U.S. President Barack Obama visited Kenya and Ethiopia 24-28 July, partly to discuss regional security. In Kenya especially, Christians have been targeted by the violent al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab.
In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on 28 July, making an American president’s first speech to the African Union, Obama said “Many of these groups claim the banner of religion, but hundreds of millions of African Muslims know that Islam means peace.”
For millions of Muslims, that may be true. For one Muslim cleric, it was not. This is his story.
Tofik grew up in Islamic schools and became an imam in his East African village. Several deeply personal revelations brought him to Christianity, at the risk of his life. In the Horn of Africa as in some other Islamic societies, a former Muslim who becomes Christian is at great risk. World Watch Monitor therefore is not using Tofik’s actual name, and in the following videos, his face is obscured.
From Violence to Peace
Tofik trained to become an imam for 24 years at an Islamic madrasa school in Africa.
“In school I only learned about Islam,” he said. “Parts of our teaching were about destroying Christianity. So we did what we learned, by attacking Christians once we finished our training.”
He said he was taught that Christians are bad people, and that he and the other students were encouraged to steal from and kill non-Muslims.
‘We beat them, attacked the church and burnt their Bibles’
“Our teachers would tell us every time there was a new church in town and we were told to go and attack the people and destroy the church. So that’s what we did,” Tofik said.
Trained in Saudi Arabia to spread Islam in Africa
Tofik was one of 14 students selected by the local mosque to be trained in Saudi Arabia for further Islamic studies.
After finishing his education, he became an imam. He led the construction of 16 mosques in his area. He also imposed a rule: No village leaders or visitors could preach Christianity in his town.
Tofik’s aggression ceased
Tofik began working with Christians when a church in a neighboring village started a project and appointed him as a coordinator for the area’s social work.
From Islam to Christianity
Why did he become Christian? “There was an incident in 2002 where I had a vision from the Lord early in the morning around 3 a.m.,” he said. “In the vision I saw Jesus very clearly telling me to follow him.”
“My wife asked me what happened in my dream, because I woke up very startled, and when I explained it to her she was scared and said, ‘We are going to be infidels, so we need to pray.’ “
He told her which Quranic verses Jesus told him to read in his dream, and said they all specifically instruct the reader to follow and believe in Jesus.
Going back to sleep, Tofik said he immediately he had another vision of Jesus.
“Jesus appeared saying ‘It’s Me, follow Me. When you follow me you will pay a price, there will be persecution in your life, but in the end you will be victorious. I am with you.’ ”
“After my dreams I again shared with my wife and she was reluctant to encourage me to follow Christ,” Tofiik said. “I also shared the situation with my eldest son and he was also reluctant, so the rest of my family rejected the idea of following Jesus.”
Ongoing supernatural encounters
After attending his first church service, Tofik asked to meet the leaders. Initially they were suspicious of his motives, because they knew him to be one of the most influential Islamic leaders in the area.
“I told them about my dreams and everything else, so they accepted me and prayed for me,” he said. “I wanted to show my change externally, so I stopped wearing Islamic styled clothes. The news of my attending church spread quickly back home and many people started to cry, thinking of me as ‘as good as dead,’ because in Islam when you convert to another religion people receive it that way.”
Nearly killed for being an ‘infidel’
News of Tofik’s conversion spread quickly. His tribe was especially angry.
“They reacted by coming to my home saying, ‘this brother is dead.’ In our culture, when someone dies their property is shared. So they destroyed my house, setting it on fire, and they took my cattle, and the remainder of my property,” he said. “They then falsely accused me of burning another house, so I was jailed and taken to court. It was only in the court process that the witnesses proved their dishonesty by having contradicting testimonies.”
After being released from jail, Tofik inspired more than 200 people to faith in Jesus.
“The Bible became my weapon. I travelled many places to preach and teach about the Christian faith… I planted a church right in the compound where I live and many people decided to follow Christ – and as a result local villagers were upset. So again, they attacked me physically and burned my house.”
The beating was so brutal the attackers thought they had killed Tofik.
“The attackers assumed I was dead, so they threw me into the compound,” he said. “Then they looted the small kiosk I owned and proceeded to loot and burn my children’s properties. They said they have killed the lead figure and now our area is free of his activities. They started shouting and singing.”
Prepared for battle
Tofik said initially he wanted to retaliate. His dreams told him otherwise.
“The voice of Jesus himself spoke to me in my dreams about persecution, so I knew it was going to come and was ready,” Tofik said. “For those who destroyed my household, I was initially involved in prosecuting them at court but later I said ‘no’ and chose to forgive them, and leave it in the hands of the Lord, so the people were released.”
“Persecution isn’t all bad, it has some good”
“We need to start by loving people. We need to love them and show them love. In an Islamic context we cannot just see each other when we have needs to support. We need to always socialize with them,” Tofik said. “We need to be patient and slowly they will come to faith in Christ.”