When I became a Christian, a wonderful change took place in my life. My speech, actions, and whole manner of life were so transformed that a year later, when I visited Bombay for a short time, my Muslim friends wondered at it. They marvelled at my mildness, for they knew how easily I used to lose my temper.
Before I became a Christian, I recognized sin to be sin. But I did not realize, as I do now, what a dangerous and destructive force sin is. Although I am still merely a weak man and a handful of dust, yet when I have sinned, I cannot describe the shame and sorrow with which I am filled. Immediately I fall on my face and with tears I repent and beg for forgiveness. This attitude can be acquired only by the recognition of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sin cannot be removed by repentance alone. It must be cleansed by the sacred blood of our Savior. For this very reason the world, which makes light of sin, is daily approaching nearer and nearer to destruction.
Sultan Muhammad P. Khan
One time during a Muslim festival my family awakened me at three o'clock in the morning to go to a mosque to pray. We arrived while it was still dark. During the prayer I became ill with a high fever and I fell to the ground. But no one came to help me, because everyone was supposed to be quiet and rigorously follow the prescribed ritual of prayer. They thought it would be a sin to interrupt their prayers or to be distracted from them by coming to help me. So all of them, including my own family, left me writhing in pain on the ground. My fever went higher and I grew more desperately ill by the minute. There were many in the crowd of praying people that morning who saw me, but no one would leave his place to assist me.
I was a young boy at that time, but the incident left an indelible imprint on my mind. To me it all failed to make sense - to go early in the morning to pray in a language none of us understood and to follow a ritual so closely that we ignored people in need in order to fulfill external religious requirements.
I also felt that we were neglecting some things that were very important when we had to give so much time to the performance of ritual. I was forced to go to say prayers several times a day, and as a result I could not give adequate attention to my studies and to my other responsibilities. I felt we should be helping others more than we should be repeating a meaningless series of sounds in a language we did not understand.
My family was very faithful in observing prayer times. Five times a day, for thirty minutes each time, we would give ourselves to the routine of stated prayers. When I would go to pray with my family, I did so because I wanted my father to see that I was conforming to his expectations. It was not because I wanted to pray or because I felt the need to pray. Nevertheless, I made this outward accommodation to my father's wishes until the day he died. After that I felt free of the pressure he exerted on me to perform the daily rituals. Although I no longer repeated the prayers, I never abandoned the desire to know God. That was an abiding concern of mine. Islam did not seem reasonable to me, however, and I could no longer accept the empty formalism of its prayer routine. It also appeared irrational to believe that the reading of the Quran was good for one even if he did not understand the Arabic in which it was written.
My parents made certain that I received thorough instruction in Islam. At the age of twelve I was sent to a mullah to study the Quran. One hour a day, every day, I was at the mosque learning the words of the Quran - but not its meaning. Although I memorized much of the Quran, it meant nothing to me because it was in a language I did not know.
The mullahs were afraid to translate the Quran into our own language. Such an attempt would have been considered a sin. Arabic was conceived to be the only divine language, and by learning to read the Quran in the original language in which it was given, I was making myself a better Muslim and I was adding to my chances of getting into paradise. For three years I was subjected to this grueling exercise in meaninglessness. In spite of the boredom and tedium that I and the other fifteen boys in the class felt, I endured it because I was afraid my father would beat me, or even kill me, if I did not attend the Quranic lessons faithfully.
My parents were such strict Muslims that they spent every Friday at the mosque, and my father considered his pilgrimage to Mecca the greatest achievement of his life. We met people from other religions, but we thought of them as victims of error. And we particularly considered Christianity to be false.
After my father died when I was in my teens, I set my heart on becoming an engineer so that I could make a good living and help my country. I enrolled in the Afghanistan Institute of Technology and studied there for three years. I enjoyed my studies immensely, especially since there were no classes in religious subjects.
Religious questions occasionally intruded into my mind, even during those years. I had heard enough about Jesus to wonder if he could be the way to God. I did not find anything in Islam that appealed to me. It seemed that everyone had something to believe in, however. Everyone needed something that gave meaning and purpose to life. I wondered if I should believe in Jesus as Christians did, but I did not take any steps to find out more about him.
When I was studying at the Institute, I tried to forget about religious issues. None of my teachers talked to me about Jesus. None ever tried to influence me to read the Bible or to be converted to faith in Christ. I remember meeting only one Christian who read the Bible, but that individual never spoke to me about Jesus. Since there was a law at that time that forbade Afghans to visit foreigners in their homes, I did not dare to enter the house of any Christian.
One day I came across a book that made a deep impression on me and renewed my interest in the person of Jesus. The book, entitled Religion, was written in the Persian language by a Muslim. It was about the life of Jesus and it raised questions in my mind that I had not seriously considered before. The author described the entrance of Jesus into the world by a virgin. In fact, there were other remarkable things about the life of Jesus that evoked more respect for him than for Muhammad.
When I understood that Christ was born of a virgin, then I began to believe in him as the true way. Of course, I knew that this was the teaching of the Quran also, and that it ascribes a unique place to him was clear to me, too. But I had never perceived the significance of this until I read that book. I came to understand that Jesus was greater than Muhammad, for he was not born the ordinary way as were the rest of us. I felt compelled to draw the conclusion that he was greater, because he came into the world by God's power, as demonstrated in his virgin birth.
My attitude toward Jesus was changing, but there were still many things I did not understand. I wanted to know the true path to God and I wanted to read the Bible for myself. But there was no Bible available to me at that time. And every Afghan I knew was opposed to Christianity. I had often heard mullahs denounce the Christian faith, both inside the mosque and outside of it. They said that those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God would go to hell, for Muhammad was the final and ultimate prophet and he gave us the only way to Allah.
After reading the book, Religion, I realized that what the mullahs were saying was not true. By bringing together all that the Quran said about Jesus, and by drawing on other sources as well, the author of that book made it clear to me that Jesus had to be more than a prophet. He also gave some convincing reasons for believing that Jesus had been put to death on the cross - and I, too, become aware of it. Unfortunately, I did not learn about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead until much later.
After I finished my studies at the Institute of Technology, I went to an Afghan college for four years where I earned a degree in mechanical engineering. During those years I never totally lost my interest in Jesus Christ. I wanted to know more about him, but I was afraid to look for Christians. At that time it was very dangerous for an Afghan to be seen with Christians or to attend a Christian meeting. It was common knowledge that if any Afghan changed his religion from Islam to Christianity, he would be stoned to death.
My desire for an adequate education remained strong. I was delighted when I was given an opportunity to go to the United States to get advanced training in engineering. Shortly after I arrived in America, I met a very friendly man at the place where I was given a job so that I could gain some practical experience in my chosen field. I told him that I wanted to go to a church to see what Christians did in their meetings. He very kindly invited me to go to church with him, after which he took me to his home for dinner. What I heard at church made sense to me and was very logical. My friend gave me a Bible in the Persian language, and as I studied it, it seemed that everything was new to me. I was especially impressed with the fourth book of the New Testament, "The Gospel According to John." It affected my thinking very much.
When I told my friend that I had to go to another state to study, he gave me the address of a godly Christian lady. Upon my arrival, she allowed me to rent a room in her home. I was there only forty days, but every Sunday I went to church with her. She asked me if I wanted to study the Bible with her, and I told her I would like that very much. Almost every day we spent two hours studying the Bible together.
Up to this point I was not convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. Only after a careful study of the Bible did I come to understand and believe in him. Like most other Muslims, I misunderstood that term, for I wrongly thought that Christians believed that God produced Jesus by some kind of physical relation with Mary, his mother. It was a surprise for me to find that there was nothing like that in the Bible. It is very clear that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who came into the world by being born of a virgin. He had no beginning and he has no end, and he stands in a permanent relation to God as Son to Father.* I could see how this made sense in a way that physical reproduction could not explain the meaning of the term "Son of God."
While I was renting the room from the Christian lady, I became very ill. I did not know what was causing my sickness. I could not get out of my bed, or stand or walk. The Christian woman sat beside my bed and prayed for me constantly as she took care of me. I grew desperately worse, but she continued to pray all day, and late into the night, that I would get well.
The following day a doctor was scheduled to examine me. To my surprise, however, the fever and weakness that had afflicted me were gone. They had disappeared overnight. I told her that I did not need to see the doctor because I was well. And then I said, "I know you prayed for me in the name of Jesus. He is really great. Now I am a Christian."
My conversion to Christ did not simply result from my healing in one night. That certainly amazed me, of course. But it was also that I knew that I was so desperately ill that I needed extraordinary help if I were to have any hope of getting well. I went through a dark valley that night. I wondered if I would survive to see the doctor the next day. As the Christian lady prayed, I sensed something beyond her own sincerity and earnestness. I knew she believed in Jesus, but I also came to know something else that night. There was another power, another presence, another person who was alive and drawing near to me. The conviction was inescapable. Jesus heard and answered prayer. He had come to make me well. It was that added dimension of his personal presence and his personal touch that affected me. I was convinced that it was nothing other than the power of Christ that had healed me. He answered the simple prayer of that woman, and that was what I needed to see. My doubts and questions were stilled by the plain and direct answer to her prayers. I knew that Christ was the one for me to love and trust. After that experience I was not ashamed to tell others about my faith in Christ.
It now appeared that whatever I prayed for in the name of Jesus, I received. This increased my confidence and strengthened my faith in him. My conversion to Christ was not merely theoretical. He proved himself over and over again to me in my daily experience. In my youth, prayer had been a burdensome waste of time. It was a tedious external routine. But now that I knew Jesus as my Savior and Lord, prayer was a vital reality and great joy. It was wonderful to see how he would give me what I asked for and needed.
It was not until my conversion experience that I truly understood that God loved me and that Jesus died for me on the cross and rose from the dead. There was a consequent change in my whole way of life. I began to love people and I was able to get along with them in a way that I had never experienced before; and no one was more surprised at this than I!
Although there was unbelievable joy in my life as a result of trusting in Christ, troubles did not cease. Some of my Muslim friends found out that I had become a believer in Christ and they began to persecute me. They spent many hours arguing with me and putting much pressure on me to return to Islam. They warned me that I would face many difficulties in the future and that my family would be disgraced and that they would not accept me. They urged me to change my mind, saying that I would not be given a job when I returned home and that I would be left without friends in a society that had no place for Christians. When they saw that all of their arguments were futile and that my faith in Christ was immovable, they resorted to threats. For many months they tried to make life miserable for me.I When I made my decision to trust in Christ and to obey him as Lord of my life, I knew that my family and relatives would cut me off and that I would face persecution and possibly death, However, I also knew that he is more than life itself and that he is worthy of my complete devotion. I was determined to let nothing keep me from following the truth.
I shall be eternally grateful for the assurance that Christ has given me that my sins are forgiven and that I am accepted by God. I could never find such assurance in Islam. Christ is wonderful to me, and I am convinced that no one is greater or higher than he.
I am praying that my people will have an open mind to consider the love of Christ and to find out the truth about him. And I pray that I will have the courage to speak to them about the way to know God. My deep desire is that they will be saved and be on the true path and right way to eternal life.
I am glad to know that Christ is alive and answers prayer today. His promise has been made real in my experience - as he told his disciples: "Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete" (John 16:24).
Is it possible for us to do only good and no evil? Does man possess such power? When I considered this carefully, and at the same time reckoned with the faculties and passions of man, it became clear to me that it is impossible for man to remain sinless. Nor has he the power continually to do good and only good . . . A distinguished Muslim has stated the matter thus:
I am entrapped in four things, the ascendancy of which is the cause of my misery and suffering. These four things are Satan, the world, lust, and greed. How may I be free from these when all of them are my enemies? Evil desires allure me and throw me into the dark abyss of sensuality and pleasure.
Sultan Muhammad P. Khan
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