Afshin always thought Allah was looking over him, protecting him and preparing him to be the next Muslim leader. As a Shiite Muslim, Afshin grew up in a large family — his grandfather had 19 children and 84 grandchildren. From an early age, his grandfather, a leader in their Muslim community in Iran, knew he needed someone to pass their heritage and beliefs down to. When Afshin kept getting out of dangerous situations unscathed, his grandfather thought it was because Muslim leaders in the afterlife were protecting him.
Thinking Afshin was the next great leader, his grandfather gave him extra attention and taught him everything he knew about Islam. When he grew up, Afshin joined Hezbollah, a militant group classified as terrorists by the United States.
“My grandfather sowed this seed in my heart that I should share Islam with the poor, misled Christians that have gone astray,” Afshin said.
Afshin wasn’t exactly living the clean Islam life either — remember that Hezbollah isn’t the most law-abiding group out there — and was caught with more than 30 illegal passports when he tried to enter a different country. He was imprisoned in Malaysia. There he started teaching other prisoners about Islam and reading through the Quran once every 10 days.
One night, when he was reading the Quran in his cell and meditating on the repeated words within the text, Afshin says a spirit suddenly appeared before him. He was scared and tried getting rid of the spirit by using things he had learned in Islam. In the name of Allah, he commanded the spirit to leave. Unsure of who the spirit was, he even tried rebuking Satan. But nothing worked. Instead, he heard a voice telling him to say the name of Jesus.
But Afshin was a Muslim. Talking about Jesus wasn’t really in his wheelhouse. However, explaining he felt the spirit was choking the life out of him, Afshin says he followed the mysterious instructions.
“At that moment, I really, seriously did not give it one second of thought,” Afshin said. “I felt like … I was drowning. A man that is drowning, you throw a rope, and they would never question you about the color of the rope. They would just grab on, and so I did.”
Afshin prayed to Jesus, asking if He was real. Before Afshin could even finish his prayer to Jesus, the spirit left, and everything in his prison cell was quiet again.
Even though Jesus saved him from an evil spirit, Afshin wasn’t ready to believe in Him just yet. He says his rescue wasn’t the moment of his conversion. Instead, it was just the start of his confusion.
Afshin came from a Muslim family. He was raised to be a Muslim leader. He was ready to be a martyr for Islam, even ready to be one of the radical terrorists who kill in the name of Allah. He had participated in hangings, shared Islam with others and everything else he could possibly do in order to be a good Muslim.
More than anything, Afshin couldn’t figure out why Jesus would even try to rescue a Muslim. He prayed and fasted, hoping to figure out the answer.
After two weeks of fasting and prayer, he still wasn’t any closer to an answer. He didn’t know if God existed. And if He did, who was He?
The answer came when Afshin was faced with several realizations about his faith. First, the Quran teaches Muslims that the unforgivable sin is doubting Allah. Afshin had already done that. Second, it teaches that Allah never comes to visit humans. Afshin knew a deity had come to him in that cell. So two things about his faith weren’t adding up.
Afshin knew he was going against everything the Quran taught, so he started crying out to Allah for forgiveness. At that moment, he heard a voice tell him he was forgiven.
But wait, that couldn’t be right. Afshin believed in Allah. Muslims believe they will not know who is forgiven until the day of judgment. That’s why there are no mentions of forgiveness in the Quran — even the prophets don’t know if Allah is pleased with them until the end. So, if Allah wasn’t the one telling Afshin he was forgiven, who was?
Afshin could feel the presence so strongly, so tangibly, that he asked who was forgiving him. That’s when he understood the real answer: Jesus had been there all along.
“I fell on my face and wept because, for many years, I had tried to please God,” Afshin said.
Everything Afshin had been taught was wrong, and he started to feel deceived by everyone in his life. They were the ones who told him about Allah and the Quran all his life, right? That’s when Afshin realized that if God could forgive him, then he could forgive all those who had deceived him.
Afshin was still in prison, but he prayed for a Bible. And a stranger came up to him, Bible in hand, saying, “This is what you asked for.”
As his faith grew, Afshin knew he had to share his story with the other Muslims around him. They had never been taught of a God who forgives, a God who promises eternal life. Since that night, when he finally realized who had been with him all along, Afshin has devoted his life to sharing his testimony to other Muslims.