26 June 2015
Finding Christ : A conversion journey
"My mouth naturally spoke his name," said Salma, as we spoke in the park, on a sunny day. Salma, from Zanzibar, a province of Tanzania, has been in the UK for over 30 years, living first in Liverpool before moving to London. A computing teacher for adults, she grew up in an average, ordinary Muslim home, fasting, praying and wearing long sleeves and loose clothing. But when she encountered a persistent Christian student in her class in north London, she began a journey of faith in Jesus
Salma is the only Christian in her family. Her brother refuses to speak to her. In fact, when their mother died and Salma travelled back to Zanzibar for the funeral, he convened a meeting to convert her back to Islam. In a room full of 25 men, three of whom were ex-Catholics, Salma was asked to explain her new faith. Salma dutifully shared her testimony. The meeting ran on for over 12 hours. With pressure to amend her ways, Salma stood firm.
Several years ago, Salma had suffered with an illness similar to malaria. With two young children to look after and her family on the other side of London, Salma felt helpless. She prayed for relief. One night, half awake and half asleep, she noticed a man come through her window and begin to walk towards her. "Jesus, it's you," cried Salma, her mouth naturally speaking his name. The man looked at her, stood in front of her and put his hand on her forehead, as if to take her temperature. Salma knew this was real, she felt the weight of his hand on her head.
The man then asked: "How else should I help you?" before beckoning her to the window. In an instant, Salma said she found herself visiting the nearest church. Inside the church, she saw a vision of the church complete, despite the fact it was still being built, with congregants sitting inside.
So when Rod, her computing student, asked Salma if she had seen Jesus, she knew she had, but she wasn't ready to believe he could be her Saviour. At lunchtimes and during lessons, Rod asked her about her homeland. He spoke about her Grandma and seemed to know things about her family that he shouldn't. It puzzled Salma, but she was resolute in her convictions, she explained: "I always believed my religion was the true religion."
One day a stranger appeared at her classroom door. He said: "The Lord has sent me". But Salma had no time for him. During her lunch break she told the man his message was not wanted, and she saw tears form in the man's eyes. The man left, but undeterred with his message he returned and said: "Jesus says he will show you that he's God. Salma, the Lord says he wants you to know him. He wants you for himself."
Offended, Salma exclaimed: "What kind of people are you?" But the stranger had one more message for Salma, he told her: "The Lord says fast for seven days and He will show you things." Ready to prove the stranger wrong, Salma agreed. She was used to fasting, and having recently finished Ramadan –another seven days was not a challenge. Salma was resolute that she would continue practising her faith and reading the Quran, and that she would prove the stranger wrong. But over the next week, Salma experienced signs that she couldn't explain. During this time, Rod, who had been giving her pieces of scripture, gave her Matthew 13:16-17: "
At home, when Salma tried turning to the Quran for guidance, the book opened by itself and landed on a passage that talked about heavenly lights being signs from God. "These lights that I see, they are confirmed, confirmed in the holy book. The holy book I know," she said.
But one sign in particular spoke to Salma. One night she felt a wind, which blew the door open and a man appeared. Salma couldn't clearly see him, but he walked into her bedroom speaking Arabic. Though she recognised it, she couldn't make sense of the words. Salma felt a terrible fear she'd never experienced before, causing her to convulse uncontrollably. Salma began to repeat verses from the Quran, but the man continued. After each verse, again he spoke in an unintelligible language. He stopped in front of her bed, before Salma says she could see her body lying down on the bed, but she was three metres above, watching herself. There, for what seemed like a few minutes, she returned to her body.
She believes she realised what happened, much later, while writing her book, Transit to Heaven: My testimony from Allah to Christ. Salma believes that she died that night, and that her life was returned her as a testimony - that Jesus is God and that only he has the power over death and life.
Life is still difficult. Salma has divided her family with her faith and she continues to be blamed for her mother's death, who died from a heart attack after hearing of Salma's conversion. Her sons are determined to shun Christianity, while her daughters are more open. Despite it all, Salma has walked with the Lord for more than 10 years. She was baptised in March 2003 and has begun a ministry: sharing her testimony and encouraging others to follow Christ.
For Christians, it can be difficult to imagine Muslims coming to faith. It can seem like an impossible battle. Salma's story offers hope. Muslims are coming to faith, but it's not simple. As Salma said: "For a Muslim, [God] really has to demonstrate himself. It has to be God who takes you out of the Muslim faith."