By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Jakarta.
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)– The married-father-of-three has come a long way since he nearly blew up a Protestant church in Jakarta. Author Ahmad Quraisy, which isn’t his family name, was a commander of the feared Islamic State of Indonesia (NII), an Indonesian militant group. But the former Islamic terrorist now leads an underground movement in Indonesia converting Muslims to Christianity or, in his words, “personal faith in Christ.”
Quraisy, a 48-year-old humble man, told BosNewsLife that his movement has grown into some 7,000 members. “All of them are former Muslims. They meet in house churches across the country,” he revealed in an extensive interview. A BosNewsLife reporter met Quraisy, accompanied by his wife and an interpreter, in a secure separate room at a Jakarta restaurant. Leaving Islam remains a high-risk undertaking in what is the world’s largest Muslim nation. “But it was worth all the hardships we endured,” Quraisy stressed.
BosNewsLife agreed to cite only the publicly available name he uses in his self-published books due to security concerns. His remarkable journey to embracing the Christian faith began in the late 1990s. “I had become radicalized after the economic crisis. As a young commanding officer of the NII, I blamed Christians. One day, I took a bag with a time bomb to a Protestant church in the Indonesian capital. I was ready to set it off and kill many people. But then I heard the pastor telling the faithful that they should love their enemies and those who persecute them,” he recalled.
“I never saw that Christian love before in my life. I became convinced that I should not carry out my destructive plan.” He declines to say the exact name of the Church to avoid more repercussions from NII or other Muslim hardlines. “After I returned the bag with the bomb, the NII leadership got furious. I was put one month in detention.”
Soon after his decision not to kill Christians, he started to see visions from the Lord, he explained. “It was in early 2000 that I met Jesus Christ in a miraculous way for the first time. Eventually, in 2001, I became a Christian.”
Quraisy believes Christ healed him from illness through visions and miracles. “I was suffering from typhus that knocked me down for a long time. One day I saw a person in white robes and glowing light saying: ‘Get up and get healed.’ I did not know it was
Jesus, who healed me. But according to my old Islamic belief, a person can have a spiritual being as a teacher that accompanies you everywhere.”
He said Jesus Christ returned five months later. “He touched my head. I was shaking and became hot in my whole body. I still didn’t realize that this spiritual being was Jesus.” Quraisy claimed that demons left his home. “The next morning after He appeared to me, neighbors said they saw a being looking like a dragon wrecking in the courtyard of my house. Next week my neighbors saw hairy men in hunting apparel there. A week later, they saw a being appearing as a tiger.”
After what he called “black magic” left his life, he started “searching for the Light.”
Quraisy opened a Bible that he borrowed from a Christian neighbor. “When I started to understand it, a great wind came into my room, and there was a bright light,” he remembered. “It was amazing because all the doors and windows were shut.
I was fully awake and sober when someone came, touched me, and brought me to another place. I later understood it was the work of Jesus Christ. He took me to a dessert that looked like a kingdom. A fellow with a big red eye and a sword was guarding that.”
He said the strange guard appearing in his vision led him into a “very bright” noisy place. “When I knocked on the door, someone opened. When I asked whether I could come in, that person said I had to wait while he looked up my name in a big book.”
The news wasn’t right. “The person told me that my name was not in the book. And then the guard with the red-eye brought me into a long dark alley. He said: ‘This is the place where you belong.’ It was a place full of torture.”
Quraisy said it was hell. “Because of Islam, I understood that in hell, people are burned alive. In this vision, I saw people being burned all the time.”
The vision, he expressed, also showed him a chained Islamic leader facing torture. But there were also religious Christians who had not accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior enduring hardships, Quraisy stressed. “I decided to go back to the bright room.” He suggested that the room symbolized Heaven. “The person who was standing in front of the bright room said it was not yet my time. But he added: “One day, you will be able to enter.”
The visions, Bible studies, and talks with Christians eventually made him think that Christ had been looking for him. He said he accepted Him as Lord and Savior in 2001. “It was an answer to my prayers,” said his wife. She was a Muslim who had already become a Christian. “My husband didn’t know. I had been praying for him in secret,” she told BosNewsLife. “I was praying that one day he would find Christ too.”
But then the problems began. They were removed from the mansion of Quraisy’s father. “He was outraged that I had left Islam and had become a Christian,” the author recalled.
Quraisy and his young wife and two small children were forced to live on the streets. “Two months, we lived in a bus station, because we had nowhere to go.” But fellow believers learned about their predicament. To them, Quraisy had become like the Biblical Paul, who first persecuted the Church before becoming an apostle. “But to my family, I was a traitor. They took away everything. But I told my father: ‘I don’t need your inheritance. I only need Christ.”
That’s easier said than done, he admitted. “Sometimes, I was thinking of going back to Islam.” But, he said, he withstood these temptations. The couple tried to work hard to make a living. “My wife worked in an Indian restaurant. I took up all kinds of odd jobs. It was a huge difference in my previous life as an NII officer. At that time, we were rich and had nothing to worry about. Now we had to think about how to feed ourselves and our two children who were just three and four years old.”
They eventually moved to a small room with a filthy floor. “We lived on handouts from neighbors and friends from whom we received food and other supplies.” But Christ remained faithful, he noted. And what started as a seemingly hopeless undertaking, grew into a blessed work supported by thousands of former Muslims, Quraisy told BosNewsLife.
“In 2012 my then small group wanted to preach the Gospel. We went to pray to the Lord. Soon after, we began publishing my books and other materials. We decided to extend the movement and include discipleship training.”
With his success came church career opportunities. “I was even offered to have a congregation with a house and a car. But I turned the offer down. Because I want to focus on reaching the Muslim community for Christ.”
He said virtually all of his 7,000 members working underground are former Muslims. “They are all Christ-followers. We communicate through social media when organizing events in our many house churches. The smallest house church has about 20 members; the biggest contains hundreds of people of the same village.”
With his movement continuing to grow, he hopes one day to have one “large congregation full of people with a Muslim background.” High on his wishlist is a training center specialized in Bible study and discipleship. “This way they can go back and help their families and friends grow in the faith.”
He said many Muslims joining his movement left Islam “because they ironically find the Truth after I explained the Koran to them. In the Koran, Jesus is mentioned. But Muslims concluded when studying the Koran, that it was better to become a Christian.” Evangelizing among Muslims is dangerous in Indonesia.
Its strict legislation can lead to harsh prison sentences for those accused of blasphemy against Islam. Members of several faith communities, including Christians, have been jailed in recent years.
“Under the blasphemy law, I can’t say bad words about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad or the Koran,” deemed a holy book by Muslims. “I have to tell Muslims about how their lives could be in the future. And what will happen after death? That is the best way to reach them. I have to be wise and use the right techniques to reach them with the Gospel.”
To avoid problems with families and authorities, he is advising former Muslims to keep wearing their attire. “We want to minimize the difficulties. I saw in my own life that being a Christian will cause a lot of problems. Perhaps on the outside, movement members look like Muslims. Many even wear hijab. Some of them are teaching at Islamic schools. But inside their hearts have changed for Christ,” he said, smiling.
“Yes, on the outside, you see them walking and talking as Muslims. But they are real Christians. In Indonesia today, you can often no longer recognize a Muslim or a Christian only from their appearance.”
But living a life as a Christian convert remains a challenge in a nation where Islam dominates politics. “For me, the recent elections were not very good. If more of our leaders accepted Christ, this could help change our nation.”
He called Indonesia’s re-elected President Joko Widodo “really polite” but complained that his government is “not supportive of Christians.” Quraisy expressed skepticism about Muslim politicians claiming to be tolerant. Last week, the secretary-general
of the Islamic ‘Prosperous Justice Party’ (PKS) told BosNewsLife that he wanted to reach out to other religions.
Mustafa Kamal even suggested he wanted to end tensions between Muslims and churches. “I remain doubtful when I hear politicians who observe the Koran talking about tolerance,” said Quraisy in a reaction.
He recalled that the NII in which he once served as a commander maintains ties with PKS. “They believe that all non-Muslim believers must be wiped out, especially Christians.”
Despite the difficulties, he believes many Muslims will abandon strict Islam and become Christians. And he claims many more of them turn to faith in Christ than is officially admitted. “We don’t have the exact number. But it could be hundreds of thousands of Muslims annually. I am not the only one who became a Christian.
My dream is to win Indonesia for Christ.”