By Mark Ellis —
At the time of Samaa Habib’s birth to a staunch Muslim family, her country was controlled by communists. Before her delivery, a communist midwife at the government-run hospital urged her mother to have an abortion.
“We should get rid of it,” the midwife informed her mother. “It’s a tumor I think, not a baby.”
Samaa’s mother and the midwife launched into a furious argument, and thankfully, Samaa’s mother prevailed and a baby girl was delivered by C-section.
“I believe I was saved by God for a purpose,” writes Samaa in her electrifying book Face to Face with Jesus (Baker Publishing). “My survival was due to the skill of a Jewish doctor in a communist hospital staffed by Muslims.”
Growing up, she soon learned that if a Muslim leaves Islam and converts to any other religion, the penalty is death according to the Qur’an. “I understood from an early age that, because I was born a Muslim, I would die a Muslim,” she notes.
So she was a little surprised when her parents allowed her to accept the invitation of an Orthodox school friend to attend Christmas celebrations at her church.
Samaa’s father urged her to be polite and to remember her identity as a Muslim. As she sat and observed the service she realized it was very different from the mosque, and “a vast gulf” exists between Islam and Christianity. She was also appalled by the idea of people ingesting the body and blood of Jesus during communion.
Following the example of her father, Samaa dutifully prayed five times a day, kneeling on a prayer mat. By her own choice she wore a veil covering her long brown hair, beginning at the age of seven.
A civil war broke out during Samaa’s childhood, with five militia groups vying for power, including the army, the police, a Sunni militia, a Shia militia, and a mafia group masquerading as rebels.
Life changed dramatically for Samaa’s family. Buses and ambulances stopped running. The schools closed, so Samaa received instruction at home. Horrible atrocities were carried out on civilians, including some of their own neighbors.
Samaa was disheartened when she realized that Islam would not bring peace. “Islam is a religion of war,” she realized, “with killing justified under the term jihad. Yet Muslim was killing Muslim. And jihad exploded in my country with such horrific ethnic cleansing that many Jews and Christians were also killed.”
Gas and electricity were frequently shut off, so during the winter it was difficult to stay warm. “We began to break up and burn the wood furniture in our house,” she recounts in her book.
On a frigid January day Samaa’s father gathered the family together. “There is nothing left in the house to burn,” he informed them, gravely. “We must find fuel today or we will not survive.” He sent the children into the war-torn streets two-by-two to forage for firewood. They knew snipers could be hiding anywhere, and they had to be back before sunset, when packs of wild dogs began their hunt for food.
Fortunately, each of the children found enough scraps of wood on that cold winter day to fend off the bitter cold.
There was only one place in the city where bread was baked and then rationed by the government. Each family was allowed one loaf per person – if you could manage to negotiate the massive throngs lined-up.
On one frigid winter day, Samaa and her father and sister waited 20 hours in line, but could not get bread. When the government told people they had run out, an unruly mob — desperate for food — tried to push through the gates of the bakery and government troops opened fire.
In the ensuing chaos, a woman standing next to Samaa was shot and killed and Samaa was almost trampled to death when she fell to the ground.
Amazingly, Samaa’s sister, Adila, went around to the back of the bakery when the riot broke out. She scaled a high fence and climbed through a window while the guards were distracted. She found an empty burlap bag on the factory floor and filled it with loaves, then made her way home with her precious cargo.
At a certain point in the civil war, it was no longer safe to stand up in their apartment. Samaa’s family had to live on their knees and crawl from room to room, lest snipers target them through an open window.
“It was as if we were living in a nightmare – a horror movie that did not end,” she writes in her book. “I had been crying out to Allah and to Muhammad, praying my set Arabic prayers, but there was no answer. Losing all hope, I cried out in desperation to the God of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob in my own language. I knew He was the God of Christians and Jews, and I wondered if He would somehow be able to help me.”
After she prayed this prayer, she felt an unusual peace descend on her, despite her desperate circumstances.
When she was 12, Samaa signed up for karate lessons held in her former school gym. Many women were abducted on the streets, raped, and killed during the civil war. Samaa thought some self-defense instruction might give her a fighting chance.
She was surprised one day when her Muslim karate instructor gave her a children’s Bible. Although he was Muslim by birth, he was not practicing Islam and had told the class he was searching spiritually.
When she read the children’s Bible, she was amazed to learn about the healing miracles of Jesus and that He even raised the dead. She realized Muhammad had not performed any healing miracles.
After she started reading the Bible, Jesus appeared to her in her dreams. He looked like a Middle Eastern man in a white robe, “with a very bright light shining out from Him.” He told her He is the only Way to follow. When she awakened from her powerful dream, she felt the same deep sense of peace as when she first prayed to the Christian God.
Shortly after that, the JESUS film played in her neighborhood. People had not been to the cinema since the civil war broke out, so it created quite a sensation with over 200 in attendance.
When Jesus was crucified in the film, Samaa and her friends and family were in tears. Afterward, she told her father, “Jesus is the only prophet I know who made the blind see, healed the sick, made the deaf hear and the paralyzed walk. He can’t only be a prophet; He must be more. Jesus not only raised the dead; He was also raised from the dead Himself. His tomb is empty. He is alive. Muhammad’s bones are still buried in Mecca, and he is dead. Jesus is my superhero!”
Her father smiled and said, “Yes, Jesus was one of the greatest prophets, even in Islam. We know in the end times He will come from heaven as a judge to judge the world.”
After her karate instruction, Samaa joined a free tae kwan do class taught by a European Christian man named Alim. He started the class by telling them that tae kwan do is a discipline of body, mind, and spirit.
Alim began each class with short lessons from the Bible and even invited the class to attend church with him on Sundays. Knowing her parents would never approve, she finally got the courage to attend, and told them she was going to a tae kwon do training class.
A new church experience
This church was much less formal than the Orthodox Church she visited before. She was struck by the atmosphere of love, which seemed to permeate everything. The building was filled to capacity, with about 800 to 1000 people.
A guest speaker from America spoke with the help of a translator. At the end of the message there was an invitation to come forward and receive prayer. After some initial hesitation, Samaa walked forward as the church sang, “Worthy is the Lamb.”
When she got to the front, the pastor put his hand on her head and began to pray for her. “As he did, a surge of warmth passed through me as the Holy Spirit touched me powerfully. I was unable to stand and fell to the ground,” she recounts in her book.
As she lay there, she received a powerful vision of Jesus’ crucifixion. “I began to weep as I saw His hands and feet pierced on the cross.”
Jesus spoke to her by name and impressed on her heart, Repent and turn to Me, and you will be with Me in Paradise because of what I have done by my grace. I took your shame so you are free from the judgment of hell and condemnation.
“Now I knew my sins could not be cleansed by an animal sacrifice, but only by the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus,” she realized. For the first time she recognized the cross was not just a symbol of death, but a powerful symbol of God’s love.
Jesus told Samaa many other things that are revealed in her riveting book. She lay on the floor for a few hours, but it seemed like only a moment to her.
“No person had to explain to me that Jesus was the Son of God. It was revealed to me by Jesus Himself,” she explains. When Samaa could finally get up on her feet, she was a different person.
Her fears had been replaced by a new joy and boldness from the Holy Spirit. “I was delivered from nightmares. I experienced the truth of 1 John 4:18 – ‘perfect love casts out fear,’ because fear left me for good when I asked Jesus into my heart.”
Even though her country was still at war, she instantly felt peace. “That’s because the Prince of Peace – Jesus — entered my heart and calmed all the storms.”
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