What It Means to Be a Muslim

Irmão Mehdi

The son of a Moroccan noble family finds Jesus. Here he writes about what it was like to grow up as a Muslim who never had to worry about money, and why he would never give up the Lord to regain his former privileges.

All Muslims believe that the Bible was falsified by the Jews. In their view, the true God-written Bible was taken into heaven with Jesus when the people wanted to crucify Him. That’s why Jesus didn’t die on the cross. As a result, He didn’t pay the high price for us, and there was no salvation from our sins. I shared this conviction during my life in Morocco. It’s a belief that’s hard to break free of if you’re a Muslim.

In light of this, it’s necessary to clarify something very important. You may be reading about Islam for the first time. Maybe you’ve just heard of it, or believe what you’ve seen in the media. First of all, there is a point that many people are misinformed on: the difference between Arabs and Muslims.

The Arabs are a people whose roots are in the Middle East and northern Africa, and whose language is Arabic.

But being an Arab doesn’t mean being Muslim. For example, someone born in the Palestinian Territories may be an Arab, but belong to a Christian family. In other words, Christian Arabs also exist.

Being a Muslim is something else entirely. When we talk about Muslims, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re referring to Arabs. For example, in Brazil there are quite a few Brazilians who have converted to Islam. That means that although they’re now Muslims, they’re still Brazilians, not Arabs.

Unfortunately, we have a distorted view of Muslims. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Muslim? Perhaps it’s terms like “terrorist, suicide bomber, pedophile, polygamist,” etc. I could list page after page of derogatory words that people in the West use to describe Muslims.

If this is what you think too, then I ask you to rethink your perspective. Because we know that our opinions are strongly influenced by the media. Remember, our struggle is not against Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, or any other person, but against Satan and his angels. I love the Muslim people. I was once one of them and my family still belongs to them. However, I’m against the radical theology that they preach. Again, being an Arab is one thing, and being Muslim is quite another.

Twenty-five percent of the world’s population is currently Muslim. Islam is based on five pillars:

The first pillar is called shahada. It is their creed. Anyone who wants to adopt Islam as their religion is obliged to take this first step: they must go to a mosque, see a religious leader, and speak with him about their desire to become Muslim. Then, when everyone is present, he raises his index finger in the middle of the crowd, goes forward, and loudly and clearly repeats the words of the leader in Arabic, “the language of God”: “I believe that there is no god but Allah; I believe that Mohammed is the last prophet.” After the new convert utters these words, those present affirm the confession with the words Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar!, which means, “God is most great!”

The second pillar is salat, which means “prayer.” Muslims pray toward Mecca five times a day—to the House of God, which is located in Saudi Arabia. When a Muslim prays, he isn’t speaking to God as we do. He doesn’t consider Him a trusted friend or loving father. His prayer consists of rituals and memorized passages from the Koran.

Jesus’ followers are allowed free access to the Father. We know that He cares for the dirty, the weak, and the sick. A Muslim, however, has to cleanse himself before praying, by washing his hands, feet, eyes, and ears. All because Allah doesn’t speak to impure and dirty people. We can easily picture Muslims with white robes, praying on their knees. But we who have been washed by the blood of Christ know that our spiritual clothes are whiter than snow.

When I talk about this pillar, I remember an experience that a friend once had. He was a company representative, working in Dubai. While he was presenting his project, he found that all the Muslims present left the room the moment they heard the call to prayer from the mosque. They didn’t want to miss the time of prayer at any cost.

He told me with great awe of how God had spoken to his heart that day and said, “How are you going to tell these people who pray five times a day about Jesus, if you don’t have a prayer life yourself?” Dear reader, I’m not saying that you have to pray five times a day, nor that Muslims are praying in the right way and to the true God. I just want to awaken in you the desire to seek closeness to God with all your heart. We can’t speak of Jesus to anyone unless we ourselves have an intimate relationship with Him.

The third pillar is zakat, which means “alms.” The word is understood to be derogatory when it’s used to refer to our leftovers. But it’s different in the Muslim world. It literally means, “that which purifies my income.”

Every Muslim is committed to solidarity with the poor and the weak. This pillar is very important, and is based on the donation of 2.5% of all funds and goods. This is reserved for another needy Muslim. It’s worthwhile to consider this pillar. The zakat is only carried out once annually, and only Allah knows who has “leftovers” or not. So, it’s an obligation that has to be adhered to with fidelity and diligence.

I remember that back in Morocco, my father locked himself in his office when it was time for zakat. Together with the accountant, he prepared accounts of everything he’d acquired that year. He then gave the portion of what God had given him during that period. A Muslim friend once told me that there would be no poor Muslims on earth if everyone who professed Islam gave zakat.

The fourth pillar is called siyam and means “fasting.” This pillar represents the most famous month in the Muslim world. Even those who don’t know much about religion have heard of Ramadan—a meaningful month, not only in terms of giving up food for 30 days, but also in terms of the whole symbolism of faith and religion.

According to Islamic understanding, Allah revealed himself to the Prophet Mohammed through the Archangel Gabriel during this month. At the same time, God is said to have created heaven and earth. And it’s during the month of Ramadan that God forgives the sins of the Muslims, who have fasted and prayed during these thirty days.

Anyone who has ever lived in a Muslim country or traveled through one during Ramadan, will understand what I mean: this is the time in which all Muslims become “holy.” Thieves, unbelievers, non-practicing Muslims, children, adolescents, the elderly—all literally follow the whole fasting ritual with a singular purpose. You may ask why. Because this month, apart from having all the features I’ve already listed, is primarily the month of judgment. It’s a month in which the demons and the devil himself are bound, so that the people can worship Allah on their own.

It’s worth pointing out here that fasting lasts from sunrise to sunset. During these hours, it’s forbidden to eat, drink, or engage in intercourse. This time is for prayer and worship only. However, as in every religion, there are also many in Islam who abstain from these things, but don’t practice the spiritual side.

Once you turn fifteen, you have to start fasting. I remember well how, when I was eight years old, my father encouraged me to fast for at least a few hours a day. This training would help me and motivate me to become a loyal follower of the Islamic faith.

As a good son (and especially as a child who was already following all of the religious practices), I fasted on some of the days of Ramadan. At sunset, there was the usual richly-laid table where the whole family would gather for dinner. And I, the eight-year-old son, was honored with a special seat at the table. Everyone congratulated me for my piety and virtue as a child. I felt satisfied and was happy to have “done my duty.”

The last of the five pillars is hajj, which means “pilgrimage.” This pillar symbolizes the day when Mohammed the prophet returned to his city, Mecca, a few years after he had been expelled.

Every Muslim has a duty to travel there at least once in his lifetime. In a certain month, he is to leave his country and visit this city. It is located in Saudi Arabia, considered to be the cradle of Islam. As soon as he arrives, he must repeat all of the activities that the prophet practiced in that place. For example, there is a black square building called Al-Kaaba. Muslims believe that this site was built by Abraham and Ishmael and symbolizes “the house of Allah.” Therefore, a Muslim has to circle this building seven times praising Allah, worshiping him, and glorifying his name, as Mohammed supposedly did.

I’ve traveled to Mecca several times with my father, but one time particularly shaped my life. I’ll never forget what happened there. A year before I moved to Europe to study, we went on a pilgrimage together. We were walking around Al-Kaaba, when I suddenly felt my father’s strong hand holding me and pressing me against the wall of the building. He covered me with a white veil and pled, crying, “Oh God! Show mercy on my son and all his descendants. Guard my son wherever he goes.”

Four years later, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I firmly believe that the true God answered my father’s prayer on that day.

I like to say that Muslims absorb the teachings of Islam with their mother’s milk. Even if he isn’t a practicing Muslim later on, he knows everything about the religion. I remember my sister’s birth. As soon as she was born, everyone wanted to celebrate her arrival and get to know her. My family had been anxiously awaiting this new child. My father was the first to take her into his arms, and spoke loudly and clearly into her tiny ears that Allah is the only true God, and Mohammed is the last prophet. He wanted to ensure that the first word my sister ever heard was the name of Allah, so that she would always walk in his ways.

When I was sixteen, a big change happened in my life. I decided to leave Morocco to continue studying computer engineering in France. It’s very difficult for a Moroccan to gain a foothold in Europe, because they’re two completely different worlds. I couldn’t really enjoy my newly-gained freedom, especially since I was so young. 

My father called me as soon as I arrived. He wanted to know if I had gotten there safely, but then asked worriedly, “Is there a mosque nearby?” At that moment, I felt like my spiritual life was more valuable than I was myself. I also displayed this attitude toward my fellow students. I imagined how they would all burn in hell if they didn’t accept Allah into their lives as the only God, and Mohammed as the last prophet. The thought made me very sad.

I remember my first day of university, when I saw all the different people. Nobody cared whether someone was black, white, Muslim, atheist, Christian, Arab, or European. I was just one of many, but deep in my heart I was convinced that I, Mehdi, was better than everyone else there, because they were all nothing but filthy sinners.

I have to emphasize that I was living as a “mama’s boy” in France. I have always had exaggerated habits, but don’t forget that I’d grown up in a rich and powerful family. Unfortunately, the royal Moroccan family lives in a country that belongs to them in every way. Someone who doesn’t live under a monarch can hardly imagine this dimension. Most of the country, the companies…even the sand on the beach belongs to them. If you leave the country, you know that the plane you’re flying on belongs to the royal family.

This is the kind of environment I grew up in, which meant that I never had to worry about money. When I entered a grocery store, I didn’t care what things cost. 

I just chose what I liked. That’s all. We had three domestic workers at my parents’ house. One of them nursed me after I was born and looked after me most of the time. I didn’t have to worry about a thing.

Still used to being catered to, I was suddenly completely alone in an apartment in France. I had no idea how to cook or clean. 

I remember two times when I took my clothes off and threw them out when they were dirty, and then bought new ones. After all, I had no idea how to use a washing machine…

In those days, I was always eating out without worrying about the expense. And on the weekends, I returned to Morocco no matter how high the cost.

I’m not telling you this to brag, or to show off what my family had. I’m not the slightest bit proud of it. On the contrary; I’m ashamed to have once led such a self-indulgent and wasteful lifestyle. I’m reporting all this to show that since Christ redeemed me, I wouldn’t trade my life now for all of those things I once had and enjoyed. I had no value before, and now I do. Today, I can say that I belong to the real royal family. I’m a child of the King of kings, and the most precious blood in the world has cleansed me—the blood that was shed on Calvary. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay the high price that Jesus paid for us with His blood on the Cross. Nobody can obtain eternal life with money. Even the royal family can’t buy happiness with all their goods. Nothing that exists on this earth can give the peace that I received when Jesus Christ became my Savior—a peace that I was given by grace. I want to convey this peace to you and to all people who don’t yet know Jesus—especially the Muslim people.

News from Israel - 03/2021

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