I grew up with my grandparents in a devout Muslim home. From a very early age I practiced fasting in Ramadan and on the Islamic holy days, read namaaz daily and read my Quran, even memorizing large parts. Because we lived in South Africa which was under apartheid in those years, we were “non-white” and classed as Indians/Asians. As a result of apartheid we were not allowed to go to a school or college of our choice and were forced to attend school with sub-standard education. As non-whites we were not allowed to go into restaurants, hotels, cinemas or even sit on benches in the public parks. These were exclusively for whites only. However, my family accepted this as their lot in life and never complained about things.
I was a very lonely child because I did not have friends outside of school. My classmates were Hindu and I was forbidden to have anything to do with them. So in the mornings I went to a western school and in the afternoons I attended madressah. On weekends we always went to a wedding or engagement in the town. The females in our household were not allowed to go anywhere unescorted. In my family (as in almost all the families in our town) females were not allowed to be educated and some left school about two years before matric. The parents then got them married and they then repeated the pattern for the next generation. I have always loved reading and my grandfather encouraged this.
Once when I asked him why we had to pray and read the Quran in Arabic only, he became upset and said it was the way of Allah. I thought it was rather strange because no one in our town spoke Arabic. During my childhood years we visited my mother once a year in Johannesburg. When I finished schooling I was sent to live with my mother. Some time later I went to live on my own and bought an English Quran. I was confused and horrified at what I read. Thinking there was a mistake, I went back to the shop and discussed it with the owner. Even more confused, I went back home and left it aside. I was working at the time and making friends and enjoyed my life. All my friends were foreigners from Europe and treated me with respect, unlike the South Africans.
My friends told me they were Christians and went to church on Sundays. I was proud of being a Muslim and being “better” and “cleaner” than them. Unfortunately it was in Johannesburg first that I experienced the horrors of apartheid. I will not go into detail but it changed my life for ever. Soon I was like my friends and wanted to go to their churches but was not allowed to because of my race. I continued with my Islamic practices but my heart was not in it.
I was angry at many people in power who had violated my body and spirit. I sought answers from Allah but got none. About one year before I became a Christian I struggled to read the Quran, I stopped fasting and no longer performed namaaz. When I celebrated Eid with my family, I knew somehow it would be the last time and felt incredibly sad. I thought that perhaps I was going to die soon.
In 1999 a Christian friend invited me to a life group. She didn’t explain what it was but I knew there were going to be many Christians there. I was excited because I was going to convert many to Islam. But God…
The guest speaker’s topic was “God is Love”. I thought how stupid all those people were, believing that any God loves them. Then they started singing praise and worship and I was horrified when I saw the musical instruments and clapping of hands. The owner of the house saw I was not joining them and he kindly gave me sheets of paper which had the words of the songs. The first song was “Jesus is alive”. I threw the papers at him and sat down. How dare these people try to brainwash me? My Christian friends had never explained about Jesus. I always knew He was a holy prophet and He was dead, just like Mohammad. Towards the end they asked people who wanted prayer to come to the front. Of course I was not going to go. Why would I want a Christian to pray for me?
People were going to the dining room to have coffee and cake. I noticed my friend was not next to me. As I tried to get up it seemed as if I was stuck to the chair. I tried everything and thought maybe I was having a stroke. Suddenly I was free and ran to the front. I said, ‘My name is Zara and I would like to know Jesus.” As a few people prayed over me an amazing thing happened. I felt someone’s arms around me in a loving hug and a heat from the top of my head through my body. I just sobbed.
Ten days later there was an armed robbery at my restaurant. One of our customers was killed and I went on my knees asking Allah to forgive me for becoming a Christian. I was in shock and didn’t know how to pray freely. I was a new Christian and had only been to church once the Sunday before. I spoke to my pastor and others at church who helped me through this time.
Over years I changed churches and grew spiritually. Not long after the robbery I started hearing from God and receiving visions of my ministry. I finally understood that I have been called to minister to other women. God is using my past to deliver and heal others.