Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (St Paul to Romans 8:35).
– Testimony of former muslim Imam – Moulavi Sulaiman – now Mario Joseph – in his own words
I was born into a traditional Muslim family. Therefore all the religious observations were strictly followed in our family. My father is naturally serious. And he insisted on everybody being strict with all religious observations. My forefathers were Turks. My paternal grandfather had come from Turkey to Vayanad. I very much wanted to go to a normal school for my studies. I even tried to be very stubborn and insistent on this point. But all my requests and demands were mercilessly rejected by my father, who was a military man.
Enrolled into an Arabic school at eight
My father had some definite plans in his head. My mind was a virtual cauldron boiling with hatred and resentment. I felt I was being neglected. I felt lonely and neglected in the family. A solitary figure in the crowd! When my elder brothers were reading their books, I used to go and sit amongst them, watching them eagerly. Sometimes I even ventured behind the classrooms where my brothers studied. I had a real desire to know what was taught and how it was taught. But I felt highly resentful against those who prevented me from pursuing an educational career. These bitter childhood experiences had bruised and lacerated my tender mind. But I was able to suffer silently without making any sort of complaint to anybody. I often sat alone and wept. I was now eight. My father told me that he would enroll me in an Arabic School. It was time for me to go the Arabic School.
I felt a burning sensation in my heart. On the eve of my going away to the Arabic school, there was a big feast and celebrations in my house. I saw my mother preparing the box to be taken by me to my new place. She looked at me occasionally and I see her sighing. I saw her wiping away her tears. My younger sisters were not big enough to understand the implications of my going away. My brothers were enjoying the party. My father looked quite indifferent and there wasn’t any indication of any sadness on his face. Maybe he was suppressing his feelings. I was sitting alone and one of my younger sisters came to me and asked me in her peculiarly childish dialect, Brother, are you going away, leaving all of us behind? I did not answer her. I flashed a smile at her and made her sit by my side. I knew I was going to the Arabic School. But I just did not know why.
I was like a puppet that was duty-bound to obey the instructions of all without questioning. In the night I cried for a long time. I had some cat naps in between by bitter crying. When I woke up, my mother saw my reddish sleepy eyes and called me pathetically, Suleiman…, silence followed. Then I asked her where I am being sent. The moment she heard my question she started crying.
I ventured no more questions when I saw her in tears. Only a little time is left. I am now ready to go. They made me wear a white cloth, a white shirt and a white cap. Tears were profusely flowing from my eyes. I looked at the faces of my elder brothers. They looked indifferent to the whole thing as I could not read any emotions on their faces. I looked at my younger sisters. On their faces I could see some silent sorrow. Some of them were feeling a sense of loss. Najuma, my small sister, was affected most. My younger brother came to me and gave me a kiss on my cheek. My father took the box prepared for me and began to walk. I could now see some kind of sorrow on his face. I looked only once at my crying mother. For the first time in my life I knew the depth of love. I realized that we learn about the depth of our love when somebody departs from us. Thus, I started my walk into a new life without knowing where to and why.
Nobody had told me why I was sent to the Arabic School when I was only eight. I came to know the reason much later. When I was in the womb of my mother, some problems developed in the uterus. Doctors attending on her said the child would die. Then my mother pledged that if she had a normal baby, she would make him a Muslim priest. It was this pledge that made me go to the Arabic School at the age of 8, and become a Maulavi at the age of 18. In those days I was angry with everybody. Today I regret it.
Jesus Christ had other plans for Suleiman
Becoming a Moulavi was part of the divine scheme for me. Today I realize that my position as a Moulavi enabled me to meet and recognize Jesus. If I hadnt become a Moulavi, I would probably have never known deeply about Christ. Nothing happens in life without a reason. The search for God which I began with the Arabic School led me to the Bible College at Divine Retreat Centre, Kerala, India. Now I know the truth: Jesus is my Lord and Saviour. The Shepherd was leading me on. He made me lie down in the green pastures and led me to the still waters (Psalm 23:2).
When I look back today, the disease of my mother and her pledge weren’t accidental events. They were all part of the Shepherds plan for me. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). I don’t want to hide anything.
It has been 9 years since I accepted Christ. Many people persuaded me to write about the hard paths I tread, the bitter experiences I had, the oppositions I had to face and the losses I sustained. My mind also was prompting me to write, but till now I could not do it. I was afraid of some people. Today when I think of my cowardice, I feel ashamed.
Whom did I fear?
Why did I fear?
Was I afraid of the powers of this world?
Was I afraid of losing my mortal life?
Today I am not afraid of anybody. I do not complain about anybody. If God is for us who is against us? (Rom 8:31).
The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me? (Heb 13:6).
I haven’t done any harm to anybody intentionally. Because of some convictions and insights I received personally, I follow a faith with complete free will.
Is there anything wrong in it?
I am sorry if my faith and my present life style gives distress to some people. I beg their pardon. But I am not willing to hide the truth. By writing all this, I am being just to my friends who have been goading me to write about my experiences. I am also following the dictates of my mind. All the steps I ascended were part of the guidance I received from my Shepherd. My heart has been inextricably knotted with some enticing thread of divine love.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom 8:35).
My good Lord allowed me to be born in this world. He made a beautiful plan for me. Now he is waiting for my heart and soul to grow in his love. He must have his schemes for me, how should I grow, what should I study, what job I must take up, how I should live and so on. I know the plans I have for you plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11). The good Lord has beautiful dreams about us. He also has the paternal anxieties about us. God is waiting to give us the everlasting gift. At least once think of that God who always thinks of us and dreams about us.
Accessed on June 30th 2012