I grew up as an Arab Sunni Muslim in the city of Baghdad, Iraq, in the 1980’s during the Iraq-Iran war. I remember Iranian airplanes bombing the city. Sounds of bomb explosions and the air raid whistles became something of a daily routine to me.
A question kept bothering me for quite some time. What will happen to me if one of these bombs fell on me and I died now? What happens after death? As a Muslim I knew there was a Day of Judgment and an afterlife either in hell or paradise, and I wanted to be sure that I would end up in paradise. Consumed with this question, I began researching on my own, investigating Islamic books available to me in our family library and later in the public library connected to a nearby mosque.
Islamic Dawah (propagation) was forbidden in Iraq during the 80’s. The secular Baath party did not encourage religious activities. Sunni mosques had little attendance in usual times of prayers except at the time of Friday noon prayer when it became fully occupied by worshipers.
Through my research, as well as talking with the mosque Imam (cleric) and some other Muslim elders who were committed to the faith, I learned the answer to my question: In order to end up in paradise, rather than hell, one must submit to Allah (from which the Arabic word Islam is derived) and obey his commands.
I understood the concept of the Mizan (weighing scale) at the Day of Judgment by which all mankind must give account of what they did in their lifetime and will be judged accordingly. Each person will stand in front of Allah and will be asked what he or she did in their life. Good deeds will be weighed against the bad deeds on this balance scale. Whether a person will go to heaven or hell depends on which side is heavier, i.e. according to the weight of their deeds.
No one can know where he or she will end up because nobody is able to measure how many good deeds one has versus bad deeds. Therefore, there is no assurance of salvation in this method. The only assurance of salvation is in being granted the rank of a Shaheed (martyr) by offering one’s own blood through death for Allah’s sake in a conflict (Jihad). Allah promises that this person will be granted paradise.
God has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions against the gift of Paradise; they fight in the way of God; they kill, and are killed; that is a promise binding upon God in the Torah, and the Gospel, and the Koran; and who fulfils his covenant truer than God? So rejoice in the bargain you have made with Him; that is the mighty triumph. Quran 9:111
Because I was young and did not yet see a way to join a fight in the cause of Allah, I decided to go the other way – through good deeds. So I kept the five prayers, struggling at sunrise to wake up early to pray Qiyaam Al-Layl (praying during the night) followed by a Gama’a (group) Fajer (sunrise) prayer in the mosque. I prayed most of my prayers in the mosque, though I could not at noon since I had to be in school and there was no group prayer at the school.
I fasted as much as I was able to and I gave what I could give. I imitated prophet Muhammad in everything – in his dress, in his habits. I just wanted to be like the early Sahaba (companions) of the prophet.
Despite the hostility of the Baath party towards religious people during the 80’s, both Sunni or Shiite, I considered it a Jihad for the sake of Allah to put myself in danger and try to talk to my peers (who were teenagers) about repenting from their disobedience against Allah and becoming good Muslims. Some of them joined me, and a small group of us young men went to the mosque frequently and met there. We started brainstorming other ways to accumulate more merits and good deeds in order to go to paradise after we die. We tried to lead unorthodox Muslims (heretics as we believed) like the Shiite (and I do not mean to offend them now, but that was what we believed as Sunnis) to the true Sunna (path) of prophet Muhammad.
Being the book worm among the group, I started researching other Islamic sects and learning how they came into existence and how they differ from Sunnis. Of course I focused on the Shiites, but reading about the sects and cults in the Islamic books was thrilling to me and it provided new ideas and information that I had never seen before. We succeeded in winning at least two Shiite students who joined our group and became Sunnis.
I have to admit that my attempts in bringing non-committed Muslims to repentance, heretic Muslims to the strait path, and non-Muslims to the religion of truth (Islam) were mostly selfish. I understood that each time I would guide someone to Allah I received a big reward from Allah in addition to a kind of commission for whatever good deeds this person would do later in his/her life. I was trying to make my good deed side of the balance-scale heavier than that of my bad deeds so that I could go to paradise.
Someone in the group invited us to watch a video of a debate between Ahmed Deedat and Jimmy Swaggart. It was actually dubbed in Arabic. We were thrilled and excited because of Deedat’s victory over the Christian pastor, and we wanted to invite Christians to Islam too.
I found materials about Christianity in the public library of the mosque. All of them were from Muslim perspectives. None of them were from a Christian perspective. I will never forget how I was disgusted by the Bible while reading Mustafa Mahmoud‘s book “The Torah” as he revealed the sexual sins of plenty of people whom we Muslims considered prophets or holy. One example is Lot with whom his daughters laid when he was drunk.
We started our assaults and caused damage to the Iraqi traditional Christian peers (mostly Catholic and Orthodox). We launched arguments against their faith they were not prepared to answer. This caught the attention of one of the local priests. The priest wanted to build confidence in the hearts of these young men that their faith is valid, so he invited us to dialogue with him in front of the doubting young Christian men.
I went to this meeting thinking I was the hero of Islam, that I was the Deedat of Iraq. I was convinced there would be no answers to the questions I had prepared. You can imagine how shocked, angry and humiliated I was when this priest gave me simple answers to what I considered non-answerable questions.
That man did not care about making us Christians, he was simply a shepherd who cared for his sheep. I could not forget the victory smiles on the faces of my Christian peers whom I had thought were close to becoming Muslims. I also could not forget the disappointment on the faces of my Muslim friends who, with their looks, accused me of being incompetent and no match for the priest. Humiliated, I went back home angry. In the next few days I started to analyze what went wrong. I discovered the error I made. I had never read anything Christian from a Christian perspective to prepare me to answer that priest. I did not even have a Bible!
My motto for the next few years was know your enemies. So I went on a tough quest to obtain Christian materials written by Christians. My first task was a Bible. It was a difficult search, but after a whole year of trying to find one, I was finally able to get an Arabic Bible from outside of Iraq. I started listening to Arabic Christian radio stations and read the Bible and the few Christian books I had.
After a while, I came to the realization that if I was born a Christian and had these explanations of my faith (as weak as I thought they might be), I might never convert to Islam. I would have been dogmatically brain-washed by the church, family and Christian peers.This also echoed in my thoughts the other way around; a series of “what if” questions was unleashed:
Why do I believe Islam to be the true religion? Maybe I am also dogmatic like these Christians I am trying to convert, and I believe in Islam just because I was born a Muslim?!
How do I know Islam to be the true religion? Is it because the Quran had been revealed to Muhammad? But nobody saw the angel coming down on Muhammad! It is a testimony of just one man!
I put myself in the shoes of the people of Mecca. What if a man came to me today and told me he is a prophet? Why would I believe him and forsake my birth religion? Just because he said so? What is his proof? A text that he says he received from Allah through an angel? So, what is great about this text? Yes, it is pretty, but when was beauty an evidence for the truth? Maybe I should consider Da Vinci to be a prophet, too, since he drew the most beautiful picture in the world? Beside these thoughts, I knew from studying the history of Islam and the cults that there were other people — Al-Mutanabbi, for example — who claimed to be prophets and said they could bring something better than the Quran. One piece of evidence that someone could make something like the Quran was the Shiite claim of missing chapters in the Quran, such as Surat Al-Wilaya and Surat Al-Nurain.
My search for external evidences of Muhammad’s prophethood failed. To believe in Islam, one has to believe in Muhammad’s revelation. But that is something that cannot be proved by using logical deduction. Bewildered and frightened, I asked the question, What if I had been born Christian? How would I have converted to the true religion of Islam so that I would not go to hell? Yes, non-Muslims will go to hell because the Quran says:
Whoso desires another religion than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world he shall be among the losers. Quran 3:85
So how I could be saved? Muslims will say “read the Quran and you will know it is true.” However, this is not the case. How can one know it is true? Because of its beautiful style? What if I do not speak Arabic? Then I will see no beauty and I will not convert!
My “what if” questions continued to grow. I struggled further with the Quran as verses jumped at me, making me more insecure.
Whoever shall withdraw from the admonition of the Merciful, we will chain a devil unto him; and he shall be his inseparable companion. Quran 43:36
Well, does that mean because of my sincere quest for truth and to be sure of my salvation at the Day of Judgment that Allah is unhappy with me and chained to me to a devil to wrestle with? What great help, Allah! Thanks!
My Islamic dilemma with the Christian concept of Jesus having two natures, divine and human started to vanish as I realized that it is a mistake to compare Jesus to Muhammad or consider Him just a regular man. Actually we should compare Jesus to the Quran since “both” of them (as I believed then) were Allah’s word.
… The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, is but the apostle of God and His Word, which He cast into Mary and a spirit from Him… Quran 4:171
As a Muslim, I believed that the Quran (Allah’s word) is divine because it’s Allah’s speech, and in the same time, it is human as it is recited in Arabic, a human language. So, if Allah’s word, the Quran is divine and human, the other word of Allah (Jesus) should be divine and human too.
I also started to understand the Christian concept of God incarnated in human form. The Quran (the divine word of Allah as I believed then) is incarnated in a human language which is written by ink on a paper we call Mus’haf (the book which contains the Quran). So, then it is also possible for Allah’s word in Christ to incarnate in flesh and blood in the body of Jesus. (read my article “Jesus and the Quran“)
Moreover, being on the quest to prove Muhammad’s prophethood to myself, I ended up having many doubts that he was really a prophet. I even went after the claim in the Quran that he was mentioned in the Torah and the Injeel (Gospel) and I could not find him anywhere. Of course, I had to come to the conclusion that the Christians and the Jews corrupted their scripture (the Bible) to hide the prophecies about Muhammad in their scriptures as Islam taught me.
That also did not settle well with me. Does that mean people are mightier than God? If he is able to protect the Quran and preserve it; why then, is he not able to protect the revelations that came before the Quran? (read my article “Is the Quran Preserved?“)
Also, why on earth would someone do something like that? To corrupt God’s word! These are religious people. Would they really change God’s word because they didn’t want a certain prophet to come? There would certainly have been believers among them who will expose such a scheme and preserve for us some original documents? Who wants to go against God? Only a few might assume such a task, but not almost EVERYONE.
Also, when were these scriptures omitted or corrupted? It definitely was fine at the early stage of Muhammad prophethood, as he refer to them to be authentic.
And how do they make you a judge and they have the Taurat wherein is Allah’s judgment? Yet they turn back after that, and these are not the believers. Quran 5:43
So, it was authentic at some time during Muhammad’s life! (read my article “Is the Bible Corrupted?“)
The Jews and the Christians (who did not like each other at the time of Muhammad) had to come together to corrupt their scripture! I can not imagine all the leaders from both camps coming together in a universal conference and bring in all scriptures (both Jewish and Christian) from all around the world to change it and omit the prophecies about Muhammad and then sent all these thousands of scriptures back where they came from!
This is simply impossible even by modern day standards. This is a huge logistical task we today can not fulfill perfectly given all the technological advancements we have. Something should go wrong.
I felt like I am breaking with Muhammad and could no longer have faith in his message. Another Quranic verse jumped to mind and did not settle well with me,
But whoso makes a breach with the Messenger after the guidance has become clear to him and follows a way other than the believers’, him We shall turn over to what he has turned to and We shall roast him in hell – an evil homecoming! Quran 4:115
So, it is my fault because I was trying to have reasonable faith that I ended up in such a dilemma. It is not the devil Allah chained to me who caused me to get to this point of unbelief. Worse, it is Allah who mislead me to the unbelief,
… Verily, God leads astray whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases; … Quran 35:8
I talked to Allah for the last time saying to him, “if you guide whom you want and mislead whom you want, you know what, you cannot send me to hell, because I was just a puppet in your hand”.
Getting my courage together I cried to the true God of the universe, “reveal yourself to me please, I cannot find you on my own”.
Strangely, I woke up next day, alive. I had a dream while sleeping which comforted me and cut my last tie with Islam. As a result, I had no desire to perform Islamic prayer and I had peace about not being a Muslim anymore.
Relieved, I started my own quest to find the truth. This time with no blindfold of dogmatic faith, but a sincere heart which is thirsty and lost.
Reading the Bible again was a joy. This time, I started to see it differently, as a real authentic document. Even what I considered mistakes became a testimony to its authenticity, because if anyone did really alter it, he should covered up what is considered an error.
I saw the sin of the prophets as it is. They are human and they are sinners, chosen to be a vessel for God, but that does not mean they are perfect. Nobody is perfect but God.
Jesus intrigued me as He always did in the past. When I was a Muslim, I had the most admiration to Him. I always had these “satanic” thoughts – as I believed they are when I was a Muslim – about Jesus.
Why was Jesus born from a virgin mother? Why is He sinless? Why did He not die? Why is He still living up in heaven? Why did He do all of these miracles? Why is He so special?
I was bewildered by the agreement between the Quran and the Gospel that Jesus was born from a virgin mother. Why did He have no father? I recalled the Islamic answer,
Verily, Jesus is as Adam in the sight of God. He created him of dust: He then said to him, “Be” – and he was. Quran 3:59
So, Jesus is like Adam! Hmm. There is only one thing making Jesus similar to Adam. They both did not have a father, but definitely Jesus is the opposite of Adam in everything else.
Adam lived in paradise, he was sinless and immortal then (he did not have to die) until he disobeyed God commandment and ate from the forbidden tree and was expelled from paradise to earth (Quran 20:115-123).
Though the Quran suggested that Allah forgave Adam, we cannot say that Adam is sinless. He is now “forgiven” not “sinless”. Living on earth, Adam did not enjoy his previous privilege in paradise, immortality. Adam now DIES.
It was clear to me, that Adam had been expelled from paradise was not the only punishment for his disobedience, he received an extra punishment: DEATH.
As children of Adam, we all die like him. In a way, we inherited death from him; in other words, we inherited Adam’s punishment.
Since God is just, we should not be punished for something we did not do; indeed none of us is capable to avoid sin. All of us have sin, one way or another. My conclusion was: we inherited the ability of sin or the nature of sin from Adam; therefore we received the just punishment of death just like him. (read my article “Adam’s Sin“)
But just as by one man’s sin, death entered into mankind, is it possible that through one man’s sinlessness we could be restored back to eternal life in paradise?
The only sinless man like Adam is Jesus. He is the second and last Adam who never sinned. He indeed could restore us back to eternal life in paradise, if we believed in Him and followed Him.
I found that God’s Word in the Bible taught this concept. I was astonished and marveled as I gazed on texts talking about this exact concept. Read: Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22,45 to find for yourself.
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
It made sense, Jesus had to be born not from the seed of Adam so that He does not inherit the ability of sin and the punishment of death from Adam. That way He became the last sinless Adam who could restore believers back into eternity with God in paradise.
Well, I guess you know what happened after I found this truth. I simply followed the only sinless man who came from heaven and returned back to heaven believing that He will bring me into His place in heaven after I die. I followed Jesus and confessed Him to be my only Lord and my only Savior.
Now, it is your turn. Do you want to have assurance of entering into paradise after you die? You do not have to earn it on your own through good deeds. There is a price you are going to pay though. You will now be the slave of Jesus who bought you with an expensive price to be His own. You will have to follow Him every day.
As the first Adam transgressed and caused us all to die like him because of his sin of disobedience, so the last Adam (Jesus) restores those who believe and follow Him through His obedience and sinlessness into eternal life in paradise. You just need to believe that He is your Lord and Savior and follow Him until the end. Will you do that? (read my article “First and Second Adam“)
I pray for you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, that you will be saved. My God’s Spirit guide you to the truth. Be blessed.