I grew up as a Muslim in a Muslim country, and my religion was very important to me. After my first degree, I came to the U.S. to go to graduate school. Beginning graduate students took many of the same courses together their first year. I befriended an American graduate student from my classes, and we got along well. I had a birthday early in the semester, and my friend found out about it and gave me a small New Testament as a present. At first, I was taken a back. I didn't pick up the book for a week. I was too afraid to touch it. But as I thought about it, I considered myself to be a strong enough Muslim to read the book.
I started with the Gospel of Mark. My friend had recommended it because it was the shortest one. As I read further, many things struck me about the life of Jesus, but the biggest thing that influenced me were the verses Jesus spoke in Matthew 23:25-26. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."
What surprised me was that these ideas had been taught to me by my parents while I was growing up. They had a strong dislike for hypocrisy in religion, for people whose religion was only external and for show, but inside they were selfish and proud. They taught me that real Islam was in the heart and not just a set of rituals on the outside. When I saw that Jesus said the same thing as my parents had taught me, I recognized his authority over my life and that what he said was true. About a month later, I prayed for salvation through Jesus.
My family was furious with me when I told them I had become a Christian, and their displeasure with me has been the most painful thing I have endured in my new faith. I had had a very close relationship with my family, especially my mother, and there have been days when I thought about leaving my Christian faith just to restore my relationship with her. But I have no doubts about Jesus and am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn the truth about him from the Bible.