The Story of M A Gabriel
The former professor of Islamic history at Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt
Disillusioned at Al-Azhar
Fifteen years ago I was the imam of a mosque in the city of Giza, Egypt, which is where the famous Egyptian pyramids are located. (Imam of a mosque is a position similar to pastor of a Christian church.) I preached the message of the week on Fridays from 12 to 1 in the afternoon, as well as performed other duties.
One Friday the topic of my message was jihad. I told the two hundred fifty people seated on the ground before me: Jihad in Islam is defending the Islamic nation and Islam against the attacks of the enemies. Islam is a religion of peace and only will fight against one who fights it. These infidels, heathens, perverts, Christians and Allah’s grievers, the Jews, out of envy of peaceful Islam and its prophet—they spread the myth that Islam is promulgated by the sword and violence. These infidels, the accusers of Islam, do not acknowledge Allah’s words. At this point I quoted from the Quran: And do not kill anyone whose killing Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause. —Surah 17:33, The Noble Quran When I spoke these words, I was just freshly graduated from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt —the oldest and most prestigious Islamic university in the world. It serves as the spiritual authority for Islam worldwide. I was teaching at the university, and I was an imam on the weekend at this mosque.
I preached my sermon on jihad that day according to the philosophy of the Egyptian government. Al-Azhar University focused us on the politically correct Islam and purposely overlooked areas of teaching that conflicted with the authority of Egypt . I was preaching what they taught me, but inside I was confused about the truth of Islam. But if I wanted to keep my job and my status at Al-Azhar, I needed to keep my thoughts to myself. After all, I knew what happened to people who differed from Al-Azhar’s agenda. They would be fired and would not be accepted to teach at any other university in the nation.
However, I knew that what I was teaching at the mosque and at Al-Azhar was not what I’d seen in the Quran, which I had memorized in its entirety by the age of twelve. What confused me the most was that I was told to preach about an Islam of love, kindness and forgiveness. At the same time, Muslim fundamentalists—the ones who were supposed to be practicing true Islam—were bombing churches and killing Christians.
At this time the jihad movement was very active in Egypt. Reports of bombings and attacks against Christians were common. It was such apart of everyday life that one time I heard a bomb go off at a church as I was riding the bus. I looked and saw a plume of smoke rising up a quarter mile away.
I had been raised in a family that was well established in Islam, and I had studied Islamic history. I was not involved in any radical groups. But one of my Muslim friends was a member of an Islamic group that was actively slaughtering Christians. Ironically, he was a chemistry student and had only recently become serious about his faith. Nevertheless, he was active in jihad. One day I asked him, “Why are you killing our neighbors and countrymen whom we grew up with?”
He was angry and astonished at my challenge. “Out of all Muslims you should know. The Christians did not accept the call of Islam, and they are not willing to pay us the jizyah (tax) to have the right to practice their beliefs. Therefore, the only option they have is the sword of Islamic law.”
Seeking the Truth
My conversations with him drove me to pour over the Quran and the books of the Islamic law, hoping to find something to contradict what he said. I couldn’t change the reality of what I read. As a Muslim, I realized I had two options:
I could continue to embrace the “Christianized” Islam—the Islam of peace, love, forgiveness and compassion, the Islam tailor-made to fit Egyptian government, politics and culture—thereby keeping my job and status.
I could become a member of the Islamic movement and embrace Islam according to the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad. Muhammad said, “I left you with something [the Quran]. If you hold on to what I left with you, you will not be led astray forever.”
Many times I tried to rationalize the kind of Islam I was practicing by saying to myself, well, you are not too far out. After all, there are verses in the Quran about love, peace, forgiveness and compassion. You only need to ignore the part about jihad and the killing of the non-Muslims. I went to every interpretation of the Quran trying to avoid jihad and killing non-Muslims, yet I kept finding support of the practice. The scholars agreed that Muslims should enforce jihad on infidels (those who reject Islam) and renegades (those who leave Islam). Yet jihad was not in harmony with other verses that spoke of living at peace with others. All the contradictions in the Quran were really causing a problem for my faith. I spent four years to earn my bachelor’s degree, graduating second out of a class of six thousand. Then there was another four years for my master’s and three more for my doctorate—all studying Islam. I knew the teachings well.
In one place alcohol was forbidden; in another it was allowed(compare Surah 5:90–91 with Surah 47:15). In one place it says Christians are very good people who love and worship one God, so you may be friends with them (Surah 2:62, 3:113–114). Then you find other verses that say Christians must convert, pay tax or be killed by the sword (Surah 9:29 ). The scholars had theological solutions to these problems, but I wondered how Allah, almighty and all powerful, could either contradict himself so much or change his mind so much.
Even the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, practiced his faith in ways that contradicted the Quran. The Quran said Muhammad was sent to show the mercy of God to the world. But he became a military dictator, attacking, killing and taking plunder to finance his empire. How is that showing mercy? Allah, the god revealed in the Quran, is not a loving father. It says that he desires to lead people astray (Surah 6:39 , 126). He does not help those who are led astray by him (Surah 30:29) and desires to use them to populate hell (Surah 32:13).
Islam is full of discrimination—against women, against non-Muslims, against Christians and most especially against Jews. Hatred is built in to the religion.
The history of Islam, which was my special area of study, could only be characterized as a river of blood.
Finally, I reached the point where I was questioning the faith and the Quran with my students at the university. Some of them were members of terrorist movements, and they were enraged: “You can’t accuse Islam. What has happened to you? You have to teach us. You have to agree to Islam.” The university heard about it, and I was called in for a meeting in December 1991. To summarize the meeting, I told them what was in my heart: “I can no longer say that the Quran comes directly from heaven or from Allah. This cannot be the revelation of the true God.”
These were very blasphemous words, in their opinion. They spat in my face. One man cursed me, “You blasphemer. You bastard.” The university fired me and called the Egyptian secret police. The Secret Police Kidnapped Me to understand what happened next; you need to have a picture of how my family lived. My father had a very large home that was three stories tall. My whole family lived together in this house—my parents, my four married brothers with their families, my unmarried brother and myself. Only my sister lived elsewhere because she was married and lived with her husband. The house was divided into many apartments, and we were very comfortable. On the first floor were my parents’ apartment and an apartment I shared with my brother. On the floors above us were apartments for my other brothers. At three o’clock in the morning on the very same day that the university kicked me out, my father heard knocking at the door of our house. When he opened the door, fifteen to twenty men rushed in carrying Russian Kalashnikov assault weapons. They were not wearing uniforms, just regular clothes. They ran upstairs and all through the house, waking people up and looking for me. I think so many men came in at once so that I couldn’t run away before they found me.
They were all over the house before one of them found me asleep in my bed. My parents, brothers, spouses and children were awake, weeping and terrified, as they dragged me away. Everybody in the area heard the commotion.
I was taken to a place that looked like a prison and was placed in a cell. In the morning my parents frantically tried to figure out what had happened to me. Right away they went to the police station and demanded, “Where is our son?” But nobody knew anything about me. I was in the hands of the Egyptian secret police.
The Egyptian Prison
Spending time with the Egyptian secret police is much different than a visit to an American prison. They put me in a cell with two radical Muslims accused of committing terrorist acts. One was Palestinian and the other Egyptian.
For three days I was given no food or water. Every day the Egyptian man asked me, “Why are you here?” I refused to answer because I was afraid he would kill me if he knew that I had questioned Islam. On the third day, I told him I was a teacher at Al-Azhar University and an imam in Giza . Immediately he gave me a plastic bottle of water and some falafel and pita that were brought to him by his visitors, but he told me that the police had warned him not to give me anything. On the fourth day, the interrogation began. For the next four days the goal of the secret police was to make me confess that I had left Islam and to explain how it happened.
The interrogation began in a room with a large desk. My interrogator sat behind the desk, and I sat on the other side. Behind me were two or three police officers.
They were sure that I had been evangelized and converted to Christianity, so the interrogator kept badgering me, “What pastor did you talk to? What church have you been visiting? Why have you betrayed Islam?” He asked many questions. One time I hesitated too long when I answered. He nodded to the men behind me. They grabbed my hand and held it down on the desk. My interrogator held a lit cigarette. He reached over and extinguished it into the top of my hand. I still have this scar. I also have the scar on my lip where he did the same thing. Sometimes he used the cigarettes when he got angry; other times the officers just hit me across my face.
As my interrogation continued, the pressure grew stronger. One time they brought a fire poker into the room (the iron rod that you use to move burning wood in a fire). I wondered, what is that for? The next time the interrogator wanted to make his point, I found out. The poker was red hot, and one officer pressed it into the flesh of my left arm.
They wanted me to confess that I had been converted, but I said, “I didn’t betray Islam. I just said what I believe. I am an academic person. I am a thinker. I have a right to discuss any subject of Islam. This is part of my job and part of any academic life. I could not even dream of converting from Islam—it is my blood, my culture, my language, my family, my life. But if you accuse me of converting from Islam for what I say to you, then take me out of Islam. I don’t mind to be out of Islam.”
My answer was not what they wanted to hear. I was taken to a room with a steel bed in it. They tied my feet to the foot of the bed and then put heavy stockings on them, almost like oven mitts.
One officer had a black whip, about four feet long, and he began whipping my feet. Another officer sat down next to me at the head of the bed with a pillow in his hands. When I cried out, he pushed the pillow into my face until I was quiet. I could not stop crying out, so a second officer came to put an extra pillow over my face.
As I was beaten I went unconscious, but when I woke up the officer was still whipping my feet. Then he stopped and they untied me, and one officer commanded, “Stand up.” I couldn’t at first, but he took the whip and beat my back until I stood.
Then he showed me a long passageway and said, “Run.” Again, when I couldn’t do it, he whipped my back until I ran down the passageway. When I got to the end, there was another officer waiting for me. He whipped me until I ran back to where I came from. They made me run back and forth. Later, I learned why they did that. The running was so that my feet wouldn’t swell. The stockings were so I wouldn’t have marks on my feet from the whipping. I assume the pillows were so nobody could hear my cries. Next I was taken to something that looked like a small, aboveground swimming pool. It was filled with ice-cold water. The officer with the whip said, “Get in,” so I got in. It was so cold that I tried to get out, but he whipped me every time I made a move.
I have low blood sugar, and it wasn’t very long before I passed out from the cold. When I woke up I was lying on my back in the bed where they whipped my feet, still in my wet clothes.
A Night in the Dark
One evening I was taken outside behind the building. I saw what looked like a small, concrete room with no windows or doors. The only opening was a skylight on the roof. They made me climb a ladder to the top and demanded, “Get in.” When I sat on the edge and put my feet down in the opening, I felt water. I could also see there was something swimming on the top of the water. This is my grave, I thought. They are going to kill me today. I slid down into the opening and felt the water rise up over my body, but then to my surprise I felt solid ground under my feet. The water only came up to my shoulders. Then rats, which were what I saw swimming in the water, started crawling all over my head and face. These rats had not been fed for a very long time. My interrogators were being clever. “This guy is a Muslim thinker,” they said, “so we will have the rats eat his head.” I was very scared for the first minute after they closed the skylight. They left me there all night and then came back the next morning to see if I were alive. When the skylight opened and I saw the sunlight, it was hope for me that I had survived and was still alive.
All that night not one rat bit me. They climbed all over my head and in my hair and played with my ears. One rat stood on my shoulders. I felt their mouths against my face, but it almost felt like kisses. I never felt a tooth. The rats were utterly faithful to me. Even today when I see a rat, I have a feeling of respect. I cannot explain why the rats behaved this way. Meeting with a Dear Friend The interrogation was not over. Later the officers took me to the door of a small room and said, “There is someone who loves you very much who wants to meet with you.” I asked, “Who is this?” I was hoping it was one of my family members or a friend to visit me or get me out of prison. They said, “You don’t know him, but he knows you.” They opened the door to the room, and inside I saw a big dog. There was nothing else in the room. Two people took me inside and then left me and shut the door. This was the first time my heart cried out. In my heart I cried to my Creator, You are my father, my God.You are to look after me. How can you leave me in these evil hands? I don’t know what these people are trying to do to me, but I know you will be with me and one day I will see you and meet you.
I walked to the middle of the empty room and slowly sat down cross-legged on the floor. The dog came and sat down in front of me. Minutes went by as this dog looked me over. I watched his eyes move from top to bottom over and over again. I went in my heart to prayer to the God I did not yet know. The dog got up and started walking in circles around me, liken animal about to eat something. Then he came to my right side and licked year with his tongue. He sat down by my right side and just stayed there. I was so exhausted. After he just sat there for a while, I fell asleep. When I woke up, the dog was in the corner of the room. He ran to me, as if to say good morning. Then he licked my right ear again and sat down again at my right side.
When the officers opened the door they saw me praying with the dog sitting next to me. I heard one say, “I can’t believe this man is a human being. This man is a devil—he’s Satan.” The other replied, “I don’t believe that. There is unseen power standing behind this man and protecting him.” “Which power? This man is an infidel. It’s got to be Satan because this man is against Allah.”
Someone watching over me they took me back to my cell. While I was gone, my Egyptian cellmate had asked the police, “Why are you persecuting this man?” They told him, “Because he is denying Islam.” That made my cellmate furious. As soon as I got back in the cell, he was ready to kill me. But I had only been in there fifteen to twenty minutes when a police officer came with transfer papers for this man and took him away. I had to ask myself, What is going on here? What power is protecting me? At that time, I did not know the answer. I did not spend much time wondering about it. In a short while my own transfer papers came through. I was to be taken to a permanent prison in southern Cairo . At this point I did not think that my interrogators were even human. I had been arrested for merely questioning Islam. Now my faith was really shaken. And I was on my way to another prison.
The next week I spent in a prison in southern Cairo . It was relatively relaxed time. God sent me a prison guard who did not agree with radical Islam. All during this time my family was trying to find out where I was. They had no success until my mother’s brother, who was a high-ranking member of the Egyptian Parliament, returned to the country after traveling overseas. My mother called him, sobbing, “For two weeks we have not known where our son is. He is gone.” My uncle had the connections that were needed. Fifteen days after I was kidnapped, he came to the prison personally with the release papers and took me home.
Later, the police gave my father this report: We have received a fax from Al-Azhar University accusing your son of leaving Islam, but after an interrogation of fifteen days, we found no evidence to support it. My father was relieved to hear this. Out of all my brothers and sisters, I was the only one who had studied Islam at the university, and he was very proud of me. He could not even imagine I would ever leave Islam, so he attributed the whole incident to a bad attitude toward my scholarship on the part of the people at the university.
“We don’t need them,” he said, and he asked me to start work immediately as a sales director for his factory. He owned a successful business that produced leather jackets and men’s and women’s clothing.
A Year without Faith
For one year I lived without any faith. I had no God to pray to, to call to, to live for. I believed in the existence of a God who was merciful and righteous, but I had no idea who He was. Was He the God of the Muslims, the Christians or the Jews? Or was He some animal—like the cow of the Hindus? I had no knowledge of how to find Him.
You have to understand that if a Muslim comes to the conclusion that Islam is not the truth and he has no religion to turn to, it is the most difficult time in his life. Faith is in the fabric of the life of a Middle Eastern person. He cannot imagine how to live without knowing his God. During this whole year, my physical body expressed the pain that was in my spirit. Though I had every material thing I needed, I was plagued with a deep tiredness from constantly trying to use my mind to figure out the identity of the true God. I suffered constantly from headaches. I went to a doctor who was a relative of the family. He did a scan of my brain, but heeded not find anything wrong. He prescribed some tablets that helped.
The Sermon on the Mount
I ended up visiting a nearby pharmacy one or two times a week for packets of tablets, getting a small number of tablets each time, hoping the headaches would just go away for good. After I had been coming for a while, the pharmacist asked me, “What is going on in your life?” I told her, “Nothing is going on. I have no complaint except for one thing: I am living without God. I don’t know who is my God, who created me and created the universe.”
She said, “But you were a professor at the most respected Islamic university in Egypt . Your family is very respected in the community.” “That is true,” I replied, “but I have discovered falsehoods in their teachings. I no longer believe my home and family are built on a foundation of truth. I had always clothed myself in the lies of Islam. Now I feel naked. How can I fill the emptiness in my heart? Please help me. ” “OK,” she said. “Today I will give you these tablets, and I will give you this book—the Bible. But please promise me not to take any tablets before you read something from this book.” I took the book home and opened it at random. My eyes fell on Matthew 5:38: You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
My whole body began trembling. I had studied the Quran my whole life—not once did I find words as inspiring as this. I had come face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ.
I lost all track of time. It felt as if I were sitting on a cloud above a hill, and in front of me was the greatest teacher in the universe telling me about the secrets of heaven and the heart of God. I could easily compare the Bible to what I had learned from my years of studying the Quran, and there was no doubt in my mind that I was finally encountering the true God. I was still reading in the early hours of the next day, and by dawn I gave my heart to Jesus.
I only told the pharmacist and his wife that I had accepted Jesus, but in Egypt, if anyone left Islam, it was automatically assumed that he had become a Christian and therefore must be killed. Because of this, fundamentalists sent two men to ambush me and kill me. It happened when I was walking home from visiting a friend. It was only a fifteen- or twenty-minute walk through Giza . I was on Tersae Street , near my home, when I saw two men standing in front of a grocery shop. They we redressed traditionally with the long, white robes, long beards and head coverings. I thought they were just customers. I never imagined they would do anything to me.
When I reached the shop, they stopped me, and then suddenly both pulled out knives and began trying to stab me. I had no weapon, and because it was a hot day, I was just wearing a T-shirt and pants. I put up my hands to protect myself. Again and again the blades struck me and cut my wrists. There were other people on the street, but no one helped me. They just gathered to watch. This was typical for those years. People would intervene if it was just a fistfight, but they wouldn’t get involved with knives. They also didn’t want to be in the way if someone pulled a gun. The first attacker was trying to stab my heart. He almost did it, but I moved. He missed by about five inches and got me in the shoulder instead. When he pulled the knife out, I remember looking down and seeing the blood come out in a stream.
I fell to the ground and just curled up in a little ball, trying to protect myself. Then the other attacker tried to stab me in the stomach, but the blade turned, and he stabbed me in the shin instead. By this time I had lost so much blood that I passed out. There was no hope for me until two police officers arrived on motorcycles and my attackers ran away. I was taken to the hospital and treated. In the hospital, the police asked if I knew why I was attacked. I said I did not. Again, my father rejected any evidence that I was abandoning Islam. He just could not think in those terms.
My Father Learns the Truth
I continued to work for my father and did not speak of my new faith. In fact, he sent me to South Africa in 1994 to explore business opportunities for him. While there, I spent three days with a Christian family from India .When we parted, they gave me a small cross on a necklace to wear. This small cross marked the turning point in my life. After a little more than a week, my father noticed the chain on my neck and became very upset because, according to Islamic culture, only women are allowed to wear jewelry around their necks. “Why do you wear this chain?” he demanded.
It seemed as if my tongue spoke on its own as I replied,” Father, this is not a chain. This is a cross. It represents Jesus, who died on a cross like this for me, for you and for everybody in the whole world. I received Jesus as my God and Savior, and I pray for you and for the rest of my family to also accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.”
First, my father fainted right there in the street. Some of my brothers rushed out to him, and my mother started crying in fear. I stayed with them as they bathed my father’s face with water. When he came to, he was so upset he could hardly speak, but he pointed at me. In a voice hoarse with rage he cried out, “Your brother is a convert. I must kill him today!”
Wherever he went, my father carried a gun under his arm on a leather strap. (Most wealthy people in Egypt carry guns.) He pulled out his gun and pointed it at me. I started running down the street, and as I dived around a corner, I heard the bullets whining past me. I kept running for my life.
Leaving My Home
Forever I ran to my sister’s house, which was about half a mile away. I asked her to help me get my passport, clothes and other documents from my father’s house. She wanted to know what was wrong, and I told her, “Father wants to kill me.” She wanted to know why, and I said, “I don’t know. You must ask Father.”
When I ran away, my father knew exactly where I was headed because my sister and I were very close, and her house was nearby. My father had walked to my sister’s house, and he arrived while she and I were talking. He banged on the door, crying with tears streaming down his face, “My daughter, please open the door.” Then he shouted, “Your brother is a convert! He has left the Islamic faith. I must kill him now!”
My sister opened the door and tried to calm him down. “Father, he is not here. Maybe he went to another place. Why don’t you go home and relax, and later we can talk about this as a family.” My sister had mercy on me and gathered my things from my parents’ house. She and my mother gave me some money, and I got in my car and drove away on the evening of August 28, 1994.
For three months I struggled to travel through Northern Egypt, Libya, Chad and Cameroon. I finally stopped in the Congo. At that point I had malaria. They found an Egyptian doctor to examine me. He said that I would be dead by morning, and they made arrangements to get a coffin from Congo ’s Egyptian embassy to send me back home.
To their shock, I woke up the next morning. I left the hospital after five days and started to tell people everywhere about what Jesus did for me.
Life as a Follower of Jesus
Ten years have gone by since I accepted the Lord Jesus as my Savior. He called me and gave me a personal relationship with Him—something that Islam never offered.
I have never stopped crying for my Muslim people, whom I left behind, asking the Lord to deliver them from the darkness of Islam. As you read the pages of this book, you will come to understand how great this darkness is. It is the teachings of Islam that have produced terrorists who seem capable of any kind of evil in the name of Allah. Now the whole world wants to understand what Islam teaches. A great amount of misinformation has been shared in the media and on the Internet. My goal is to help you see plainly why these people do what they do. I don’t want to motivate you to anger, however. I want to motivate you to believe—to believe for the fall of Islam and the release of its captives, in Jesus’ name.