Soldier of Life
Soldier of Life
23 September 2016
Muhammad Khurram’s surname means “a happy person” and that’s what he is, despite trials, tribulations and a life of insane violence. Born in Pakistan, near the capital Islamabad, he was brought up in a world where the truth is determined by the barrel of a shotgun. Once, a Taliban commander ordered him to shoot a handcuffed and blindfolded man. Oddly enough, this was to be the start of his journey with God.
“Where I come from, the Taliban determine what’s true or not,” says Muhammad. “These extremely fanatic Muslims are always right, other opinions don’t count. Anyone who dares to think differently will be punished or killed. Everything is permitted in the name of Allah.”
Muhammad’s father was a strict and devout Muslim who spent 30 years with like-minded Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Though not active himself in the Taliban’s war to install Sharia (a strict religious legal system governing Muslims) everywhere, his father supported the Taliban’s ideas. At home and at the Madrassa (a religious school where Islam is being taught) the extreme rules of Muslim fundamentalism are instilled from a young age. “Brainwashing starts at school,” Muhammad says. “The extremists have a large influence on schools in Pakistan and they use lessons to train children in their way of thinking.
“So I grew up in a world of violence and extreme views. I have to be honest, heroism words menno de boer appealed to me. When you have a gun, you feel like Rambo. For a young man that’s quite cool. I didn’t like the way the leaders behaved, though. They thought they were always right, no matter what. I asked questions. The leaders thought I asked too many questions. Not appropriate. You just had to follow orders.”
Life as a Taliban warrior, with assaults as a daily activity, dragged on. “The battle to be right all the time takes many victims, especially among your own people,” Muhammad explains. “Most of the assaults were in mosques where moderate Muslims worshipped. I started to doubt if such a god even existed.
“This doubt disappeared when, after finishing my training I was forced to kill a man – a Pakistani Muslim journalist who was on his knees before me, handcuffed and blindfolded. ‘Shoot him’, was the first command I got from my leader. I hesitated and thought, ‘God, where are you?’ But I had to shoot him. I couldn’t refuse. I pulled the trigger and ... nothing. ‘The gun doesn’t work,’ I told my commander. I pulled the trigger again and it still didn’t work. The commander said, ‘Take mine’. I pulled the trigger and again it didn’t work. I realised, God is here! The commander looked at me and said, ‘There’s something strange about you’. We walked away and, unfortunately, I learned that the prisoner was later killed by another Taliban warrior. But there my journey with God started.”
After years of hopeless violence, Muhammad couldn’t take it anymore and fled to the Netherlands. “I had enough money,” he says. “I was able to start a new life in the Netherlands. I bought a nice apartment, got a job and started a relationship. “New Year’s Eve 2010, I was in my apartment looking out over the city where I lived and prayed to God: ‘I know you are there. I want a perfect connection with you’. He answered my prayer in a remarkable way when the police came to my apartment in June 2011 telling me my stay in the Netherlands was illegal. I was imprisoned between murderers and rapists and ‘lost it’ for a while, but also my apartment, my girlfriend and my job. Everything was gone.
“Three months later I had a dream. I was in a somewhat misty space ... and I saw a man sitting. Could that be Jesus? The man looked at me and smiled. Then I knew it was him. ‘At last, there you are’, he said, without moving his lips. I was the only one who could hear it. Putting his hand on my shoulder he said, ‘Don’t be afraid. You are not alone’, he assured me. Then I woke up. That dream gave me inner peace. In a second dream I was baptised in his presence.”
Meeting Jesus in his dreams changed Muhammad’s life. He decided to become a Christian. “That made me an apostate Muslim,” he said. “That’s why in Pakistan a fatwa (a religious conviction) was issued against me. If I’m forced to go back I will have to answer to a court and likely be executed because apostasy from Islam is punishable with the death penalty.”
Salvation army contact
After a short period of wandering around homeless, Muhammad came into contact with a Salvation Army corps. “Soup, soap and salvation,” he smiles. “Now I want to fight in another army – an army where we battle to save other people. I want to tell everyone, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and atheists about God’s grace, that it is there for them, too.” When Muhammad talks about Jesus his face starts to shine with happiness. “He has changed me forever. Jesus saved me and died for me on the cross and carried my sin away. It’s my favourite part of the Bible. He conquered death. Knowing I don’t have to pay for my sin myself is such a difference from the religion I was brought up with. Islam tells you, you can earn heaven by strictly following the rules or by blowing up yourself or others. Jesus’ blood paid for everything. His resurrection not only showed that he lives but that he is the Lord over life and death.”
Muhammad’s future is still uncertain. “I know what I want. To work in the service of God and man as a Salvation Army officer. Despite everything, I am happy now. I was a soldier of death but now I am a soldier of life. Through Jesus.”
* Reprinted as an edited version with permission from The Netherlands War Cry.