Called to a higher purpose
I was born and brought up in northern Iraq and am from a middle-class Kurdish family. My mother died when I was four years old, and my father refused to marry again. He took good care of me and loved me, like any other good father.
My father was very concerned about my Islamic education. He began teaching me the Arabic alphabet, Koran and Islamic law at a very young age. He had a nice voice, and he used to read Koran loudly at night before bed time. I couldn’t understand it but it sounded very nice to me. Later, I used to imagine his voice for years after his death whenever I needed some spirituality. I was able to read Koran at the age of six and started praying and fasting during Ramadhan at the age of nine.
During the summer holidays I used to go to a nearby Mosque to continue learning about Koran, and how to interpret it, as well as learning about the lives of Mohammad and the Caliphs. At high school I joined a student group that belonged to an Islamic moderate political party. We had regular weekly meetings where the Islamic way of life was discussed and how to be an active Muslim student. Meanwhile I continued learning Islamic law (fiq-h), how to read Koran in the right way (tajwid), Hadith, Mohammad’s life (Sira) and Arabic Grammar (Nahu). By the time I graduated from high school I was a full member in the party. I went to college at the age of 18. The university was in another city. There, I came to know more students who were also members in the Islamic party.
At this time many questions began to form in my mind and I couldn’t find answers for them, as “what is the purpose of life”, “why do we have to worship and follow God’s law”? Answers like “And I have not created the Jinn and the men but that they may worship Me” (Koran, 51:57, Al-Thariat, aya 57) did not satisfy me. I was convinced there must be a higher purpose, something more meaningful than worship in a master-slave relationship. Furthermore, I was troubled by the facts I could see around me every day and also in history books, like the life and character of Mohammad and the violence that we deal with now and which is also apparent in Koran and Islamic history.
Within the first year of college I lost my faith. Then I began actively searching for answers, first among Iraqi Christians who are very cautious to share their “religion”, then among the Yezidis, followers of an ancient Kurdish religion, then in atheism. Nevertheless, I was in peace with God most of this time; I knew he exists but I didn’t know the way to Him or sometimes didn’t even believe one has to be connected to Him anyway.
Years later, one day I met Walter, a man in his sixties. We talked for about an hour about politics, middle-east and USA, history, religion and God. I heard for the first time that I can believe in Jesus without being “culturally Christian”, also that “God created man to be with him and to have a relationship with him -- not for worship”, “God is our father and loves us even if we are a rebellious son” and more interestingly “from Adam to Jesus, all biblical stories are connected and the core of these stories is the Savior, Jesus”. I found this last one very interesting because of my knowledge of these stories from Koran.
I didn’t see Walter again for about two months, and I almost forgot him until, suddenly, I felt an urge to talk to him again. I started looking for him and eventually obtained his email address, emailed him and he emailed back. Finally, we arranged a meeting in few weeks time, and then we were able to see each other at weekends.
When I asked for a book to read, I expected him to give me a book that is specially written to convert Muslims or even Kurds to Christianity, but instead he recommended the Bible. I was surprised that he thinks I can be convinced by an ancient text but I took his advice anyway and started reading the Bible, from the Gospel of John. The first words were not like anything I have ever heard before:
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 1:2 The same was in the beginning with God. 1:3 All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
I continued reading and by the time I was reading about The Holy Spirit I was in the strangest state of mind I have ever had, full of thoughtfulness and spirituality. The next few weeks I almost couldn’t do anything else except reading the Bible. I got the answers to all my questions, and for the first time in my life I understood the story of mankind from the beginning to now, in its one single theme: Jesus, the Savior of man.
One day I received a phone call from my sister who lived in another city. She wanted me to visit her. I decided to go but I knew I cannot take my Bible with me, because I was traveling by bus and there were checkpoints on the way. I was concerned they may find the Bible and I would get into trouble. My sister was pregnant and ill and I had to stay for about one week. I was craving for a verse from the Bible to read and somehow it didn’t come to my mind that the Bible is available online. One Friday night, I noticed I have an email from Walter, I opened the email and it was nothing like any other email. This is all I saw:
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
I spent the rest of the night reading these verses over and over again. I cried out my eyes from happiness and from the reassurance that these verses give. I didn’t feel time and I still do not know exactly when I fell asleep, but I definitely know that when I woke up, it was morning. Yet, it was not Saturday, but rather Sunday, and Psalm 23 was still ringing in my ears. Neither my sister nor my brother-in-law asked me how I could sleep that long, and I found it embarrassing to ask them whether I was really asleep the other day or I was awake but I had no memory of it. But it doesn’t matter really because shortly after that, I realized what exactly happened, I died and I was born again.
In the next few days, I told my friends that I have changed and I am a different person now. I was very enthusiastic to talk to the friends I trusted about my faith but I was frustrated by that nobody cared to hear about God, and everybody seemed too busy for that. My family chose to deny that I have changed; probably they couldn’t bear to choose between me and their faith.
I was disappointed by everybody’s reaction but later I realized that it is not us who can change people; it is only the grace of Him that changes hearts. I discovered that I need to spend more time praying for people than trying to convert them, and my reaction should only be love and forgiveness not judgment.