A German atheist and a group of conservative Muslims were instrumental in turning my attention to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I grew up in a Muslim family on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. My childhood was relatively carefree, and I was popular in my neighborhood. I used to make daily rounds to talk with shopkeepers, bakers, utility workers and other neighbors.
In my senior year of high school, my best friend and his father joined the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative group that believes the nation should be governed by strict sharia law. My friend’s father was the best tailor in Cairo and was very successful in business. I loved to be around that family, so I decided to join the group as well. I hoped Allah would see me as “a good Muslim” and would reward me with high enough grades to be admitted to Cairo University.
So, I prayed more than just the required five times a day, and I followed many other rituals in how I dressed and what I said. And I was admitted to the university.
But I began to see things in the Muslim Brotherhood that troubled me.
One day at the university I saw a member of the group slap a Christian woman because she was wearing a cross. He spat in her face and said, “You’re an infidel! You’re going to hell.”
I was appalled. I wondered how that kind of behavior could possibly be right.
In my neighborhood was a young German, the son of an engineer. Both father and son were atheists. The son, Jansi, wanted to meet young Christian women because they were allowed to socialize more freely with young men than Muslim women were. He asked me to accompany him to a meeting where he said such women would be present. It turned out to be a Bible study and prayer meeting.
I was so impressed with the way those young people prayed. Their prayers were not like the memorized prayers I recited. They addressed God as Father, and they believed that God actually loved them and cared about the details of their lives.
Then I found a Bible—in our house! It is very rare to find a Bible in a Muslim home, but I believe in the providence of God. My brother had been dating a young Christian woman. She gave him a Bible, which he put in a drawer. When I found it, I thought, Now I can read the Bible and see what these people are talking about. And if I get caught with it, it’s not my fault. My brother is the one who brought it into our house.
I also had a couple of incidents where I was in trouble and decided to pray like the Christians to see if God would answer. These were not prayers of faith, by any means, but God used them to get my attention.
I went back to the Christian group and started to study the Bible seriously. I thought about my friend who had joined the Muslim Brotherhood—his family, once so successful and happy, had become sullen and bitter. I remembered the Muslim Brother who had slapped the young woman at the university. The young people in the Christian group were so much better than that. If Christianity was so bad, why was it producing people who were so good?
So, at age 19, I committed my life to Jesus Christ, and three years later, I was baptized. The baptism was done in secret because doing it publicly would have jeopardized the lives of both the minister and me.
Eventually, though, people found out that I had become a Christian. One night, about 12 people came to our house and wanted to kill me. Three of them had been friends of mine since kindergarten. My family protected me that night, but they put me under house arrest. For a week, they brought in people who tried to bring me back to Islam.
They could not convince me. Jesus had changed my life, and I knew I was different now.
My family kicked me out of the house. They said, “We’re not going to kill you, but you need to leave because we cannot tolerate this shame.”
The Lord opened the door for me to come to the United States and attend a Bible college in Grand Rapids, Mich. During my time there, I met the woman who would become my wife, and I sensed God’s call to serve Him as a missionary among Muslims. After Bible college, I earned graduate degrees from Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary and from Calvin Theological Seminary.
Now, more than 30 years later, my ministry consists of both evangelism and training. I travel to Middle Eastern countries, and I also lead a team working among Syrian refugees in Germany, where we’ve seen a number of Syrians give their lives to the Lord.
I’m also the director of a training center in Europe. For safety, we do not publicize which country it is in. About 70 percent of our students are converts from Islam. They come five times a year, for 10 days each time, to receive Biblical, theological and practical training. We keep the sessions short so we don’t take them away from their ministries.
Many Muslims are open to hearing the Gospel right now. The brutality of ISIS has shown Syrians what Islam is all about. Many of them now say, “I’m no longer Muslim.” When we talk with Iranians, they say Ayatollah Khomeini was the “best evangelist” in the history of Iran because he turned off so many young people to Islam. And the oppressive presidency of Mohamed Morsi in 2012 and 2013 caused many Egyptians to renounce Islam.
At the same time, people see in Christians the amazing love of Jesus Christ. An article in an Egyptian newspaper said that Christians should receive the Nobel Prize because, while Muslims have burned their churches and killed their people, Christians have not lifted a finger to retaliate. The article said that Muslims should learn from Christians how to live in peace.
God is using these things to help Muslims see Christianity in a new way—even as He used some unexpected people and events in my journey to Christ more than 40 years ago. ©2017 Abu Atallah