Salah a modern martyr
You may recall seeing an amazing story of a heroic Muslim as told on several world news channels about a Muslim, Salah Farah, who courageously stood in the way as Islamist militants stormed his bus in Kenya, refusing their demands to split from Christian passengers and instead taking a bullet that later killed him. Salah confronted gun-slinging terrorists bent on killing all the Christians who were travelling on the bus going to Nairobi on the 17th of December 2015. However, it was only when he died a month later that BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera felt his story was newsworthy. They praised Salah as a heroic “Muslim,” but what was it that really inspired him to be so brave?
Salah had been a Muslim most of his life but shortly before the attack he came to believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. If you want to know the real story behind the headline news read this article. It will be interesting to see whether the mainstream media will publish Salah’s story, considering the overwhelming undeniable proof that has come to light showing he had decided to follow the Lord Jesus Christ just a few days before the attack.
Everyone assumed Salah was Muslim because he had been a Muslim all his life. Even when the President of Kenya conferred on Salah the highest award for bravery – five weeks after he died – Salah was still being acclaimed as a Muslim. However, not long after his death various clues began surfacing, which reveal there was something else that inspired him to be so courageous.
A few days before the attack Salah had finished reading a book, God’s Apprentice, by Keith Doctor, which explains what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. As Salah journeyed on the bus with his friend Bursa, he told him about the impact this book had on him. Bursa later recalled how Salah shared with him how Jesus courageously stood up for the weak and the oppressed.
Why was Salah so brave?
Several days after the hijacking, Bursa received a cartoon-style tract on his phone from Salah who was in hospital. Bursa saved it on his phone but only remembered to look at it after Salah had died. He read the story as told in the captions on the cartoon style poster. He then phoned the number at the bottom of the page to find out more. This is how he met Joe*. They discussed many things including that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour. Bursa’s earlier conversation with Salah on the bus had warmed his heart to Jesus. Now he was ready to make a commitment and five days later he was baptised. Having been a friend of Salah, it did not take Bursa long to make a plan with Joe to visit Salah’s widow and five children. During their two-day visit, Joe and Bursa received a large unexpected sum of money as a gift via MPESA (telephonic transfer), which they gladly gave to Mrs Farah who was struggling to cope both emotionally and financially with the loss of her husband.
Friends of Salah
One memory she shared with these two Christian brothers involved a discussion Salah had with relatives the last evening before he left for Nairobi. He told them some new things he was learning about Jesus from a book that had deeply impressed him. The relatives suspected he was becoming a Christian and the conversation became very heated leading to a loud argument, when Salah even dared to show them the book. After they left he penned a handwritten note on page seven1 which reads in English, “Jesus you’re my Saviour, I never knew but now I know. I’ll follow you; let them kill me, I don’t care, I’ll follow you.”
Over the next few weeks local Islamists invited Salah’s widow to join them in a fund raising project under the name “friends of Salah.” She didn’t trust them but they kept on pushing their scheme and even published a photo on twitter “#herosalah” purportedly showing Mrs Farah receiving a cheque for 10,000 shillings. (Joe assures us this photo is not Mrs Farah.)
Persecuted for the Truth
Angered by her unwillingness to co-operate, the Islamists came to her home looking for the book that they heard her husband had read. She could not read English so she had already given it away to Joe and Bursa. The Islamists refused to believe her explanation and forcefully ransacked her home hoping to find it. They were unable to find the book, but they did find nearly 17,000 shillings, which they stole.
Shortly after Bursa returned to his hometown, he was murdered, along with one other person who was showing an interest in hearing from Joe about Jesus. A sceptical reader may suggest that this story could have been fabricated, especially if one is disinclined to accept that Salah believed in Jesus Christ. One could argue, for example, that Bursa is now dead so a key eyewitness is missing. However, there are still two pieces of evidence: 1) the handwritten statement by Salah on page seven. Also Joe talked on the phone with Salah shortly before Salah boarded the bus. He told Joe that he had finished reading God’s Apprentice three days earlier.
Salah – A true hero
Furthermore, Bursa’s conversion was not the only “ripple” effect from Salah’s testimony, Abdul’s* story is yet another ripple. Abdul, who lives in a town not far from Salah, saw the news story telling how he courageously shielded Christians from being killed. He asked himself, “Why was Salah so brave?” Abdul became even more curious when, a month later, he heard that Salah had died from gunshots fired by the terrorists. Abdul explains how this question “wouldn’t leave my mind. My concern was just to know what triggered Salah to do that? At the time I might have assumed that Salah did it out of compassion for others as a human being, but whenever I related it to the Islamic dogma, I’d always suspect that there must be a special reason why he did what he did. But I couldn’t fathom what might have been in Salah’s mind. I wished he could have been alive so I could look him up and ask him personally why he did it!” Not long after these questions began weighing heavily on his mind, Abdul read a poster nailed to a tree, titled, Salah: A Hero and phoned the number at the bottom. This is how he met two Christian evangelists who explained that Jesus was the one who inspired Salah.
Until now (June 2016) Salah's inspirational and intriguing story has been instrumental in helping six Muslims discover Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Undoubtedly his legacy will impact many more. A 64 page cartoon style book telling Salah's story in colour can be purchased and downloaded here: www.storiesofthemartyrs.org/ I encourage you to check it out, even if only to preview several pages of the book which the publisher has freely made available. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Will you “make the most of the opportunity” by engaging your Muslim friend in a “seasoned with salt” conversation about Salah? (Colossians 4:4-6, NIV)
Some well-intentioned Christians may want to introduce the punch-line early, but in keeping with how a mystery story unfolds, one needs to explore the clues sequentially and thus allow the story to unfold naturally. Another article titled, Muslim risks his life shielding Christians from terrorists, provides some additional insights using this investigative approach.
The book, God's Apprentice, which was the turning point in Salah's spiritual journey, is available in kindle format. You can buy it here.
Bible quotations are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.
If you want to know how Salah's wife and five children are being cared for by Christians be sure to read the final appendix. If you have any other questions email me here.
* Not his real name.
1 Salah's confession in his own Somali handwriting reads as follows (in English), “Jesus you’re my Saviour, I never knew but now I know. I’ll follow you; let them kill me, I don’t care, I’ll follow you.” A scanned image of Salah's handwritten testimony is available. Simply write to me.
Earlier I asked whether the mainstream media will ever publish the real story behind the story. Will they explain that Jesus is the reason why Salah was so brave? Frankly it would take a miracle for this to happen, knowing journalistic protocol and how political correctness determines which stories are deemed newsworthy. Moreover, stories involving persecution of Christians by Muslims are “scandalously” under-reported, to quote Salim Mansur, a Muslim and long-time professor of political science at University of Western Ontario.
How to Season your Conversation Using an Eye-Catching News Story
Colossians 4:2-6 tells us to be full of grace as we meet unbelievers in our daily lives. We ought to engage them in seasoned-with-salt conversations that raise questions which can open doors to share the truth in love.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (NIV)
What does it mean to season our conversation with salt? Christ showed one way of doing this as seen in Luke chapter 13 verse one; About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.”
Notice how Jesus responded to someone's comment about a tragic event which had just happened and was now the talk of the town. Today we call this a headline news story. Interestingly, Christ responded by mentioning another tragic event. “And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?” By making his point with a relevant news story, Jesus held the attention of his listeners. But more importantly, it underscored their need to repent.
How can we use headline news stories, like Christ did, as an illustration or bridge for sharing the Gospel?
Shortly after the terrorist attack in Brussels, CBC published an article expressing deep concern at the rising number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Canada. It noted how bystanders often stay silent and concluded by suggesting ways that Canadians can respond appropriately when we hear someone make prejudicial or hateful remarks against Muslims. The article cited an anti-racism campaign in Australia and suggested that “backing the victim up doesn't have to involve confrontation. You could just sit or stand next to the victim or simply ask if they're ok and if they need help”.
As helpful as these suggestions are, they pale in comparison to a recent story that appeared on CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera telling how a “Muslim” intervened and saved many people when terrorists attacked a bus intending to slaughter all the Christian passengers. Salah Farah's defiant act infuriated the attackers, so they shot him. He was flown to a hospital where he died a month later. Nine weeks later this story appeared again on international news when the President of Kenya conferred on Salah the highest award for bravery posthumously.
It wasn't difficult for me to broach this topic with my friend Ishmael and engage him in an intriguing conversation. I started by asking:
“Do you watch the news very often?”
“Yes,” Ishmael replied, “quite often.”
“Did you happen to see the story of a Muslim who was on a bus that was hijacked by Al Shabab terrorists? He bravely shielded the Christians and rescued them from being slaughtered.”
“No, I didn't hear that story.”
“This heroic act was highlighted on BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera, telling how the terrorists were infuriated by Salah's action and shot him. He died a month later from the wounds.” I commented on Salah's incredible bravery, “It makes you wonder if this was the normal way he acted or was there something else that inspired him?”
This sparked Ishmael’s curiosity, so I told him about an email I received from a friend who lives in Kenya not far from where the attack happened. The letter explained why Salah was so brave. Three days before the attack he had read a book, God's Apprentice by Keith Doctor. Salah told a friend who was sitting next to him on the bus that he was deeply impressed seeing how Christ courageously stood up for the weak and oppressed.
It so happened my discussion with Ishmael was near the end of my visit, so I didn't have time to tell the full story. However, Ishmael promised to send me his email address so that we could continue this conversation.
I pray that many ordinary Christians will take the time to become familiar with Salah's story and consider how they, too, can point people to Jesus based on the insights drawn from Colossians 4 and Luke 13. May Salah's bravery inspire many Christians to be unashamed of the Gospel. May we overcome our timidity and fear of Muslims, for God has given us a spirit of power, love, and self discipline. (2 Tim 1:7)
What has happened to Salah's family?
We mentioned earlier that Mrs Farah was defrauded by neighbors of large sums of money raised via the #herosalah campaign. Then an Islamist neighbor stole 17,000 shillings from her while ransacking her home looking for the book that her husband cherished. Having endured these painful experiences, she decided to move far away to a safer home with the help of Christians. This secret undertaking was very complicated, dangerous and costly but God answered prayer and we are deeply grateful for the miraculous way he rescued her.
However, before arriving safely at her new home, the story took an amazing twist. We learned that the neighbor who had robbed and persecuted her so mercilessly was tortured and murdered by fellow Islamists.
Here's how it happened. When Mrs Farah mysteriously “disappeared” on May 1st some Islamists who were behind the twitter money making scheme and had been trusting her neighbor Mr. XXX to keep a close eye on her became very worried. They feared that Mr. XXX had taken Mrs Farah and hidden her away, intending to reveal her at the last minute when the President of Kenya was to visit the area. (He had promised to come and meet Salah Farah's widow to give her a gift in honor of her husband's heroic bravery.) Mr. XXX's fellow Islamists became convinced that he intended to subvert their scheme by bringing out the real wife just as they were about to present their (fake) widow to the President. Infuriated by this, they tortured him seeking to find out where he had hidden her and eventually they killed him.
This explains how the neighbor who persecuted her so harshly died, at the hands of his own fellow Islamists. This is a terrible way to end one's life, nevertheless, it is in keeping with how Scripture says God metes out justice to those who mercilessly oppress vulnerable widows. At the same time it magnifies our appreciation and praise for the awesome power God shows in rescuing a widow and her children. This amazing rescue reminds us of Isaiah 49:24-26 where God says, “your children I will save” from tyrannical oppressors. “Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce? I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine.” Notice the positive impact of God's judgement against such evil oppressors, “Then all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (bold font added for emphasis)
Can you think of a more fitting and God-honoring way to conclude these verses? An article titled, God our Savior, Redeemer, explains how relevant this passage is to our times. Over the last 15 years the world has seen an unprecedented resurgence of various Jihadist groups around the world brutally murdering non-Muslims but also killing countless fellow Muslims. The resulting exodus of millions of refugees fleeing from violent, chaotic conditions in majority Muslim nations is contributing to many Muslims becoming disillusioned with Islam. Indeed, more Muslims are turning to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior than we have ever seen!
Is thirty five dollars too much to ask for a 64 page book?
Salah paid a high price for following Christ, so we should not be shocked at having to pay a high price for a book that tells his story so beautifully in pictures. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The artist who worked hard illustrating Salah's story has dedicated it in honor of Salah. The funds received will go towards supporting his widow and children. By purchasing this book you will not only receive a dynamic, seasoned-with-salt testimonial for sharing the Gospel with Muslims, you will also help Salah's family. Bear in mind they are very poor. Also they were deprived of a $39,000 gift which the President of Kenya recently donated in honor of Salah. As explained earlier, this honorarium was usurped by an imposter who pretended to be Salah's wife in collaboration with fraudulent schemers.
Finally, by purchasing this book and sharing it with a Muslim friend you can be part of the ongoing legacy of Salah's witness. As far as we know, six Muslims have, so far, become followers of Jesus Christ after being intrigued to know why Salah was so brave.