Often when I talk about Islam it is in the context of the evils committed by some of its adherents, or the errors contained in its teachings. Those are real, and nothing I say here is intended to minimize either of those realities.
But I hasten to add: the Muslim is not my enemy, unless he makes himself my enemy. Islam itself is the enemy – the enemy of Western civilization (check the historical record; there can be no serious debate), of civilization in general, and the enemy of the Gospel of God’s truth and grace made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth.
We see and read about the atrocities, the barbaric and inhumane things savages calling themselves ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, etc. have committed against Christians, Jews and others. Since 9-11, as of this writing terrorists have committed 28,781 deadly attacks in the name of Islam. That’s the number of attacks, not victims. That number is many, many times greater. I would in no way minimize that, either.
A few months ago, however, I mentioned in a sermon that God is doing an amazing work among Muslims all over the world, especially in closed Islamic cultures. That seemed to hit a nerve with people, and several asked me to write about it. A bit late … but here it is. It is long, but you can easily choose which stories and people interest you skip the ones that don’t. I hope you are blessed, encouraged and inspired by what our sovereign God is doing in our time.*
According to Islamic tradition, the whole thing started with a dream. In A.D. 610, an Arabian merchant named Muhammad retreated alone to a cave near Mecca to meditate. While there he said he was visited in a dream by the angel Gabriel. Later he claimed to receive another angelic message: “O Muhammad, verily thou art in truth the prophet of Allah.” This allegedly was the first of many revelations for him and launched a movement called Islam** that would dramatically alter the course of history.
Today, hundreds and even thousands of Muslims are having dreams and visions of their own – but of a radically different nature than Muhammad’s. A spiritual revolution is taking place all over the Islamic world, even in countries closed to Christianity. Ironically, the vessel for this revival is, in thousands of cases, dreams and visions.
Joel Rosenberg, an evangelical researcher and resident of Israel, has documented this phenomenon. Based on his own observations and reports from indigenous peoples, Rosenberg, among others, believes that a Christian revival is taking place throughout Islam.
Though many of these stories are impossible to confirm, they are consistent enough to have a ring of authenticity, and provide a glimpse into what is happening all over the Islamic world. Because conversion to Christianity is a crime punishable even by death in many nations that adhere to Sharia law***, in many cases names, countries of origin and other details have been changed to protect the converts.
Yasmin was fearful and anxious. She cried out to Allah, asking for his help, but nothing happened. Then one night while visiting a friend in the U.S., she awakened with an epiphany. “Walking around the house of my friend,” she explains in broken English, “suddenly I felt that I was blind, [but] now I can see.”
That expression, a cliché to most Christians, was unknown to Yasmin, born in an Islamic nation and never exposed to the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” or other “Christianese.”
“It was very obvious,” she recalls, describing it as a feeling of something literally changing inside her. “I felt that it was Jesus who did something to me.”
She later learned her sister – a Christian still living in their home country – was praying for her. Yasmin received a Bible, was baptized and began to grow with her new church family.
Omar had been locked up and tortured for years in a jail cell in a nation ruled by a dictator. One night a messenger visited him in a dream, telling him he would be set free. Within days he was released from prison and traveled to America where newfound friends reached out to him. When he was given a book with a drawing of Jesus on the cover, his eyes lit up. “I know him!” he said. “He came to me in a dream.”
Growing up in Bangladesh, Abraham Sarker studied to be an Islamic evangelist. He devoutly followed his religion, fasting and praying and never questioning his faith. Then, three times in one week, he dreamed that he died and went to a lake of fire.
“I was very confused,” Sarker says. “I was thinking, I am not sure if I died right now that I would go to heaven, and I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.”
Praying all night in a mosque, he asked God to help him. Suddenly he felt drops of oil falling on him and even smelled its fragrance, he says. He claims another time he heard an audible voice telling him to read a Bible – an abomination to a Muslim.
Because Muslims are told the Bible is corrupt, many are loath to read it. Some are even afraid of its power. “We would not touch a modern-day Bible,” he says. “This voice immediately put a desire in my heart. It is so vivid, so clear, so overwhelming. Still today, I could not forget that voice.”
Sarker’s journey took a dramatic turn four years later when he was in the U.S. as a Muslim missionary and came across a Bible in his own language. Reading it, he was changed: “I was so moved that my Creator loved me unconditionally.”
Today Abraham Sarker, along with his wife Amie, is founder of Gospel for Muslims in Dallas. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Regent University.
Khalil was being trained as a jihadist in Egypt. He was assigned to write a book proving that the Bible couldn’t be trusted, but he was afraid to even go near one. “Whoever reads this book comes under a spell!” he says in a video depicting his story at morethandreams.org.
He had no choice but to follow his orders, but as he examined the claims of ‘Isa, his death and resurrection – which aren’t included in the Qur’an – Khalil began to question his own faith. One day someone stole his briefcase containing his Bible and passport. He panicked and started to pray.
That night, he says ‘Isa (Jesus) came to him in a dream, telling him, “I’m the one you’ve been searching for.” ‘Isa told him to read his Bible and that he would find his missing copy in his closet. When he opened the door, it was there. Khalil’s heart was transformed from one of hate and violence to love and compassion.
Prayer played a key role for former Muslim Naeem Fazal. When asked about his conversion to Christianity from Islam, Naeem mentions several things that impacted him. He pointed out things like friendship with a knowledgeable Christian as well as reading the Bible. However, it was a particular supernatural encounter that brought him to a moment of crisis. Having a visionary experience one night, Fazal had an encounter that forever changed the course of his life.
After coming to the U.S. (from Kuwait), he attended a Christian college event with his brother, who had become a Christian and was praying for Fazal to follow suit. As a Muslim, Fazal wasn’t impressed with the idea of a personal relationship with God. One day he skeptically asked God, “If you’re real, why don’t you just show me?”
That night Fazal had a terrifying encounter in his room. What he calls a demonic presence left him paralyzed with fear in his bed. He describes it as a feeling of death.
When the presence eventually left the room, Fazal’s brother told him that Jesus is the only one with authority over angels and demons, so Fazal prayed, “Jesus, I don’t know you, but … if you help me I will give you my life.”
Later that night he found himself staring at a very different presence. “It looked like a figure made up with light – solid, yet transparent,” Fazal says. “It was an experience like no other. The peace I felt from this presence was so powerful …. [He] introduced himself to me and said, ‘I’m Jesus; your life is not your own.’ … [My] life changed forever.”
Fazal acknowledges that he is not unique in this experience. He notes that “the majority of the [Muslim] conversion stories I hear seem to involve dreams and visions inspired by the Holy Spirit in which Christ is supernaturally revealed.”
Naeem Fazal is now the pastor of Mosaic Church in Charlotte, N.C. Yet what’s noteworthy about his story and people like him is that while their journeys with Christ may have launched from strange, supernatural experiences, they’re only furthered through studying the Bible, personal worship and discipleship with other Christians.
“The basic is relationship with Jesus,” Fazal says. “God’s Word is not magical. It’s too precious to become activated just by saying it. When people live it, it’s supernatural.”
Karima dreamed she was in a car crash. She was knocked out, but when she opened her eyes (in her dream), she saw Jesus. “Come to me,” he said. “I am with you. I love you.” That experience led her to seek out a Christian church, where she responded to the gospel.
Again, testimonies of dreams and other encounters with Jesus can’t always be verified because such spiritual experiences are intensely personal. Further, because Muslim converts are subject to persecution and even death, their stories are often not documented. But Christians who work among Muslims tell of many such life-changing conversions resulting from dreams. Like martyrs from previous times up to today, believers who have had such profound, unexplainable encounters often develop profound, unshakeable faith.
That’s part of the reason Nik Ripken, 28-year veteran of the mission field, believes God continues to use dreams and visions so prominently to reach Muslims. He says a person’s willingness to believe in the validity of dreams directly impacts his response to them. After gathering research in nearly 60 countries, Ripken says Muslims’ dreams are, for the most part, like any others.
“But what is miraculous is that God breaks into them!” he says. “They hear a voice … telling them to find Jesus; they see a bright light; they dream of a Bible.”
Ripken says 20 years ago, Christian leaders in his circle didn’t buy into reports of the miraculous. They – like most Westerners whose worldview is fundamentally modernist – found stories of Jesus appearing in a dream too mystical to accept. But over time the testimonies and life changes were so compelling, they couldn’t be denied.
“I remember seven or eight years ago when we [sheepishly] said, ‘If God wants to do this, we’ll let him,’” Ripken says. Now he’s convinced: “It’s very clear …. God’s not waiting for you and me to get to [where Muslims are].”
Still, if converting to Christianity comes with such high stakes, what is it about these dreams that compels Muslims to forsake their religion and embrace Jesus?
“I think because it’s a direct communication from God,” says Craig Keener, professor of New Testament at Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky. “Some people are more open to it than others. In the Bible we see people making major decisions based on dreams.”
God is moving among the nations today just as he was in Jesus’ time. Word to the church in America: Look what God is doing in places where we cannot – or will not – go.
*Compiled from numerous sources.
**Islam means “submission.” That is one main reason why you could never have a country like the United States based on Islamic teachings: the very idea that we are all created equal, and that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is completely foreign to and at odds with the basic tenets of Islam.
***Sharia law is the religious legal system governing the members of the Islamic faith. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Qur’an and the Hadith. The term sharia comes from the Arabic term term sharīʿah, which means a body of moral and religious law derived from religious prophecy, as opposed to human legislation.