From an early age in his native Niger, Hassane Dan Karami was groomed. He had his own Quranic teachers who worked for his father, a leading figure in their small Islamic village of Madaroumfa. Hassane and his twin brother, Ousseini, were diligent students who were seen as heirs to their father’s role in the village.
At age 12, with their foundational Islamic training finished, the boys were enrolled in separate boarding schools, Hassane to a school in the much larger city of Maradi, not far from their village, and Ousseini to another city farther away.
Before Hassane departed for his new school, his teachers assured him that he was ready to defend the honor and traditions of Islam, but one teacher had an extra warning: “I know you are ready, Hassane, but this place is much bigger and you may meet some people called Christians.”
His new home at the government-run boarding school of some 800 boys aged 12-15 was overwhelmingly Muslim, not surprising considering Niger’s population is 99 percent Muslim and only .2 percent Christian.
Yet Hassane said he was very surprised by two things when he arrived at the school. First, the mosque there was not full during worship times. And more troubling, he learned that there were three Christians enrolled.
“I went to see the principal of the school,” Hassane recalled, explaining to the principal that the Christians shouldn’t be allowed to stay.
“He looked at me, a boy of 12, and asked me who I was, who my father was. He said, ‘This is not a school for your father.’ I told him again, ‘No Christians should be here.’ And I left his office.”
Hassane decided he would start a Quranic school among the student body as a way to increase opposition against the three Christians. He found an empty classroom and began teaching.
One day while Hassane was teaching on the various prophets claimed by Islam, two Christian students entered the class and sat down.
When discussion time came, Hassane began asking questions of the class and one of the Christians raised his hand, answering with more detail than even Hassane had been taught. He was stunned and assumed the student had been studying and was ready to become a Muslim.
Hassane went to see the young man that night, and after the student clarified that he was a Christian, he mentioned something that Hassane had only heard about once but never actually seen: the Christian holy book.
“One of my Quranic teachers had told me before I left, ‘No Christian can change your faith. No risk.’ But he told me, ‘They have a book, a black book. Don’t ever read it.’ This was the only thing he asked me to not do.
“I was thinking that if I can get that black book, I can be prepared to face any Christian. So the bright idea came to me in the morning during prayer. I would go to the public library and secretly get that black book so I could read the stories of the prophets.”
Hassane found a Bible in the religion section, and he decided to begin reading from the beginning. As he left, he stashed it on an aisle containing physics and math books, thinking no one would look for it there.
For the next three-and-a-half years, he went to the library, secretly reading his way through the Old Testament and then through the New Testament.
Then one day, he read over a passage that, in his words, “stopped me in my tracks.” It was Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (NIV).
Troubled by the grace he saw in Scripture and his own arrogance and sense of self-righteousness at trying to earn Allah’s favor, he traveled back to his village to see one of his Quranic teachers, who promptly scolded him.
“I asked you to not read that book,” the teacher said. “Now it will be very hard.”
The teacher told him that Jesus’ disciples were instructed to wait in Jerusalem for Muhammad after Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. They had disobeyed, he said, and instead began teaching false doctrines that led to Christianity.
“Something in my heart wasn’t convinced by what he was saying,” Hassane recalled.
He went back to his school that night and prayed, “God, if what I read is true, I want that salvation. If this is true, I want to be a Christian.”
He then wrote a letter to Ousseini. “I told him that from this day forward, I am now a Christian. I want you to be the first one to know.”
Instead of celebrating, Ousseini wrote back, threatening to kill him if the Islamic council in his village decided he should be executed.
Hassane was heartbroken but also undeterred.
“Brother, you are still my brother. I love you,” Hassane wrote back. “I want you to become a Christian also.”
In the end, the village leaders decided, out of respect for Hassane’s father, not to kill Hassane. Instead, Ousseini was to live with him and was tasked with bringing him back to Islam.
Over a period of 10 years, except for a time when Hassane received a scholarship to study abroad, Ousseini lived with Hassane, aiming to lead him back to Islam. But Hassane grew deeper in his Christian faith, even while keeping a skeptical eye on his brother.
“Every day that I woke up,” Hassane recalled, “I said, ‘Praise God, I’m still alive.’”
Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, Ousseini surprised Hassane.
“He said, ‘Hassane, I have become a Christian.’ I said, ‘A Christian? How?’ He said, ‘I am watching whatever things that you are doing, and I just want to be like you. And I know that it is Jesus who has helped you become who you are.’”
Hassane and Ousseini brought the news to their father, eventually reconciling with him and brokering peace with the people in their home village. Their father was forced to give up his leadership position in the community because of his sons’ conversion to Christ. Hassane eventually brought him to his home in Niamey, Niger’s political capital, to live with Hassane’s family.
In the meantime, Hassane had married a Christian pastor’s daughter with his father’s blessing—the first of two wives Hassane would lose to breast cancer.
Before his death, his father told him one day, “Hassane, I think this way that you are following is the best.” He wasn’t ready that day to call himself a Christian, he told Hassane, because he was worried about causing more grief to his relatives and friends back in their home village.
“So I told him, ‘When you are ready, just tell me.’ Sadly, I was on a mission trip in Belgium when my father got sick and died without telling me if he was a Christian or not. Unfortunately, I cannot say for sure he became a Christian.”
Today, Hassane is remarried, to a former missionary. He serves as a pastor and church planter in Niamey, and is a field mobilization program manager for Samaritan’s Purse in Niger.
Ousseini, meanwhile, is a leader in his denomination in Niger.
Hassane described the task the church faces in Niger as a persecuted minority; “It’s David vs. Goliath.” Yet he is convinced that he is fulfilling God’s call on his life.
“We are putting an emphasis on discipleship and memorizing the Bible” Hassane said. “We told our people, they can come and take everything, but they cannot take your knowledge of the God of the Bible and the Bible itself in you.”