Monday, April 5, 2010

From Muhammad to Jesus - the Story of Wajdi

I've just watched an amazing story of another Arab who left Muhammad for Jesus. The four hundred million Arabic speakers of the world can watch it here. The rest of you will need to rely on me.

Wajdi is from the Shaqiyah tribe of the northern Sudan. From grade one, his entire education took place at boarding schools. The first one was a Muslim school, where at age 5 he learned the rudiments of Islam including prayers, fasting, and memorizing suras of the Quran. Several events soon took place, however, which left an indelible impression on his young mind.

The first was when a young Ethiopian refugee somehow ended up alone in his area and was enrolled in his school. It was the first Christian Wajdi had ever met. He and the other students welcomed the boy warmly, even though he was a stranger and did not speak Arabic. Wajdi was stunned, however, when his teachers told him and his friends they could not eat with the newcomer because he was an infidel, a Kafir. Rather than serve him food with the rest of the students, the staff give him leftovers and somtimes threw his food on the floor. When Wajdi and his fellow classmates asked why they could not eat with their classmate, they were informed that he was a Kafir, Christians were going to hell, and they were not allowed to associate with him. Wajdi described the inner turmoil he felt even as a young child;  on the one hand he liked the Ethiopian and felt sorry for him when the teachers beat him without cause in the classroom, but on the other he hated him as a Christian.

The dormitory Wajdi and his fellow students slept in had no electricity and was lit by kerosene lamps. One night a fire broke out and several of the cots were burned. To Wajdi's amazement, his teachers claimed that the New Testament the Ethiopian boy had among his belongings was the cause of the fire! A Muslim student in the next cot had a Quran, and the teachers said that the two books had fought with each other starting the blaze. The Christian student was beaten again, and his New Testament was taken to a distant location and buried. Wajdi noted that in the end the young boy converted to Islam to avoid the beatings and mistreatment (comment: a favorite Quranic text of Western Muslims is from surat al-Baqarah, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256), but there are probably thousands of untold stories such as that of Wajdi throughout the Islamic world). To this day, he says, he cannot meet an Ethiopian without remembering how they treated the young refugee in his elementary school.

Wajdi then recounted another childhood memory that left a deep impression upon him. A young girl was forced to marry a much older married man. Some time afterwards, Wajdi and his friends heard the wailing sounds of a funeral procession. To their surprise, the girl had committed suicide. They learned that her husband, after beating and abusing her, announced three times that she was divorced. Soon afterwards he changed his mind and wanted her back again. The Quran states in surat al-Baqarah that a divorced woman cannot return to her husband unless she is married and divorced by a second husband (2:229, 230) (comment: this temporary husband even has a special name in Islamic law. He is the Muhallil, or the one who makes it lawful for the first husband to again marry her). The text stipulates it cannot be a mere paper marriage, but the Muhallil must have sex with her before he divorces her (comment: civilized societies call this rape). The first husband found a willing Muhallil, but rather than face the humiliation of being sexually ravished by husband number two before returning to the abuse of husband number one, the young girl killed herself.

Although still a child, Wajdi found himself asking questions in the days following the funeral. Who was the criminal who drove this innocent girl to suicide? Was it the first husband? The Muhallil? Could it be Allah, or his Apostle? Islam describes suicide as a great sin, but was not the person who forced her to kill herself the greater sinner?

Wajdi continued his high school education in Khartoum during the time the Sudan began to implement Sharia law. He described going to see the amputation of the hand of a young man convicted of theft. The crowd was divided into two kinds of people. Some shouted Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar as loudly as they could as the hand was amputated. Others, including Wajdi, felt sick. He found himself thinking a conviction he dared share with no-one, "The same Allah who cut off the hand of the young man is the Allah who killed the young girl. It is the same Allah who mistreated the young Ethiopian and forced him into Islam."

In Khartoum, Wajdi studied at a Christian boarding school. He could not help but compare the difference between the way he was treated, as a Muslim in a Christian school, with the way his former teachers had mistreated the Ethiopian Christian in his Muslim school. He also established contact with a woman from his own tribe who had left Islam to follow Jesus and subsequently married a Christian doctor. They took him in as their own son, and showed love to him. As a child he had heard rumors that this woman was enticed to leave Islam for money and other favors, but he realized this was not the truth. Her family's acceptance of him left a deep impression on him as he experienced for the first time Christian love in action.

The experience also frightened him. On the one hand he was attracted to what he saw, but on the other his entire identify as a Muslim was being threatened. Wajdi says he responded to his fear as many Muslims do, by running away. He completely avoided the family for the next four years.

During that time, he became involved with a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood known locally as the "kayzan". Wajdi was initially impressed with their austerity and dedication to the rituals of Islam. Outwardly they looked very religious with their "sabihah" prayer beads and the "zabibah" on their foreheads from years of rubbing their foreheads against their prayer rugs (comment: many men deliberately scar their foreheads to give this appearance). But Wajdi discovered they were inwardly filled with corruption, hatred, and immorality. They wanted to lead the country, but he could not imagine living in a Sudan with them as rulers.

Wajdi next described the internal conflict that he faced as he contemplated leaving Islam. It is a struggle that we non-Muslims cannot even imagine. If I announced tomorrow that I had become a Hindu, or an atheist, or a vegetarian, I might get a few raised eyebrows and concerned emails from friends and relatives, but that is nothing compared to what a Muslim experiences as they consider leaving Muhammad. They literally leave everything behind. Wajdi eventually made that decision, and is now living as a follower of Jesus.

As is his usual custom, host Rashid listened to Wajdi's story for about 30 minutes and then opened the phone and email lines to his Arabic-speaking listeners for the next hour. As amazed as I was by Wajdi's story, I was just as surprised by those who called in. Hardly any of them seemed to have any understanding of what they had just heard. They just repeated the same old questions they repeat every week, "What about the violence of the Old Testament? What about the Gospel of this and the Gospel of that? What about America in Iraq and Afghanistan?"

Rashid patiently answered each question, knowning he had heard them all before and would hear them all again. But I think Wajdi hit on something important. He said he had "run away" from the Christian family because he was afraid. He also said he thinks all Muslims are afraid. There is a fear deep inside that Muhammad might not be the Prophet from God he claimed to be, and Islam is not the final message from God they have been taught it was. I have a feeling Wajdi is on to something.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

It's very true that it is a huge deal for a Muslim to leave Islam. It's so much a part of their identity and since it encompasses every aspect of life, it *is* life and it's very hard to contemplate being without it.

I think what you said at the end about fear is probably true as well. It is fear that causes such protectiveness that we see in the Muslim world - censorship, extreme reactions to criticism of Muhammad, and so on. And it's fear that stops mixed-faith or mixed-culture marriages from being real compromises.

Quotable Quote: said...

Sarah,

I agree. Why is it so easy to recognize fear in others, but so difficult for people (Muslims as well as non-Muslims) to recognize fear in themselves?