May 22, 2009 Length: 41:03
Anthony Alai, an ex-Shia Muslim discusses his profound discovery of and conversion to Christ as a teenager, against everything he was taught to believe, in this edition of The Illumined Heart. This is an amazing and inspiring story!
Kevin Allen: Today my guest and I will discuss his powerful conversion from Islam to Christianity, and in part 2 of our discussion we will talk about his long journey from a varied background in Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Evangelical Free Methodist Pentecostal, nondenominational, and other Bible-believing and evangelical traditions, to the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2008.
My guest on the program today is Anthony Alai. Anthony was raised as a youth in Iran, but has spent most of his life in the States, where he first zealously confronted, and then became a convert to, the Christian gospel, and after giving his life to Christ, he entered Christian ministry with International Students, Inc., Intercultural Friendship, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, on several university campuses. He has also served, and been part of, evangelical churches in various denominations. As part of his spiritual discipline, he has read the Bible fourteen times.
Anthony is the president and CEO of G21 Partners, www.g21partners.com, which is a search engine optimization services company. He and his wife, Susan, and their daughter live in Houston, Texas, and belong to the mission church, 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste, which is Antiochian.
Anthony Alai, I have long been looking forward to our conversation. Welcome to the Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio.
Anthony Alai: Thank you, good talking with you, Kevin.
Kevin Allen: It is great to have you. I am really looking forward to this. As I mentioned, you are a Persian, from Iran.
Anthony Alai I am, yes. I was raised in Tehran, Iran.
Kevin Allen: How does one become a Muslim? Are you just born as one?
Anthony Alai Well, for me that is the way it was. My dad is Muslim, so I was automatically counted as a Muslim.
Kevin Allen: No baptismal rites or things of that type that do it?
Anthony Alai There was circumcision, but I am not sure if that, actually, would make me a Muslim, but it is definitely one of the acts that we follow.
Kevin Allen: And what did you know, or what were you taught, Anthony Alai, by your trusted leaders—parents, teachers, friends, family members—about Islam and Christians and Jews and the relationship between them?
Anthony Alai Since I was very young, three to five years old, I remember being taught that Christ was not crucified, Mohammed was God’s prophet, Allah is one God, and that when Christians talk about Christ’s crucifixion, they have been duped and deceived by Satan. That in fact, Judas was supposed to have magically replaced Jesus when they came to get him for the cross. We were also taught that it was blasphemous to say that Jesus is God, and that there is no such thing as three gods, there is only one God.
Something that really hit home for me at that time was that Christians were immoral, and we saw Christians as drinking alcohol, living in sex outside of marriage, all kinds of filthy sin—Christians that we saw living as witnesses, and that is why we knew they were not true. Most importantly, that the Christian Bible is corrupted, it cannot be trusted, that the Christians and the Jews had gotten together at one point in history and destroyed their scriptures so that they could live in sin and they could have false and blasphemous teachings.
In fact, Christians and Jews are considered nejjis, which is a Persian word similar to saying they were filthy as pigs. When a Christian or a Jew comes to your house, after they leave you are supposed to go wash yourself if you are a true Muslim, because you have been in the presence of someone who is nejjis.
Kevin Allen: I have heard that when devout Muslims shake hands with a Christian or Jew they do the same thing.
Anthony Alai Yes, they are supposed to, if they are a devout Muslim. If they are just a nominal Muslim, then no. No big deal for them.
Kevin Allen: We have heard a lot, especially since our incursion into Iraq, about Shi’ites and Sunnis and conflicts between them. Are there real theological differences, Anthony Alai, as you understand them?
Anthony Alai I know that as a Muslim I have been taught that Shi’ites and Sunnis are one, that there is only one Islam, that there are very minor differences. Later, when I looked at those differences, there were some bigger theological issues, too, but as a whole, we are really taught they are one, that the differences are merely political sometimes, rather than real. The Shi’ite Muslims are very upset with Sunnis changing the Qur’an and not allowing the prophet’s successors to be Ali and Hussein, but it is really consider a more minor issue.
Kevin Allen: Are there any Sunnis in Iran, or is the population, the demographics, predominantly Shi’a?
Anthony Alai There are probably some that come to visit, but we really are Shi’ite Muslims there, at least, I am not aware of Sunnis there.
Kevin Allen: Let’s talk a little bit about how Muslims understand God. My understanding, and correct me where I am wrong, is that God is seen as, as you point out, absolutely one, with no parts—absolutely sovereign. Is there a guarantee, for example, through righteous living, or through grace, or what have you, that one may, or will, go to heaven?
Anthony Alai As a Muslim, you do everything you can to follow the path of Islam, but if at the end you get before God, and without being too crass, if God has had a bad cup of coffee, and His will is that you go to hell, you go to hell, that’s it. His will is sovereign. In that case, there is not really any surety of faith at all.
Kevin Allen: Is it fair to say that there is a certain underlying uncertainty as to salvation as a Muslim, even if you follow the Shari’a laws to the letter?
Anthony Alai For the most part, except if you happen to become a martyr, then that is kind of a guaranteed way to heaven.
Kevin Allen: Let’s talk a little bit about that. Are you saying that the only sure way to Paradise as a Muslim is through martyrdom?
Anthony Alai Theologically, that is what I was taught. That is correct.
Kevin Allen: Where is that taught? Is that in the Qur’an? Is that in the Hadith? Where does that come up?
Anthony Alai In Islamic teaching there is a part of our tradition which is the Hadith, as well as the Qur’an. We do not differentiate that much among them theologically, although in certain places they will make the Qur’an as the primary, and the Hadith, because they have had so many problems with the Hadith, they are not exactly sure which one is true, which one is not. Muslims will decide maybe 93% of the Hadith is not trustworthy, and the other 7% is, and they will accept that part as the source, whereas the Qur’an is 100% accurate, according to Islamic theology.
But in the Qur’an there are certain passages that we read where clearly, we are encouraged to go and to be a martyr, and in the Hadith, we have Mohammed, himself, giving us examples, telling us that if he could be martyred for the faith, and resurrected, and be martyred again, and resurrected and martyred, he would do it, over and over. There was a time when a soldier heard Mohammed preaching on the blessings of Paradise if one is dying in battle, and he immediately dropped his food and rans out to get killed, so he could be a martyr and enter paradise.
Kevin Allen: How did that affect you as a child? Were you, personally, willing to die for Islam, as a martyr?
Anthony Alai Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. God’s world is worth the whole world for us. God was everything, and everything in this world was nothing, relative to God.
Kevin Allen: One has to admire, and I do admire, that aspect of Islam which takes the next life so seriously. Obviously, not the martyrdom part in the way that they understand fighting against infidels, but the intensity with which they believe the promises of Allah, I certainly admire that.
Anthony Alai Sure, and especially in Islam, I would like to say that there is a real teaching on the tortures of hell. It is a fear that you live with on a regular basis, and you are taught to be very aware of all the horrifying tortures that you will go through in hell, forever and ever. In Paradise, at least as men, we have many, many, many virgins available to us and have free sex and you can drink all you want but you won’t get drunk anymore, so you can do everything then. And the women are blessed, because they are not aware of each other, and they feel like they are the only ones. That is kind of a vision of Paradise, which sounds very fleshly to a Christian, but to the Muslim it sounds like the fulfillment of all his desires.
Kevin Allen: Do Muslims, Anthony Alai, take those verses to be literal, or do they take them to be spiritually symbolic? How do they interpret them?
Anthony Alai It is only in the West that lately I have been hearing some people trying to spiritualize that. Maybe it was so in history, but I was not aware of it. As a Muslim, I took that extremely literally, and I was taught to accept it very literally.
Kevin Allen: Speaking of the West and interpretations, there are some, as I am sure you are aware, who say that martyrdom is an inward, or spiritual struggle, as we Orthodox Christians, might refer to martyrdom. But this is not how you were taught?
Anthony Alai No, not even close. I would say that those who say this are may be practicing a form of deception that is accepted in Islam. In Islam you will deceive, or trick, or whatever it takes, in order for somebody to become a Muslim, and even if they don’t understand and grasp all of Islam, later they can grow in the faith and understand true Islam.
Or people that perhaps are raised in the West and they are experiencing the blessings of living in a Christianized foundation of a society that has the blessing of love and grace, may try to soften Islam, and when they read this stuff they will hyperspiritualize it. There is a small branch of Sufis that spiritualize almost everything, but that is definitely not the predominant Islam.
Kevin Allen: A question about that. Are Sufis considered orthodox Muslims by Sunnis and Shi’a, or are they considered sort of a cult among Islam?
Anthony Alai Most of them would consider them a cult, most of the ones that I know. I have met Sufis, they are great people, it is just that most of the Muslims that I know, and the scholars, consider the Sufis to be an unusual branch of Islam, especially someone taking drugs in order to receive some experience just sounds too strange.
Kevin Allen: I see. I want to go back and quickly pick one thing up that I think is important. You mentioned the fact that Islam understands the Old and New Testament to have been corrupted. How do they understand the Qur’an? Is it the unmediated word of God, and if so, what justification is there for that? It came through Mohammed, right?
Anthony Alai Yes, but it is supposed to have come through the angel, Gabriel, and it is supposed to be the very exact words, word for word, letter for letter, everything from God, so the Qur’an is accepted to be unchanging, whereas the previous words have been corrupted when the Jews and Christians had councils together and they agreed to corrupt the Bible.
Kevin Allen: But clearly, the Qur’an has been translated, and it has been recorded, and they did not have printing presses in the 7th century, so it was written. How can they be assured that those words were properly, adequately, and correctly reproduced?
Anthony Alai I would say that, as a Muslim, I did not question that. I was taught that, and I believed it, and I followed it. Later, as I looked at historical documents and I started looking at the Hadith, and looking at the original foundations of Islam, I found a lot of contradictions with the belief that the Qur’an today would be the same Qur’an as Mohammed’s time.
All Muslims would agree that when Mohammed died, a lot of people had memorized different parts of the Qur’an, and there is a belief that the followers of Mohammed did memorize all the Qur’an, so that they had all of it in their heads, and they could immediately recite the whole Qur’an.
Unfortunately, later, we know that there were at least four, if not up to seven, different versions of the Qur’an. About 20 or so years after Mohammed’s death, it became such a problem in the Islamic empire that they had to burn all the other versions and make one of them the official version so that there would not be a battle among Muslims.
There were already starting to become some theological issues and debate between different Muslims, and others were really having a hard time with the fact that someone else had a different Qur’an than they did. There were three suras that were actually missing from one of the most trusted sources of the original Qur’an by one of Mohammed’s wives. Theologically, when you look at it historically, there are some problems, but as a Muslim you are taught, that’s it. The Qur’an is trustworthy, and believe it. Take it by faith.
Kevin Allen: I understand. At what age did you and your family immigrate to the States, and what were the reasons?
Anthony Alai Jimmy Carter came to our country and the Shah was probably going to be overthrown. My dad started seeing some bad news in the news reports, very freely criticizing the Shah, and so my dad sent me and our family away, and he stayed back, and we came to live in the United States in Georgia for a few years while he stayed back.
Kevin Allen: What were your impressions? What did you know or think about America, as a devout Muslim boy coming from Iran at that time?
Anthony Alai To a Muslim mind, Americans are Christians. There is no difference. Christians have a hard time with saying that their country is founded on Christian principles, but to the Muslim mind, America is Christian. When I saw Americans, I did not differentiate between being an American or a Christian. At that time homosexuality was not as prevalent, but definitely, I could see adultery, drunkenness, prostitution, murders, stealing, which seemed to be a normal practice, at least what I could see on TV and what I saw on the news, and what I heard all around, my impression was that Christians, of course, had a corrupted faith, otherwise they would not be so immoral.
Kevin Allen: Islamic religion and culture in Muslim countries is pretty much fully integrated?
Anthony Alai Yes, in Islam we have a lot of rules for how the country is run, and how the people work, and how the government runs based on Islamic Shar’ia law. We assumed the same thing about Christianity and America.
Kevin Allen: You mentioned a whole group of immoral practices, and I won’t go through them again one by one, but those do not exist in Iran?
Anthony Alai As a teenager, maybe I did not see them. My mom, who lived there, said she saw some. For example, I remember reading stories in the news of one person who had committed adultery and it was such a huge deal, because normally it was not supposed to be happening. When I talk to Muslims now that leave Iran, they say, “No, this is all done in secret. You just didn’t know it because you were a young guy.”
Among the devout Muslims, I honestly don’t see them openly practicing it, and it depends on what we define as sin. If we define it as immoral behaviors and sex outside of marriage, then we would say they are not practicing that normally. If we say that it is sinful to have multiple wives or to sleep with a prostitute wuth a sigheh then that would be considered immoral.
Kevin Allen: You mentioned something that struck me in our pre-interview. You said that devout Muslims are allowed to sleep with prostitutes or others outside of marriage as long as they get a contract or a writ from their Mullah or their Imam?
Anthony Alai Yes, and I am not sure if this is a practice in all Muslim lands, but I do know that my Mullah taught me that if I signed this paper, sigheh, that then my girlfriend and I could have all the sex we wanted, and no big deal. And if a married man is leaving for a business trip from Iran to France, for example, and he cannot control himself, he will go sign a paper so he can sleep with a prostitute for as many times as he wants as long as they sign this paper together.
Kevin Allen: That is certainly a different concept of sin, which we will get to as we continue. How did this affect you, this sense that you were going to, and you were ultimately living in, an immoral, religious culture? Did that make you even more zealous in your Islamic faith? And what did that entail?
Anthony Alai Yes, as I looked around and I saw this lifestyle, if there was any doubt in my mind that Christians were immoral, as I saw it in America, I felt that it was true. Therefore, Islam became more true to me, because I saw Islam as the true moral path, and the Islamic god as the true God, because he taught a very moral reality, and that the Muslims were living more morally than the Christians that I saw, or the Americans, around me.
I wanted to convert more and more of my Christian friends to Islam so they would be delivered from a life of immorality to a life of true morality.
Kevin Allen: And this discovery was made through what, Anthony Alai? Was it made because you were in public high school? I could certainly see that. Or was it through television, or movies, or both?
Anthony Alai Television and movies had a great influence on me. I would watch shows like Dallas, or movies, and I would see openly disgusting adultery and Americans might think that it is funny when someone would see a movie and think that is Christian. But in my mind, that was Christian, and that this was what Christians taught, and what they were showing in their movies was part of how they lived. I was actually living in a very conservative town, so for the most part, I did not see much of the sin going on around me, although it was there, but it was more secret.
Kevin Allen: I think that is an important thing for people to recognize about our media and our entertainment industry, that maybe it is not so much that Islamic countries hate American people but that their sense of who we are is largely based on the entertainment industry and how we are portrayed. Would that be a correct way of saying that?
Anthony Alai Very much. In fact, it has become horrifying now. A show like Dallas would seem like G-rated now. This stuff we have out there going on now in which every movie you see is going to have some blatant, horrible sex scene, or some other sins just blatantly put in there, and it is being exported, and Muslims around the world, surprisingly, are getting it. They either get it by the web, or they get it by the black market, and they will get the movies before they are showing in our own theaters.
Kevin Allen: My, my.
Anthony Alai And they think this is the Christian freedom that is being experienced.
Kevin Allen: So that is probably, then, one of the reasons why there are such negative polemics against America, the Great Satan, and so on, because of the sense that America is corrupt morally.
Anthony Alai Yes. Very, very true.
Kevin Allen: How then, having come from Persia, having been raised a Muslim, even becoming more zealous, devout and fervent, as a Muslim as a young man when you were in high school, trying to convert Christians to the faith, how did you first come to be exposed to the Christian message, the gospel, and come to know the Bible as you do?
Anthony Alai In high school, I had two very good friends, and they were also very top students in our school, but they happened to be Christians, and devout Christians. They would use the normal Southern Baptist ways of trying to convert me by saying the Sinner’s Prayer, or Romans Road, or anything they could to try to show me to come to the faith. Of course, they would quote the Bible, and I would think they were quoting from Satan’s book, so it would have no effect on me whatsoever. They were trying to convert me, but I wanted to convert them.
Many times I would want to grab their Bible and throw it in the trash. I would say, “Just stop reading your Bible.” They would read their Bible in high school. At that time I guess it wasn’t illegal. They would read it, and I remember this really intense hatred, this intense anger, at the fact that they were being corrupted by this unholy, demonic book, and I just wanted to grab it and throw it away and try to convert them to Islam any way I could.
Kevin Allen: How did you go from one who wanted to trash the Bible, if you will, to one who began to read it?
Anthony Alai It was not done with holy purposes. Somebody gave me a gift of a Bible, a friend of mine did, and I said to myself, “Okay, here is an opportunity. I will take this Bible and I will read the Qur’an and the Bible at the same time. I know what is moral and what is immoral. I am going to cross out all the horrible, immoral stuff that the Christians and the Jews have added to their Bible, but I’m going to find all the good versus that are agreeing with the Qur’an and Islam, and I am going to convert all my Christian friends, because I am going to know more of their own Bible than they do, and I am going to bring them to Islam.” I started reading through the Bible with that major purpose in my mind.
Kevin Allen: And what did you find?
Anthony Alai A bit of a shock. Specifically, what I remember is Matthew 5, and reading the words of Jesus on sin. Instead of finding the Bible telling me that I am allowed to commit every kind of sin, like I had seen around me, I was told that I have to have purity from the heart and the mind. That if I thought a lustful thought toward a woman, I was already guilty, in the eyes of God, of adultery. And if I allowed anger to take root in my soul, I would be guilty of murder.
All at once I could say that by these words, I am and adulterer and a murderer already, before God. As a Muslim, it made sense to me that God sees everything and he would see what is in my heart and in my mind. For the first time I saw myself not as more righteous then my fellow Christians, but rather, as a sinner before the eyes of God.
Kevin Allen: So this idea of inner purity and inner righteousness versus simply adherence to Shari’a, or outward purity, and outward righteousness, was new and revolutionary?
Anthony Alai Very much. In fact, it troubled me because I thought, if the devil corrupted this book, why is it more pure than anything that I ever heard before? It was very tough to try to put myself around that and try to understand. How could this corrupted, Satanic book actually teach me a path that is more pure, more moral, more loving, than anything I had ever heard before?
Kevin Allen: This realization, or this epiphany happened, Anthony Alai, when you read the book of Matthew for the first time?
Anthony Alai Yes, very much.
Kevin Allen: My, my.
Anthony Alai From reading the words of Jesus, and his saying things like, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, then you will certainly not experience heaven, not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” And that if you have anger in your heart, or you are thinking lustful thoughts, then you are guilty before God of all these. In fact, I remember Jesus’ words saying it is better to lose an eye than to lose eternal salvation. Christ’s call was to extreme purity, 100% pure, from the heart, from the inside out.
Kevin Allen: You also mentioned in our pre-interview, that the concept of loving your enemies was new, that this idea of loving your enemies is not taught in Islam?
Anthony Alai No. Nothing I ever heard. In fact, if somebody hit me on one side, I was supposed to hit them twice as hard on the other side, to make sure that they got it back. An eye for an eye is definitely clearly taught in Islam. That was another thing, I remembered reading the words of Jesus when he said, “You have been taught, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I am telling you to love your enemy.”
When your enemy hits you on one side, you are to turn the other cheek, and to bless those who persecute you, pray for those who are despitefully using you, loving your enemies, and in this way showing the perfection of our Father in heaven, that just as our Father in heaven shows His grace and His love to the just and unjust, we are supposed to show grace and love to the just and unjust. This is completely foreign to anything in Islam that I have ever heard.
Kevin Allen: But you were still seeing a disconnect, if you will, between the Christianity lived, in a so-called Christian culture, among those that you knew, from this higher moral teaching. Was that still a problem?
Anthony Alai It actually helped me, because for the first time I realized that all the sinful lifestyle of people who call themselves Christians was not revealing true Christianity, that they were actually not following Christ.
Kevin Allen: Often we hear about conversion experiences, in which one is convicted of the truth of Christ as God’s son. Was that something that you experienced, as you would describe it?
Anthony Alai Yes, very much. That was the point when my conversion definitely happened. After I read Jesus’ words, saying, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword, and a son shall go against father, and daughter against mother. If you are going to follow me, take up your cross, forsake the world, forsake everything, and follow me.” I was so moved that Christ was calling for 100% commitment, not this soft, light Christianity I saw around me. And then I saw his own example, his own perfect way that he entered the cross.
I had always been taught that Judas Iscariot’s face had been transformed so that when people came to get Jesus they saw Judas, and they grabbed Judas, thinking he was Jesus. But then, as I was reading the Bible, and I was reading the gospels, I was so moved, letter by letter, word by word, describing specifically how Jesus was crucified. First of all, he did not run away from it. If it was Judas, he would be running away and declaring openly, “I’m Judas, you are being tricked, don’t believe it.”
But instead I read the scriptures and the scriptures said Jesus willingly was prophesying, “This is what is going to happen to me,” and to expect it. In the gospel of Matthew, when Peter grabbed the sword to try to stop the people from grabbing Jesus, immediately Jesus grabbed the ear and healed the man, and told Peter to put away his sword, that he was going by his own free will, it was not something that he was being forced to do.
Then as they took Jesus up before his enemies, he was quiet. He would not answer their rebukes or their lies. They stripped him. They put a scarlet robe on him. They twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. They kneeled in front of him, mocking him, telling him, “You are king of the Jews.” Then they spit on him and he allowed all this to happen. They would strike him on the head again and again.
As I saw all this, I just started weeping and weeping, and the Holy Spirit moved in my heart, and I starting experiencing something like the movie that recently came out, The Passion of the Christ. I just started crying like a baby. I could not hold back. I had the realization that Jesus had been crucified, and he was crucified willingly, for me, and I wanted to follow Jesus. I said, “I’m going to follow you no matter what,” as I saw what he did for me.
Kevin Allen: Weren’t you taught, as a Muslim, Anthony Alai, that a prophet could never die or be humiliated the way Christ is portrayed to have been, though of course, we know he was, as Christians?
Anthony Alai Yes, I was taught that. For some reason, as I read that passage, the Holy Spirit just transformed my mind. Later, when I thought about it, actually, it is a contradiction, because every year, as Shi’ite Muslims, we celebrate, or commemorate, the reality of the way that Imam Hussein died, as we cut our children with knives and let them bleed, and as we grab chains and bring blood on ourselves to remind ourselves of what Imam Hussein went through.
The story of Imam Hussein is horrifying. The way I was taught was that he was in battle, one of his limbs was cut, and he grabbed the sword with the other limb to fight, and one of his legs are cut, and he continued to fight, and then when his other leg was cut, he continued to fight. And then they cut the other hand, and then he grabbed the sword with his own mouth and kept fighting until they finally chopped his head off. This is the story that we have. Here is a prophet of Islam being killed in a most horrifying way. The contradiction just doesn’t make sense.
Kevin Allen: Was it at that point, after reading all, or part of, the book of Matthew, that you said, “I am now going to follow Christ?”
Anthony Alai Yes, when I read of Jesus, and I read what he did at the cross, I said right then, “I am going to follow you no matter what. I don’t understand everything, but I do understand that you died on the cross for me, and I am going to follow you.”
Kevin Allen: What did that entail? Did you go forward in a church? Did you get baptized? Did you join a church?
Anthony Alai I was reading a book by Zig Ziglar called See You at the Top, and in it was the Sinner’s Prayer, and I said the Sinner’s Prayer. Then a few weeks later, I was in a Southern Baptist Church and in shaking and trembling and fear, and in tears, I went forward and made a public profession of my desire to follow Christ. I prayed with the preacher the prayers that they have to follow Christ.
Kevin Allen: What impact did that have, Anthony Alai, on your family, specifically, your father, the devout Muslim, and others, perhaps, in your family?
Anthony Alai When I decided to follow Christ, I thought for sure the next morning my head would be on the ground and I would be killed for Jesus, and I said, “Fine, that is what I am going to do.” Obviously, my dad did not follow through with that Islamic practice, and I am alive, thankfully. But my dad did have a very hard time, and we had a very strong rift between us. We had a lot of arguments, and I would actually try to convert him. I would try to bring him to Christ, if at all possible.
It got so tough that at one point he said, “Look, if you are not going to follow my way, then you cannot live under my roof.” I ended up grabbing my Bible and saying, “My Father in heaven is now my Father, and I am going to go into this rattlesnake-filled woods, and I am going to trust God to take care of me.” And for about three months I lived in the woods, which I had never done.
Kevin Allen: What age was this?
Anthony Alai I was about 18 years old.
Kevin Allen: What did you make of the resurrection of Christ? And briefly, how does Islam interpret the resurrection of Christ?
Anthony Alai For me, it was a happy moment, after seeing Jesus crucified, and experiencing him in my heart and mind, and then seeing him risen from the dead, I was very happy that he was not dead, that he was alive. They way Muslims interpret that, since they do not accept the cross, they do not accept his resurrection in that sense. However, in the Qur’an, surprisingly, there are three prophecies by Jesus in which he prophesies that he was going to die and rise from the dead. But Muslims say that means he died and he is going to rise from the dead in the future world, and they try to take away the reality of synchronizing that with the scriptures and with the Bible, and they try to find contradictions between the Bible and Islam.
Kevin Allen: From my limited reading of Islam, they really believe that the concept of the Holy Trinity is rank tritheism—blasphemy. How did you understand the Holy Trinity as a young 18-year-old, after having been formed as a Muslim for so many years prior?
Anthony Alai For one, I did not find the concept in the Bible of what I had read in the Qur’an of the Trinity being the Father having sex with Mary in order to have his son, Jesus, which is what I had been taught that Christians taught, that this is the Trinity. In fact, all Christians I have met considered this blasphemous, as well as the Muslims would, so this concept of the Trinity does not exist.
And as I came to follow Christ, I said, “I don’t understand everything, but I do understand that there is no horrible concept of the Trinity as the Muslims have taught, but I do understand that the Christians teach the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I don’t completely get it, but I know Jesus died on the Christ, and I know that I have to follow him, and the only people who accept this are Christians, and I am going to join them, and I will figure that out later.”
Kevin Allen: Is it your understanding, Anthony Alai, that Islam, in general, has a more nuanced view of the Trinity today? It seems fairly simple to me to say to a Muslim, “Your tradition has, from the beginning, misunderstood the Holy Trinity.” It seems to me that as an Islamic apologist you would have to have a better answer than the Trinity is the Father and Mary producing the Son, because clearly, that is nowhere. Do they have a more nuanced understanding of the Holy Trinity now that they still teach against?
Anthony Alai At least the Muslim scholars that I have met, will take teachings from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults, and they will try to use that against Christians accepting any form of the Trinity. That is one thing that I have definitely noticed regularly.
Kevin Allen: So they are using non-Orthodox views of the Trinity to deny its reality, versus trying to deal with the true Orthodox Trinitarian idea?
Anthony Alai Yes. In fact, the Muslim leaders will quote the scriptures from the non-Christian cults which call themselves Christians, and they will make themselves look like they are such scholars that they know the Bible so well, and they will quote scriptures out of context. They will twist it, turn it, and just make things to be that are not. And Muslims will listen to this and think, “Oh, our scholars know the Bible so well, and they are quoting the Bible better than the Christians, so they must be right and the Christians must be wrong,” not realizing that the source being used is mostly from the cults and from those who are twisting scripture away from what it really says, and that by reading the Bible, itself, it clarifies everything.
Kevin Allen: Would you say that a very large percentage of practicing Muslims have never picked up a Bible and read it?
Anthony Alai In fact, many times if you dare to pick up a Bible and somebody finds out, you will possibly be killed, or definitely be persecuted very quickly. It is kind of a secret. You hide it. You would not just openly read it. It is strange, because in the original teaching of Islam, even Mohammed, himself, was told, as a word from Allah, “If you have questions regarding what I am telling you, go to the people of the book, the Christians, the Jews, the people who read the scriptures, and ask them, so they can explain this stuff to you.” But somewhere along the line there has become this horrible anger and antipathy toward anything that has to do with the Bible, and you will be persecuted as soon as they see you with a Bible.
Kevin Allen: As you continue to study and learn your Christian faith, were there contradictions between what you were taught about Islam, and what you found later about Islam, and can you share some of them?
Anthony Alai Definitely. One concept that I just mentioned was the fact that, actually, Mohammed was told to go to the people of the book, and to be humble before them to help him understand what was being revealed to him. That is so different than saying, “We are enemies of the Christians and the Jews.”
The other thing is, when was the Bible corrupted? We know Mohammed quoted from the scriptures. Whenever they brought people of the book before him, he would say, “Go bring their scriptures and read it. Whatever it says, we do.” Around Mohammed’s time, the scripture was considered to have been uncorrupted, otherwise Mohammed would not have called for it to be read and for people to be judged by it.
So if we say that at the time of Mohammed, the scriptures were considered holy and uncorrupted, then we know right now that we have manuscripts from several hundred years before Mohammed that show us exactly what Bible Mohammed was reading, and there is no difference between those manuscripts and what we have today, what we get in our translations and what we get in our Greek Bibles, right now.
I ask Muslims, when did the Bible get corrupted? They say that it was afterward, and I say again, we have the original manuscripts, so how could the Christians and the Jews, who are in opposite frames of mind in regard to, especially Christ, and who Christ was, have gotten together, and together have corrupted the scriptures to say that Christ was who he said he was? That just logically makes no sense. There is no way to bring that together. And how could the Roman governors talk about the crucifixion of Christ, and how could they perform this, and how could some of the secular sources also point to the trustworthiness of the Christian message and historical documents?
The other part that I would relate is the fact that we really thought that the Qur’an was absolutely perfect, that there was no way it could be corrupted. The reality is that one of our Muslim leaders was burned because he had burned several versions of the Qur’an, and the reason he had to burn it was because they were found to be so contradictory that it was causing splits and divisions among Muslims. So they took one version and said that would be the version everybody would follow. That is kind of strange. Which was the real Qur’an originally? Good question. I don’t know if anybody has a good answer.
Another thing is what the Qur’an actually says about Christ’s crucifixion. There is one verse that I remember that says something like, “They neither killed him nor crucified him.” When I was reading the Bible, I thought that I would find the verse that says that they did kill him and crucify him, I will scratch that out, and I will have mostly a good Bible. Instead, I found the detailed incident described in the scriptures.
But some apologists have shown that what if that passage was seen as “they”, the Jews, did not kill or crucify him? Well, if the Jews did not kill and crucify him, then who did? Jesus tells us that he took up his cross willingly.
So we could actually have a harmonization, a synchronization, of many parts of the Qur’an and the Bible, and Muslims could follow Christ, and the faith of Abraham, rather than trying to deny the faith of Abraham and say they are following his faith. As far as understanding what kind of Trinity the Qur’an defines as blasphemous, as Christians we agree that it is blasphemous to even insinuate that God had to have sex with a human being to have Jesus, when in the Qur’an, and in the Bible, we are taught that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and Jesus came into being.
Also, I do not necessarily want to get into the concept of the Trinity too much, because that is one that after you are in the faith, and you study and meditate and open your heart and mind to God that you will start entering into a deeper understanding of. Even today I am still learning what a great blessing it is to have the relationship of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit loving one another, and having fellowship, that I can have fellowship, living fellowship with God, God living inside of me, and me with Him.
In Islam, the concept was that God was out in Never-Neverland, and He would come to punish you whenever you did something wrong. There was no understanding of a relationship between me and God.
Those are just a few things that come to mind right away.
Kevin Allen: So, there is no sense of grace, if you will, as a Muslim, that God would forgive, or pardon, your sins, even if you had committed them, by love or mercy?
Anthony Alai Every sura in the Qur’an starts with Besmillah Al-Rahmaan Al-Raheem and so that is an expression of God’s mercy, but then when you actually apply it, there is this horrifying God who is ready to punish you, left and right, for everything you do wrong. In actual application, I did not see that. In fact, in Islamic theology, we are taught that the Qur’an is described as a college-level textbook, so that you have the Jewish book as elementary, the Christian book as high school, and the Qur’an as college level.
So I thought great, when I read the scriptures I saw that the law came through Moses, and then grace and truth came through Jesus Christ, which is the next level, and then we get to the Qur’an and it takes us back to the law again, so it is actually going backward, rather than forward, so where is the greater concept? There is nothing greater than the grace and the mercy of God that I have read in the scriptures.
Kevin Allen: And there is no relationship, as such, with God, with Allah, in Islam? Are you simply a servant? There is no loving relationship with God? He is not seen as our Father?
Anthony Alai That is correct. We are mere creatures. We are just amoebas, you might say, in some ways. We are just creatures, and God is God, and He is completely removed from us. The idea of a relationship with God seems so foreign, and almost blasphemous to the Islamic mind. But the reality is that in the Christian truth, and in the teachings of Christ, we find him emphasizing so strongly that God is our Father, and He loves us, and He wants to bless us, and He wants to give us of His own life, and he wants to enter into a very loving relationship with us, and have that love transform us so much that we will love even our enemies to the end, and just as Jesus would go to the cross for his enemies, we would go to our cross for our enemies, and we would give our lives for love, expecting nothing in return.
Kevin Allen: I cannot wait, and I am sure our listeners will feel the same way, Anthony Alai, for part 2, when you talk about how and why you took your long journey from the Protestant and Evangelical world to Eastern Orthodoxy, but we will end now with part 1. Thank you so much. This has been a wonderful interview.
Anthony Alai Thank you. I am humbly blessed.