The story of my spiritual development is unique, as I chose to leave the religion of my ancestors, Islam, for Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Nevertheless, the seeds for this awakening were laid through various personages in my family of origin. In this paper I will explore some of these influences, from my grandparents, to my parents, as well as my aunts and uncles. I will also present a brief account of my conversion, and of how God has provided me with a new, spiritual family.
On my father's side, my grandparents both died before I was born, so their beliefs mainly affected me via my father and his siblings. My paternal grandfather adopted our family name, “Qureshi”, by himself. This in itself is significant, because it is the tribal name of Islam's prophet, Muhammad. For my own part, I have experienced a few difficulties because of this association, especially because I have abandoned any credence in Muhammad or his followers. In fact I have a strong desire to change my family, and my given name, as well. The name “Kashif” was given me by my maternal grandmother, who is said to have been a saintly woman. It means, “One who reveals”. Oddly enough, in Urdu (the language of my ancestors), the Book of Revelations is known as “Mukashifa”. This is quite remarkable, since my interest in the Bible first began with this very book, although I was not aware of its Urdu name, then.
On my mother's side, both of my grandparents worked in a Catholic hospital for the greater part of their careers. My grandfather was a physician, while my grandmother was a medical records technician. I was born in the hospital where they worked, Holy Family Hospital, in Karachi. I returned there briefly last summer for a visit, and it moved me to tears. There seemed to be a kind of blessed spirit over the place, and all the staff were bright and helpful, too. When I was born, there were some nuns in attendance, and they must have offered a prayer for my soul, as I have, in recent years, adopted the Catholic faith.
My father has never been a religious man. He rarely attended the mosque, and his opinion of organized spirituality is quite bitter. He never practiced the faith of his parents, Islam, neither praying five times a day, nor performing the pilgrimage to Mecca, as that set of beliefs demands. Instead, he adopted a modern scientific view of things. This has been a very powerful influence in my life. At the age of approximately eleven, I gave up on my ancestral religion formally, setting my hopes on reason instead. This gave me the freedom to explore other faiths, and eventually led me to the way of the Bible. Therefore my father's lack of zeal towards Islam aided my search for truth.
My mother has been a strong influence on my spiritual development. She was educated by nuns in a convent school in Pakistan. I think this contributed to my own choice of Catholicism. On the other hand, my mother practiced a kind of folk Islam for a number of years, which she inherited from her own mother. This has been a kind of shackle to my feet, as their faith involves certain demon spirits, called Djinni, who perform various duties for them, such as giving them money and luck in relationships. When I was small, my mother used to mutter an incantation and then blow over my face. She also taught me various prayers in Arabic, which I do not understand, but was only able to mutter mindlessly with some hope of blessing. I must admit, I am distressed and somewhat embittered by all of this superstition, as it has kept my family in bondage for many years, possibly even generations. Thankfully, my mother has started attending a Christian church in the last few years. She used to watch the faith healers on television, and she received her own miracle by uttering the name of Jesus. Briefly, this concerned an osteoarthritic pain in her knees, which kept her from climbing a flight of stairs one day. She cried out, “Jesus, heal me!” whereupon the power of the Holy Spirit entered her knees and she was instantly healed. Now she gives praise to God. She is reluctant to take baptism, because she still fears the repercussions among her family and friends. She asked me this summer if I could baptize her myself, but I suggested that she plug into a local church first. These more recent events have been a great encouragement to me in my new faith in Christ. My mother's own experience in a convent school and her gift of healing have reinforced my desire to reach out to Muslims with the Good News.
When I was in University about fifteen years ago, I began to explore various faiths, from Buddhism and Hinduism, to Judaism and Christianity. My parents were very open-minded about the whole thing. When I dropped out of school to travel and learn new things, they did not discourage me. This gave me breathing room, allowing me to open new doors of experience. I also studied from various schools of psychology, reading some Jung and Maslow. Things were quite confusing until I began to read the Bible and pray for God to show me the truth. One day I fell on my knees and cried out, “God, if you are there, help me!” The very next moment, a friend from work, the very one who had given me a New Testament and witnessed to me about Christ, called me on the telephone. Until then, I had been a brick wall, using classic Muslim objections to his preaching, like “The Bible has been changed,” and, “God can't have a Son.” But in that instant, I was utterly defenseless and I asked meekly, “What should I do?” to which my friend replied, “Read your Bible.”
Miracles continued for months. In 1994, I returned to medical school after two years' sabbatical. I found myself unable to focus on school, opting instead to read the Bible for hours on end, and going for long walks in the beautiful Edmonton river valley with my dog. I marveled as the Holy Book lit up, breathing new life into my weary soul, scarred from years of abusive relationships and drugs. The character of a God I had never known jumped off the page and filled me with a mad joy I had previously lacked. Even books like Deuteronomy or Leviticus were glorious to my thirsty soul. Sometimes I would roll on the floor with laughter, my stomach in knots, from my encounters with God in the Bible.
After a weekend retreat with Campus Crusade for Christ, where I was blessed both by good Christian fellowship and supernatural experiences, I decided it was time for a change. A student from Baptist Student Ministries walked with me on campus on Monday morning, showing me various messianic prophecies and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. That was the turning point for me. I had been enjoying the vibrancy of the Bible for months, but had been unable, until then, to admit that it was really from God Himself. Islam teaches, as one of its major attacks on Christianity, that the Bible has been changed and that one must read the Quran instead. Yet when I had read the Quran in English, at last, I found it to be quite an angry and malicious god, not at all like the gracious one I was meeting in the Bible.
It was then that I decided to let Jesus into my heart, and then that the religiousawakeningtook place. Acknowledging my own inability to save myself and accepting Jesus' substitutionary death on the cross, I was born again through the Holy Spirit. He entered my heart and washed my soul of pain I did not know was there. He replaced the darkness with light and joy. I began to shout with abandon, filled with the knowledge that God loved and accepted me, and it mattered little what anyone else thought of me. The angst of wanting to know why I existed was answered by a resounding, “For this- to know Jesus Christ!”
For months I shared my new faith with everyone, thinking it a crime that this wonderful news of God's love was kept in the closet like some dirty little secret. I especially lamented the ignorance of the Muslim world, who had no access, for the most part, to the Bible or its contents. I prayed and asked God to use me to spread the Good News among those poor souls. One morning God sent an angel to visit me. He was dressed in a white robe, from his neck to his ankles, and he was brown-skinned. If he were human, he would have been about seventy, with white hair and a balding pate. He stood by the foot of my bed until I was at peace and then he asked me, “Who am I?” I thought for a second, then answered, “You look like a Pakistani,” at which point he disappeared. I jumped out of bed and thumbed through my Bible. I finally settled on a verse in Acts 16, where Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia in the night, asking him to go there and share the Good News with them. For months I prayed and prayed for God to confirm the vision. One day I left my body and came before the light of God. It was like a sheet of stars, irresistible as a giant magnet. A spark, like the ones arrayed together before me, flew out from my spirit-chest, and joined the others. I heard God calling my name in my father's voice. Then He showed me a clock, set at 11:15, and a radio. I returned to my body and went about my day. At 11:15, when I finished visiting a Christian counselor with my minister friend from the local prison, I remembered the vision and asked if I might turn on the Christian radio station in his car. The message was on Esther, and a Bible verse I had memorized came to mind: “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for your people will come from elsewhere but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
This caused me to begin serious evangelistic efforts among Pakistani Muslim people. I started calling people in the phone book, and wrote many letters to family and friends urging them to consider the love of God towards them in Christ. I went to several cities in Canada- Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto, leaving Edmonton for the call to preach. In 1999 I traveled to Pakistan for four months and found the people very open to the Good News. I preached on buses and in the streets, yelling at the top of my voice, or sharing with individuals and small groups. Often large groups of children would follow me as I walked about town with my guitar, singing Gospel songs. Once I rode the train with nothing but my guitar and a bag of tracts. It was a blessed journey, with dozens of people responding to God's call. Many people would ask where to get a Bible. I returned this summer for three months, and experienced the same freedom. Muslims wanted to know where to go to church, how to find out more about these marvelous truths. So many people accepted literature and cassettes about Jesus. This confirmed for me the reality of the call in my life to Pakistan. It is my sincere desire to return there as a full-time missionary.
Other Family Influences
I was taught to read the Quran by my grandmother, and by two paternal aunts, one of whom has passed on. I found this to be a futile exercise, as I was made to read in Arabic, whose script I can read, but whose meaning is 100% foreign to my understanding. In fact it was following the completion of this that I gave up Islam and began to explore school as a better means of enlightenment.
I have a paternal uncle, now deceased, who had a religious awakening when he was a young man, about the same age as my own awakening took place. He lived a relatively simple life thereafter. In contrast to his siblings, he never owned a house, and never pursued material gain. He was a very charitable man, full of almsgiving towards the many poor and crippled people in his neighborhood. He has inspired me, as Christ has, forging a path for me to live humbly in a world full of ambition.
The influence of my family of origin on my spiritual development is easy to see. From my maternal grandparents' employment in a Catholic hospital and my mother's education with nuns at a convent school, I can trace my own attraction to the Catholic faith. From my maternal grandmother's choice of my name, “Kashif,” I feel drawn the Book of Revelations, known as “Mukashifa” in Urdu. From my father, who remained totally detached from Islam, I gained the freedom to explore science, and eventually, other faiths, including those derived from the Bible. This led directly to my conversion experience in 1994, when I accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour. My ancestry came full circle when God called me to take the Good News to my own people in Pakistan. Recently, my mother's acceptance of Jesus has been a great encouragement to me to continue working with Muslims. Thus, while I sometimes wish to escape my heritage, seeing it as superstition and bondage, it is exactly there that my work lies, that of sowing and reaping, for the reason that I know their burdens better than many.