Moving from Kuwait to Charleston, South Carolina, had been an adventure. Surrendering his life to Jesus Christ was actual treason. And yet, Jesus brought Fazal the most powerful peace he had ever experienced: “It filled the room. It grew roots in my heart and in my soul. It intoxicated me.”
In this riveting memoir, Fazal describes how God used extraordinary means to bring a young, underachieving, Muslim immigrant through Desert Storm, across the oceans, into college, and ultimately to pastor a Christian church in North Carolina. He demonstrates that no character flaw, no distance, no cultural chasm is too great for Jesus to reach across.
Fazal is candid about his shortcomings, practical about the challenges of cross-cultural engagement, and ultimately inspiring that God is capable of far more than we have grown to expect. He says, “Jesus consistently, stubbornly refuses to limit himself to my expectations. Which makes getting to know him an unfolding adventure of epic proportions.”
Whether you are a Muslim, Christian, or neither, Ex-Muslim makes a compelling case that life with Jesus Christ is a true adventure.
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About the Author
Kitti Murray and her husband, Bill, are part of an urban church plant network in Downtown Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, where they also live. Kitti is a mother of four grown sons, three daughters-in-law, and two beautiful grandkids. When not writing, planning events for Apartment Life, or watching her grandbabies, Kitti can be found biking to her favorite coffee shop.
Read an Excerpt
How One Daring Prayer To Jesus Changed A Life Forever
By Naeem Fazal, Kitti Murray
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Naeem Fazal
All rights reserved.
Come On Down
If you wish for light, be ready to receive light.
The official reason for my first trip to the United States was to visit my older brother, Mahmood was then a student at the College of Charleston, a fact that gave my family just cause to apply for travel visas, The application for my entire family—my mom, dad, two sisters, younger brother, and me—was a ruse to get me, just me, out of Kuwait, So I came to visit and, my family hoped, to stay put for the rest of my life, At the time, Kuwait was still reeling from the aftershocks of the Gulf War, and I was the next in line, after my brother, to escape, I'll never forget my dad's last words to me: "Naeem beta vapus nahi ana, Tumhare liya ab yahan kuch nahi hai. (Naeem, don't come back, There is nothing left for you here.)"
I was excited to see Moody (the name we all called Mahmood), But I had concerns too, My brother had been in the States for almost four years, and in that time he'd changed, He'd changed SO dramatically that the last time I saw him I had pinned him against a wall and threatened to kill him. During the first week of his most recent visit home to Kuwait he'd taken me aside to say he had, as he put it, "become a Christian." NOW, here in the United States, that phrase is almost as common in some regions as "I'm a Lakers fan," but in Kuwait, where Islam is not only our religion but our nationality—our very identity—the only possible response to such a claim is outrage. Becoming a Christian meant rejecting your heritage. It was an insult. Worse, it was treason. Any Muslim who converted to Christianity was considered a kafir, an infidel. Add to all this my teenage need for equilibrium in my environment, for everyone I loved to just stick with the status quo, and Moody's announcement detonated in my chest like the IEDS that dotted our countryside during the war. In my mind, he had ruined our family, and—maybe even worse—ruined my chances of going to the United States. My parents would never let me go if this sacrilege is what happened over there. I could never actually hurt my brother physically, but I did end our relationship. I quit sharing my life with him. And I began to distrust him. SO the subject was closed; we didn't go there anymore.
Before cutting him off and basically refusing to acknowledge his presence for the rest of his visit home, I warned Mahmood that he had better not tell anyone else his news. I think the vehemence of my response surprised him, SO he took my demand seriously. He backed off, and he didn't tell anyone else. He even took off the cross he'd been wearing under his shirt. I thought to myself, Good. I've shut him up.
I was a little smug about that. I'd handled my oldest brother—the brother who, according to custom, was the favored son in our family. The one who was born with the light skin that was so desirable to Pakistani families, while I, the second born, was as dark as our kahawa (coffee). The good student who, unlike me—the screwup—made good grades and got into an American college. The good Muslim who won Qu'ran recitation contests. The family member who'd escaped the hell the rest of us had lived through during the Gulf War. I arrived in Charleston determined to communicate in no uncertain terms that my brother could go through his "Christian phase" all he wanted, but I was going to do my own thing. Introduce me to girls and the good life, but don't introduce me to your Jesus. Point me in the right direction, Moody, but then get out of my way.
It turns out I needed my brother's help far more than I needed him to stay away from me. I didn't know a soul in Charleston. My English was good, but nothing like the slow, folksy version I heard here. Without his social patronage I would have been incredibly lonely. He was a college student after all. And where else was I going to find the blonde American women I'd heard all about?
The first Tuesday I was in Charleston, Mahmood took me to a meeting of a group called Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Sure enough, there were blonde girls there—lots of them—which was why I kept going every Tuesday even though I sat in the back and made fun of all those crazy Christians who, by the way, weren't athletes at all. Go figure. I stayed on the periphery and observed, which can be loosely translated "checked out the girls." But the gospel is alive, and it has a way of sliding under barriers. I didn't listen, but somehow I heard. I sat on the outside looking in at those meetings, my outside self saying, Jesus, yeah, yeah ... Give me a dean heart. Sure. But a door in my soul began to open so imperceptibly that I didn't even see the thin beam of light slipping through.
Mahmood's friends talked to me about Jesus. My brother kept quiet and let them do the talking. During conversations with my brother, I tried to talk to him about all the stuff I planned to do once I got this living-in-America thing figured out. I thought if I filled his imagination with what was important to me—my big dreams and goals—he wouldn't bother me with what was important to him. Eventually I asked Mahmood a question or two about Christianity. Or, rather, I goaded him.
One night, after hanging out with a bunch of FCA people at a place called Aunt Fannie's, we were walking back to our apartment. Our discussion devolved into an argument.
"You know, Moody, this idea that God is personal is ridiculous. There's no way that can be true," I said pompously. I thought I'd stuck a barb straight into the one major flaw of the gospel. Personal God? Any good Muslim knew Allah was far removed from us and to be feared. He was the Almighty. How could my brother believe in such a blasphemous thing as a personal God? He should know the natural and the supernatural never connect in Muslim theology.
"What do you mean it can't be true?"
"If what you say about Jesus is true," I said, again thinking I had him backed into a corner, "then why doesn't he come on down here and prove it?"
I pointed to a bush that seemed conveniently placed along our path and, chuckling at my own cleverness, I said, "Why doesn't your Jesus zap this bush and make it burn? If he's so big and bad, why doesn't he come down and reveal himself to me personally right now," I mimicked the way some of Mahmood's Christian friends talked and prayed that God would "come on down."
To my surprise my brother didn't seem at all daunted by my mockery. "He'll do it, Naeem. If you just ask him to, he'll do it. It might not be tonight, but he will."
"Whatever," I said, a little deflated because I didn't have an answer for a claim like that. Honestly, I was shocked by his confidence. It made me more curious than I wanted to admit.
One Tuesday night the FCA leaders showed a film about the Rapture, an interesting concept that baffles me to this day. Instead of derision, I responded with curiosity, nothing more. Still, mild interest is a far cry from outright scorn. Sometimes the miracles that happen in our hearts begin subtly like that.
The group ended the night with prayer the way they always did. And I prayed. The way I saw it, my brother had dared me to pray for God to "come down," to reveal himself in a personal way, whatever that meant. So it was time to make good on my promise. It's hard for me to refuse a dare, so I had no choice.
"Whoever you are, whoever is up there, if you're real, if what my idiot brother says about you is true, then why don't you show me?" I said out loud to God, not really sure it was prayer. And then I added, "I don't believe any of this, so you're going to have to prove it. I know I'm just talking to myself."
Instead of "Amen" I ended the prayer with "Whatever," or something like that. I prayed for the God I didn't believe in to come down and do what I thought he couldn't do.
And God heard.
It was three nights later. After midnight, I was in my bed at my brother's apartment, closing the novel I'd been reading, dropping it on the table beside me, stretching that final, get-settled-for-the-night stretch. But instead of drifting off to sleep, I was suddenly wide awake. I don't know if being a Muslim made me more vulnerable or less vulnerable to what happened next.
In Muslim culture, we don't dwell on the "dark side." There is no focus on demons or Satan. In fact, it seems as if most Muslims fear God more than Satan. And so when the room grew unnaturally dark and the atmosphere became—well, the only word for it is evil—I had absolutely no clue what was happening. I just know that it felt weird. And then, quickly, terrifying. Something grabbed my shoulders and pinned me to my pillow. A presence of some kind sat on my legs, and I could not move. I began to scream, to swear, to cry out in hopes that my brother would hear and come to my rescue. I had no precedent for this. I'd just lived through the Gulf War with missile strikes and oil fires often only a block away from our home, but in that moment I was more petrified than I'd ever been in my short life. The room got darker, more alive, and I screamed louder.
The door creaked open, and I felt a momentary pulse of relief, thinking my brother was finally there. I looked up and saw an even larger, darker presence. It moved toward me, communicating with me in unspoken words, but I knew exactly what it was saying: I'm going to kill you. Unintelligible yet unmistakable language. Somewhere in my memory, I retrieved enough information to realize that these were demons. I thought at them, I'm a Muslim; I don't believe in demons, not that my unbelief seemed to matter one bit to them.
My next instinct was to pray, but to whom? Allah? Buddha? Oprah? Hello, anyone? Then I thought of Jesus. I'd prayed to him three nights before, and this was what I got? I began some impressive backpedaling, retracting my prayer as quickly as I could. Had I prayed all wrong? Was this my punishment for being so cavalier with Jesus? "I'm sorry," I groveled, "I didn't mean it, Jesus. I was stupid, Jesus!"
I meant it too. On some visceral level that I didn't understand at the time, I truly meant it. I genuinely cried out to Jesus as if he were real.
The being did not retreat; it suddenly disappeared. The weight on my body lifted and left. The room was still soaked in darkness, still felt malevolent, but I knew I was safe for the time being. I looked around for just a moment before jumping out of bed and doing what any self-respecting grown man would do. I ran to my brother's room, climbed in his bed, and, trembling like a little girl, woke him up.
Just Like in the Movies
Until that night, my stay in the States had been a boy's lark, more daydream than nightmare. Even so, my first day here, a scant month earlier, had been a little disappointing.
When I left Kuwait, I left a family divided by the hard decisions the war had caused us to make. I had not graduated from high school because my school building had been destroyed—every teenager's dream—as a parting gift of the Iraqi forces. In many respects I was running away from home, and running straight into the arms of freedom and the American dream. Of course I had no clue I would be battling literal demons within my first month here.
I was only eighteen, and my hopes and ambitions surely reflected my youth. What was I most excited about while preparing for a visit to this new land of opportunity—a visit I hoped would result in a permanent stay? Maybe you've already guessed: blondes. Specifically, blonde, blue-eyed girls. And where did my direct flight land me? In Miami, where everyone—and I mean everyone—looked exactly like me. At first I wondered if I'd landed in the wrong place, if Miami was a separate country. It's ironic, isn't it? Here I was the farthest away from home I'd ever been, and, on the surface, it sure looked like I fit right in. (I've been accused on YouTube of being a fake, not Middle Eastern at all, and certainly not a former Muslim. People think I'm Hispanic.)
I stayed with a cousin in Miami, and then in the predawn hours two weeks later I got on a bus bound for Charleston, South Carolina, where Mahmood lived. Kuwait is very small. You can probably travel its outer boundaries three whole times in two hours. I hadn't paid close attention to the arrival time stamped on my ticket, so I was the pesky passenger who walked up the aisle several times an hour and tapped the bus driver on the shoulder to ask, "Are we there yet?" After a few times, he shot me a nasty look and said, "It's in South Carolina, buddy," as if I should know how far away that is in Greyhound miles, or in any miles for that matter. I'll tell you how far away it is: seventeen and a half hours. My cousin apparently didn't know about express tickets, SO he'd bought me one with stops in every major city and every obscure town between Miami and Charleston, Let's just say I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of my new homeland on that trip,
We hadn't gone far before we stopped in Cocoa Beach, By that time I'd resigned myself to a longer journey than expected, so I decided to relax, take a walk around outside, and smoke a cigarette, As I lit up, I noticed the sky was turning from gray to pale pink, I ambled around to the back of the building thinking, I can't believe I'm in the USA. I've made it. This is going to be an interesting life. (I had no idea,) I walked back to the front of the bus station feeling more relaxed,
Until I noticed that my bus was gone,
I mean, the exhaust had already dissipated, No taillights receding on the flat Florida horizon, It was gone, I ran to the ticket window and blurted out, my accent becoming as thick as my panic, like it always does when I freak out, "Excuse me, Where's my bus?"
"Oh," the lady behind the glass answered, so nonchalantly that I felt a flicker of hope that there might not be a problem after all, "the bus is gone,"
"It's coming back, right? Gone where? To refuel?"
"No, it's gone to Charleston,"
"Are you kidding me?" I said, And then I said some other things I'd rather leave to your imagination,
The ticket agent didn't answer, It was a rhetorical question anyway, But then I started thinking rationally again, and I asked, "When is the next bus?"
"Uh, tomorrow, Twenty-four hours from now,"
Unbelievable, I walked outside just as the sun, big and glorious, peeked over the big, glorious Atlantic Ocean, But all I could think about was my seat on that bus and the things I'd left there: my passport, all my papers, everything I had, No sunrise could distract me from that. And then I saw the solution: a yellow car idling on the curb, Taxis in Kuwait City are either beige and white or orange, but I recognized it anyway, thanks to my extensive experience watching American movies, I knocked on the window, waking the driver, and motioned for him to roll his window down, I said, "Listen, I missed my bus, and I need you to take me to South Carolina."
When I left Kuwait, my father had insisted I keep eighty dollars or so in, of all places, my sock, so I pulled out the entire roll of smelly, damp cash and handed it to him, "It's all yours; just get me to South Carolina."
I don't think the cab drivers in Cocoa Beach get that kind of request every day, He looked at me like I was an alien, which, technically, I was. "Where?"
"Charleston, South Carolina," I said, and if I'd known more English idioms back then, I would have added, "And make it snappy."
Snappy didn't begin to express how desperately I needed transportation at that moment, I expected him to blow me off, but he seemed to understand, "Why? What happened?"
After a few sentences from me, he said, "All right, all right, let me see what I can do," and he walked inside the station to talk with the ticket agent.
I began to wonder if he was in there reporting me to somebody, but then he came out and said, "Okay, let's catch your bus."
He'd gotten a list of the next few bus stops on my route and wisely determined to save me the money and himself the hassle by getting me back on my bus instead of driving me all the way to South Carolina.
My mood shifted from desperation to exhilaration in sixty seconds flat. All I could think as we sped down the highway was, This is just like the movies. The next stop was a large hub with almost too many buses to count. I frantically looked around and couldn't find mine, so we sped to the next station. Several stops later, still no bus. And then there it was. (Cue the music.) Picture it: I saw the bus and the bus saw me. I ran for it, hopped on, and went to what I was sure was my seat. Empty.
Excerpted from Ex-Muslim by Naeem Fazal, Kitti Murray. Copyright © 2014 Naeem Fazal. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xiii
1 Come On Down 1
2 Mahmood 17
3 Stranger in a Strange Land 27
4 Life Interrupted 41
5 Stranger in a Strange Land, Part Two 57
6 The Lamb of God 75
7 Bollywood Aspirations 91
8 Church Stories 103
9 Ashley's Story 117
10 Hope for the Hopeless 131
11 Growing Up and Getting Ready 145
12 Mosaic 161
13 God Out of Context 179
14 What If Everyone 191
15 An Invitation to an Unconquerable Life 205
About the Author 229
Fazal Family Album 231
What People are Saying About This
“Every chapter explodes with pure awesomeness. You will laugh. You will cry. And you will love Jesus more. I promise.”
—Derwin L. Gray, lead pastor, Transformation Church; author, Limitless Life
“Naeem’s story is really a story of God’s passionate and relentless pursuit of people.
Reading it will remind you that God is in your story, in your life, drawing you closer to him.”
—Mark Batterson, lead pastor, National CommunityChurch;
New York Times bestselling author, The
“Every page of Naeem’s story is a reminder that—no matter what’s going on in your life—you can discover and sustain a hope that transcends your current circumstances.”
—Pete Wilson, lead pastor, Cross Point Church;
author, Plan B and
Let Hope In
“My friend Naeem is a trophy of God’s grace. In this book,
you’ll experience his remarkable story in a way that will illuminate the path of your spiritual journey as well.”
—Steven Furtick, lead pastor, Elevation Church; New York Times bestselling author, Sun Stand Still
“Ridiculously funny, witty, and certain to keep your attention. Naeem’s story is mind blowing, a real testimony to the power of God redeeming a new generation.”
—Peter Haas, lead pastor, Substance Church; author, Pharisectomy
“With crosscultural candor, unexpected humor, and his passionate love for Jesus,
Naeem Fazal shares an inspiring epic adventure of faith in Ex-Muslim. His perspective not only provides insight into the Islamic culture, but also reveals the power of the Gospel to transcend any barrier, label, or expectation.”
—Chris Hodges, senior pastor, Church of the Highlands; author, Fresh Air
“Don’t let Ex-Muslim fool you into thinking it’s just a personal story. It is beyond rich and layered in a much larger and deeper message—one the church so badly needs to hear.”
—Robyn Afrik, speaker, author, and CEO of Afrik Advantage
“Ex-Muslim will encourage you to rethink whether your relationship with God is cultural and performance-based, or is based on embracing the grace and kindness of God.”
—Rick Bezet, founder and lead pastor, New Life Church in Central
Arkansas; author, Be Real
“Naeem’s redemptive story is proof that God can do anything in our lives. No matter where we have been or our current circumstances, God can use us to make a difference in our world. This is a must-read!”
Graham, founder, The Rocket Company
Fazal is one of the most dynamic, Christ-centered, voices of his generation;
and after reading Ex-Muslim,
you’ll know why.”
Mark DeYmaz, founding pastor, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas; author, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church
“Naeem’s life illustrates the strength and faithfulness of God and his story reflects
God’s love and mercy.”
Michael Morris (Moose), Seacoast Church
“Naeem’s modern-day encounter with Jesus is like reading about the apostle Paul’s run-in with Jesus over two thousand years ago. You’ll be captivated from the first page.”
Helou, executive national sales director, Mary Kay Cosmetics
“The first time I heard Naeem tell his story, it startled me and spurred me on to greater faith in Jesus. Ex-Muslim will give you a loving push to let God do more than you could ask or imagine in your daily life.”
Connolly, founder, naptimediaries.com; cofounder, The Influence Network
“This story will ignite passion, fervor, and exuberance with expectancy.”
Raiborde, International Family Church