Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice
with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
I well remember that last night in my homeland. It was spent in Port Dickson, which is located on the Strait of Malacca in western Malaysia. Port Dickson was once a quaint town but has in recent years become a popular tourist destination. Visitors go there to rest from their busy lives and to admire the beautiful sunsets and white-sand beaches. Hotels and restaurants now line the shore among the palms, and accommodate visitors from as far away as Europe and the Americas. Yet to me, the beaches of Port Dickson mean something entirely different.
I was reared in the affluent suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. I enjoyed a good life of fine foods, beautiful scenery, and enjoyable entertainment. But when I chose to follow Jesus Christ and forsake my Islamic roots, my heart and my life changed.
Growing up in the capital city of Malaysia, I enjoyed an easy life. While many Malaysian children eat one meal per day, I ate three nutritious meals each day, including delicious desserts such as fresh mangoes, my personal favorite. My father, Mustafa, was a good provider. He worked hard to achieve a high status, and he owned several businesses. He had become influential in Malaysian politics, and was able to influence votes in the parliament. And he did not mind wielding his power if he believed it could help Malaysia achieve a position of economic strength in Southeast Asia.
Things were going well in our household, until one Saturday morning when I was eleven years old. I was finishing my mangoes on the terrace. Without warning, the police broke down the front door and stormed into our home. They grabbed my father at the table, handcuffed him, and forced him to lie on the brick patio while they beat him with leather straps and wooden clubs. Then the police dragged my father’s limp bloody body through the house and out the front door. A pool of my father’s blood remained on the patio, with a trail through the kitchen, living room, and out the front walkway.
I stood there, silent. I was so terrified that I could not even scream or cry. I did not know that I was covered with my father’s blood until my mother took me into the bathroom and rinsed me off.
My father was charged with an offense that was equal to treason: He confessed Jesus Christ as the sovereign God of the universe. Without telling our family, my father had become a follower of Jesus. My father, who was once powerful, was now considered worse than a common criminal. Our friends suddenly became our enemies.
I was too young to understand why everyone was so angry with my father. Was it because our family had not been to a mosque in over a year? Was it because a Bible lay in his desk drawer at the office? I had no idea why the Malaysian officials cared what my father did. He had helped his country for years, and now he was treated like a criminal. I knew that something was wrong with his being treated this way.
My father was released from prison one year after being abducted from our home. His faith in Jesus had cost him a year of his life and over forty thousand dollars in fines. Our family was forced to sell some property in Port Dickson in order to pay the fines, which were, in reality, bribes. My father promised to keep his faith silent and was able to come home—battered but thankful to be alive.
Later, I heard the full story of the events that led to my father’s arrest. In his businesses, he had maintained partnership arrangements with many entrepreneurs from the West. In particular, he befriended a Spaniard by the name of Bastiaro, a man whom my father admired. I had met Bastiaro many times and had also noticed that there was something special about him. He was from the West, and I thought perhaps that’s why he seemed different. But after several years of association, my father knew that Bastiaro was not at all like most Westerners, and he and my father developed a deep mutual respect. Because of this respect, my father was willing to listen as Bastiaro, little by little, over a two-year period, shared his faith in Christ. At the end of those two years, my father was a believer in Jesus.
He carefully kept this from everyone except my mother, Safia. But after the news somehow reached the Malaysian officials, our family was never the same.
Life during the year after my father’s release from prison was stressful. Part of the release agreement was that he had to dissolve all of his partnerships and remove himself from any influence in local politics. Within that first year, every partnership was sold or bought out by Malaysian officials. Our family was forced to sell additional personal property in Port Dickson, as well as in Malacca and Kuala Lumpur. My father was directed also to sell all his lucrative commercial property, which he had owned for years.
In the meantime, I watched my father’s reactions to the economic and physical persecution that affected our family. Instead of becoming angry or bitter, he lived in complete serenity, comforted by reading his Bible for hours every day. When I talked to him about these troubles, he told me that he never regretted following Jesus. On one occasion, I overheard my father exclaim to a Malaysian official, “Yes, I would do it again. My faith in Jesus is worth more to me than even my life.” This firm commitment to Jesus and the Bible led me to be interested in what had such an impact on my father. I had seen him receive beatings, and that could have embittered me against him. But I respected my father more for his boldness and commitment. My father was my hero.
Two weeks after my thirteenth birthday, I prayed to receive Jesus as my Lord. Not long after, our family began to experience severe distress. Within a month of my conversion, three Malaysian officials paid our family an unexpected visit. Questions were being raised around the community about why the family was absent from Friday prayers. My father was notified that our family would have to begin attending the call to prayer. The three men met with our family for over two hours, and as they left the house, I overheard one of them tell my father, “It will cost you. If you refuse our offer, Mustafa, it will cost you.” Later that evening my father was arrested again. Unlike the previous arrest, this one was not violent, but it was, nonetheless, a cause of great anxiety for me; I had just surrendered my own life to Christ and had become an infidel in the eyes of those in authority. My father once again paid a fine, this time in excess of twenty thousand dollars, but he refused to attend a mosque.
As it turned out, one Malaysian official had secretly befriended our family. He kept warning the family of dangers and protected my father from those who demanded that he be executed. This official did everything in his power to keep our family from being totally destroyed, but there was only so much he could do.
Six months later the police returned. This time the violence was worse than before. Instead of attacking the men of the family, the police concentrated on my mother. Two policemen approached her while she was still in bed and beat her. I hastily called for an ambulance, which raced my mother to the local hospital. She died four hours later. Although all of her body was badly beaten, the fatal injuries were to her head. Her skull was cracked in four places. My father was in prison and could not attend to my mother’s body. My siblings and I buried our mother alone.
I was forced to live with my grandfather, a devout Muslim who attended the mosque daily at the noon call to prayer. I had to attend the noon prayers against my wishes. I was ordered to bow my knee and pray to a god I did not believe existed. My grandfather tried to take custody of me in order to reeducate me in the ways of Islam. Ashamed of his own son, my grandfather explained to me, “Your father is dead. Do you understand me, boy? He is dead! I have no son. You have nowhere to go, so grow up and accept your responsibility as a good Muslim. Your father is dead!”
My father, though, still had money at his disposal, and he was able to secure his release by paying the hefty “fine” of seventy thousand dollars. Upon his release, I gladly moved back home.
Those in power continued, however, to keep a close eye on us. When I turned fourteen, the Malaysian authorities began to fear that we might flee the country. They refused to give me a passport, and revoked my father’s passport. Still, my father was desperate to get me to safety and freedom. On one occasion the two of us attempted to leave the country via a boat from Muai down the coast to Singapore. We were caught, though, and brought back to the capital city. For the first time, I personally clashed with the authorities and was beaten. When asked if I, too, were a follower of Jesus, the words of my father rang clearly in my ears: “My faith in Jesus is worth more than my life.” Like my hero, I responded with those very words.
Little did I know the pain I was about to experience. For ten days I woke up each morning to beatings with a five-foot-long leather strap. Every night I was chained to the wall of my jail cell from early evening until the following morning. I could not even free myself to use the toilet in the corner of my cell. Long gone were the days when I ate fresh mangoes after breakfast. I was still but a teenager, and was forced to eat slop from a dirty tin pan once a day. Although the beatings stopped after ten days, I had to be taken to the infirmary for medical attention. Some of the lacerations on my back had become so infected that they were constantly oozing. I stayed in the infirmary for two weeks before going back to my cell. After sixteen weeks of imprisonment, I was released into my grandparents’ custody. While my physical beatings had ceased, my verbal beatings had just begun.
My father got word to me through a friend that he had been released from prison and was renting a flat not far from the Petronas Twin Towers. These eighty-eight-story skyscrapers in downtown Kuala Lumpur are the largest buildings in the world. I quietly slipped out of my grandparents’ home, made my way to my father, and we prepared to leave our homeland. Life as we knew it was over. In order to secure my release, my father handed over his home, worth nearly $250,000, to a Malaysian official. Gladly, though, he gave up his home for me. My father knew that the persecution would never end for either of us. He called his old friend Bastiaro, who made arrangements for us to be picked up by a fishing boat that would sail through the Straits of Malacca.
Two weeks later, my father and I anxiously awaited the little boat while sitting on the banks of the Strait of Malacca, just south of Port Dickson. The plan called for a small boat to meet us by the shore and ferry us to the fishing vessel. As we waited, we could see the vessel from shore, but it was too far to swim, so we continued to wait for the small boat. Suddenly my father whispered, “Hassan, my son, I think I see a small boat coming this way.” It was true; there it was—freedom at last. The tiny fourteen-foot dinghy was nearly to shore.
Without warning, the boat turned away. As my father stood to call the people in the boat to come in to us, gunshots sounded from the palm trees. My father fell into the water, three bullet holes through his back. Struggling for breath, he gasped, “Hassan, swim to the boat! Swim! Swim! Swim!” I laid my father on the shore and heeded his wishes. I swam to the dinghy and was carried safely to the fishing boat. As I boarded the boat, I heard two more shots ring out of the darkness. Out of breath, wet, nearly exhausted, and with tears streaming down my face, I fell to the deck and prayed, “Jesus, if it is Your will, then please protect my father. But if he is to face more torture for this, then take him home with You.”
After a long journey with stops in Singapore and Indonesia, I safely arrived at my new home in Spain. There, our good friend Bastiaro came to meet me. With both my mother and father counted as martyrs in the cause of Christ, I was truly blessed to have Bastiaro, who for six years raised me as his son. I lived with Bastiaro, his wife, and two sons, who were all Christians, until I was twenty-one years old. I even became educated in a fine college.
When I turned twenty-one, Bastiaro gave a letter to me that had been written by my father two weeks before his death. He had sent the letter to Bastiaro along with a note: “If I do not reach safety, give this letter to my son when he reaches his twenty-first birthday.” The letter said,
Hassan, my son, if you are reading this letter, then I am either in prison or I am in heaven. I pray that I am in heaven. I can no longer endure the punishment. Please know that I love you and have tried to provide well for your future. Bastiaro and I have a bank account set up for you. Today you will receive one-fourth of the account. You will receive half of the balance when you are twenty-five, and the balance when you are thirty years of age.
Hassan, my son, remember to follow the teachings of Jesus. Remain faithful to Him. He has spared your life for a greater purpose. Make your life count for Him. When you are old and your work is finished, your mother and I await your homecoming.
The ten days of physical beatings were long behind me. My grandparents’ tongue-lashings were a distant memory. But I had mentally beaten myself for six years. I was overwhelmed with guilt from that cold night on the shore of Malacca when I had let go of my father’s weakening hand and raced through the water for the boat. For six years, I had blamed myself for allowing my father to die alone. Although I had become a strong disciple of the Lord and a well-educated young man, I had found no peace from the guilt of having left my father behind.
This letter brought closure. My father knew the obstacles we faced and chose the danger in order to free me. I was able to put my guilty feelings to rest.
I had never thought about money. I knew my father had money in Singapore, but the Malaysian officials had demanded those funds, along with the family’s home. I had no idea that there was an account in Spain. Bastiaro took me to the bank on my birthday and signed over the account to me. That day I received $286,550, one fourth of my inheritance. The rest went into a trust account.
Shortly after turning twenty-two, I began a ministry to former Muslims. I have spent the past twelve years providing protection for ex-Muslims on the run. In that time, I met several young men and women with similar stories of cruel and relentless persecution.
While I escaped the physical persecution and laid to rest the inner demons that haunted my mind, I still feel the oppression every time I help rescue a soul from the grip of Islamic law and those who use it to oppress and kill. I still see the results of beatings. I have dedicated my life to rescuing the perishing—no matter what the cost.