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An Ex-Militant's View of Islam
A former Muslim and militia fighter, Zachariah Anani escaped death 15 times after becoming a Christian and still risks sharing his faith

It's after midnight Saturday and hungry patrons follow the strains of Middle Eastern music into Al-Hamra Restaurant in Windsor, Ont. Inside, the mostly male customers eat from steaming plates of shish tawook (grilled chicken) and drink cups of thick Arabican coffee.

At a corner table, Zachariah Anani discusses the latest Palestinian-Israeli developments with a group, and then skillfully steers the conversation to personal faith and Isa (Jesus).

A few men become angry, but "the main response is always curiosity," says Anani. "Everyone wants to know why I became a Christian."

Christians are also enthralled by this former Muslim who carries numerous scars for his faith in Christ. Once a teenage militia fighter, he now uses his upbringing and studies in an all-Muslim university to teach on Islam and equip Canadian Christians to effectively evangelize Muslims.

To him, Islamic teachings are empty. "There isn't theology in Islam," he claims, "only the study of the laws of the Qur'an—so it's dry and it has nothing to offer you." In contrast, "theology in Christianity enriches; it feeds the soul."

Anani knows Islam intimately. Born into a family of Muslim clergy in Beirut, Lebanon, he began Islamic school at age three. His grandfather and great grandfather had been imams (religious authorities), and his family expected him to carry the torch.

At 13 he joined one of the many military groups that existed in the early '70s. "All the religious fragments had their own secret militia," he says. "I was trained to fight and kill Jews and to hate Christians and Americans."

His family was pleased with his decision because according to Islamic teaching, those who die in battle against "unbelievers" are assured of reaching heaven. Ironically, Anani faced the Israelis only once. Most of the time, though, the Muslim groups fought among themselves.

*****By the time he turned 16, "life meant nothing," he says.*****

Soon after enlisting, he made his first kill. By the time he turned 16, "life meant nothing," he says. "Every time I killed someone and two or three fighters witnessed it, they would give me a point on my chart. I carried 223 points."

Even his comrades feared him. "Although we had a sense of loyalty to each other," he says, "we were ready to take out enemies or friends." When a fanatical Muslim joined his regiment and began knocking on doors to wake the others for prayer at 3 A.M., Anani warned him: "I don't want to pray. Don't come and wake me." When he heard the knock early the next morning, Anani picked up his gun, shot him, and went back to sleep.

Anani was soon promoted to troop leader and then formed his own regiment. But "life seemed painful and empty," he says.

Alone and bored one afternoon, he approached a gathering on the street. An American missionary was talking with someone about Jesus. As Anani turned to walk away, he heard the American say, "Jesus Christ will give you hope and a new life."

Anani thought, "Who's this Jesus Christ? I know Christians, but who's this Jesus? Is there hope? Is there new life?" He waited until the crowd had left and then approached the American. After a brief discussion, the American pushed his card into his hand and said, "Call whenever you want."

Unable to sleep that night, he kept replaying the American's words in his mind. The next day, Anani called. He wept when he heard about Jesus' sacrificial death, and after opening the Bible for the first time, he read, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." That afternoon he submitted his life to Christ.

His family immediately responded. His father tore Anani's Bible apart and slapped him. His mother warned every neighbour to keep their boys away from Anani.

Muslim leaders called him to the local mosque and interrogated him. The imam asked intelligent questions, and Anani felt the inadequacy of his own answers: "I knew nothing about Islam, nothing about Christianity."

But he claimed to be a Christian, so he was beaten unconscious and excommunicated. This meant that if he didn't recant and return to Islam within three days, anybody had the right to kill him. Fifteen attempts were made on his life in the years that followed.

Appalled at his own ignorance, he bought a copy of the Qur'an. "I started to read the Qur'an in a search for God," he says. "If I had found God in that book, I would have gone back to Islam." What he found instead were small mistakes, and thought, "God can't make mistakes, no matter how small they are." But each time he read it, "the mistakes became bigger."

He questioned why salvation was found in Christ and not in Mohammad, in the Bible and not in the Qur'an. That compelled him back to school. At 18 he enrolled in Al-Azhar University and spent 13 years in part-time studies. He fulfilled the requirements for a doctorate in Islam, but never graduated because he didn't become an imam.

Apart from one professor, no one in the university suspected he was a Christian. But in the Muslim neighbourhood where he grew up, everyone knew it. He moved to the city's Christian sector, but the persecution continued. Even his father hired assassins to kill him.

*****After Anani debated with a Muslim scholar in the United States, his family was attacked in Lebanon.*****

Finally church leaders convinced him to leave Lebanon because his presence endangered others. In 1996 Anani entered Canada as a refugee. It took another three difficult years before his wife and three children could join him. After Anani debated with a Muslim scholar in the United States, his family was attacked in Lebanon. Two of his children required surgery.

In the past five years, Anani has worked with a large inner-city church in Muslim outreach, debated Islamic scholars in the United States and Canada, and trained Christians in Muslim evangelism.

He teaches Christians about Muslim beliefs and logic and explains the inconsistencies and errors in the Qur'an—he cites, for example, the story about the prophet on horseback who chased the sun. "It's impossible for human beings to travel that speed," he says.

He also talks about Islam's worldwide strategy for conquest. "Muslims are not asleep," he says. "They're on the march." He uses Lebanon as an example—a country that was 70 percent Christian in the early '70s." Today the majority are Muslim and "they can't preach Christ."

"A lot of people think that Islam is okay," says Anani, and "that those who are making these terrorist attacks are not from Islam. It's actually the other way around. The people who are nice are not really true Muslims—all you have to do is read the doctrine. Chapter (9) of the Qur'an is nothing but a declaration of war."

He also tells Christians that most Muslims are secular and don't know the Qur'an. "They believe anything the sheikh tells them," says Anani, referring to Middle Eastern Muslims. "If you show genuine friendship to them, they will listen to you and God will open the door." But first, "know the basics about them," he advises.

Anani meets Muslims regularly in restaurants and cafés. "Reaching Muslims here is not impossible." But he cautions, "It is difficult, much more than you think."

He points to the biblical doctrine of future hope as a concept that speaks to Muslims: "If I ask [Christian] believers, 'Where are you going after death?' they will say they're going to heaven. In Islam, the strongest sheikh and imam who have served God all their lives will say they don't know. They aren't sure of anything."

Brenda Lundy is a freelance editor and writer living in Thorndale, Ont.

Faith Today, May/June 2002,




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