Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Aroma of Christ - A testimony by Sabir Ali

Sabir Ali, Bangalore, India
God has touched Sabir Ali in an incredible way.  He was on his way to becoming a Molavi (Muslim priest) when he had an intervention from God which totally changed the direction of his life.  He is now a powerful evangelist and shares the Gospel with many Muslims.  God has his hand upon his life!

Sabir Ali:
Childhood Joys
I was born in a conservative Shitte (Shia) Muslim family in 1978. I do not remember my age but I do remember the first time I was sent to my neighborhood Islamic Madrassa (Primary Islamic School) in a small developing town in North India. Sweet memories of a rural screen of sparse population, and farmers working hard on fields, grazing cows, paddy, rice and wheat fields spread across their little town with simple-hearted people sharing their lives refresh me.  I spent my days playing and running around with neighbor friends and running around their golden cornfield.  I had an elder sister, a brother and myself.  My father passed away when I was four years old, so I was looked after by my mother and uncles who really loved and cared for me.

Since I was the very youngest in my family and relative circle, the usual practice was to send the youngest one to the Islamic Seminary to become a Molavi (Mullah). Especially the month of Muharram was most precious month for the Shia Muslims.   For forty days, the people hung out with their community people, going from one place to another for house Islamic gathering called Majalis.

Being from a very strong conservative Muslim family, we did not even know a single Christian family. At five years old, my mother took me far off near our town to a Catholic Missionary Hospital.  I had never seen such an impressive and big hospital with nurses and doctors hurrying along busily, and I was overwhelmed and impressed.  I developed a keen curiosity about Christians from then on, who were these people?  I then noticed something strange, a big cross and a man hanging on it, and statues of Mary carrying Jesus.

I asked my mother, "What is that, and who is hanging on the wooden frame?"

My mother knew much about Christian beliefs from what she heard from our Islamic teachings and explained to me, "He is none other than our major fourth prophet Hajrat Isa Al Masih. Christian people wrongly believed that He was crucified like this, which is not true.  Rather our Allah lifted up Isa and His enemy was put on the cross."  Such a story really fascinated me a lot and made me more conscious that my Allah was really great.  What really stuck out in the Catholic Missionary Hospital was the love and care shown to us by the nuns. I still remember receiving many chocolates, dry milk and health nutrition supplements free of cost. Regardless of the Christians wrong belief, I was really struck by the fact that they had similarities and I felt they were not far from us and we often hear in our Muslim gatherings and often read in our Quran and Hadith that they are not strangers like other religions, but we share similar views, but they have gone extreme.

The Meeting
The years rolled by and when I finished my 10th standard, by now our small town had transformed into a big city and soon we all realized we are in a midst of madding crowds and big fancy-looking shops where one could buy literally anything.

One bright morning, I was walking with my friends through the crowded market place when I noticed a man with a walky talky mike carrying some little papers and booklets in his hands preaching about Jesus Christ.  My old interest in Christians was stirred up and I was drawn to go and speak to the man and asked him if a booklet could be provided in Urdu, (my mother tongue).  The man spoke into my eyes, spoke with me gently, and assured me that if I could come to his place, he would give me an Urdu booklet free of cost.  I was very excited as it would be the first time I would be going to a Christian's house.

It was a Sunday morning, and as I went, I noticed a small gathering of a few people at the Christian's house. First, I thought I landed in the wrong place but all of a sudden, the person who invited me asked me to come in and sit down and he would meet me soon after the service. After sometime, all the people start singing songs and praying.  I was suddenly frightened and started quickly recalling all the Quranic Surah, reciting them hurriedly to protect myself from the evil practices of the Christians so none of the Christian prayers and songs could affect my faith.  I started wondering why I came.  Later when tea and coffee was served, I refrained myself because I was always told Christian people eat pork, so any vessels touched by their lips become impure.  The man who was the pastor, finally met me and gave me a book in Urdu and Hindi to read and asked me to visit again.

I do not remember how I slowly got attached to this pastor and his family, but later when they assured me that they did not eat pork, I started having a meal with them in their little cheery house.  I, however, still had a strange sensation in the pit of my stomach about these people, who were they really? What was their faith?  Were they infidels?, A lot of questions were brewing in my mind and I had mixed feelings towards them.

The New Direction

By the time I finished my 10+2, I had been meeting up with this Christian family for almost two years.  I, however, was very clear and strong in my mind about the fact that I now really wanted to become an Islamic preacher rather than a Mullah, reach out to Christian people, and bring them to Islam, saving them from their deception.  I never shared with my family about my friendship with the Christian family; however, I did tell them that I wanted to go for Islamic teaching, and they agreed to it.  On my next visit to the Christian family, I met a gentleman who was from Kerala visiting North India. Though his Hindi was so bad and my English was so poor, it was enough to get through understanding fragments of the conversation.  I was especially interested when the man explained that he had just finished his Bible College and came to serve the Lord.  I was struck by the word Bible College.  I inquired more about it, wanted to know what this Bible College was all about and what people did there. When I learned more, all of a sudden, a brain wave hit me and I made a plan excitedly.  I now decided that instead of going to an Islamic seminary, I first needed to go to a Bible College and learn all about Christians teachings systematically and after that would go to the Islamic seminary so I could learn doctrines to counteract Christianity's deception with the truth of Islam.

In the next few days, I delved into the depths of all details, finding out more about Bible college from all aspects and discovered that getting into Bible College is not at all a big deal. The criteria to get into college were to be saved and be baptized.  I knew I could go to the Kerala Bible College for three years. My conscious was clear that the purpose of getting into Bible college was to learn about Christianity and later to serve Allah among them; therefore, I had to go through these processes; so took the form of Taqiyya (which is a form of temporary religious dissimulation or a legal dispensation). One Sunday morning during service, I stood up and declared I believed in Christ and want to study more about the Bible therefore need baptism and wanted to go to Bible college to the joy of the general congregation.  Some of the elders of the assembly were a little suspicious about me, but the main elder agreed to baptize and send me to the Bible College after six months.

After this, I tried convincing my mother and brother to let them agree to go to the Bible College, which was a difficult task.  I was afraid if I clearly told them my plan, it would bring fear upon them and restrict me from all I had achieved thus far.  It was not easy to convince them but when I told them that I was given a scholarship and all expenses were taken care of, I urged them to let me give it a try.  My mother then wanted to know if it was Allah's will.  Normally in our community whenever we want to know or start any major decision where risk is involved, we seek our local Imaam for divine help. The Imaam makes a special prayer and through a process of drawing lots, finds out if it is a yes or a no. It is done only once and has to be followed through. This was difficult and challenging, but I was also eager to know Allah’s will as to what I was doing was right or wrong.. With fear and trepidation, we approached Imaam telling him that I wanted to go to Kerala for higher studies, wanted to seek Allah’s will. The Imaam drew lots and after ten minutes, it came back as a yes!.  It brought tremendous joy to me that Allah was with me and I was going to succeed.

College Days
After six months during the month of June 1995, I got my admission and by the first week of the month, my new journey started. It was a sad day, going away for the first time in my life away from my family to a faraway place, the very south of India.  Though I was sad, I had a thread of joy that everything was going to be alright, and I was actually planning to compact the three years' study in just six months after which I was clear I would "finish my mission and back home and get into Islamic seminary".

I arrived in the evening in Kerala, a land of plush green fields, millions of coconut trees and palm trees amidst sprawling rubber plantations and coffee plantations, a land of plenty, yet, so different from where I came from.  The culture was miles apart from North India and the language, Malalayam sounding very different. As the mosquitoes swarmed around me hungrily that sultry evening, I was struck with melancholy, I was so alone in this strange land.

As the days went by, I discovered that I disliked Kerala food cooked in strong-smelling coconut oil, each dish sprinkled with grated coconut, sour tamarind as well as kanji, the watery rice made me feel sick.

Each morning at 5 a.m., I had to get up, which I found torturous, half-asleep in the dark, fumbling and then having to go to a chapel for devotion.  This was emotionally painful because I could not do Nammaz, (the Muslim Prayer), but rather Christian prayers and singing songs.  Of course, no one in the Bible college knew I was really a Muslim. I was often miserable and would often wander in the huge glassy campus forested with trees at the ends and would hide among the woody trees crying.

I never liked the classes, but somehow used to gather notes and information from the library. The first year students were not allowed to read all the books except certain books to improve their English and do well in tests, but I always ignored this and started gathering all historical books. I had also carried my Urdu Quran with me, which I often used to read in the library during the 9 p.m. evening times in the library, which was noticed by many and reported to the warden.  This awoke suspicion among the other students and even teachers, and they viewed me strangely though they were never rude.  I started becoming bitter due to the heavy atmosphere of suspicion and distrust.

I went to the point that that I almost lost "my testimony" in the college and everyone started avoiding me.  By the time I was close to December and decided after this Christmas break, I would go home and never back again.  Excited to go home, I felt lighter and happier, eagerly awaiting the day.

The Amazing Book in the Library
One day, in the library, I stumbled across a book called “The Quest of Truth” (Available on his website written by a Muslim convert, Dr. Omer Khan Deskhmukh. This really fascinated me as it was written by a Muslim.  I had been under the impression that no Muslim would ever turn to Christianity.  I started reading the book and his views on various aspects from both Christian and Muslim perspectives. This book stormed my brain and intellect and furiously on a hunt, I started looking for all books related to Islam and Christianity written in an apologetic style.  Then one clear realization struck me as I read through.  I had an amazing illumination that shook my senses and I gasped aloud, "The Bible has never been changed and Jewish and Christians have preserved it through the ages!!"  I then muttered softly to myself, "If the Bible had not been changed, then what about Quranic statements about the corruption of the Bible and all their allegations against Christian faith, being a corrupted book."

Soon with the help of the dean, I got some more comparative studies on Islam and Christianity and the more I read, the more I was convinced that Jesus is the Son of God not the way the Muslims taught, but very differently as the Bible explains, not physical but spiritual.  I was able to nail down every issue that Muslims had pointed out as erroneous in Christianity, like the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Deity of Jesus Christ and authority and authenticity of the Bible.  To my amazement, I found there to be a serious misunderstanding in the Quran's interpretation of the Bible.  None of the Quranic arguments against Christianity could hold water if a person really studied and read the Bible with an open heart.  It was a shocking truth to me.  I sat through the night hours in the library battling in accepting the validity of the Bible against the teaching of the Quran.  I dreaded to accept this Truth, but it pierced me, it was Truth that I was really after, Truth which mattered to my life here on earth and the afterlife, so if I rejected this Truth, I knew I would be in serious error and would bear frightening consequences.

I reasoned with myself, "If the Cross is true, then yes, Jesus died for my sins and in Him, I have Salvation, Justification and whole fullness of life as He promised with filling of the Holy Spirit". Yet I knew if I changed my religion, my whole life would come crashing down, especially with my kin people and family.  I managed to finish the six months in a blur and went back home explaining to my people that I could not continue to study due to the culture shock I had in Kerela, with the food, language and general vast difference in culture.  Yet, my life stood at a halt, I came to a dead-end, now wondering that to do as now that I knew I would have mixed thoughts if I was a Islamic preacher as the Truth of the Bible's rays were beginning to shine into my heart.

It was a spiritual conundrum for me, and I felt between the devil and the deep blue sea.  Each choice was hard, as I felt I was closer to the truth in the Bible, which would mean forsaking my faith

The Great Decision and the Walk
One beautiful day, I prayed to Christ and surrendered my life to Him, praying to Him for the first time to guide me!  As I prayed, a great big burden lifted up and waves of peace filled my heart.  I had peace in my heart to go back to the same Bible College.  But again, I had to convince my mother and brother that I would like to go back and not ruin what I had already started.  At the cool end of January, I headed back to the sunny South.  After three long sticky days of travel in the train, I reached Kerala, and then got a call from home, telling me that my mother was sick, but was assured that there was no need to worry.  Six months later, I was informed by one of my friends that my mother passed away the very day that I got a call about her falling sick, but no one wanted to call me back as I had already just gone back to Kerela.  I felt I had lost the most precious person in my life and I was heartbroken.  After my father's death, I had become especially close to my mother.  The days following the news of her passing, I would often find solace in the green shady trees and cried for weeks on end.  In my soul, a dramatic transformation came out.  My whole perspective was majoring in Islam and Christianity became one of my major subjects and after three years, when I was asked to write a dissertation, I selected to deal all Islamic Objection against Christian faith and the Lord helped me to finish my paper “Are Muslim objections Valid?”

I graduated from Bible College in 1998.  When I reached home again, I found I could not stop talking about Christ.  My brother was embarrassed and thought I might be going through a passing phase, ordered me sternly to stop declaring my faith in Christ openly.  My brother blamed himself bitterly for allowing me to have the freedom to attend a Christian Bible College.

Because I was loved by all and no one wanted to hurt me, I too did not want to hurt them, so I decided to move to Hyderabad as I had a friend there. In 1999, I left my hometown to another strange state not knowing what was in for me.  It was there that I came across other kinds of Christian denominations other than the very conservative Brethren Bible College. I found it very difficult to adjust to other believers who thought differently and practiced the Bible differently.  Many mission leaders who were reaching Muslims took me in their fold.  However, I did not receive the love and all that I learned in the Bible, rather, this experience was unpleasant, and some badly misused me, which was strange and shocking but only later I came to know it was all part of the plan of God to know Him better through trials and tribulations.

One particular day, I was so discouraged and broken, felt left out and alone, and a kind man of God from Operation Mobilization called Brother Alfy Frank (now promoted to Bishop Alfy Frank) told me wisely.  “Look unto Jesus Alone because He is the Only Perfect One”.  These words gripped my heart, but it took me years to understand the depths of this. Brother Alfy Franks came as a great blessing sent from God for me.  He helped me in a lot of ways.  One day he asked me if I could go to Lucknow and serve the Lord with OM there to minister among Muslims. Tremendously thrilled, I accepted and in 2000 moved to the historic archaic city of Lucknow.  Joining OM and staying there for three years gave me lots of training and a widened vision for world missions. I started praying for North Africa but in July 2003, the Lord took me to Central Asia Kazakhstan.

Mission to Kazakhstan
In this strange land, I had the hardest time in my life.  Sickness struck me mercilessly in the severe biting cold weather, communication was hard as it was a foreign language with a foreign culture, I had dearth of money and proper shelter.  But a miracle started happening in my heart.  In the midst of all of this, I began to see God’s hand upon my life and came to know God was so caring, providing all my needs, which I had never experienced in India. This built a real faith in Christ and I experienced His real presence in my life, renewing new confidence and hope in Him.

In Kazakhstan, I lived among Kazakh Muslims, and was around 40 kilometers from the city.  The freezing cold winters had ice sludge all over, with temperatures down to 4 and 5, it was so cold that the bathroom water and all water pipelines would get frozen!  There was no heater in the house for a long time, and I spent many months shivering in the little house I was living in.

A time came when the government of Kazakhstan asked all foreigners who were staying for a long time to leave the country and re-apply their documents for visa, so I left, but had a hard time getting a visa again because they had changed policies for those who were staying on a missionary visa.

Back in India
In India, I arrived in June to North India. The piping hot summers did not allow me to sleep as my body had acclimatized to the cold. One of my friends from Bangalore visited me and invited me to come to Bangalore, so in 2006, I arrived in Bangalore.

It was an early morning with fresh cold air that really soothed the three days of a scorching hot journey. I loved the climate of Bangalore and planned to stay and look for another missionary journey. But days and months passed by and nothing happened.  So, I decided to work in an IT company.  The Lord connected me to a believer who was the CEO of his IT company. Without much question, he helped me get a small job in his company.  I only knew only how to write E-mails and receive E-mails, but this company opened a whole new avenue of understanding the IT field.  Soon, I became competent with skills, learning about the web and technical knowledge and could interact with American clients.  I started to develop websites and developing materials for Muslim work and through web and various channels, I started reaching Muslim through the web. When I started getting a good response, I was delighted and plunged into this soul and spirit.

I later met Leeze, a wonderful girl who loved God, who was in the church where I was part of for a season. In April 2009, we were married.   We now have a beautiful baby girl, born in 2013 and experience God's love on our lives in a wonderful way.

"God is faithful all through my life and I thank God for all situations that He led me through to mature in His word and relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ. Today,  Lord has given me a ministry to reach my own people…the Muslim community, and blessed with many souls and what I lost, Lord gave me much more than that and we decided to be happy in all small and big situations and love His people and serve Him with our family."

Sabir Ali, Bangalore, June 25, 2013 
2 Corinthians 2:14  "But thanks be to God through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place."