The guest on this week's Arabic TV show Daring Question was Ali Bazzi, a Muslim convert to Christianity from Lebanon, and host Rashid commented this was his first Shia Christian visitor. When asked about his background, Ali said he grew up in a religious family, and was encouraged by his father to memorize the Quran and the Hadith. He had a desire even as a child to be close to God, and when his father wanted to find him he was often in the local mosque. Ali was especially close to an uncle named Muhammad who taught him much about his faith and the emphases of Shia Islam.
Noting that Lebanon is unique with its 17 official religious denominations, Ali grew up realizing they all needed to live together. Nevertheless as a Shia he felt superior to all the others. When Rashid asked why, Ali commented it was perhaps because they were a minority. He felt superior to the Sunnis because of the Shia affection for Muhammad's nephew Ali bin Abu Talib, and he considered the Christians dirty, impure, idolaters, and infidels (comment: this was not just his description; his words "najiseen, ghair tahireen, mushrikeen, and kuffar" are the words the Quran and Islam have always used to describe Christians). All he knew of Christians was what he learned from Islam; they were unclean, had corrupted their Holy Book, and would go to hell because "the only religion God accepts is Islam" (Quran 5:3).
Two significant events then took place in Ali's life. His father left his mother for a younger woman, leaving Ali responsible for his mother and four siblings. He wondered how Islam could allow a man, in a moment of anger or lust, to simply repeat three times the phrase "You are divorced" and tear apart a family? His sister next took the rebellious step of marrying a Christian, and Ali gradually became friends with the person who was the best man at her wedding. This man was serious about his faith, in contrast to other nonpracticing Christians Ali knew, and following one conversation showed Ali the first copy of the New Testament he had ever seen. The friend encouraged Ali to read it and Ali responded, "This is called the New Testament, so there must be an Old Testament. You want me to read the New Testament, not the Old, so the New must be better than the Old. But we have the Quran, which came later and is the best of all!" Ali left the conversation feeling he had won that round, but they continued their discussions with the friend emphasizing that Jesus had come to the world as a Savior. Ali was attracted to Jesus but argued that the New Testament had been corrupted from its true copy, which contained the same message as the Quran. When the friend asked for evidence of this corruption, Ali's only answer was that was what he had learned from Islam.
His friend did not argue with him, but continued to present the person and message of Jesus as described in the New Testament. Ali's attraction to Jesus continued, but he entered what he described as "the great problem for all Muslims; how to believe that God took on the person of a human being". He began to find it difficult to repeat the Muslim prayers, but at the same time felt that if he left Islam the entire world would be pulled out from under his feet.
Ali next began to read the New Testament himself for the first time, skimming from one book to the next in a search for any contradiction that would enable him to leave it all behind and continue life as a Muslim. He reached John 14:8, where one of Jesus' disciples asked him, "Show us who God is, and we'll be satisified." Ali says, "I said to myself, Here is someone who had the same problem that I have. I closed the book immediately, went to my friend and told him he had failed in his mission. When he asked why, I asked him how much time this disciple had spent with Jesus. He replied it was about three years, and I told him that if this person had been with Jesus all that time and still did not know who God was, how was I supposed to know? My friend asked if I had read Jesus' response, and I replied I had not. I then read Jesus' reply, 'Have you been with me all this time, and you still don't know who God is? Anyone who has seen me has seen God.' When I read that verse, something calmed inside me and I felt as if all my questions had been answered."
Ali described to Rashid the internal struggle that he next experienced. Was he prepared to leave his life, his community, his family for Jesus? Wouldn't it be easier to just remain a Muslim, especially since Islam taught him that no matter how he lived his life he would be forgiven by God if he simply repeated the Shahadah, or statement of faith that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, two times before he died? Ali finally concluded he wanted to publicly follow Jesus and was baptized in a local Lebanese Christian church.
As usual, Rashid interspersed Ali's story with the comments of viewers who called in to the program. When one viewer asked about the Shia practice of self flagellation during the month of Ashura, Ali compared his former and present faiths by noting that Muslims place great emphasis on trying to "irda Allah", or satisfy God, whereas the message of Christianity is that God has reached out to us.
Another viewer asked about the response of Ali's family after he left Islam. Ali replied that his uncle Muhammad, the man who had taught him Islam as a child, was extremely angry and stated that he could issue a fatwa ordering Ali's death because he was now a murtadd, or apostate (comment: Muslim leaders in the West often deny that Islam allows death for apostasy, but many converts from Muslim contries have shared Ali's experience). Ali informed his uncle that God, not the uncle or his fatwas, would determine his future. Ali noted that after becoming a Christian, it became impossible for him to even hold conversations with religious family members. The simple fact he had left Islam made him no longer worthy of their respect. Soon afterwards, Ali and some family members who followed him in his faith emigrated from Lebanon to Australia.
Other viewers called from countries such as Kuwait and Yemen to say they had also left Islam to follow Jesus. One young Kuwaiti said she had gone to another country to be baptized, and then returned to Kuwait. Rashid's programs often include many callers who phone in merely to argue or criticize, but this one was unique in that hardly anyone called for that purpose. Most people seemed to be sincerely moved by Ali's story. I know I was.
At the end of the program, Ali commented there are three types of Muslims. First are those determined to remain Muslim until they die, no matter what. Second are those who begin to doubt Islam and eventually leave it, but also lose all faith in the Divine and live as atheists or agnostics. Third are those who also question Islam, but are looking for a belief system to replace it. For those, both he and Rashid offer their own experience.