The Journey of Faith
My name is Imam Hussein Siraj, an Ethiopian. I am the fourth born in a family of three girls and four boys. My parents are strong Muslims, living in the town of Dodola, in the Eastern part of Ethiopia. Because of their strong commitment to Islam, my parents dedicated me to Allah to learn the Quran.
At the age of thirteen, my uncle who then was living in Mogadisu, Somalia, took me to his home and enrolled me in a Madarasa School in 1982. The following year due to my excellence in Arabic language and reciting of the Quran, (Hafizul Quran), I got an Islamic scholarship to go to the Kullu Suni Madarasa in Pakistan to study the Quran and the Hadith for six years.
Upon completion of my studies I went for further studies to and Islamic college called Al Hikma, in Riyad, Saudi Arabia, for another four years. There I studied philosophy and Jihad. There I was trained in the skills necessary to kill Christians, Shiet and Suffi. In fact, I was prepared to kill any non Muslim.
With my colleagues from the school we began to travel around the world and wreck havoc to those who did not want to comply with Suni Muslim doctrine. I even attempted an unsuccessful suicide bombing and was severely reprimanded for failing to blow myself and my men up. I returned to studies again, this time in Iran.
There I went to Alfalah Oloma, which is the highest Quran teaching institution, earning a degree equivalent to the Western degree of a Masters or Doctorate in Islamic studies. After graduation I was sent to three weeks orientation in Khartoum in Sudan. After the training I was sent to the Southern part of Sudan with other Muslim militants to fight the, Kafir, or pagans. They were the black Sudanese Christians, indigenous to the area.
Here, I committed many bad deeds. I murdered innocent people and. I burned their houses, churches and destroyed their property. After I proved myself in this genocide, I was sent to Egypt and Yemen to spread the Suni doctrine and told to familiarize ourselves with the geographical and physical terrain of the region and the socio political life of the people. It is assumed there were operations planned there for later.
After 20 years of studying the Quran and Philosophy and doing all sorts of atrocities against non Muslims and Muslims alike, I was promoted to the office of Imam. The office is equivalent to a Bishop in Christianity. I was posted in the Gode district in my home country of Ethiopia. I was attached to one of the Mosques and made the overseer of all the other Mosques in the region. This kind of opportunity could only be offered to a very few people based on their merit in Islamic studies, education and of course, commitment to Allah.
After one year from the inauguration into the position of Imam, I started reflecting on some of the things I did in my past. In fact, I was still doing many of them. But now I began to feel they were wrong. My life was built on hating people and violence. I had no peace. I began to feel that living this way was terribly wrong. I reflected on my past and saw nothing but anger and horror. I became confused about my life and realized that I was, in fact, traumatized. I was no longer sure of myself, my faith and my life.
I had attacked and beat a Christian in the area. During this time of brutality one day I attacked another Christian, He kept telling me that he loved me, God loved me and that Jesus loved me, and died for me. How could this man say these things? This scene played in my mind over and over again. I finally went to an older Imam to ask him about this encounter. He assured me that this was a trick of the devil. The devil caused this to happen in order to confuse and confound Muslims. It was a trick. I was not convinced. Why would the devil want me to know that God loved me? Why would he want me to know that this Christian loved me? It just did not make sense.
Two questions began to terribly disturb me. The first one was that, according to the Islamic faith, only one woman out of a thousand women will go to heaven. In Islam, women are seen as the weakest of sinners. I loved my mother dearly and it was she who wanted me dedicated to Allah. So why would Allah forbid her to go to Genat? Heaven. The second question was that, according to Islam, when someone dies in Jihad, he is assured of going to heaven, but if he survives the war he is not sure he is going to heaven. This greatly distressed me and I was confused. I had selflessly participated in Jihad most of my life, but was still alive. So I could not be sure I would go to heaven. My doubt in the faith of Islam was growing. I had so many unanswered questions.
In October of 1996 there was a Muslim conference in my home town. The theme of the conference was Tablik or Dawa, Proclaiming Islamic politics to make one Kingdom. The object was to make the Sunni version of Islam dominate in the world. Many Muslim scholars from all over Africa, Asia and Europe attended the conference. In the conference I raised those same two questions that disturbed me most and asked one of the esteemed professors who was one of the dignitaries in the conference about salvation.
The professors answered that “no one knows whether he or she could go to heaven or hell, even myself as a professor of Islam, I do not know if I go to heaven or hell, “Wolahualam or Laariff.” The only determining factor for this is that, after you die, Allah will put your soul on a weighing scale to see which of you deeds you did during your life time in the world weighs over the other, bad or good. If your bad deeds over weigh your good deeds then you are assured that you will go to hell, and if your good deeds weigh more than your bad ones, you will go to heaven.” This gave me no peace.
At this point I had done so much for Allah and still I had neither peace nor assurance. I declared in my heart that I would not follow anything to do with the existence of God. Instead I decided to support the communist ideology that was the form of government in Ethiopia. I went to my mother and told her that there is no Allah and from today, onward, I will not follow the Muslim faith. Disgusted and horrified by my statement my mother called all the Muslim sheiks and explained to them that I had gone mad.
The sheiks told her that Satan had caused this, because I had studied so well and then Satan became jealous of the knowledge I had attained from the Islamic schools and my commitment to Allah. They tied me and surrounded me and began to shout Allahkibar, Allahakibar, Allahkibar, meaning god is great. They believed that by doing this they would chase the devil away from my heart and mind. But this was all in vain, in fact the more they shouted the more confused and frustrated I got.
Not knowing what was happening within me, the mother of one of my former students in a Madarasa school came to her. Her son Amman Mohamed had become a teacher in a Madarasa school but something had happened to him. He was no longer normal. He claimed to have found everlasting life and it seemed his mother no longer knew her own son. She confided in me that he had been cheated by the so called Christians and asked me to find out what has actually gone wrong with him. By then he had fled home and was hiding in a place called Shashemen.
Not knowing what to do even with my own life I accepted her request to look for her son. Soon, I found him walking on the streets of Shashemen, dressed in a Kansu. Traditional Islamic attire for devout men. He was trying to be overlooked for he had become a Christian. When he saw me he was shocked and scared. He thought I was sent to kill him and was literally shaking at first. We talked a minutes and he decided to talk to me but first, he closed his eyes in obvious prayer, then looked at me and said, let’s go and we went to a local coffee shop.
When I looked into his face it was like he was shining and full of joy. I asked him why he was so happy since he had run away from home, was living on the streets and had no food to eat. I ordered him some tea and snakes. He answered, “I am very happy indeed”. He told me he had found eternal life. He said that life was found in Jesus the Christ the Son of the living God. He is the only one that gives eternal life. This is what I wanted. I wanted that happiness and assurance of my salvation in my life.
Right there, I asked him, if he could give me this eternal life, right then, so I could, also be happy? He answered me “No, I can’t give you eternal life, but Jesus of Nazareth can give it to you!” Without hesitation he led me to a nearby church. He introduced me to a SIM missionary and pastor. He welcomed me in and prayed for me. He read portions of scripture. I remember some of them. John 3:116, 1 John 5:13, Romans 5:8, 1:6 and Mark 16:15. He explained a bit about them. I was somehow convinced the words from the scriptures and the explanation was true. All my questions were answered. Right then I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord, Savior and King. This was in 1997 on a Friday at 10 in the morning. It was in the Kale Hiwet Church of Ethiopia, Wendo Gent.
I left my friend in Shashamane and went back to my hometown and told his mother that her son had become a Christian and she cried. When my parents and the Muslim community started seeing changes in my life they started doubting my faith in Islam and started interrogating me and eventually I disclosed my relationship with the Lord Jesus. After my family and other religions leaders learned that I had become a Christian, they made several attempts to kill me. The ambushed me and fired at me in a vehicle. They poisoned my food. They even captured me and beat me trying to get me to surrender to Islam. They held me for long periods of time under cruel treatment. Some wanted me dead and others just wanted me to leave.
After one long interment and torture, I was released and gave them their wish. I fled the area to escape those that wanted to kill me. I joined my friend Amman in Shashemen and spent time together, sleeping on peoples verandas at night, wandering the streets during the day and fearing for our lives. We went to a town called Wondo Genet where we were accompanied by the Kale Hiwet Church members. They helped us grow in the new faith through bible study for one year and we got baptized. The learning was very hard for us as it was in Amharic the national language.
It was foreign to me as all my life was spent learning Arabic, to study the Quran. Eventually, while living in Wondo Genet, we were discovered and the Muslims sent people to kill us. Amman and I decided to go to Jima Bible College for two years. When the college closed for the holidays and semester breaks we had nowhere to go. So the college sent us out to do outreach during the breaks, into the villages. One night as we slept the house we were in was surrounded by unknown people at midnight and they fired 30 rounds of gunfire into the house. There were four others sleeping in the house as well. They ran away thinking we had all been killed during the episode. This was good news for us as no one was hurt.
All the way to our hometown the rumor went that we were dead. But God had miraculously saved us from the hands of our, would be killers, and we were alive and able to serve our Savior. Eventually, those people were arrested as the others in the home pursued them through the local authorities. We went to the authorities and told them that we had forgiven them and asked them to release them. We ask that they would come no harm. After that one of the men came to Jesus and serves as an elder to this day.
It seemed the more we were persecuted, the more trials and temptations we suffered, the more encouraged and renewed we felt in our faith. Because in all those circumstances we could see the hand of God saving us and leading us. Though we had suffered physically from privations and sleeping out in the open, hiding and sometimes being attacked, we felt true joy knowing that we had assurance of our salvation and happy in the knowledge that we were with Jesus.
In 2000 I was sent by Kale Hiwet Church of Ethiopia as evangelist to the Southern part of Ethiopia where I served both in Moyale and Moyale Keny. After serving for four months, I was poisoned by local tribesmen. I was immediately hospitalized and my life spared. Because of the obvious danger the Church decided to send me to Marsabit, 260 miles inside Kenya. There hope was that being that far from Ethiopia I would be safe. Most Christians there are, of course, safe. However, I was regularly targeted where ever I went when Muslims found out that I was an Imam.
When someone leaves Islam for any reason they have betrayed Allah, their people, their family and the culture. It is a shame to all concerned, except me, of course. Many in Islam are greatly affected when an Imam becomes a Christian. Like me, many have doubts and questions. Most never raise them for fear of scrutiny. When an Imam is born again, dissatisfied Muslim begin to look for answers in Christianity. Hoping there they can find, peace, truth, life and assurance.
In Marsabit, I was attacked again. This time Muslims made false accusations against me and the local police arrested me and held me. Some Korean missionaries found out about me and rescued me. The invited me to join NES. The Nairobi Evangelism Seminary. It had been my dream to study the word to be better equip for evangelism, so I accepted. A year later, my dear brother Amman had to flee Ethiopia due to persecution.
As happens many times, his wife was forced to marry a Muslim man. This is sometimes done specifically to cause distress and humiliation on those men who leave Islam. Soon a new problem appeared. As is frequent among people of different cultures money was the problem. I was asked to pay for my school. While this is a reasonable request for someone studying, they knew I was living on the streets sometimes and relying on the kindness of the Church as we evangelized and ran from the Muslims. I had no idea that they expected us to pay for college. Of course since we could barely eat, we could not pay for college. We had to leave the school.
We returned to Ethiopia and were taken in by some church members and we began evangelizing again. This time we focused on those that we perceived were no danger to us. To our surprise we lead many Muslims to Jesus including multiple Sheiks. That is when the uproar started again. Once again word came to us that we were going to be killed. With no money and nowhere to go we fled to Kenya again.
For the next three years we were invited to preach in the churches in and around Kenya by the Ethiopian Churches. They convinced us to try open air meetings in some very public places. We preached open air meetings all around Nairobi. Very soon we were attacked. In one open air meeting, I was using the Quran to show that Jesus is the Word of God, Father of peace, Spirit of God and Forgiver of sins and Healer of sickness, Messiah and He was without sin. Sura: 19:32-33, 4:171, 3:49 and Sura 19:15.
After the meeting we were attacked by a large mob and hacked with machetes. I was left for dead but miraculously survived. My leg was terribly cut and I was admitted into the Kenyatta Hospital. This was in May of 2002.
Regardless of our circumstances we could not stop telling others of the Love of God, especially to our Muslim brothers and sisters who want to go to heaven but do not know the Way. We personally understand why they are so restless and hostile to a hope giving message of salvation. They do not know that the evil one has blinded them. I feel obligated to reach them at all cost. We cannot let them perish when we know the Way out. In 2003 my poor brother Amman had to go home to Ethiopia. He so wanted to study the bible at school. He wanted to be equipped, but he could not get funding.
At this point in this history, written by Imam himself, it comes to an end. From what I can tell this was about two to three years ago. Paul left out that he was married and had two children. Perhaps the reason is the great heart break that ensued. Imam’s family was threatened multiple times. They had to constantly move from house to house. He reported to the police the threats but the Muslim police were indifferent. After 2003 up until two months ago much happened.
At some point Imam’s wife could not take it anymore. She stole his diaries, a book he was writing and his computer and went back to Islam. It is not that simple. The stress of the persecution and danger causes great stress in marriage. While we do not condone her abandoning of her family, the pressures on the marriage was terrible. But Imam suffered the brunt of her decision. She abandoned Imam and his two children. A local ministry took Imam and his children in and gave them safe housing and arranged for support. For the first time Imam was not running and hiding wondering how he would survive, as he served the Lord. He was granted asylum status by the UN and was told he would most likely wind up in Canada or the US. He indicated recently to me, he would be gone in two years, safely away from the persecution and danger.
Imam became ill and was diagnosed with TB. This of course delayed everything. It was later found; too late, that he actually had a tumor in his neck and Imam passed just a few weeks ago, as I write this. I began this website in an effort to support his work volunteering to become the face of a ministry that he simply could not publicly expose. I was drawn to help Imam after hearing him tell another brother about women and children they were housing, that were kicked out of homes by their Islamic husbands. I was appalled to learn that they simply could not get all of them off of the street and that some returned to Islam rather than face hunger and victimization with their small children in their arms.
As I got to know Imam better, I learned that many of the believers he worked with did not feel comfortable traditional church and he could not organize them into a traditional setting himself. Some of these concerns were cultural and others simply safety. Marc Carrier, of Kingdom Driven Ministries and I began to share with him our mission model about discipleship, house church, Kingdom Christianity and mission. Imam confided that this was the direction he wanted to go.
Slowly I began to meet with these former Muslim believers over a period of months and grew to love these people. I am ill equipped to serve these brothers and sisters, but trust God will have His way. I was told by a former Imam in the refugee area last week that the new Christians coming from Islam, love the Lord but are like a sheep without a Sheppard. Please pray for us as we make disciples, and raise up leadership to become the sheppard’s of this flock. We are growing rapidly as those in Islam, like Imam, are looking for answers.
I hope you will consider Imam’s story and his testimony. He struggled mightily for Jesus. He has left behind a people trying to serve and honor the Lord. We are connecting with Muslims interested in learning more about Jesus, and new converts in need of spiritual oversight and sometimes basic housing and food needs. I never envisioned doing this without Imam Hussein. I thought I would get him going and just support and bless him in his ministry. I told him when in the hospital that he had to get better because I could not do it without him. He just smiled. It’s not about us, it is about Jesus.
After Imam passed I got a few surprises. It seems that Imam had left written instructions with his ex wife and also his nephew. In the document Imam announced I would take care of his girls education and to his nephew, Imam told I would be responsible for him. That was a bit of a shocker. Imam shared money, clothes and food with his nephew. He had never asked me about taking care of the girls. In fact, some other Americans had been contributing to that cause for quite some time. But we had become very close. We were just brothers. What can I say. One white guy from Mississippi and Tennessee, trying to learn about 10 cultures at once, and another, a refugee who spoke 9 languages and lived all over the world. We laughed, argued, misunderstood each other and simply accepted and loved each other.
Imam sought to understand Kingdom Christianity, but to be honest he was a baby at it in maturity, even as he had attained seminary training in Korea at one point as well has here in Kenya and in Ethiopia. We just committed to loving each other. So I was not hesitant in the least to take on these jobs given to me by Imam. Muslims here know I have taken on this responsibility and frankly, I am given great entrance to the culture because of it. Something that is a miracle in itself. There are Muslim families that welcome me into their homes just because of Imam’s girls. Somali’s that used to yell at me and threaten me, now nod as I go by.
Will you stand with the persecuted? We have two safe houses in Nairobi. I have house churches with up to 8 widows. Everyone of them, but one, had their husbands killed by the radicals in Somali. The later lost her husband to AIDS. We are starting some in businesses and other we have in English school and drivers training school. Kenyans won’t hire many refugees as they view them as competitors. I hope you will pray and consider supporting this ministry.
Your inadequate brother, serving an immensely able God,