If the gospel was not true, the sun was not shining, the moon was not bright and the stars did not illuminate the path of heaven. I find it difficult to describe the experience that I had at the reading of the gospel on that memorable day; words are inadequate to express it. It was something like an object finding its missing complement. My spiritual life was incomplete without it, but as it had never known that which was intended to complete it, it never missed it till it came to it. It can be illustrated by a piece from a jig-saw puzzle which will not fit in any other part of it but in the particular corner for which it is intended. The gospel dove-tailed my soul, and in the person of Christ that it presented I found the object of my deeper and inner urge, and of the unsatisfied longing of my heart. It was liko a stream of fresh water in a desert to a man dying of thirst. The words of the gospel were the words of God, for they conveyed to me the message of Him who was my Maker.

J. A. Subhan


I Discovered The True Ideal

In secondary school, when I began to think for myself, I discovered three men whose lives impressed me very much. They became my ideals. These three were Gandhi, Muhammad, and Christ.

My interest in Christ began as a result of my acquaintance with the Quran. From it I learned that he was an innocent man. I asked a mullah about him: "Who is next to Jesus in the line of the prophets?"

The mullah responded by mentioning a long line of prophets, beginning with Adam. He was emphatic, however, in asserting that Muhammad was the chief of the prophets.

Nevertheless, I had mixed feelings about Muhammad. On the one hand, I was impressed with his claim to be a messenger of peace. On the other hand, I was disappointed with his militancy. I knew that he had been a shrewd military strategist and conqueror, but that seemed fundamentally incompatible with his assertion that he was a peacemaker and spokesman for God. In this respect, and in other ways, Muhammad fell short of fulfilling the requirements of a true ideal for me. His imperfections, like Gandhi's, were unconcealable and undeniable.

There was something different about Jesus, however. His righteous, loving, humble, kind character set him in a class by himself. No matter how much I searched history books and observed contemporary leaders, I could not find anyone to compare with Christ.

All of these were extremely difficult conclusions for me to draw. I came from a prominent Muslim family in Pakistan. They were passionately devoted to Islam and followed the prescribed rituals with painstaking care. In my early years, I sought to excel in religious zeal and Islamic faithfulness. This was the case even though one of my first experiences with religious training was exceedingly unpleasant. When I was six years of age, I was sent to a mullah to learn the Quran. Of course, it was necessary for me to memorize it in Arabic, a language that was strange and difficult for me. I clearly remember the first time I made a mistake in my recitation of a passage from the Quran. The mullah took a large stick and began to beat me. He scolded me with this added warning: "If you recite the Quran incorrectly, you will accumulate sin and God will not forgive you."

That incident created resentment that led to a change in my attitude toward Islam. I even began to think of God as an ogre holding a big stick over me and watching for every little mistake I made. I came to fear the punishment of God intensely. My process of alienation from Islam did not take very long. I turned from its harsh legalism to diversions that I could enjoy. Athletics and games became the preoccupation of my youth. I was still restlessly searching for meaning and purpose, however, but Islam had lost its appeal. The stern view of God that I encountered in Islam has repelled me to this day. Of course, I had read the Quran and knew that it spoke of God's mercy and compassion. But even in the Quran it was the wrath and punishment of God that overwhelmed me and subordinated the concept of his mercy to a secondary role.

When I was still a child I was watching some streetsweepers and as I approached them, my grandmother stopped me and told me not to go near them or touch them or have any association with them. I felt sorry for them and as I began to realize that they were a minority, I wanted to grow up and help them both socially and economically. It was not long after that incident that my grandmother took me to a mission hospital. There I saw a doctor who was a wise, kind man and the center of the hospital's activity. When I was told that he was a Christian, I was surprised. I was allowed to touch him and talk to him. My grandmother did not forbid it. I was puzzled, and when I asked my grandmother why this situation was different, she merely replied that although not all Christians were poor and ignorant, they were all unclean infidels and idol worshipers - and therefore I should not associate with them too closely.

My grandmother's response did not satisfy me. I had many questions that continued to burn in my mind until they set my conscience aflame with a fervent concern for social and economic justice for the poor and downtrodden. I was deeply disturbed by the inequities and injustices I saw all around me.

Once a mullah was found to be the murderer of a ten-year-old girl, and he was allowed to go free with a mere reprimand. Since the people only lamented and did nothing, I tried to arouse many to take action to see justice done. But it was to no avail. My frustration intensified. I felt that the mullahs and social leaders were very hypocritical. They would perform the religious rituals of Islam and even make a big show of what they did for the religion, but they were living dishonest and wicked lives. At least, this was what I found in all the cases that I personally knew.

Going to the mosque was devoid of value to me. I could not bear to go anymore, because the mullahs spoke of peace and love and yet they beat children and failed in many other ways to be loving peacemakers. When I read Islamic history, I read about a long succession of military campaigns - wars and slaughter that were fostered and sanctioned by Muslim leaders in the name of Allah and the Quran. I was sick of all the violence and hatred I read about and also saw around me.

With no one to turn to with these problems of mine, I felt alone and isolated. I could not go to my father for counsel and guidance. He was a bitter and dejected man, for he had been disappointed by Muslims who rejected him and took advantage of his wealth. He was cruel and domineering and mistreated my mother and the rest of the family. In fact, when I saw how much women and children suffered in our society, I longed to do something to elevate their position and see them acquire more freedom and happiness. I could not discuss these matters or any other problems with my father. He lost my respect, and besides, he was a confused, broken man who had no answers and no encouragement to give to anyone.

The poverty and disease I saw everywhere among my countrymen stimulated a resolve within me to become a social scientist. I detested the apathy and unconcern of those who had wealth and social status but had little or no interest in doing something to alleviate the poverty and suffering of those around them. And this sad state of affairs existed within the framework of Islam. The religion seemed to accept the state of affairs that prevailed, and sometimes it seemed to worsen the deplorable wretchedness in which so many millions were living in my society.

I turned to Communism for some answers. At least it professed to have an interest in the plight of oppressed people who were victims of harsh circumstances and exploitation by the wealthy. For a time I studied Communist literature and became actively involved with a group of young Communists. One group fell under severe censure and persecution, and opposition intensified until our leader was shot. I went to a Russian agent in our country and offered to unite our group with his in the pursuit of Communist goals for our society. However, as a result of intramural conflicts in the struggle for power over the following five months, I grew disillusioned with the entire ideology. It proved to be unworkable and superficial. Its diagnosis of man's real condition did not reach to the core of his problems.

This series of disappointments led me to reconsider questions of religious truth. I collected many books on different religions and studied them carefully. I spent much time alone, reading my books and thinking about the meaning of life and the course of my future. Someone had given me a number of books on Christianity, and I read them with avid interest. They raised many questions in my mind, and as a result, I began to go to a Christian teacher to find the answers. He helped me to understand why Jesus is called the Son of God and why it is false to say Christians worship three gods. When he saw that my interest in the Christian faith was increasing, he became fearful that my family and relatives would learn that I was going to see him and that, as a result, they would create trouble.

He discouraged me from coming to see him anymore and he urged me to go to a large city where there were Christians who could help me more freely, without fear of reprisal. When I told my mother that I wanted to leave our town for the city so that I could learn about Jesus Christ, she became angry and said that my father would kill me if he heard about this intention of mine. In spite of this, I went to the city and shortly after I arrived there I began working to support myself. I did not want to receive money from my mother; I wanted to send her money.

I did not immediately find any Christians in the city. Nevertheless, I continued my search, and I talked to God and told him that the more I searched for him the more he ran away from me. I could not understand why. I wanted to be a good man, but I didn't know how. I fasted and tortured my body to humble myself. I tried to live according to high moral standards, because I thought that was the way to find God. I bought a Bible and tried to study it by myself.

When I had saved a substantial amount of money, I traveled to different parts of Pakistan to meet Christian leaders and tell them that I had a socio-economic program that I would like to see implemented. The few I met were glad to know of my concern but none of them told me how I could come to know God in a personal way. I knew that something was lacking in me and in my program of reform, too.

I continued to talk to God and I told him that I was living aimlessly, accomplishing nothing, and that my travels were unproductive. I earnestly asked him to show me the way, and I told him that if he didn't, then I would feel that I must become a Communist again. I was so troubled in my heart that I took the Bible in my hands and I talked to Christ. I said, "I am ready to follow you. You are my hero and leader, but I can't understand how you can be God." I read the words of Christ in Matthew 5:6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

I told him that I had searched for him, and then I asked him why he was running away from me. I prayed, "Lord, I want to see your reality."

One night I read the words of Jesus in John 7:37,38, and they affected me greatly: "If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." As I pondered the meaning of these words, I realized that Christ was calling us to a personal experience. What he said was so direct and simple. I knew then that I wanted to experience these streams of living water in my own life.

Soon after that night, I met some Christians in the city I asked them to tell me more about Christ and what it meant to trust in him. One of the Christians read the New Testament with me and told me about his experience with Christ. We studied the book of Galatians together, and for the first time I discovered the contrast between law and grace. I thought I had to keep certain religious laws and rituals to be accepted by God. That he would only accept us on the basis of grace was something entirely new to me. It was so wonderful to learn that grace means that Christ has done all that was needed for my forgiveness and salvation by dying for my sins and rising from the dead. This was something I did not deserve and could not earn no matter how much I tried to do my best.

During the two-month period when I was studying the book of Galatians, I came to understand the true meaning of the gospel of Christ and I put my trust in him as my Savior and Lord. I frequently meditated on the words of Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Two months later I was baptized; it was a great joy for me to give public testimony to the love of Christ that had changed my life.

The change in my life was great - all as a result of trusting in Christ and unashamedly declaring my faith in him. I had a deep desire to tell my relatives and friends about the truth as it is in Christ. For a number of years now I have been doing all I can to share the good news that God loves us and has provided forgiveness and eternal life in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the most wonderful things about being a believer in Christ is that I have assurance that God has already accepted me. I do not have to dread the day of judgment, and I do not have to wait until then to know whether or not I will go to heaven. I had been seeking for this kind of assurance for a long time and I could not find it in Islam. I had tried to insure that I would be accepted by God by doing all the good works that I could perform. But I also knew that I was a failure. In my heart I was aware of the fact that I fell short of the standard of perfect goodness. That awareness left me in a state of doubt and fear, for I saw no way to escape the consequences of my guilt. When I believed in Christ and experienced his loving forgiveness, I was also surprised to find his wonderful promise that he will always keep me: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27,28).

Christ has removed my proud, critical, unloving spirit and he has given me a genuine love for others. He continues to change me in other ways, too. Of course, I know I am far from being perfect, but I also know that God's power is in me and he is changing me more and more. The people in my home town were very surprised when they saw what kind of a man I had become, and many of them wanted to find out how Christ produced this change in my life. My mother and brother were also amazed that I had become a new person. But for years my mother resisted the message of Christ, saying that she could not leave Islam which she considered to be the best way. But she finally opened her heart and mind and saw the truth in Christ. She, too, trusted in him, and now she is a joyful believer who has acceptance and fellowship with God. I also rejoice over many other Muslims who are turning from sin to Christ.

Formerly, I had to struggle with the same problems that all Muslims face when they consider the Christian faith. But it was so liberating when I found out that there was an answer to every question that I had. I realized that I first had to be sincere and humble. I was very proud and I would not listen to anything with which I disagreed. It took a long time for me to realize that I was hurting myself by pride, for it kept me from making a careful, objective study of truth

When I began studying the Christian faith, I was drawn to its very center - the person of Jesus Christ. This was the question I had to face: Who is Jesus Christ? I had to make up my mind about him. The important issue was not what I had been taught to believe about him; rather, it was what I should believe about him. And to decide that in a sensible way, I knew I had to be sincere enough to look at the evidence, especially the Bible.

In Islam, Jesus is considered one of the greatest prophets. But the characteristics of a prophet are truthfulness, honesty, and righteousness. A true prophet never lies, and therefore Jesus was telling the truth when he said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) and "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). He claimed to be God - the one true God who came into the world by being born of a virgin.

I had to face the objection that alleged that Christians had changed the Bible. Of course, it is easy to say something like that, but proving it is another matter. I searched for such proof and I have asked others to prove it to me, but no one has been able to do so. I have told my Muslim friends that when they are able to prove that the Bible has been changed, then I would follow them. Not only is there no proof that the Bible has been changed, however, there is proof that the Bible we have today is the same as the original Bible. If anyone doubts that, he should study the thousands of manuscripts that overlap across the centuries since the Bible was completed. Even the Quran does not say that the Bible has been changed. It says that if one cannot understand, then he should go to the Christians and their Scriptures. This indicates that the Quran accepted the Bible as the true Word of God, having suffered no alteration or perversion. For anyone who will look at the evidence, it is clear that the Bible was not changed before or after the Quran was written.

When I realized all of this, I began to understand why there was only one person who was worthy of being my ideal, and not mine only, but also the ideal for all the world. Jesus Christ was a perfect man because he is the eternal God who came into the world in the flesh, and he proved it by his works and his words. When I understood why he came into the world and that he loved me enough to die for my sins, and when I realized tnat he rose from the dead and is alive today, I knew that I could follow no other.

He is, and always will be, my true Ideal, my Savior and my Lord.

The . . . thing that became clear to me from the Traditions (Hadith) was that even the Prophet of Islam cannot save anyone, not even his daughter Fatimah or his relations. Hence, the idea that the Prophet would intercede for the faithful, which I thought would surely prove correct, was proved wrong. One tradition runs thus:

"Abu Huraira related that when the verse, `Cause thy near relatives to fear,' was revealed to the Prophet of Islam, the Prophet arose and began to proclaim: `Oh people of the Quraysh, and you sons of Abdul Manaf, and you Abbas, son of Abdul Muttalib, and you, Safiyyah my aunt, I cannot save you from the punishment of the Day of Resurrection. Take care of yourself, O my daughter Fatimah; you may use my property, but I cannot save you from God. Take care of yourself.'" (Bukhari)

From the traditions I gathered that no one can obtain salvation unless God's mercy rests on him. This comforted me a little, but at the same time I began to think: "If God is merciful, He is likewise just. If God should forgive by the exercise of His mercy alone, He would be evading the demands of His justice and righteousness. Such an evasion of His justice would indicate a defect in the being of God. Certainly such an act would be unworthy of the glory of God."

Sultan Muhammad P. Khan

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