Saeed Mokhlessi writes: I was born in Iran in a fairly devout Muslim family. From an early age, we were taught the basic principles of Islam and I was encouraged to believe and obey them.
I remember, from the age of 4 or 5 I used to get excited when the month of Ramadan (when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset) was approaching. Although boys are not required to fast till the age of 15, I was eager to do it.
As I grew up in the community, I became known as an upright and religious boy (although I did get up to mischief secretly with some friends). At school we used to begin each day reciting the Quran and prayer and I was one of three responsible for leading the school in these devotions.
I was eagerly trying to please Allah by trying to keep his commandments during my youth. I knew about sin and judgement, but also knew that I was not the person everyone thought I was. I was deeply aware of my sinful nature and many specific sins.
Gradually, the weight of sin and guilt grew upon my soul, especially when aged 11-12. It became so heavy that it drove me more to religion to gain forgiveness and peace.
Outwardly, I looked happy and smiley to everyone around, but inwardly I felt dirty and rotten. The more I sought Allah and his forgiveness, the more desperate I became — simply because I couldn’t find forgiveness and heard nothing from Allah.
Within four years, I lost all hope of pardon within Islam. I had prayed and prayed, and read the Quran, but received no assurance of forgiveness.
By the age of 16, I was sure of one thing: that I would go to hell if I died and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t find any comfort in Islam; all it offered was pray, follow the rules, try to be good and you will find out on judgment day whether or not you are going to heaven. But I was still zealous about my religion.
In September 2000, I left Iran as an asylum seeker and eventually found myself in London. Within a month of arrival, I received a Bible in my own language from an Iranian living in Holland.
I didn’t know there was a book called the Bible until then. With it was also a letter from its sender. I can’t remember much of the letter, but I remember it saying that God can speak to me, that Christ is both God and man, and that he is willing and able to forgive sin.
There were also instructions on how to read the Bible. I began to read it although I believed, along with other Muslims, that the Torah and Gospel have been changed and are not trustworthy.
Then, when I started reading the Old Testament, I thought, ‘There’s no way I can keep these laws’. I felt more condemned, threw the Bible in a corner and gave up reading it.
Two weeks later, to my surprise, I was invited to go to an Iranian church close to where I was staying. Reluctantly, I went. When the meeting was over, I asked the pastor whether they were the only group who had this book, the Bible.
He kindly explained that all Christians in all ages have been using the Bible, and it is really just one book. I started to think that maybe Muslims had been lied to all these years and that only Christians have the gospel (but I didn’t want to accept that!). So I decided to find out for myself whether the Bible is trustworthy, eagerly hoping to prove otherwise.
I had a lot of free time in those days and used to gather different Bible translations, in English and other languages, and carefully compare them. I sometimes used to study 15 hours a day, non-stop without any food.
In June 2001, I moved to Cardiff, but travelled almost every weekend to London to get to my church. Within 6 or 7 months, contrary to my desires, I came to accept the truthfulness of the Scriptures as God’s Word.
Therefore, I ‘changed my religion’, meaning that I started to try to please God by doing all the things that Christians do — praying, going to church, reading the Bible, etc.
I started to call myself a Christian, because I was doing those things and believing them too. But I always knew that the other people in the church had something that I didn’t have. They talked about Christ in an intimate way I couldn’t understand.
Everyone there believed I was a Christian because of my Bible knowledge, zeal, commitment and passion for reaching others for Christ. Yet it was all the works of my own hands and, deep down, I didn’t have assurance of salvation. More importantly, I had reservations about the deity of Christ.
Meanwhile, I got involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not knowing anything about them, and they left me confused. Without anyone telling me so, I found many problems with their New World Bible translation and its mistranslation of many verses.
To cut the story short, on 27 May 2002 I was at the end of my spiritual resources, unable to carry on any more. I knew well the Bible’s teaching about Christ, the gospel and faith and that I wasn’t saved, or ‘born again’, to use Jesus’ words.
On that morning, I got up at 7.00am and began to study the Bible, as was my custom, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I threw it in the bin and cried out to Jesus for salvation. I was on my knees and knew Jesus had to save me; I wasn’t willing to let him go.
I can’t remember how long I was in that state, but somehow I picked up my Farsi Bible again and opened it. It happened to open on Isaiah 55. I had read that book many times in the past, but verses 8 and 9 of that chapter struck me and the Lord spoke to me through their words.
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’.
Suddenly I got it. It was like being in a dark room and someone switches on the lights. I could see everything now. The reality of the cross — that Christ died for me and paid for my sins — was so clear that I felt a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders and transferred to that cross, and there was nothing left for me to carry.
I was utterly astonished that the Lord of heaven and earth had ‘spoken’ to me directly. This idea of direct communication from God was impossible to me, or any Muslim, to grasp. I was astonished to see Christ and his saving work written about in all the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.
I began highlighting relevant scripture passages and by 4.00pm the pages of my Bible were blue. But a few hours later, in the midst of this heavenly joy, I somehow heard the reciting of the Quran from a cassette player (I think a man in the flat above was playing it — something that had never happened before, and didn’t happen again either).
This brought such fear to me, the like of which I hadn’t experienced before. The thought was, ‘You are leaving Islam and Allah is calling you back’.
At the same time, I realised it was Satan trying to stop me and was reminded how I had read he is a real being who comes to deceive and destroy. I felt myself utterly powerless and called on the name of Lord Jesus, asking him to deal with it.
He spoke to me vividly: ‘Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed: neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame: for you will forget the shame of your youth’ (Isaiah 54:4). This was so powerful that my fear vanished and was replaced with joy and peace.
From that day, my walk with Christ started and I haven’t looked back. I have gone through deep waters, experienced hardships from family, friends and others, but the Lord Jesus is my Saviour and will continue to be to the end.
I have failed many times since then, but have constantly been brought back to the same place — the cross of Christ and his empty tomb.