By Mark Ellis —
Tofik* trained to become an imam for 24 years at an Islamic madrasa school in Africa, where they also taught him to hate Christians.
“In school I only learned about Islam,” he told World Watch Monitor. “Parts of our teaching were about destroying Christianity. So we did what we learned, by attacking Christians once we finished our training.”
He was taught that Christians are bad people, and he and the other students were encouraged to steal from them and even kill them.
“We beat them, attacked the church and burnt their Bibles,” he reported. “Our teachers would tell us every time there was a new church in town and we were told to go and attack the people and destroy the church. So that’s what we did,” Tofik told World Watch Monitor.
Tofik excelled academically and was one of 14 students selected by the local mosque for further training in Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia.
After he finished his education, he became an imam. He directed the construction of 16 mosques in his area. He also imposed a strict rule: No village leaders or visitors could preach Christianity in his town.
Tofik’s heart began to soften toward Christians when a church in a neighboring village started a tree-planting project and asked him to be the coordinator for the area’s work. He accepted, and his positive interactions with Christians surprised him and caused him to think more about Christianity.
Then something very unusual happened to him in the middle of the night. “There was an incident in 2002 where I had a vision from the Lord early in the morning around 3 a.m.,” he said. “In the vision I saw Jesus very clearly telling me to follow him.”
He awakened abruptly, covered in sweat, with a shocked expression on his face. “My wife asked me what happened in my dream, because I woke up very startled, and when I explained it to her she was scared and said, ‘We are going to be infidels, so we need to pray.’ “
In the dream, he had seen verses from the Quran and Surah flash through his mind as if they were on a TV screen. They were verses about Jesus, and when he read them, he felt the hot flame of God’s love burn through his body.
Somewhat dazed by his vivid dream, he finally managed to fall asleep again that night. Then Jesus appeared to him a second time in his dreams!
Jesus told Tofik, “It’s Me, follow Me. When you follow me you will pay a price, there will be persecution in your life, but in the end you will be victorious. I am with you.”
When he shared with his wife about the second dream, she was apprehensive about following Christ. “I also shared the situation with my eldest son and he was also reluctant, so the rest of my family rejected the idea of following Jesus.”
After his amazing dream, he visited a neighboring town that had many Christians in it. Unexpectedly a young man approached Tofik “who looked like an angel.” The young man reached out, took Tofik’s hand, and led him directly to a church.
“Join the church and follow Christ,” the angelic young man told Tofik. “If you don’t, you will not return home alive.”
Tofik gazed at the church for a moment, wondering what he should do, then looked back at the young man, but he was gone. “I don’t know if he flew off or what; he just disappeared.”
After Tofik attended his first church service, he asked to meet with the leaders. Initially they were suspicious of his motives, because they knew he was one of the most prominent Islamic leaders in the region.
“I told them about my dreams and everything else, so they accepted me and prayed for me,” he said. “I wanted to show my change externally, so I stopped wearing Islamic styled clothes. The news of my attending church spread quickly back home and many people started to cry, thinking of me as ‘as good as dead,’ because in Islam when you convert to another religion people receive it that way.”
As the news of Tofik’s conversion spread, his tribe became especially angry.
“They reacted by coming to my home saying, ‘this brother is dead.’ In our culture, when someone dies their property is shared. So they destroyed my house, setting it on fire, and they took my cattle, and the remainder of my property,” he said. “They then falsely accused me of burning another house, so I was jailed and taken to court. It was only in the court process that the witnesses proved their dishonesty by having contradicting testimonies.”
After he was released from jail, Tofik boldly shared his new faith in Jesus Christ and more than 200 people believed and decided to follow Jesus as well.
“The Bible became my weapon. I travelled many places to preach and teach about the Christian faith,” he told World Watch Daily. “I planted a church right in the compound where I live and many people decided to follow Christ – and as a result local villagers were upset. So again, they attacked me physically and burned my house.”
The beating was so brutal the attackers thought they had killed Tofik.
“The attackers assumed I was dead, so they threw me into the compound,” he said. “Then they looted the small kiosk I owned and proceeded to loot and burn my children’s properties. They said they have killed the lead figure and now our area is free of his activities. They started shouting and singing.”
Tofik said initially he wanted to retaliate. But his dreams and his new understanding of the teachings of Jesus told him otherwise.
“The voice of Jesus himself spoke to me in my dreams about persecution, so I knew it was going to come and was ready,” Tofik said. “For those who destroyed my household, I was initially involved in prosecuting them at court but later I said ‘no’ and chose to forgive them, and leave it in the hands of the Lord, so the people were released.”
“Persecution isn’t all bad, it has some good,” he noted. “I know my life will not end here.”
“We need to start by loving people. We need to love them and show them love. In an Islamic context we cannot just see each other when we have needs to support. We need to always socialize with them,” Tofik said. “We need to be patient and slowly they will come to faith in Christ.”
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* name changed for security reasons
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