Man clinging to cross
I found Christ but may lose my Muslim family by Ahmer Khokhar. What happens when a
Muslim deserts Islam and embraces Christianity? The author says his family felt betrayed
and he was rejected by his father - a deeply religious man who calls Al-Qaeda "martyrs"

I REMEMBER CLEARLY the moment when I realised that I was
going to become a Christian. It was Easter 1988 and I was 14, sitting
alone in the lounge of my parents’ home in Liverpool, when the film
Jesus of Nazareth, starring Robert Powell, came on the television.  By
the end of the film I was in tears. Never had anything had such a
profound effect on me. It changed my life because for the first time I
doubted Islam. I realised that the Old Testament prophets were Jews,
not Muslims as I had been taught. I knew that Jesus had died in agony
on the Cross for us.

That night I went to bed terrified. How could I tell anybody
how I was feeling? If I rejected Islam I would lose my devoutly Muslim
family. My parents would be devastated and I feared they might throw
me out of the house.  So I tried to ignore it and went back to Islam,
praying five times a day by bowing to Mecca and trying my best to be a
good Muslim.

But I was questioning more and more. Why did I have to
bow to Mecca? I knew now that God was everywhere. I wasn’t the
same person any more, I was troubled inside. I felt that, for me, Islam
was living out a set of rules which prohibited calling God “Father” or
praying to him spontaneously.  Islam teaches that if your good deeds
outweigh your bad deeds in life you will go to Heaven; if not, you will
go to Hell.

But I knew that God was holy and perfect and it is through
His grace, His forgiveness, that we ascend to Heaven.  I had always
had Christian friends and it appealed to me how they used to talk about
their personal relationships with Jesus. They seemed to be really nice
people. They didn’t abuse or hate anyone; on the contrary, they loved
everyone regardless. In the mosque we had been taught that Jews
were our greatest enemy, inherently evil, and that Israel should be

No matter how much I tried to dismiss them I kept getting
these thoughts in my head: “Jesus loves you. God cares about you.”
At one point I was so terrified of being found out by my family that I
tore my pocket Bible to pieces.  In the end I confessed to my chemistry
teacher at my school, the Bluecoat in Liverpool. We talked about the
Holy Spirit and he prayed for me there in the classroom, and that was
when I was born again. It was a wonderful moment for me, but it has
also caused a painful rift with my family which continues to this day.  I
was the first-born son of Pakistani immigrants to England. We lived in
Woolton, an affluent suburb of Liverpool, in a new house.

I had a strict Islamic upbringing but I was also spoilt with
many presents and toys bought for me as a young boy. My father sent
me to the local mosque at weekends for religious instruction until my
early teens. We addressed both the teachers and the Imam as “Uncle”.  
In Islam, a child is born a Muslim if the parents are Muslims. There are
two aspects of my parents’ faith that I have never forgotten. First, they
have a complete certainty that Islam is the only path to God and the
Koran is unquestionable as the book of God. Second, they do have
some respect for Christians because there is a sizeable Catholic
minority in Pakistan.  Despite my conversion to Christianity I have
never lost my respect for many Islamic values and teachings. I also
retain much of my parents’ Pakistani culture, language and traditions.

However, that has not stopped my parents being
devastated by my conversion. They discovered it when some Muslim
pupils at school told my dad. It had been the talk of our class, although
some pupils thought I was just trying to suck up to the chemistry
teacher. Dad is a very respected and prominent Muslim in the
community and it was unthinkable that a son of his should turn to
Christ.  At first he was calm and protective of me but he still
confiscated the Book of Psalms under my bed. I was a studious pupil
and a senior prefect and perhaps he thought it was a phase I was going

But it made me very insecure. I no longer had an identity. I
didn’t know to which culture I belonged.  After A levels I went on to
study chemistry at Manchester Metropolitan University and it was in
Manchester that I was baptised; my parents knew nothing of this. It was
a huge step as it was a public affirmation and commitment of my faith
in Jesus Christ.  But those summer holidays - between June and
September 1995 - were the worst of my life. I had a trivial row with one
of my younger brothers and he turned against me.

Since I would be unable to attend church and meet other
Christians until the new university term in the autumn), and showed
them to my Dad.  My father made me stand in the middle of the room
while he sat reading them. It was terrifying listening to his vitriol
against Christianity as he read my private letters. He was so angry that
he visited some of my friends from school to find out more about how I
had got involved with Christianity, which he described as a cult.  Later
that evening I was sitting in that same lounge where I first saw Jesus of
Nazareth when he came in, locked the door and began to abuse me in
the most vicious way.

He said I had brought shame on the family and that he
would rather I was dead. They were only verbal threats and I have
forgiven him since, but the scars will never leave me. My mother cried
herself to sleep that night.  I know Dad didn’t mean it - it was only out of
concern for me. As Muslims, my family believes that Christians will go
to hell like all nonbelievers and they believed that I had rejected them,
their values, their culture and their religion.

Many Pakistani Muslims have little understanding of
which they believe is a religion for white people from
Western countries who have loose moral values and get drunk. They
struggle to admit their own failings and are quick to pass judgment.  
Things improved a little after I graduated and left home to work in the
pharmaceuticals industry. My family continue their pretence that I am a
Muslim and my Christanity is never spoken of. I do not take my Bible
home with me if I visit them.

My brother and I are now very close, and he accepts my
Christian faith. I have retained what is largely a good relationship with
my parents. However, they cannot accept Christianity and when I reject
their plans for an arranged marriage next year, they will disown me.  I
still do not regret changing my religion, because for me it was
impossible to ignore the calling of Jesus.  The last year, however,
since September 11, has been the most traumatic for me.

The focus on al-Qaeda has destroyed what was left of the
relationship between me and my father and highlighted the enormous
differences between us. He cannot understand why I do not support al-
Qaeda. What the US and the Western world must understand is the real
root of the conflict. They must realise that the creation of Israel is the
pinnacle of the Islamic world’s hatred.  I fully understand the Israelis’
reaction to terrorism and why they want Israel to exist. But we have to
find a way for Palestine to exist also. I think many Christians in the
current climate perceive Islam as a religion of fanatical extremists who
commit acts of terrorism.

There is a lack of understandingof each other’s beliefs and
values.  My parents and relatives of the same generation support al-
Qaeda. They see the current conflict as a struggle between Islam and
the tyranny of Christians and Jews in the Western world. Their anger is
mainly against Israel, the presence of American soldiers in the Middle
East and US threats to attack their Muslim brothers in Iraq.  My father
has always believed that if Palestine displaced Israel, American
soldiers left the Middle East and sanctions against Iraq were lifted, al-
Qaeda and other martyrs, as he calls them, would lose their support.
He claims that 90 per cent of terrorism from the Islamic world would
end, and many

Muslims around the world share those views; that
America and Israel are the two biggest enemies of Islam.  It is difficult
for the second and third generations of immigrant families to share all
of their parents’ beliefs. I speak English as well as Urdu, watch
American films, wear designer labels and listen to Western music.  
Since September 11, many Muslims have developed a hatred of
Christianity when they see so-called Christian countries such as Britain
and Australia joining the US and supporting Israel.  Even now, at 28, I
still feel a loss of identity. I feel rejected by the Pakistani community in
England because, according to them, I have betrayed their religion and

Equally, I feel out of place in church, because some
Christians do not understand Islam and the consequences for me of my
conversion. Christian friends whom I respect have advised me to put
some temporary distance between me and my family in the hope that
their anger will pass. So earlier this year I emigrated to Australia to
become a freelance cricket journalist, a passion I have always had.

In February my mother is coming out to visit me and to try to
persuade me to consent to an arranged marriage. I am praying that, in a
different country and face to face with me, she will accept what I am.  
My Muslim friends accept me, but if I was living in an Islamic country I
would be killed for converting to Christianity.

My prayer is for the world to realise that the only way to solve
conflicts is by talking to people and understanding their beliefs instead
of resorting to war and violence.
Disclaimer: I may not agree with all statements in this letter.
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