Debra Murphy of Christian Book Previews spoke with Jerry Rassamni about his new book, From Jihad to Jesus.
CBP: At one time you despised Christians, and now you are one. How did that come about?
Jerry: To give you a quick synopsis of my physical Jihad. I grew up in a civil war in Lebanon. I grew up hating Christians because they came to the mountains to annihilate us. They went into certain villages, they killed everyone in sight. To give you an idea of the hatred that grew in my heart, one day when I was at the military front in the war, I was a militia fighter, I heard the church bells toll signaling Sunday worship. I took a sniper rifle and I aimed it at the man holding the bell. I thought surely Allah was smiling at me, giving me this great opportunity. Unfortunately, to me at that time, I had missed him because he ducked with the toll of the bell after a long pause. I was distraught that I had missed him.
CBP: He ran?
Jerry: He ran for his life. So this will give you an idea of the hatred that brewed in me. How did the change happen? My story is really about how God can turn blasphemers into worshippers, wolves into lambs. It's all by His marvelous grace. I came to the foot of the cross because I wanted to disprove that the Bible was true. I began reading the Bible because I knew that the Bible was wrong, and I wanted to put my finger on why it was wrong. So I began reading the Bible and I became convicted of my sin and my need for a Savior.
CBP: Have Muslims snuffed out analytical inquiry about Islam to shield them from its deficiency?
Jerry: That is correct, because once you study Islam, you quickly find the feet of clay of its founder. He would raid other tribes and caravans for loot. You have to wonder, if you're truly seeking critical analysis, you have to ask yourself, What does a prophet have to do with looting and raiding and pillaging? So once you examine that, once you examine the Koran, that it's full of contradictions. There are lots of abrogations in the Koran, at one time Muhammad would give a revelation and at another time he would contradict it. And then also Allah was worshiped by the pagan Meccans as the Moon god, and Islam kept its symbol, which is the crescent moon, and that adorns the tops of minarets today, the tops of mosques, and Muslim flags everywhere. Once you examine the footprints of Islam, you will discover that there's a lot of paganism that went in there.
I was just talking to a taxi driver yesterday, and asked him why he would kiss a stone as this is part of animism. And he didn't know that this was a part of animism. Because in Islam, you do not question. When you question, you life is snuffed out.
CBP: I heard things like, "Now that you have turned away from what our family believes, you bring bad luck to us." So they needed to distance themselves from that family member who turned to Christianity. They use a lot of coercion.
Jerry: They do use coercion. I however was fortunate that I lived in the States at the time I accepted Christ in my heart. One of my brothers accepted the Lord the day I was baptized and my mother eleven years later. I remember asking my mother, “isn’t it time that you know that you that you have eternal life?” On that fateful day, after praying for her for eleven years, she did not mock me but she simply said “yes.”
You see, when I was a Muslim, the greatest fear I had in the world was the Day of Judgment. In Islam, it's all about the scales of justice. When you get before your maker in Islam, your good deeds are going to be weighed against your bad deeds. If your good deeds overweigh your bad deeds, you get to go to heaven, otherwise hell. But how would you ever know that you were good enough, that you'd done enough righteous deeds? So that torments you as a Muslim. I used to keep a mental note of the good things that I had done, because I thought that these things would get me to heaven. But what Islam did is it provided man with a manual on how to live, but they never dealt with the sin that separated us from the Holy God.
CBP: I think I was surprised to learn that there is not just one Jihad.
Jerry: Yes, there are several types of Jihad in Islam. One of them is the physical Jihad, which I grew up in a physical struggle against Christians. That's the most known type of Jihad, because Fundamentalists have made their voices known in the West. However, the most important Jihad to Muslims is the spiritual Jihad. It is called the greater Jihad. It is a Jihad for spiritual enlightenment. It's a personal Jihad for one to truly grow spiritually. So I began my life in a physical Jihad, but unbeknownst to me I was involved in a different type of Jihad -- it was a spiritual Jihad.
As I began to study the Bible, I became convicted of my sins and so my spiritual Jihad led me to the foot of the cross.
CBP: How did James Dobson lead you to the Lord?
Jerry: That's a great question. When my wife and I got married, I told her I was born a Muslim and that I would die a Muslim. There was nothing she or anyone else could do. Jennifer found out she was the only Southern Baptist in the world who hadn't heard of being unequally yoked. She prayed whether she should marry me or not, and the Lord told her that she should.
So we did get married. Some time into our marriage, she discovered through one of Dr. Young's sermons that we were unequally yoked. So she came to me and said, "Jerry, I wish you were a Christian." I said, "The Christians ministered to me with their bullets in Lebanon." But she began to listen to a series by Focus on the Family by the name of "Beloved Unbeliever." Basically, it was saying that you cannot shove the gospel down anybody's throat. You have to love them unconditionally. You will not win anyone into the kingdom of God by arguments. You have to be Christ with skin on, they have to see Christ in you. And that is the role that Focus on the Family played in my salvation.
CBP: Do we, as human beings, change history to pursue or support our prejudices?
Jerry: Absolutely. In fact, Muslims aren't quick to point out that there's a lot of pagan roots in Islam, as I mentioned before. They want to try and hide that fact. There's a story of Sisyphus, a member of the Greek pantheon of gods. Sisyphus betrayed the gods, and was confined to a life of rolling a stone up the hill only to watch it go down again, and repeat the process endlessly. The one fact of history that I want to point out, is that Muhammad was so insecure about his salvation, that he used to pray seventy times a day. Seventy times a day for God to forgive his sins. So in other words, the Muslim way of life, way of worship, is a life of futility. It's just like the life of Sisyphus, because it does not guarantee salvation. Why else would Muhammad, with his last breath, ask for God to forgive his sins?
CBP: You sound like a dynamic and charismatic man, but Muhammad was rejected by his leaders and separated off. Am I describing that correctly?
Jerry: Right. Muhammad wanted people to accept him as a prophet. In his first thirteen years of ministry he didn't have a lot of adherents. He had about forty. And in order for the Meccans to accept him as a prophet, he sanctioned the worship of the daughters of Allah. These were the pagan daughters of Allah. If you recall, in Salmon Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses, he was exposing the daughters of Allah. That's another instance of where you don't hear about that in Islam.
He sanctioned via a revelation, supposedly from God, that it's acceptable to worship the daughters of Allah. But later he left Mecca and went over to Medina, because he was pillaging caravans, and the Meccans had enough of it, and his uncle had died. So he went over to Medina, and he became strong there, and he abrogated the verses that he had issued previously sanctioning the worship of the daughters of Allah. He said that these verses came from the devil. If these verses came from the devil, how would you know the entire thing didn't come from the devil?
It's another instance of where he's trying to have a greater following, so he issued revelations that would bring on more followers.
CBP: In the 1970s, the role that the Christians had in the tension in Lebanon, can you say what Christian group it was?
Jerry: Yes, they were Maronites, who are considered to be Catholics. Once I began to go to church, Jennifer and I went to church over a process of two years before I accepted the Lord, I read the Bible cover to cover. But when I began to be involved with these Christians in the church over here, I found something fundamentally different about them. I later come to learn that these people were marked by love. So Christ's true followers are marked by love, and not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one.
CBP: The problem with the Christian group at that time, which was news to me, is that they were keeping a census. They refused to recalculate the census, and it kept the Christians in power. Is that correct?
Jerry: That's correct. That among other factors influenced the Lebanese Civil War. You have the 1932 Census that the Christians didn't want to redo, they wanted to hold on to power. The demographics had shifted. The Muslims had become more numerous at that time. Lebanon gained its independence from the French, and the European forces ensured that the Christians would have the majority rule over the country. So that was one of the issues that propelled the war.
CBP: My heart went out to them, and I thought, I get it! I'd be angry, too. It seems that all they saw were angry Christians rather than seeing the love. But you had a lot of anger. What was your anger based on?
Jerry: My father when I was the age of eight, and I was very mad with God. Why would you take my father away from me? Two years later, the Lebanese Civil War began. I practically lived in a shelter. Buildings developed cavities, the Christians wanted to kill us, hearts were racing, hatred was everywhere. So when I became of age, I trained to defend our existence. Yes, there all this hatred that is boiling in you. But Christ gives us a reason to hope, and Christ changes lives. I'm a living testimony that God can indeed turn wolves into lambs.
CBP: Your story is completely amazing. Why do you think you survived?
Jerry: When I became a Christian, the first words that leapt into my mind were the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 1:13, "Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, and yet I was shown mercy." The grace of God is incomprehensible. I tell God, "Why did you save me?" I cannot, with my finite understanding, grasp how much God loves the world, that it is His will for everyone to come to know Him. Not as just as a personal God, but as a personal Heavenly Father. So yes, there were many instances where I should have been six feet under. But God has a purpose for each one of us, and my purpose hasn't been fulfilled yet.
CBP: You were very desensitized to violence at that time. If you look back do you believe how you were?
Jerry: Yes, I believe it because I was a product of my surroundings. I was filled with hatred, I saw men burn, I heard the crackling of their flesh, I smelled their burning, and I was satisfied. These were some Christians, and I made fun of them. I made fun of the burning bodies because I didn't have Christ in me. I had nothing but bottled anger and hatred in my heart, but Christ took my hatred away and replaced it with love. In the words of John Allen: “I deserved to be damned in hell, but Christ interfered.”
CBP: I want to thank you so much for your book, it is very touching and meaningful.