By Michael Ashcraft —
To make their soldiers fearless, Mohamad Faridi’s Iranian superiors made them sleep in empty graves.
Since a boy, Mohamad was fervent Muslim, praying 10 times a day, way more than the regimented five times. But nothing could ease his fear of death and his apprehension that he might be judged unworthy of being admitted into Paradise beyond the grave.
“I was in a lot of despair, a lot of depression, and I was hopeless. The only hope I had was to die, so I contemplated suicide,” he says on a Your Living Manna video “But I was afraid because if as a Muslim you commit suicide you end up in hell.
“I was living in hell in this world.”
The Tehran-born boy was taught to never question Islam.
“I went to my mom and ask her, ‘Mom, does this god, the god of Islam, speak Farsi (the language of the Iranians)? Can I speak to him in Farsi?’ My mom said, ‘You do not want to be tormented by Allah. You do not want to be tortured by Allah. A good Muslim only surrenders, only submits.’
“From that moment on, I just put my blinders on.”
Mohamad memorized entire chapters of the Koran, washed himself religiously, prayed ritually and fasted during the 30 days of Ramadan.
But the question nagged him: Would he ever be good enough to merit Paradise?
Allah, according to the depiction, weighed your good actions against your bad actions on judgement day. Nobody ever knew for certain who would get into eternal glory and who would be cast into torment.
The Shia sect of Islam practiced in Iran also has the ritual of self-flagellation with chains containing barbs and knives. By drawing blood in penance, they hope to curry the favor of the imams in Paradise so that they may pray for their souls, Mohamad says.
“Someone recites a eulogy and provokes the crowd to beat themselves, weep and cry,” he explains. “That’s how we’re gaining points and how we punish ourselves that maybe one of these Imams would intercede for us at the day of judgement. We beat ourselves so much that we bruise and bleed with chains on our backs.”
His uncle and brother were part of the mass deaths of Iranians, but Mohamad was spared.
Back from the war, he resumed his rituals of desperately trying to appease Allah. During one 10-day stretch of self-flagellation, he beat himself so badly through nine days that he could not rise from his bed on the tenth to carry on.
“I was so broken and I was so bruised that I could not get out and go beat myself more on the tenth day,” he recounts. “I was ashamed of myself. I said this is the least asked of me and I cannot fulfill that.”
Light finally broke into the darkness. Mohamad rekindled a childhood friendship with a friend named Rasul. He noticed Rasul was uncommonly light-hearted.
“What is going on with you? What is happening to you?” asked Mohamad.
Rasul responded that he became a Christian.
“That was the first time I was hearing about Christianity without bad-mouthing it or without saying that it is corrupted,” Mohamad remembers.
“God loved his creation,” Rasul said. For two hours, he elucidated the free gift of grace through faith in Christ and his death on the cross.
Mohamad raised every objection he had heard at home or in the mosque.
Rasul tired of two hours of arguing, so he said he needed to go.
“The last thing I’m gonna tell you is Jesus was beaten, he was bruised, he was crucified, his blood was shed for your sin so that you can have everlasting life,” Rasul said.
Then he quoted to him John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The concept of Jesus being beaten and bloodied instead of Mohamad beating and bloodying himself left him astounded. It was an utter contradiction of everything he knew from Islam.
It resonated deep within him, and Mohamad decided at the end to accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord.
“When I opened my eyes from that prayer, everything in the world got a new color, everything that was a shade of gray and black got colors,” the young man recounts with wonder. “For the first time in my life, I felt peace in my life.”
As he walked home, though, doubts and misgivings arose in his heart.
Nevertheless, Mohamad agreed to attend a church service.
“As I walked through the gates to go to the sanctuary, I had an encounter with the God of this universe,” he remembers. “Something like a cloud came around me and gave me a hug.”
“You’re home, you’re home,” a voice impressed on his heart.
“I felt weightless. I was so peaceful,” he says.
As the church service started, people clapped and sang joyously. It was a stark contrast from the serious, somber and severe liturgy of the mosque.
“As Muslims, we did not know about what is going to happen to us, so we mourned and wept and we were afraid of the future,” he says. “But the Christians knew what is going to happen to them, so they were rejoicing. There was a hope about the resurrection. Jesus died and was resurrected on the third day, so they had a hope that we were missing in Islam.”
Still, deeply entrenched ideas are not easily rooted out. He worried he was being brain-washed.
He began reading a New Testament in Farsi — unlike the Koran, which must be read in the non-native Arabic.
“The more I read it, the more I got connected to it,” he says.
Matthew 11: 28-30 hit him squarely between the eyes: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
How did the book read his mind?
Who put that in his New Testament?
Mohamad felt like he was in The Twilight Zone. (He had never seen the TV show.) He was weirded out. How could his thoughts appear on the page?
“The book was talking to me, to my situation, like never before, like nothing else, like never before,” he recalls. “I thought to myself, “This cannot be right. Somebody has been walking around, writing this book about me and my situation.’”
The next time he went to church, he cross-checked other people’s New Testaments. There were the words that were written for him.
“It was the same verse and I asked the man, ‘Is this verse talking to you like it’s talking to me?” he says.
At that service, a gentleman came and shared his testimony of how he was healed of cancer after the doctors had sent him home with no cure and no hope of recovery. The disconsolate man had asked a group of Christians to pray for him, since the Muslims could do nothing.
When he woke up the next morning, he felt better. Day after day, he testified, he was stronger and healthier until he returned to the doctors, who conducted tests once again.
The results? No cancer.
The doctors were flabbergasted, the man said.
“I thought to myself I have read that in my Bible ‘You will lay hands on the sick and they shall recover’ and this is actually happening,” he says.
All vestige of doubt vanished.
“I’m not looking any more for any other proofs,” he vowed.
Converting to Christianity is a sin called apostasy in Islam. It is a sin so grave that family members are obligated to kill the apostate.
“My dad got really violent and kicked me out of the house. Two times my life was threatened. Once by my cousins told me, ‘You betrayed Islam and you will pay for it.’”
Mohamad worked as a taxi cab driver. He kept his New Testament on the dashboard and anyone who asked got the Gospel. Soon, his boss fired him.
Mohamad realized eventually he would be imprisoned or killed, so he traveled to Turkey and applied for a refugee visa. He moved to the United States in 2012.
“I came to America, not for a better opportunity, not to make a better life, just for safety and for freedom.”
“The purpose of a ministry is to help Americans help the churches, help the brothers and sisters to love on Muslims, and preach to them the only hope of the gospel, so they can see the light.”
Michael Ashcraft sells bamboo steamer baskets online to supplement his life as he writes Christian journalism.