I understand the difficulty of witnessing to Muslims as westerners when all we really know about them is what we learn in history books or on Internet sites. You will probably get more accurate knowledge hearing the stories from missionaries or US soldiers who have been on tours of duties in the Middle East or Afghanistan and have rubbed shoulders with the locals.
This is the story of my encounter with an Algerian Muslim, legal immigrant I met in the mountains of North Carolina.
I know that the Lord arranged it. It happened a few months after 911. At the time, I was a member of the Western NC Chapter of Translators and Interpreters. The occasion was a pot luck dinner at the countryside property of the coordinator of the chapter. I arrived a little late; and before I passed the entrance gate, I ask the Lord to please help me to witness to somebody.
As I walked toward the open grassy space and greeted all my colleagues and some guests sitting down in a long row, I noticed somebody that looked like an Arab. So instead of going on to the end of the line, I just grabbed a chair and sat right in front of him. I introduced myself and he did too.
I recognized his accent and he did mine. So I asked him who he was and what he did so far away from his country. His name was Houari, and he came on a lottery visa to rejoin his sister who had already immigrated, sponsored by a couple from South Carolina. In fact, the couple was sitting next to him and heard every part of our conversation.
After a while, several people attracted by our conversation – I guess tired of the usual pleasantries that we share in such happy gatherings, usually about our common work – started gathering around us and listened attentively to what turned out to be quite interesting.
Being a teacher by vocation, I am good at asking questions. I soon found out that he was a second-time Olympic Algerian champion in fencing, broad-sword discipline. I thought to myself, I’d better find out what kind of Muslim he is before I start a conversation on our different religions, so I don´t run the risk of offending Allah and his prophet and bear the bloody consequences of my foolishness on the green lawn, right in front of everybody.
So, pretending that I was inquiring about the nature and beliefs of Islam, we both started talking casually in a way that felt comfortable sharing our respective faiths. After a while, I asked him what kind of feint he used to beat his opponents. He answered: “Just few seconds before he attacks, I perceive by observing him where and when his move is going to be, and I strike first.” So I thought to myself, he is a Sufi, of the non-violent kind.
By that time, while relieved that we could pursue our pleasant exchange, the couple next to him was fretting in their seats and getting obviously upset by the content of our conversation, whereas all the other guests found it interesting enough to stick around and listen.
Having kept quiet and listening until now, the woman and the man started expressing their views. They were Episcopalian and felt uncomfortable that I could talk about a touchy and controversial subject that is best kept within the confines of the church walls during Sunday mass.
They tried to shut me up by saying, “We came to this picnic to entertain our guest, and this is not the moment to talk about religious and personal subjects. Besides, we worship the same God by a different name, and he is coming to church with us on Sunday; and pretty soon he will become converted to our religion.”
So I retorted, “Why should we stop? He seems to enjoy our conversation, and you don´t seem to want to learn anything about his religion. He has told us that his god has no son; that Ishmael is the one who received the promise of Isaac; that Jesus didn´t die on the cross for anybody; and that there is no resurrection since He didn´t die for anybody´s sins. Why do you disrespect him when he said plainly that his religion is different than yours?”
I felt like I was experiencing a Twilight Zone episode and that a strange thing was happening when I had to witness to them about biblical truth in the Scriptures, and rebuke them in front of unbelievers. My colleagues all know that I am a Christian.
Then, I got up and went to the buffet table. Houari got up too and followed me, and we continued our conversation. I told him, “you are a Sufi, aren´t you?” Surprised, he asked, “How do you know?” “Because of the way you approach your opponent in fencing tournaments and win. You meditate, don´t you?” I replied.
I then shared with him that I had meditated and was initiated in Kriya Yoga meditation, and that I was pursuing several other spiritual paths, following the teachings and practices of New Age esoteric and occult disciplines for 14 years before I was rescued by the Lord Jesus.
Then I told him, when you meditate and enter into a blissful state when everything inside of you and around is peace and harmony and oneness, that feels wonderful; but that´s only one side of the whole equation. What do you do when you have a bad trip and you encounter demons on the way to God consciousness – then what?
He replied, “My master says those bad experiences are normal on the path; they are given you to test your resolve to press on toward the ultimate goal and go through and conquer your fear.”
I replied, “That´s not true. Fear is a natural defense mechanism; and if you ignore it and proceed, you will encounter more powerful demons until you are a slave to the chief demon.” (And here I used the Arabic word “Shaytan” for Satan that he would understand.) “And it is impossible to come out of his grips once you are on his territory. The only one that can deliver you and keep you out of bondage to these evil spirits is the Lord Jesus Christ, which is exactly what happened to me when I cried out to Him for deliverance from evil spirits that tormented me all these years when I was deeply involved in occult practices.”
We continued chatting for a while until it was time to go. I took his phone number and invited him to meet again if he wanted to.
Part II will be about our meeting together at my home for a dinner of Algerian food that I prepared for our guest.