My story is one of a journey from hate to love. I grew up in Sudan in a tribal community. We were called Bedouin, a nomadic people who trained and traded camels. We were a strong religious Muslim community with simple beliefs where everyone is born a Muslim. It was expected that at the age of 6, each child would go to the tent of the religious leader to start memorizing the Koran orally - all day, every day, until they knew it completely. This ultimately created an illiterate people as reading and writing was not taught.
I was part of the generation where there was a major shift in thinking, that the children should learn to read and write, and the only way to do that was send them to a boarding school in the city. Before our journey to the school, the tribe elders tried to explain to us what a city was and to prepare us for what we would see and face. Because we had been raised only in the desert, I could not even begin to comprehend what a building or a car looked like. So much of what they said I could not understand. There was one thing, however, that they talked about that would completely change my heart and lead me to a place of hatred, fear and extremely bad decisions for my life.
The elders talked about Christians as the "firewood of hell." Their exact words were "to burn them before they burn us." We were to hate them and hurt them before they hurt us. The Koran taught us that Christians and Jews were like apes and pigs. The elders said things about them that made them seem not human—if we would touch them, poison would come from them onto us; if we slept in the same bed, they would turn to donkeys in the night. All this created a picture similar to that of an alien and a hate that went deep into our hearts and minds.
Boarding school in Sudan was a government public school and not a very easy place to live. An extremely strict environment, overcrowding with often two to three in one bed, literally one bowl of food for 10 students to share and a beating for even the smallest offense stole most of my childhood from me. Although it was a Muslim school, a small number of Christian students found themselves in this hostile environment with nowhere else to go for their education.
This school is where I found a place for my hatred to escape. Sadly, these students became the outlet for all of the negative ideas that had been taught to me about Christians. My goal was to make their life miserable, and I found many ways to do that. Between elementary and high school, I was expelled from 8 different schools because I had become such a violent person. This did not affect my academics. I did very well at school and was able to take the test that is needed to get into University.
The University was the only place in Sudan where anyone could say what they really thought about politics, religion, etc. As soon as one stepped off campus, one could be arrested for saying the same words just spoken inside. This allowed for many groups to become outspoken about their beliefs. One group was the Christians, and another was the Muslim Brotherhood.
As soon as I entered University, I naturally joined the Muslim Brotherhood whose main goal was to protect Islam. Many in this group had no knowledge of the Koran, but because of my family history I had the complete Koran memorized and soon became a leader. The Muslim Brotherhood is a world-wide fundamentalist organization, and my involvement in it would ultimately lead to some regretful and painful moments in my memory.
The Christian group was very outspoken with their faith, and one person seemed to have a burden to try to witness to me. Anytime he approached me, I would beat him. Yet he continued to try. I could not believe how many times he would come to me only to face the same outcome. During my second year, the Christians arranged for a preacher to come and give a lecture on "Is the Bible the word of God?" Such a large number of people signed up to attend that the Muslim Brotherhood became concerned and then angry.
We had a meeting to discuss how to stop this and decided that one of the Christians needed to be killed. Sadly, I was chosen to carry out the plan. My 2 counterparts and I chose to do this deed in the dark, but we attacked the wrong person. It was a Muslim man and not a Christian who was beaten and left paralyzed for life. Although I stayed part of the Muslim Brotherhood for the rest of my University years, my fear of being found out for this beating and not allowed to finish my education made me avoid any violence during the rest of my studies.
Still a devout Muslim, I graduated and began working as an accountant for a French company. My accidental touching of a cup of alcohol at a company party led to an extreme beating by my Muslim "brothers" at the mosque and the consequence of 40 days without prayers, the Koran or even uttering the name of Allah. This caused me to explore the things of this world that I had never thought of before in my passion to be Muslim. I was drawn to this new "city life," and yet I was plagued with guilt.
Incredibly, who should show up at my place of work asking for me but that Christian man from University that had received so many beatings by my hand. He wanted to tell me of Christ yet again. This time when he spoke of forgiveness, I was truly interested. I started to see God guiding my steps in the next months, but the most powerful act of God was that he brought me to a woman with an unshakeable faith and a story that brought me to my knees to accept Jesus into my heart.
She became a Christian as a teenager, and when her tribe found out, they attempted to burn her to her death. She was rescued by a Christian doctor visiting the tribe and survived with severe damage to her legs. When I met her I saw the light of Jesus in her. When she pulled back the blanket covering her legs to show me, I can only try to explain by saying that God spoke to my heart at that moment.
As soon as my family found out I was a Christian, I was arrested, severely beaten and found myself in front of a judge with two other converts. We were given the chance to be set free by renouncing Christianity and embracing Islam. In my weakened state, I wanted to stand and give in, but my strong brothers beside me would not let me. They prayed we would somehow be in the same cell, and that is where God put us so I could experience my first Bible Study. We were sentenced to be executed, one of us each Friday, with myself the last. I watched those two Fridays as my brave brothers in Christ left this earth to the arms of Jesus.
February 8, 1985, my day to be executed. I woke up to the sound of the city being bombed by Libya. In the chaos, I found myself free and running to the elderly woman whose bravery in being burned for belief in Jesus had been the ultimate moment that brought me to Christ. She became my mother, and I became her son, now named Wagdi Iskander. God orchestrated events beyond my comprehension to bring me to Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, AB, and put a passion in my heart for the lost Muslim people who need Jesus as their Saviour.
If there are Muslim people around you, they need the love, grace and forgiveness of God. I would like to encourage you that to accomplish anything worthwhile takes time and effort. Pray and depend on the Holy Spirit to guide you and empower you.
• Start a genuine friendship.
• Ask questions about their family and their culture, and really listen.
• Don't feel like you have to defend or contradict, but try saying, "That is interesting."
• Show respect for their culture and behavior.
• Present the Bible by using stories. Ask them what they think a passage means. The Sermon on the Mount has been effective for me and many other converts.
• Don't pressure them or act surprised if they ask the same question over and over. Remember where they have come from, their history and culture.
Really, the first and last question is about Jesus Christ and who he is. A true friendship is the only way to get there.
Wagdi Iskander has served with various missions, pastored Arab churches, reaches Muslims and equips other Christians to do likewise. He lives in Alberta with his family. Wagdi was a workshop speaker at Fellowship 48 in Banff. He led a workshop entitled Understanding the Muslim Mindset. Wagdi helped participants to better understand Muslims and how to use the Bible to reach them. He looked at Muslim objections to Christianity and provided insight into responding to these objections. He discussed the reality Muslims face in North America. Follow this link to listen to the audio file: http://www.fellowship.ca/qry/page.taf?id=288