Muhammad Khurram’s surname means ‘a happy person’ and that’s what he is, despite trials, tribulations and a life of insane violence. Born in Pakistan, near the capital Islamabad, he was brought up in a world where the truth is determined by the barrel of a shotgun. Once, a Taliban commander ordered him to shoot a handcuffed and blindfolded man. Oddly enough, this was to be the start of his journey with God, explains Menno de Boer.
‘Where I come from, the Taliban determine what’s true or not. These extremely fantatic Muslims are always right, other opinions don’t count. Anyone who dares to think differently will be punished or killed. Everything is permitted in the name of Allah.’
It starts at school.
Muhammad’s father was a strict and devout Muslim who spent thirty years with like-minded Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Though not active himself in the Taliban’s war to install Sharia (a strict religious legal system governing Muslims) everywhere, his father supported the Taliban’s ideas.
At home and at the Madrassa (a religious school where Islam is being taught) the extreme rules of Muslim fundamentalism are instilled from a young age. ‘Brainwashing starts at school’, Muhammad says. ‘The extremists have a large influence on schools in Pakistan and they use lessons to train children in their way of thinking. For example, I witnessed children, eight years of age, being put in a room with a lot of chicks and ordered to trample them to death in the name of Allah. That’s how children get used to taking lives. From here on, they push their boundaries further and further.’
Life as a Taliban warrior
‘So I grew up in a world of violence and extreme views. I have to be honest, heroism appealed to me. When you have a gun, you feel like Rambo. For a young man that’s quite cool. I didn’t like the way the leaders behaved, though. They thought they were always right, no matter what. I asked questions. I thought, “Why are you right and someone else isn’t?” The leaders thought I asked too much questions. Not appropriate. You just had to follow orders.’
Life as a Taliban warrior, with assaults as a daily activity, dragged on. ‘The battle to be right all the time takes many victims, especially among your own people. Most of the assaults were in mosques where moderate Muslims worshipped. The question of whether there was a god who wanted prosperity, peace and happiness for mankind became more and more important for Muhammad. ‘I started to doubt if such a god even existed,’ he says
‘This doubt disappeared when, after finishing my training I was forced to kill a man—a Pakistani Muslim journalist who was on his knees before me, handcuffed and blindfolded. “Shoot him”, was the first command I got from my leader. I hesitated and thought, “God, where are you?” But I had to shoot him. I couldn’t refuse. I pulled the trigger and…nothing. “The gun doesn’t work”, I told my commander. I pulled the trigger again and it still didn’t work. The commander said, “Take mine”. I pulled the trigger and again it didn’t work. I realised, God is here! The commander looked at me and said, “there’s something strange about you”. We walked away and, unfortunately, I learned that the prisoner was later killed by another Taliban warrior. But there my journey with God started.’
After years of hopeless violence, Muhammad couldn’t take it anymore. ‘I fled to the Netherlands and in my last conversation with my mother I said to her, “I won’t be coming back, you know it, don’t you?” She knew. That was the last time we saw each other, six years ago. I had enough money. I earned a lot in Pakistan. It was in a bank account in Dubai. With the money I was able to start a new life in the Netherlands. I bought a nice apartment, got a job and started a relationship.
New Years Eve 2010, I was in my apartment looking out over the city where I lived and prayed to God: ‘I know you are there. I want a perfect connection with you’. He answered my prayer in a remarkable way when the police came to my apartment in June 2011 telling me my stay in the Netherlands was illegal. I had to come with them. I was imprisoned between murders and rapists and lost ‘it’ for a while but also my apartment, my girlfriend and my job. Everything was gone.’
‘Three months later I was sitting in a silence room in prison and cried. A Roman Catholic priest stepped in, laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “Everything will be all right. Even Jesus was punished when he wasn’t guilty of anything.” I went back to my prison cell and fell asleep, even though I never sleep at that time of day. I had a dream. I was in a somewhat misty space. There was a table with food on it and there were people in long gowns walking around and making music. To the left of me there was a small group of people. Two of them came towards me. “Someone is calling you”, they said. I walked towards the small group that started to diverge. In the centre of the group I saw a man sitting. Could that be Jesus? The man looked at me and smiled. Then I knew, it’s him. “At last, there you are”, he said without moving his lips. I was the only one who could hear it. Putting his hand on my shoulder he said, “Don’t be afraid. You are not alone”, he assured me. Then I woke up.’
‘The next day I was called out of my prison cell, got my cellphone back and was released. Outside the prison walls I called my lawyer. He was surprised. “Your file is still here. We haven’t been able to work on it yet. How is it possible that you’re out?” Muhammad had lost everything but was confident. Everything in your life happens for a reason. God takes care of balance.’
‘That dream gave me inner peace. In a second dream I was baptized in his presence,’ Mouhammad shares. Meeting Jesus in his dreams changed his life. He decided to become a Christian. ‘That made me an apostate muslim. That’s why in Pakistan a fatwa (a religious conviction) was issued against me. If I’m forced to go back I will have to answer to a court and most likely be executed because apostacy from Islam is punishable with the death penalty.
The Salvation Army
After a short period of wandering around homeless, Muhammad came into contact with a Salvation Army corps. ‘Soup, soap and salvation,’ he smiles. ‘Now I want to fight in another army—an army where we battle to save other people. When I think of what others have done to me, I’m sometimes still angry, but I pray for these people. I want to tell everyone, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and atheists about God’s grace that is there for them too.’
And what would his message be to Pakistan? After thinking for a short period the former Taliban warrior says, ‘Throughout history, God has spoken in different ways and shown that he exists. God wants a relationship with us. Be glad God gives us life and free will. Respect this and know that you’re not God.’
When Muhammad talks about Jesus his face starts to shine with happiness. ‘He has changed me forever. Jesus saved me and died for me on the cross and carried my sin away. It’s my favourite part of the Bible. He conquered death. That’s what Christians celebrate. Knowing I don’t have to pay for my sin myself is such a difference from the religion I was brought up with. Islam tells you, you can earn heaven by strictly following the rules or by blowing up yourself or others. Jesus blood paid for everything. His ressurection not only showed that he lives but that he is the Lord over life and death.’
Muhammad says he sees Jesus in other people too. ‘In their love, their kindness and their tolerance. If you have received Jesus’ love, you want to share it with others. That’s my mission. Being there for people and tell them about Jesus.’
His future is still uncertain. ‘I know what I want. To work in the service of God and man as a Salvation Army officer. Unfortunately, that’s not possible right now because they keep refusing to grant me my residence permit. Till then I’m here and living on the promise Jesus made to me in my dream. Despite everything, I am happy now. I was a soldier of death but now I am a soldier of life. Through Jesus.’
Reprinted with permission from The Netherlands War Cry.