Rasheed (not his real name), a middle-aged imam, looked out of the window as the bus travelled through the busy traffic of the city in Pakistan that had become his home. He enjoyed catching up with this friend, another Pushtoon (caste name) and fellow Taliban. High up on a pole, a sign caught his eye: “Injeel-e Shareef (New Testament) available here”. Absolutely stunned he stood up and pushed his way through the men crowding the aisle to the back exit, desperate not to miss this opportunity to get the book he’d longed for, for over 15 years. According to custom, he repeatedly banged the side of the bus signalling the driver to stop. The bus slowed down and he jumped off, falling onto the roadside in his keenness. 

He got up, brushed himself off, and returned to the sign. When he saw the location of the small bookshop, his heart sank. He would have to go inside the Christian ghetto, a taboo area for the Muslim majority. The police guarding the iron gates wouldn’t allow him into this crowded community which housed several thousand lower caste Punjabi Christians. Rasheed knew he looked like an imam and the police had to protect Christians from terrorist attacks by people like him. Still, he hesitated. Perhaps he could explain that he only wanted to buy an Injeel from the shop. But would the police believe him, or harass him for wanting the Christian’s book? Downhearted, he turned away, another disappointment among many in his difficult life. 

Born in Afghanistan, Rasheed didn’t remember much of his family. By the time he turned five, his parents, four brothers and one sister had all been killed in the war between the mujahideen and Soviet forces. His uncle took him under his wing and fled, joining many other refugees seeking asylum in Pakistan (1980). For three years his uncle’s family looked after him, but the burden proved too much. So, at eight years of age, Rasheed found himself deposited in a madrassa (Islamic training centre), eating, sleeping, and training with many other boys.

Dedicated to Allah, Rasheed immersed himself in the studies, learning Arabic and Islam – the only subjects on offer. During free time he preferred memorising the Qur’n rather than playing cricket with the other boys. Paedophilia and child abuse from the leaders were a part of life. Many boys came and went, but he had nowhere else to go.

Rasheed’s studies included things about Isa (Jesus): the virgin Mary gave birth to Him, the pure son, whom Satan could not touch, one of the greatest prophets, who healed the blind and lame, raised the dead and did things only God could do. Surprised that the Qur’n mentioned Jesus so often and always so positively, he asked the imam why. But the imam didn’t like ‘why’ questions. Rashid learned that Allah sent his inspired book, the Injeel, to Jesus, which every Muslim must believe in according to their six articles of faith. Rasheed wanted to read it, but the imams got angry and said the Christians corrupted it, and the Qur’an superseded it as Allah’s final revelation to the world. Rasheed should not waste time on it when he didn’t have enough time to fulfil his own religious duties. Only those with superior Islamic knowledge could read it, lest they become corrupted by it.

Whenever Rasheed asked questions about the Injeel or Jesus, he received angry and irritated retorts. Jesus’ followers, the Christians, were kafirs (infidels) and should be killed. In spite of the discouragements, Rasheed looked in libraries and bookshops, but couldn’t find an Injeel anywhere. He continued studying Islamic literature while questions kept niggling at his mind: “If we respect Jesus as a great prophet and need to obey him, then what did he teach? How could Allah’s eternal word be corrupted? If we honour Jesus, why do we try to kill his followers?” 

The years passed and the ‘talib’ (student) of the Qur’n became an imam, leading prayers in the mosque. Since he had no family, others cared for him by finding a suitable wife – the daughter of another Afghan imam. She adapted well to her new role, cooking, cleaning, and washing, happy to remain in their one room shack with her cat, letting the neighbours get on with gossiping. He looked after her, supplementing their meagre income by tutoring children in Arabic and Islamics in the afternoons. Unfortunately, they never had any children, probably from STIs he contracted during his time in the madrassa. In his free time, Rasheed moved around town in buses or just walking, visiting friends, and drinking chai in one of the many little cafes. That was how he saw the sign that advertised the Injeel.

A couple of months later Rasheed found himself walking in a different area of town. A similar sign caught his eye. High on a pole to avoid being vandalised, he read, “Injeel-e Shareef available here”. This time the shop faced the open road, servicing a nearby Christian community. No guard, no gate! Nervously, he opened the glass door and the shopkeeper welcomed him in. Glancing over the various materials, he asked for the Injeel. The shopkeeper placed three on the counter: translations in Urdu, Farsi and Pushtu – three languages Rasheed spoke fluently. After examining them Rasheed asked to buy all three. Concealing them in a brown paper bag, he smuggled his contraband home. 

Over the next three months Rasheed spent all his spare time poring over them, comparing translations. They all matched! Jesus fascinated him, his teaching, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension. He understood that Jesus was far greater than a prophet, the God-man who could forgive sin and guarantee him salvation in God’s eternal kingdom. 

Rasheed did something many people fear to do – he followed the evidence where it led. Quietly, he turned his trust from Muhammad and the Qur’an, to love and listen to Jesus. His wife became very angry but chose to stay with him in preference to going back to her father. As a loner she kept his conversion to herself. He quietly stopped his activities in the mosque. Unfit for most jobs without training in basics like maths, he found employment as a chowkidar (caretaker/security guard) and continued tutoring in Arabic. 

Life did not become easy for Rasheed. He hadn’t turned to Christ for any type of gain, but because he believed that Jesus was the truth. He found the completeness he longed for: the One that completely forgave all his sin, making him completely acceptable to God. His longing for truth had been rewarded by coming to know the true God and his goodness.

                                                                                                                                                – Dorcas Denness