Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #13

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Thirteen, a female from East Jerusalem. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 345-349.

Respondent Thirteen’s childhood home was near a Christian church and tourist site, and her father regularly invited Christian pilgrims into their home. Sometimes he even invited them to stay in their home, and occasionally, some of the guests stayed for lengthy periods. One of these tourists, a Christian from Kenya, ended up living with them for nine years, and he is the one who had the largest Christian influence on the respondent and her family. Over the years, the Kenyan man was allowed to share Bible stories each night with the children and pray for the entire family. He was a very likable man, soft-spoken, and won the hearts of all the family members.

On one particular occasion the Kenyan man invited seventy Christian tourists to their home for a traditional Arab meal. While preparing the meal, the respondent’s mother spilled hot grease on her foot. The respondent said, “the damage was so bad, we thought her foot melted to the floor.” It did not, but the injury required serious medical attention. After the respondent’s mother returned from the hospital, the Kenyan man asked if he and his Christian friends could pray for her recovery. After receiving permission to do so, they prayed fervently for Jesus to heal her foot. After they finished praying, the mother pulled the blankets back and saw that “her foot had been miraculously healed” the respondent said.

The respondent had no problem accepting the fact that Jesus healed her mother’s foot. For her it was not a compelling argument that she should believe in Jesus in the way that Christians do because “Muslims also believe Isa can heal.”[1] However, the respondent’s parents saw things very differently and converted to Christianity, which terrified the respondent.

In response to her parents’ conversion, the respondent became an increasingly observant Muslim. Very quickly she started wearing a hijab to cover her hair and neck. She repeatedly told her parents of how they would be “burned to a crisp in Hell,” and warned them that after the first burning, Allah would recreate them so that he could burn them again. “I was very hard to live with,” she admitted, “but I was so angry with them because I was scared of what would happen to us [the whole family] since my parents were murtadin.[2] I was really afraid that Allah would cause our house to fall on us.” In addition to becoming more religious and dressing more conservatively, the respondent became involved in a fundamentalist Islamic youth movement, going to both public and secret meetings in which she was indoctrinated into more strict and zealous forms of Islam.

For the next two years, between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, as her involvement in the Islamic youth movement increased, her presence at home decreased. However, she admitted with an embarrassed smile, “When I was there, I was very mean to the Christians who visited our home.” She would only acknowledge the Christian visitors in her home by teasing and harassing them. For example, she might “put salt rather than sugar in their tea.” Or she might “mock them for believing in a man instead of the truth of Islam.” The only exception to her anger was the Kenyan man, whom she loved and respected in a special way: “I was never mean to him. I couldn’t hurt him; he was different,” she said. In fact, she continued to allow him to remind her daily that Jesus loved her.

Her involvement in the youth movement eventually led to volunteering to be a suicide bomber against Israel. From the handful of girls who volunteered to become suicide bombers, the respondent was selected for “the honor of becoming a martyr.” Over the course of a few weeks, she was prepared for a specific operation that had been planned by someone else. “I was fitted with the explosives vest and was only one day away from the big day when I would make international news as a martyr for Islam and [an Islamic religious and political movement], but God interrupted” she said.

In a bizarre turn of events, the respondent’s mother was blinded when a board fell and hit her head. She called her daughter’s mobile phone to tell her the news, and when the respondent saw her mother’s number, she uncharacteristic-ally answered the phone. The respondent was shocked by the news, and asked her handlers to delay the operation so that she could visit her mother. She said, “I felt bad leaving her the way I was since she was in that condition.” When the respondent returned home to visit her mother, she rang the doorbell and waited while her mother clumsily found her way to the door to unlock it. When her mother opened the door, her sight was instantly restored, and her mother proclaimed it a miracle. Immediately, the respondent accused her mother of lying, but her mother had medical reports that confirmed the blindness.

In describing the anxiety this miracle caused her, the respondent said, “It scared me so severely, that I began to cling more strongly to Islam!” The respondent was shocked to find out that, in spite of the her greater commitment to Islam, her handlers expelled her from the suicide bomber program because she had asked for a delay in order to visit her sick mother. She explained that after her conversion she came to understand that her rejection from the suicide bomber program was another way that God interrupted because “the reality of my mother’s miracle caused me to begin fervently reading the New Testament and Qur’an side by side, hoping I could find serious problems with the New Testament. I didn’t want to believe it! But God knew what I would find in the New Testament.”

Approximately three months later the respondent’s mother invited her to a Christmas party and the respondent agreed to go on the condition that she could attend in full hijab and that no one would talk about her clothes or presence at the party. Her mother agreed to those conditions.

At the party, the respondent met Jamilla, a lady who was so nice that the respondent “could not resist speaking with her.” They talked about many things, but eventually the conversation turned to religion, and Jamilla revealed that she had converted to Christianity from Islam, which was quite shocking for the respondent. At that point, Jamilla shared the gospel with the respondent and pressed for a reaction. This quick presentation of the gospel, she smiled sheepishly and said, “was probably prompted by my wearing a hijab at a Christmas party.”

Although she had no specific rebuttals to Jamilla’s biblical reasoning, the respondent was appalled that this nice lady was trying to convert her. Jamilla recognized the hardness of the respondent’s spirit and challenged her to pray and ask God for direction, specifically suggesting that she pray, “God of this earth, show me who you are. Is Muhammad the way, or is Jesus?” This challenge was the last straw for the respondent, who then angrily fled the party.

Shortly after this encounter at the Christmas party, the respondent was shocked to learn that she had what she described as “a possibly fatal blood infection.” Not only was she afraid of dying, but also disillusioned because “after doing everything possible to be a good Muslim, Allah had allowed me to get so sick.” In spite of this disillusionment or because of it, she is not sure, she continued, “testing the New Testament.” She thinks continuing to read the New Testament was a “reaction to Jamilla’s challenge” to her at the Christmas party to pray, “God of this earth, show me who you are.” When the Respondent stiffened at that challenge, Jamilla semi-scolded her, “Don’t be stubborn,” which was a significant enough push for the respondent to follow through.

About four months after Jamilla’s challenge, the respondent cried out, “God of this earth, show me who you are. If Muhammad is the way, I’ll work harder to be a better Muslim; if Jesus is the way, I’ll follow him.” After falling asleep shortly afterward, she had a vivid dream in which Jesus appeared to her: He was dressed in white, had golden hair, and the aura was so heavy around his face that no facial details were visible. He also spoke Arabic. In the dream, Jesus said, “I am God” and touched her on her heart and said, “You are healed; I am the way, the truth and the life.”

The next day, she pressured a doctor to re-test her blood to see if the dream was accurate. The results were definitive: “Many doctors have confirmed the previous test results, but this test shows no infection,” the doctor said in complete amazement. At that moment, she removed her hijab and said, “Jesus healed me!”

When asked to clarify why this healing was different, in terms of influencing her attitude toward Christianity, than when her mother’s foot had been healed, she responded that she had “read the New Testament many times and understood Jesus to be different than he was represented as Isa.” As Isa, “he is only a prophet that can heal.” As Jesus, “he can heal because he is the Son of God. He’s the way the truth and the life. He died for my sins. He’s much more than in the Qur’an.” She continued, “At first, I didn’t want to accept the New Testament Jesus, but this healing confirmed what Jamilla had told me and what I had read about Jesus in the New Testament.”

When asked to clarify what was the intended meaning of removing her hijab, the respondent explained that it was “just an emotional response,” but it was also “symbolic of being freed from Islam and becoming a Christian.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, the Qur’an vs. the Bible, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, prayer, dreams, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.

[1] Isa (عيسى) is the name the Qur’an uses to identify Jesus. However, there is much debate within the Christian community about the use of the name Isa verses the use of the Arabic form Yesua (يسوع).

[2] Murtad (مرتد – sing.) and Murtadin (مرتدين– pl.) refer to those who have left Islam for another religion. Kafir (كافر – sing.) and kuffar (كفّار) refer to those who remain within Islam, but maintain unacceptable (or heretical) beliefs.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #14

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