The Gift of God
by Rob Weingartner
Muhammed Ali died back in June. I had a lot of respect for him. Following his death, I heard an interview with his wife in which she described how he would often push himself to exhaustion at public appearances in order to sign more books, give more autographs, meet more fans, out of his belief that increasing the number of good works that he did might overcome the bad things he had done and possibly bring him to heaven. The interview brought to mind a man I met named Hassane. He told me his story.
At the age of three Hassane began memorizing the Koran. His father’s plan was for him eventually to replace him on the Islamic leadership council in their town in their African country. As a youth, Hassane earned a scholarship to a prestigious school. And there, among the 800 students, he found himself ashamed of their lack of devotion to Islam.
Few students came to the mosque, where Hassane shared in leading the prayers. So he started offering leadership conferences at the school. At one of the conferences one day, he asked the students a question about the prophets. The answers he got were disappointing, and he became more discouraged. About to answer the question himself, he noticed that one of the three Christians at the school raised his hand. He was happy because he thought that he was going to use the opportunity to become Muslim. The student replied, “No, I am going to explain the prophets.” He stood up and talked about the prophets, answering the question with great skill. Hassane’s disappointment became anger as he heard this eloquent answer from a Christian who was not supposed to know more than Muslims.
Later, Hassane decided to find out how he learned so much about the prophets, and the students told him he had learned it from the Christian book. Hassane’s Muslim teachers had told him, “If you meet a Christian, don’t read their black book.” He had been warned.
“This book, is it a black one?” asked Hassane. The student answered, “Yes.” And despite the warnings he had received, Hassane secretly at night began reading the Bible and did so for two years to know more about the prophets and so he could be the one who could be the best teacher.
He read and read, and he was stopped short by two verses. Ephesians 2:8-9 demanded his attention: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.”
These are words that brought Calvin up short. Wesley, too.
Hassane asked the mosque’s Koranic teacher, “You know about all that I am doing; I’m leading the mosque, preaching, counseling. What about salvation? What about my salvation?” He said, “I don’t know if you will be elected to heaven!” “Something’s wrong!” Hassane replied. “You know all I’m doing in the Mosque, and yet you cannot assure me salvation?”
Hassane went back to his house and gave his life to Jesus whose grace comes as a gift, assuring everlasting life.
When his father learned about his decision, he convened the Islamic Council, which he led at the time, and the council voted to put Hassane to death by stoning. But because Hassane’s father was its leader, the council reconvened later and changed their decision. Instead, he had to leave home and go 700 kilometers away. They told Hassane’s twin brother to go with him to convince him to return to Islam (although Hassane did not know that was his mission). He stayed with Hassane ten years, and he didn’t know why he stayed. But one day Hassane’s twin came to him and said, “I think I’m a Christian.” They went and told their father.
Today, Hassane is a pastor. His brother and several of the leaders from that council are elders in Hassane’s church.