guardianship.
Besides my maternal aunt's house, there was my paternal aunt's apartment. This aunt lived abroad, and her apartment was like a private colony for Maged and his friends, Basel, and Sameh. They stayed there all the time, along with other friends from every color, race and religion, who visited them.
I cannot describe how shocked I was -- the kind of shock they call "cultural shock" -- the first time I went to the city of dreams, and entered this colony: the apartment where Maged and his friends stayed.
One could not help but be amazed and astonished. Books and magazines were everywhere, along with paper and pens; political songs by Sheikh Emam and Ahmed Fouad Nejm; poetry by Amal Donkol, Mahmoud Darwish, Salah Abdelsabour, Mazfar Elnawab, Naguib Sorour, Nazar Kabbany, Taghour, Pablo Nerouda, Lurka and many others; books by Farag Fouda, Maxim Jorkey; novels by Dostoyevsky, books by Hussein Marwa, books about Elhalaj and Ibn Araby. It was a treasure of knowledge open for all, and to all, without any reservations, and with endless, heated discussions that started in the morning and continued until the wee hours of the night. All are awake, afraid to sleep lest they miss details they cannot make up for later. It was a time of amazing intimacy among all, and more amazing innocence in this colony -- I mean this apartment -- with its special laws, as if existing in another country, or even another planet.
Excuse me for the lengthy details, but I only wanted to give you a picture of what I witnessed and observed during the summer months. It was in this little colony that I heard for the first time about true freedom -- about friendship between males and females -- about religions -- about Marxism and Capitalism -- about the different schools of literary criticism -- about legend and fantasy -- about all the prohibited things: every red line, every taboo and sacred area that I, and many others like me, were raised to believe.
Basel, Maged and his friends, who were young men -- the oldest of whom, believe it or not, was barely 14 years old -- broke taboos and crossed forbidden lines with amazing deftness: with the courage of butterflies when they throw themselves into the flames and light. It is truly said that education has no age or language or color or sex or religion.
The summer months for me were a time of rebirth and freedom, which<