A Pakistani convert to Christianity who nearly blew herself up in the name of Allah says a spiritual journey that began with a dream transformed her from being a jihadi-minded teen into a devout Christian who's making disciples for Christ.
Born in 1982 to strict Muslim parents in a 97 percent majority Muslim nation, one of the things Esther (a pseudonym used for security purposes) ever wanted was for her father to accept her. But that acceptance never came.
Even though she did well in school, Esther and other women in her community were not allowed to pursue a high school education unless they had approval from their fathers or closest male relatives.
But the only way Esther’s father would approve of her going to school was if she agreed to join a socially conservative Islamic political organization whose goal is to turn Pakistan into an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law.
That organization, which her father had joined about three years earlier, is Jamaat e-Islami.
“When I first joined, they taught us to do everything Allah commands you. One day … they said whoever will give his or her life for Allah, Allah will repay that fully and also their parents will get into Heaven,” Esther told The Christian Post in a phone interview.
“My intentions were to make my father happy because he didn’t accept me. I thought, this way, I could show my father that because of a girl, he will get to Heaven. That is why I raised my hand to be a volunteer to go for Jihad.”
Although Esther was set on being a suicide bomber, killing herself and murdering a few Jews or Christians all to please Allah, as she recounts in her new book Defying Jihad, a dream completely altered the trajectory of her life.
Since the book’s release on June 2, it has become the No. 1 new release on Amazon’s religious intolerance list. The book comes not long after Pakistan was ranked as the fifth worst persecutor of Christians in the world, according to Open Doors USA's 2019 World Watch List.
When Esther joined Jamaat e-Islami in high school, she told CP that she believed at the time the organization was out to do good in the world through its social work and providing education to those who can’t afford to go to school.
But as she got more involved in the organization, Esther said her eyes were opened to the reality of what Jamaat e-Islami was out to accomplish.
“Whenever they were teaching, they always say Christians are the enemy and Jews are our enemy,” Esther recalled. “So we have to make this Earth clean by killing them or make them give tax or make sure they accept Islam.”
While Jamaat e-Islami won't admit that they have an affiliation to terrorist entities, Esther was adamant that the group does have ties to terrorists.
“They support them and do all kinds of stuff,” she asserted.
When Esther went home to tell her parents that she had volunteered to go for “jihad,” her parents were happy to hear the news that their teenage daughter was going to kill herself for the glory of Allah.
Esther said her parents told her that everyone is going to die someday and the way she would be dying is considered a “privilege.”
The light man
But about two days before Esther was set to go on her suicide mission, she had a dream where she sat in a dark graveyard. The dream came after she fell asleep during her early-morning Muslim prayer.
“I was in a graveyard. Everywhere was darkness. I was looking for a way out of the darkness. … As I was looking to come out from that graveyard, I saw a light appear,” she recounted. “And the light has arms, hands and face. I asked, ‘Is this a man made of light?’ I have never seen a man made of light. If it is an angel, there should be wings behind it. But there are no wings, just a man made of light.”
Esther said she called out to the light man, who responded with the words: “come and follow me.”
However, Esther told the man that she didn’t want to follow. At that point, the light man called out: “Esther, come and follow me.” Esther again refused, and for a third time the light called: “My daughter, come and follow me.”
“It was like, He had a connection with my thoughts. He started to walk. As he started walk, all the bushes and stones were moved off the path,” Esther said.
“I saw the light he made on the path. I started to follow the path. He stopped at one grave and he said to someone who was dead. He said, ‘Come out.’ And the person came out. I said, ‘Who are you giving life to dead people? He said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’ These words, I never heard in all of my life. I said please help me to come out from this graveyard.”
Esther said she was then brought into an “amazing place” with a golden wall and tons of natural light. At that point of the dream, she woke up.
“I couldn’t sleep afterward. I was thinking about who was the light man and why did he call me Esther?” she asked. “Why did he say I am the way and the truth and the life. Why didn’t he call me by my name?”
She told a classmate at school about her dream the next day. The classmate turned out to be Christian but Esther refused to accept prayer from her. Growing up in Pakistan, Esther was taught that Christians and Jews are “infidels” and that she was not to mingle with them.
The next day, the classmate gave Esther an audio cassette and two books. One book was the Gospel of John and the tape featured a reading of the four Gospels. Esther destroyed the materials.
On the third day after her dream, Esther met a Christian man named John when she took her mother to the hospital for a checkup.
When John didn’t greet her with the traditional Muslim greeting, she found out that he was a Christian. She asked him why he wasn’t a Muslim.
“He asked if Islam could give you salvation. I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I think you didn’t read your Quran,’” Esther recalled. “He said, 'Did you read in Quran where Allah said to Muhammad to say to your followers, ‘I don’t know what will happen with me and what will happen with all of you.’”
Esther said she thought that John had created his own version of the Quran to lead her astray. So she went home to look up that surah in her own Quran. But John was proven right by her own Quran, she said.
“I thought that if the leader didn’t know what will happen with him, what about the followers?” Esther said. “This was the point when I went back and started reading the Bible with John.”
When she learned about Esther in the Old Testament, she asked John to interpret her dream with the light man.
“He said Joseph had a dream and that dream has meanings,” Esther explained. “Similarly, God gave me the dream. John said, ‘You are not here because of my effort. You are here because of God’s plan.’ He opened the book to John 14:6: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’”
At that point, Esther was reduced to tears.
“I was such a bad girl and God came to save my life,” she said. “I was going to kill His people but He came to save my life and my soul too.”
Esther said that she lived as a Christian secretly for a few months until her parents wanted her to marry a man of their choosing. But she refused and told her mother that she wanted to marry a Christian man.
After telling her mother about her new faith, Esther said her mother beat her. Esther's mother waited a few months before telling her more radical father. After the father was informed, he told people at the mosque about his daughter’s new faith.
At that point, Esther said people had gathered to kill her.
“Every day, I was thinking that today was my last day then I will be in Heaven with the Lord,” she said.
Esther said she even participated in debates with Muslim scholars at her house. She boasted that none of the scholars could stump her because she was just a vessel through which God was speaking.
Esther eventually married John, but the couple was forced to go into hiding because her father felt so dishonored that he spent much of his time and effort trying to find and kill the couple.
After two years on the run in Pakistan, the couple and their daughter escaped as asylum seekers to Malaysia.
Along with Sri Lanka and Thailand, Malaysia is a popular destination for Pakistani immigrants fleeing persecution.
The family spent about eight years in Malaysia where they were accepted as refugees.
In Kuala Lumpur, the couple served with one of the megachurches there to evangelize to non-Christians.
“We were just telling the truth through their own books, just like John used the Quran to tell me the truth,” Esther explained, adding that the couple has helped bring 10 Muslims and one Sikh to Christ during that time.
In 2016, Esther and John were given the approval to resettle in the United States, where they were eventually given green cards.
In the U.S., the couple serves a mission-sending agency called Globe International to evangelize to non-Christians settling in the U.S.
“We are working with international communities from Morocco, Iran and Iraq. We are working among migrants, refugees and students who are here to study,” she said. “We invite them to our home and we host them. We prepare meals for them. We let them see that we care for them. We are trying to make a bridge for them.”