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How a Radical Jihadist Led Me to Jesus (part 2 of 3)

Written by Aaron Taylor : June 30, 2008

warehouseUnfortunately for me, there was little time for second-guessing. Within a few short weeks, Stephen came to my home to interview me and ask me just about every question under the sun regarding my faith, family, and political views. The last thing I wanted to do was to isolate myself unnecessarily from those outside the conservative evangelical fold, so I tried to be as diplomatic as possible when asked questions about 9/11, the Iraq War, free-market capitalism, George Bush, and the Republican Party. Little did I know that the microscopic examination of my faith that weekend was only the tip of the iceberg. There was still much, much more to come.

Within a few short months, Stephen traveled with me to Pakistan to observe my preaching and to get a first-hand look at the oppression of Christians in a nation largely populated with radical Muslims. It was during the trip to Pakistan that Stephen began speaking to me about a very outspoken jihadist who lived in London named Khalid. I had seen Khalid on CNN and knew that he was an Irish convert to Islam who had grown up in a Catholic family. After the trip to Pakistan, I honestly thought my role in the film was over. In my mind, I had perhaps countered a few negative evangelical stereotypes and had a rare opportunity to expose the plight of the Pakistani Christians to the world.

Little did I know that a few months later, after delivering a sermon at a Pentecostal church in Brazil, a man would walk up to me and tell me that I was supposed to go to London before the end of the year and that, if I would go, then God would give me a great victory. Taking this as a word from God, I thought that maybe I could go and talk to Khalid, find out how he thinks and see if I could persuade him to accept the way and teachings of Christ. It wasn’t long before the producers caught wind of the story and decided to set up a meeting between the two of us for the purpose of capturing the conversation on film.

I don’t think words can describe the pressure I felt during the two days of what turned out to be an intense debate with Khalid. Not only did I have to make my case for Christ to Khalid (and all the other Bin-Laden followers who may watch the film), I also knew that I had to be a faithful representative of Christ to the average non-Christian watching the film, many of whom are already convinced in their minds that those who hold to a fundamental belief in Scripture are destined to drag the world into a premature Apocalypse. To top it off, I knew there were American soldiers in Iraq putting themselves in harm’s way and the last thing I wanted to do was to dishonor their service. The fact that the weather was unusually cold and gloomy, and that we were meeting in an old abandoned warehouse, made the atmosphere tense from the start. When Khalid walked into the room with his fiery eyes, intense gaze, and a grey t-shirt with the words “Soldier of Allah” written on the front, I knew the next few hours were not going to be a picnic.

Well…let’s just say the meeting didn’t quite go as I planned. It took all of about two minutes for me to realize there wasn’t going to be the Dr. Phil moment I had imagined with me helping Khalid to see that deep down inside there’s an inner child waiting to be loved. Within no time, Khalid began venting all of his anger, frustration, and rage against my religion, my country, Western Civilization—and me. In the beginning, I did my utmost to keep the conversation on a theological level. Having lived in a Muslim country and studied the basic tenets of Islam, I knew how to engage Muslims in friendly conversation regarding the merits of Christian belief. Most Muslims I had met up until this point were surprisingly generous about their view of the Bible and the fate of Christians on judgment day. Khalid, on the other hand, made no apology for his belief that every single Christian who has ever lived is heading straight for hell. The way Khalid raged about Iraq, Afghanistan, George Bush, and Tony Blair, I was sure that, in Khalid’s mind, the hottest flames in hell are reserved for those who put them in office.

The most frustrating part for me was the more I tried to shift the conversation to theological matters, the more determined Khalid was to condemn the evils of Western Civilization and, in particular, U.S. foreign policy. After sitting and listening for what seemed like hours, besides the occasional interjection here and there, I finally decided to engage Khalid on one of the primary moral objections to political Islam, and that’s the issue of religious freedom. Ready for a good debate, I finally stopped Khalid in mid-sentence and blurted out, “Freedom of religion in Islam is a façade. There is no such thing as freedom of religion in Islam.”

Expecting to hear a rebuttal, I was genuinely taken aback when Khalid so nonchalantly replied, “No there’s not. We don’t believe in freedom and democracy. We believe democracy is just a manifestation of man-made law.”

“Freedom and democracy equals man-made law?” I thought to myself, “now that’s an idea I haven’t heard recently.” As an American Christian culturally conditioned to think of the words “freedom” and “democracy” as inalienable rights endowed by our Creator, the idea that another human being could consciously reject these values was intriguing to me. The association of democracy with man-made law also had a ring of logic to it. After all, we all know that the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament don’t wait for a heavenly finger to write on tablets of stone before passing legislation.

Still trying to keep the conversation on a theological level and with little time to think, I responded, “You see that’s the difference, because the Bible says in the New Testament, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Wasting no time, Khalid replied “Yes, but what does that mean? Nobody knows what that means. Not very clear.”

“Not very clear?” I thought to myself, “what’s not clear about living in freedom from legalistic rules and regulations?” The Apostle Paul’s meaning when he wrote these words is obvious. Outward conformity to a written code is no substitute for a relationship with God. Slavish obedience to a written code leads to hypocrisy and inflexibility when divorced from a heart-felt love for God and a genuine love for people. It’s obvious to me. Why isn’t this obvious to Khalid? I thought perhaps I needed to state it another way.

“If society is going to change, then hearts have to change,” I said.

Khalid wasn’t buying it.

“You still haven’t described how you would implement the Bible as a way of life or in government. I’ll be honest with you. I’m gonna pin you down. I don’t think you can. I don’t think you can, because you can’t. With the Bible, how would you address the pedophilia, the prostitution, the homosexuality from a governmental point of view? How would you address that? You’re in charge tomorrow all right? You are the president of the United States, how would you address these problems?”

How would I implement the Bible from a governmental point of view? Now that was a good question. In my mind, I could hear the calm reassuring voice of my senior pastor saying something like, “Now, Aaron. Remember that Christianity isn’t about trying to regulate society by setting up earthly governments. It’s about forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with God.”

“That’s right pastor,” I thought to myself “but that doesn’t really answer his question. If I’m going to make the claim that my faith is the right one, certainly I need to show that if everyone, or at least the vast majority of people, embraced my faith, then society would be better off. After all, there are moral implications to living out the gospel, and these implications aren’t limited to the private sphere.”

In my heart I knew that Khalid’s question was far from insignificant. Even though I knew the standard answer that Jesus came to earth to die on the cross for our sins and rise again on the third day. Even though I knew what every self-professed born again evangelical Christian knows, that the gospel is about God’s love for sinners, not about sinners striving to achieve moral perfection. Even though I knew that the theme of the Bible is grace and redemption, not condemnation and legalism, there was something in Khalid’s question that caused my heart to sink. I knew that Khalid’s challenge wasn’t something I could dismiss lightly.

Image Attribution

Author Bio:: Aaron D. Taylor is an author, speaker, a missionary/evangelist, and the founder of Great Commission Society. Aaron is currently writing a book about his conversion to pacifism. Aaron is moving with his wife to the West Bank next year to serve the Palestinian Christian community. To book Aaron D. Taylor to speak at your church or event, please contact him at 636-208-6828 or fromdeathtolife@gmail.com

Kimberly Roth is a co-editor for the Jesus Manifesto. She over-thinks and cares way too much, so she rambles on at www.barefootbohemian.blogspot.com.


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    This is a great short narrative about how Contemporary Christian Answers tend to be disorienting and inauthentic when compared to the real questions being asked around the world! I'm reminded of the anonymous 19th-century Russian peasant (chronicled in The Way of the Pilgrim) who asked every holy person he could find how to "pray without ceasing," only to get responses that clearly demonstrated irrelevant answers to questions not even being asked. This is a loose paraphrase:

    Preacher: Prayer is important. It is the only way to embody the Christian life.

    Pilgrim: But how does one pray without ceasing?

    Preacher: Saint Paul instructs us to pray in this way! We should be grateful when God offers us this gift.

    Eventually, frustrated and yet more determined, the pilgrim casually informs the reader, "I gave up going to hear public sermons." His answer to the question that he'd been asking for some time finally came by the way of a monk who happened across his path a bit later. He learned through this monk that interior prayer was barely understood or even readily explained by most contemporary preachers, but that he could point him in the right direction. And he was able to do just that.

    How I long for that kind of conversation/conversion (in the company of real people and their honest questions). It's somewhat easy to theorize and much harder to have to put something into practice. What will it take for us Christians to re-learn the Way of Jesus? And while waiting for the "answers," what will we have to endure or accept from others who don't understand or who simply want non-answers given?

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