I had a dream as a child. I was dressed in white and riding a white horse, and in each arm I held a double-edged sword. In my dream, I had beheaded a host of Jews and Christians as I heroically wielded my swords, only to be martyred. When I came before the throne of Allah, he was laughing and said, “Only my crazy Kamal could do this.”
This was my Islamic worldview that reflected the Sunni beliefs of my family. For me, jihad was birthed from infancy.
I Was Taught To Hate
My mother taught me what it meant to be a Muslim, that Muslims had conquered the world and would do it again. She diligently taught me and my siblings the Quran and the Hadith (writings of the eyewitness accounts of the deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad). My father reinforced my mother’s teachings. “Allah will weigh all your deeds, both good and bad, and whatever tips the scale means Heaven or hell for you,” he told us. As a young child, I believed my life must be about working my way to Heaven, that one’s works and deeds are the only chance to Heaven besides martyrdom.
When I was 7 years old, my father took me out of school to help bring in money for my family, and when I wasn’t working, I was at the mosque learning more about Islam from the imams. What they taught me as a child shaped my life.
We interpreted the Quran as Muslim zealots, viewing moderates as infidels who must be Islamicized. I was taught that if we conquered America, we could conquer the whole world for Islam. And if I did bad things to achieve that goal, that was OK. I could die a martyr and still have a one-way ticket to Heaven, for Muslims can do anything for the sake of Islam.
The Muslim Brotherhood
One day a man came to our mosque and talked to us about the Muslim Brotherhood—a group that later gave rise to newer radicalized groups such as al-Qaida. He said, “You have the power of the Quran; now you can have the power of the sword.” The man was a recruiter of the early Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which was called Fatah at that time. Our whole group joined. I was the youngest.
I went to my first PLO assault camp at age 7. The first day I went to the camp, I was completely taken with it. I saw the biggest playground I had ever seen. Dangling ropes over mudholes to jump over. Flat walls to jump and climb over. But it was not a class trip; we were there to learn war.
One of the leaders looked at me and said, “Child, do you want to be a warrior?” I said, “I am a warrior!” as I slapped my hand on my chest. He said, “You cannot be unless you know how to use a weapon.” He grabbed an AK-47 and handed it to me. “Now shoot,” he said. I shot 30 bullets into the sky that day. The gun became my friend, and the smell of gunpowder became my addiction. It robbed me of my soul.
My First Mission
After weeks and weeks of training, I went on my first mission. My task was to smuggle duffel bags with TNT blocks and AK-47 ammo into the Golan Heights in Israel through Syria via underground tunnels. We rendezvoused with some shepherds at our drop point and then they carried the ammunition and explosives to the Fedayeen (Arab commandos)to kill Jews. My first mission was a success, and when we got back to our base, hundreds of men and women celebrated us by shouting victory and Allahu Akbar (“god is greater”).
Not long after this mission, a special guest came to visit our PLO camp. It was a mandatory meeting, and as I made my way to it, I was ushered on stage to meet Yasser Arafat—a founder of the PLO and former president of the state of Palestine. I felt like I was seeing the prophet Muhammad. He started speaking and hailing the movement. “Children like you,” he said while pointing to me and other kids, “will change the future. You are the future.”
That was just the beginning. From that moment on, my life was one mission after another.
A Change of Direction
Years later, after I had traveled many countries and completed many missions for the sake of Islam, I came to the U.S. on a new kind of mission: cultural jihad. We were determined such a jihad would change America the way it was changing Europe. Cultural jihad is about becoming like the enemy in order to conquer the enemy from within. You learn the language and culture; you blend into society.
But one day in 1985, just when I thought everything was moving in the right direction, my life got turned upside down. As I was driving, a truck careened from an oncoming lane and hit me head on. The impact ejected me from my car, leaving me seriously injured.
I lay in a hospital bed confused. Why had this happened? I thought maybe Allah was angry with me.
Two doctors and another man befriended me during my hospital stay—and since I had no family in America, one of the doctors and his wife took me to their home to recuperate. The family took me in as if I had always belonged. Their children treated me with love—something I had never known before. I had been a child jihad warrior. But these kids were speaking to me without any violence in their thoughts, loving me and praying Jesus prayers in their little voices for me to be healed. They were speaking as if they had a relationship with their God.
I Wanted a Relationship With Allah
This kind of relationship was new to me. In Islam, you’re a servant; Allah is a distant god. But I now wanted a relationship with Allah. So one day I fell on my knees in front of a window and put my hands up to Heaven and cried out to him.
I waited and Allah said nothing. Absolutely nothing.
As I waited for a response, this family’s way of life seized my attention. They had a relationship with their God. They were Americans and Christians, but they were not the bad people I had been taught about and always believed them to be. They loved me unconditionally. They cared for me and prayed for me. They were generous and tender to their children. They lived by a different code called love. What’s more, they paid my hospital debts!
I wrestled within myself: I can’t live anymore because everything I lived and worked for is not real. It’s false. And when I needed Allah the most, he did not come to me.
Islam teaches that if you challenge Allah, he will kill you, and I had challenged him. I was sure the sword of Allah would fall on me right then.
The God of Abraham Came to Me
I wanted to put an end to my life that day. But as I was reaching for one of my guns, I heard a voice that had to be God’s. He called me by my name and said, “Kamal, why don’t you call on the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”
I fell on my knees with my hands reaching up to Heaven and cried with all my might, “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, if You are real, will You speak to me? If You are real, I want to know You!”
That’s all I prayed. The God of Abraham came to me. Jesus, the God of Heaven and earth, came right there into the room. The room was filled with His palpable glory and power.
He answered my cries with, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. And I am everything in between. I knew you before I formed the foundation of the earth. I have loved you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Now Koome (rise up), Kamal. You are My warrior; you are not their warrior.”
As I rose up, my head, my neck, my collarbone, my ribs, my knees—everything became perfect. He healed me in a moment. Only the God of the Bible does miracles.
In that moment, everything changed for me. I said to God, “I will live and die for You.” But He said, “I died for you that you may live.”
A New Mission
Today, I have a different mission—to love my enemy.
The Bible says that he whom the Son sets free is free indeed! (see John 8:36). My journey from jihad to freedom and liberty took place in Christ. If I had not met Christ, I would never have had a story of victory to tell. One god (Allah) sought my blood; the one and only true God gave His blood for me. If I have anything to say, it is that today can be a new beginning for you. Won’t you call on Jesus today? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the Great I Am? He is waiting. ©2022 Koome Ministries
Kamal Saleem is founder and president of Koome Ministries, a Christian nonprofit dedicated to reaching the lost and oppressed—especially Muslims—through education, relationship and prayer. He’s also an international speaker, teacher and author. For more information, visit KoomeMinistries.com.