How Dinner with a Jihadi Changed My View of Missions by RACHEL COHEN

Growing up in post 9/11 America, I believed no greater enemy existed than a terrorist waging war on the Western world. So you might imagine how, um, surprised and paralyzed I felt when I found myself in South Asia eating dinner with a jihadi.

Well, he used to be.

During our group’s light dinner conversation, Joseph*, a Christian from a Muslim family and strong partner in local ministry, casually let out a sentence that started with, “When I was training for jihad . . . .”

I froze mid-chew, convinced I misunderstood him due to my weak comprehension of the Hindi language he spoke. Sensing my bewilderment, he chuckled and started in on his story.

A Jihadi in Training

Joseph loved Allah, but he feared him more than anything. From a young age he was taught that everyone is a sinner deserving of no forgiveness. He could see the filth in his own heart, and he wept over it. He always knew he was destined for hell.

Not that he didn’t try to earn his way out of it. Joseph adopted the traditional dress for Muslims in his community—long, white kurta and baggy pants—and grew his beard. He filled his vocabulary with eloquent, pious words that demonstrated how devout he was.

He was also taught that it’s a Muslim’s duty to wage war against the unbeliever—Hindus, Jews, and especially Christians. A hatred for these enemies took root, and he decided to do his part in the fight against them.

When he looked at the life of Jesus and the life of the prophet he once followed, he recognized glaring differences and knew his old religious practice was lacking.

He joined a ragtag group of Muslims, and they began to train for jihad. They devoted themselves to extra morning prayers and to preaching verses from the Qur’an that promoted their cause. He occasionally got into skirmishes with unbelievers because of a perceived offense committed against Allah.

A Profession of Faith Calls for a Deadly Mission

When Indian Christian missionaries rolled into town to host tent meeting revivals, Joseph’s group of jihadis planned to attend—not to hear more about Jesus but to debate and hopefully convert attendees to Islam. Their plan backfired when one of their friends decided to follow Jesus.

Although Joseph was also stirred by what he heard from these missionaries, he pleaded with this brother to leave this blasphemous religion. The man refused, and the time for jihad had come. Joseph’s leader paid him a large sum of money to kill the traitor. He set out on his assignment, armed with a foot-long knife. But he was stopped on his way by a friend who convinced him to spare the man.

Looking up from Rock Bottom

Meanwhile, Joseph was starting to grow weary of defending something that made him a hate-filled man, frightened by death and judgment before Allah. He had no peace, security, or even a true community. When another friend, David,* also became a Christian, Joseph’s confidence in his religion deteriorated all the more…

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