The following is a translation from Arabic, of an audio lecture delivered by a former Cardinal by the name of Abu Ishaq (Isaac) in the Egyptian Coptic Church. I am indebted to my friend Mustafa Ahrawi for the many hours he spent going through the notes of translation with me and I pray that Allah rewards his efforts.
Abu Ishaq recently reverted to Islam and his tale we feel should be an inspiration to Muslims all over the world. That today whilst most of the Muslim world sleeps, there are people struggling for the sake of Islam in the face of constant danger from our enemies is a tragedy of our time. While the majority of Muslims who can make a difference lie back steeped in their insolence and false sense of security it is people of the calibre of Abu Ishaq and others in his situation that remain on the front lines of Islam. Are we not told in the Quran, "Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their innerselves" (Rad - 13:11)? Then the logical question that follows must be, when is each and everyone of us going to start the process of changing our innerselves? Perhaps by the Grace of Allah and His Mercy stories like the one below, will help each and every one of us in striving for the change of our innerselves.
And Allah Knows Best
Cardinal Abu Ishaq
I was head of the Missionary Coptic Church of West Africa and Asia. I thank God for coming to Islam. I never thought I would ever become Muslim. I was the biggest enemy of Islam. I thank God again for becoming a Muslim.After I had exhausted every avenue to find out the truth and searched high and low and when I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Islam was the truth I became a Muslim.
After I had studied in detail all the books of Christianity, I found the name of the Prophet (Muhammad), peace be upon him (pbuh=SAW) (in the texts), even if it is not by the name Muhammad or Ahmed but by its meaning: Variclete, Al Muazzi (the comforter). But why did I become a Muslim? Did I become a Muslim to obtain wealth?NO! Because I was getting 3000 (Egyptian) salary and from it I was spending 600 on hashish, other drugs and alcohol. Neither did I become a Muslim to marry a beautiful woman, but I became a Muslim because of the purity of Islam and the mercy and forgiveness in Islam. I became a Muslim because I found the truth and I followed it and I recognised falsehood and rejected it.
Since I was a child at school in Said, Egypt; then at Sunday school; then at Koliya Lahut (Jesus College) in Beirut and then whilst I was doing my doctorate in religion at the Faculty of Theology at Cairo University; never was a lesson or lecture taught which didnt in some way denigrate Islam and teach us to have a hatred for it.
We were taught to have two personalities and to accept that Jesus (pbuh) was the lamb and that he forgave all of our sins and that you had to believe he was God, the son of God and that he was all powerful. That God did not separate from the body of Jesus and that he was the ferocious lion who defended the faith of Christianity against the moral degradation and the lies of Islam.
A person should always ask himself (about God) in a faithful and honest way, he should always think very wisely. This is because the knowledge that you may have (about a religion) and the actual truth about it can be very different. Any body who doesnt know about his religion even though he may know about other things is nothing in this life.
Knowledge is connected to the knowledge of God. We dont see Allah (God) but we believe in Him, we never saw Jesus but we have heard of his message and that of all the other Prophets and we did not see Muhammad (SAW) but we heard of his message.
When I started studying the books of the new testament and the stories of illicit relationships within them I found them extremely distasteful. We were told to believe in the Messiah as God and were told not to ask too many questions. I have seen the brothers asking the imam any question they might have, freely and without hindrance, but in the church you arent allowed to ask anything. You have to just listen . In the university they said the same thing dont ask questions just learn. This has always been against my understanding. I always said to them how can I teach other people what I dont understand myself!
When I started to study the New Testament it was one Christmas. And boy what a Christmas it was! Whoever wants to see Christmas should come to Egypt. The lights are turned off in the church at midnight on Christmas day for five minutes signifying that we have not gone into the dark but from darkness into light (as represented by the birth of Jesus(AS)). And during these five minutes the young men and women mix freely in the church. They have no hesitation in mixing freely nor do they respect the fact that they are in a house of God. From the first to the seventh of January numerous rituals take place which make no sense. They bow to the idols at the entrance of the church as everyone coming into the church has to bow. I have seen Muslims doing this too just to join in with the celebrations of Christmas.
One Christmas when I was head of the Abbey of Megirgis, someone came to sacrifice a lamb and he asked for the head of the abbey. I was as was custom surrounded by other priests and so I showed my self and told him I was the head. The man asked my permission to sacrifice a lamb in front of the door of the abbey (where the idol of the saint Megirgis was) because he (The saint Megirgis) had given him Fatima. I asked him who Fatima was.
He replied that she was his daughter and that his wife hadnt been able to have children for 25 yrs until she had come to the abbey and asked saint Megirgis to give her a child. He said that child had been born on the night of Christmas.
And there are many incidents of this sort. And after I heard of such incidents I always wanted to ask some one higher than me either the bishop or the cardinal about the significance of this.
I was born in a Christian village surrounded by other Christian villages, making up a population of nearly 60,000 people amongst which was not one Muslim! My youth was spent as a 100% Christian. I lived in Kufr (disbelief ) and Shirk (associating partners with God).
Whenever we used to go to church they used to remind us to be careful and wary of Muslims. "Dont mix with them", theyd say; "dont eat with them", "be wary of them". I used to say to myself, where are these Muslims that these priests keep telling us to be wary about! There arent any!
It wasnt till I got to high school that I saw my first Muslims. They used to separate the Christians from the Muslims (during classes) and something inside me would always wonder why we were being separated. Whenever I asked the priest this question he said, " be careful of these Muslims otherwise youll never go to heaven and I will take the forgiveness of God away from you". As if heaven was in his hands. As if they have control over whoever goes in and whoever they want to pull out!
Well it was obvious for me to seek out the truth, wherever the truth was, it could be in Judaism, Bhuddism. Idolatry or even if it was in Islam and I had to follow the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). And if I couldnt find the truth I was prepared to be an atheist.
Whenever they would find me sitting with Muslims in school theyd come and separate me from them.
At university, when I brought books by Dr Ibrahim Khalil, a teacher at Lahut (Jesus College), so that I could question him about the views he held in his books, I was told by the priests hed died (actually he had become a Muslim and left).
Everything I read convinced me there was only ONE God. When I discussed this with the other pupils at college, the priests warned me not to discuss these heretical theories that I had with anyone else.
I said to the priests that everything they were teaching me was geared at making me a teacher of the scriptures. I said " how can I teach my pupils in the future if you cant satisfy the questions I have for you. What if they ask me the same questions that Im asking you today?".
I ask you can a teacher of mathematics teach math without knowing his subject? But they would have none of it. They wanted me to be like the Quran says "A donkey carrying books". All I had to do according to them was to forgive those people who wanted to be forgiven and take their money for doing it. According to them that was all that was needed to be done, NO LESS AND NO MORE!
The Pope (of the Coptic Orthodox Church) decided to make me the leader of the missionaries in West Africa. Yet at this time as throughout my life I was still searching for the truth and I wanted to know how to get to it.
I always disbelieved in the crucifixion, it doesnt exist in the Bible, and I knew that well before I read the Quran . There are many other things such as Mannut Al Masih, which I dont know where they came from and which are all man made. I have their books and scriptures with me, I know!
One day the Pope himself sent for me and as I was told by an aide the Saint (a term used for the Pope) had called for me to come and see him but let me tell you hes NO SAINT!
The Pope said, " Were sending you to Alexandria and there are Muslims there that you can talk to (ie convert), and you can meditate there as well". I wondered why he was sending me there? What was I supposed to talk to Muslims about when I didnt know my own religion! Its like a blind man asking another blind man to visually describe an object.
I took the train from Asyut to Cairo. However when I was loved by the Pope I was sent a special car but not this time! Thanks be to Allah that sometimes something comes in your way as an obstacle or a difficulty and it is a blessing which wakes you up. You must realise that everyone recognises someone higher than themselves (i.e a boss etc.), but there is always someone who is higher than them All, THE HIGHEST!
If you bully someone under you, be careful as there will be someone to bully you (ultimately Allah). But what a pity that these things happen far away from the eyes of the people (that they dont realise) but Allah sees all.
When I got to Cairo station I asked for a car (to take me to Alexandria). But I was told that all the cars were being used by the other cardinals. So I went to the bus station and took the number 64 bus.
A young man came on board the bus and was carrying some small books. He proceeded to give them out to the passengers and when it got to my turn he skipped past me and continued. He could see that I was a priest dressed in black (from head to toe in priests clothes), and at the time my heart was black and my life was black!
I called out to the boy and asked for one of the books, and he refused. He said, " these arent for you priest" (in Egypt it is an understood thing that Muslims dont preach to non Muslims and vice versa). Furthermore I had a gold cross on my chest which weighed a quarter of a kilo. But I felt an innate desire for the books in the boys hands. Like someone who is starving and he sees food in someones hands and he goes after it.
The boy would let the people keep the books to read on the journey for a price of two garsh (smallest Egyptian monetary unit), or else they could give them back to him. I persisted with the boy and asked him why he wouldnt give me a book. The boy gathered up his books and ran out of the bus. I swear by Allah, I swear by Allah, I swear by Allah, that I forgot who I was and what I represented.
The boy ran away and I ran after him. The people looked a this comical sight and laughed. By chance the boy stumbled and fell and I caught up with him. I offered him 5 for a book. The boy took the money and he said "I think for that amount you might as well take them all".
I kept the books and made my journey to the Cathedral Abbasiya (in Cairo as he had missed the bus) and went straight to the room for special guests (VIPs). Usually when I was tired I needed to read the Bible and whenever I read the Bible I would sleep quickly. But this time I was going to read these books I thought to myself. I wondered if theyd make me sleep or keep me awake.
What I didnt realise was that inside these books was a cure for me (in my heart). This was the first time I had held an Islamic book in my hand. I proceeded to open it. I opened it on a page which started by quoting a chapter of the Quran. It read:
"SAY THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD. THE ABSOLUTE THE ETERNAL. HE DOES NOT BEGET AND HE IS NOT BEGOTTEN AND THERE IS NOTHING UNTO LIKE HIM!" [114:1-4]
I read it again and again and again. I read it till I had leant it off by heart. It felt so sweet. I felt so peaceful inside.
As I was reading it again and again one of the officials knocked on the door and called out Oh Abu Ishaq. I opened the door and burst out "There is One GOD!". I didnt know what I had said. The official surprised asked what I had said. I replied I didnt say anything!
We went to the car which was going to take me to Alexandria (they had finally found one). I swear by Allah, I swear by Allah that from the time I got into the car till we reached Alexandria, the only thing on my tongue for the 3-4 hour journey was:
"SAY THERE IS ONE GOD. THE ABSOLUTE, THE ETERNAL. HE DOES NOT BEGET AND HE IS NOT BEGOTTEN AND THERE IS NONE UNTO LIKE HIM."
When I reached Alexandria the Cardinal in charge received me in a very pleasant manner. He had been told by the Pope that I had become a mental case as I had begun to ask the wrong type of questions. The Pope had phoned ahead to say that "we seem to have a Muslim inside the church".
They thought of me as a Muslim. But why do they hate Muslims I asked myself, when we are supposed to fall over backwards to preach the Christian message of love! The cardinal went on to say " We want you to be good and to forget al this nonsensical thinking".
On Sunday we went for prayers in the chapel. But the prayers in a church are very different from a mosque. In the mosque, you see, everyone is the same; the Minister of government or the ordinary man, the poor and the rich and this is based on the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW): "An Arab is not better than a non Arab nor a non Arab better than an Arab, everyone is from Adam and Adam was from dust"
In the church the more you pay the more forward you go in the pews. Of course all people in Islam, everyone of us has a burden on his neck (ie everything is written down by the angels), and he is responsible for his/her own sins. But in the church it is a different story, the priest reads for everyone and the rest "stand up or sit down" at his instruction.
If the priest lifts his hand everyone does that, but what the priest says in his reading no one understands. He prays for them, he forgives them and he is everything for them (spiritually) in this life.
When I started my duties at the abbey I sat in the confession box to hear confession. One day a lady came to me to ask for forgiveness. And what did I do, I took what belongs to God for myself. I had my hand (of forgiveness) over the people but I forgot that there was a hand over me. I was forgiving people and I didnt know if I was going to be forgiven. I was giving a fatwa to the people and I didnt know that there is somebody who is in command of the Kingdom of People.
This lady arrived that day to ask forgiveness for having committed adultery 3 times behind her husbands back. So as I always did, I put my cross in her face , blessing her, and she gave me 100. As I withdrew the cross from her face and waited for her to give me the money, my lips stuck together and I couldnt say anything.
As I looked in front of me at the back of her confession chair I saw in a green writing of light:
"SAY THERE IS ONE GOD. THE ABSOLUTE THE ETERNAL. HE DOES NOT BEGET AND
HE IS NOT BEGOTTEN AND THERE IS NOTHING UNTO LIKE HIM"
I noticed she was crying outside and I was crying inside (the partitioned confession box). I was crying, I had been giving forgiveness to someone while I knew I needed to be forgiven.
I went to see the cardinal. But before I could say anything he said "Ive got some good news for you". The people around here have spoken very highly of you and they like you. Im going to ask that you be transferred here permanently from Asyut. He thought that I had probably had those ideas the Pope had talked about because I had led a sheltered lifestyle. The women in Asyut, would be dressed modestly and didnt wear the miniskirts of the women of Alexandria. He had probably thought that these things would convince me to stay and help his abbey grow.
I answered his offer with a question. I said "Id be happy to stay on condition that you can answer this one question I have satisfactorily." He replied in the affirmative. I asked " Cardinal, so many people come to me to ask forgiveness and I forgive them, and I come to you for forgiveness and you forgive me and you go to the pope for forgiveness and he forgives them. But who forgives the Popes sins?"
He said, " youre talking about the Pope, dont you know he is Sinless!". I said " How can that be!", "If prophet Lot is not blemishless and prophet David is not sinless then how can the Pope be sinless? God himself as Jesus was not sinless and yet youre telling me the Pope is sinless?!"
The cardinal went straight to the telephone and told the pope that, "Abu Ishaq is still the same and nothing here has changed his views", implying that the atmosphere of more wealth and loosely clad women had not changed me. The pope gave strict orders to have me imprisoned in the Abbey and to have me tortured.
The comparison of prison to the torture of the church cannot be compared. I can say having undergone it that it is not a thousandth of the punishment that I had to endure in the Abbey for 97 days. As I went into the torture chamber I found 15-20 priests lined up with their staffs in their hands. One of them would beat me with the staff whilst another would spit on me calling me a "church seller" or saying "you sold your church, your people and your mother".
My first punishment after that was that I had to look after the pigs in the Abbey, imprisoned within it and with the pigs. I endured horrendous punishments because I was looking for the truth. They punished me because I was drowning and I wanted to surface for some air.
During the 3 months or so I was in the Abbey they sodomised me with their staffs on at least seven different occasions. They tore at and ripped off my beard with their bare hands. They took out my nails, but in front of the truth even if they had cut me into pieces I would have followed nothing but the truth.
I counted every one of the 97 days and nights. They took me to one of the senior most cardinals there and he said, "My Son have patience, the reward is from God", he continued by saying, " Whoever fears God, God will help him through his hardship" [Quran], he continued by saying, "My son, the truth is the truth". I was amazed to hear these words from the cardinal. I had never heard those words (referring to the verse from the Quran) before in any one of our religious texts. He advised me by saying, "to achieve what you want, dont tell anyone about your true feelings or thoughts". I was so surprised and wondered why he was talking to me like this. He advised me to contact the Pope and to apologise for my past comments and to promise him that I would stop talking about Islam. He said "but son inside you are what you are and no one can change that". He advised me to continue in my duties as a cardinal for the sake of my livelihood and for the sake of my personal safety and security. He said if I did this the pope would reinstate me and things would be fine. But I said NO!
I said to him that I couldnt do any more of the prayers. However I suggested that I was willing to be his aide. I said to him that at every prayer, the cardinal had to have an aide, the Pope had 13 aides to help him pray and I was willing to be one of his personal aides. The cardinal agreed and told me to join him for Friday prayers.
Did you ever wonder why every Christian denomination around the world prays on a Sunday which is the Christian day of prayer but how our Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church prays on a Friday. The reason is so that it will disturb the Muslims when they are praying their Friday prayer (ie when the Bells are rung out).
On Friday as agreed I went to the priests private quarters to help him arrange for the prayers. I knocked on the door 3 times. The rule was that we would knock once and each time we would wait for a reply for a while. If after the third knock no one answered we were to go in, in case the person inside was ill or had, had any other misfortune. After the third knock when I entered I saw the cardinal praying. But do you know what? He was praying as a Muslim prays! And Allah is a witness to what I am saying today - he was praying as a Muslim prays! I stood amazed and shocked, as I saw him reading from a nearby Quran which he was using to read from in his Salah (prayer).
I quickly turned round to see if anyone else was coming. I feared that if he was found out he would be thrown to the lions. Let me tell you about the lions. In the abbey we had 26 lions that had been specially imported from America. These lions are there to keep the cardinals and priests in line.
If they find someone has committed a heretical abomination they tie the hands of the culprit and slowly lower him into the den where they have been kept hungry for 2-3 days. The culprit is alive when he is lowered and he is slowly eaten piece by piece by the lions.
One of the priests came to ask about the cardinal and I said he was busy doing something. So the priest asked me to come and lead the prayers. I thought to myself "why should I go and pray when Ive seen my cardinal praying as a Muslim!" Finally the cardinal lead the prayers himself and asked me to keep his secret.
He said to me, "O Son listen to me!", he was also the person who gave me my name Ibrahim. He said " I have kept this secret for 23 years and have been a Muslim for this length of time. I am now 65 years old and for 23 years I have been in the company of the Quran. My only companion has been Ar Rahman (The Merciful = God)."
During my time with him he told me of the meetings he had attended and the plans of the World Council of Churches. Their main aims are as follows:
 To finish off Islam and destroy the Muslims
 To finish off the Quran
 To keep the Arabs and especially the Muslims in the Sub Continent away from the thresholds of technology and progress
 To bring down by any means any Muslim leader who is thought to be a strong Muslim or who may have a strong Muslim influence and to put in their place weak willed Muslims.
I am today telling you all this. They are trying to find any means which is possible to destroy Islam and the Muslims. And I have no hesitancy in saying this and I will continue to say it even if they cut me into small pieces, as today I am by the grace of Allah a Muslim. If I die, I will die as a Shaheed (Martyr), and I fear no one but Allah, no one!
The orthodox faith does not believe in black dress for its priests except for the Coptic church. Do you know why? All the Catholics wear white or red but the Copts wear black. There is a secret in dressing in black from head to toe which only the church knows. Let me tell you.
When the Muslims opened up Egypt, the Pope of Alexandria at the time Pope Marcus said, "they came here to help us against the Europeans and not to occupy our land as occupiers. So we will only be happy once again, and take off our black robes if we throw them out (referring to the Muslims)." And you can see for yourself that the priests dress in black outside but when theyre inside their church they dress in white.
Some time later the Pope sent me to Omdurman in Sudan as head of a Missionary team. Once there we were brought 35 people to baptise as Christians and I did so. By orders of the Church we gave each of them 35,000 (Egyptian). This was a stupendous amount of money for each of them, and we had an ample supply of money coming in for our missionary work from our branches in the United States and Canada. This money comes from the Universal church to the Egyptian church directly. At the time 1(Egyp) (Sudanese).
I contacted the Pope and told him I had performed the Baptism and they were now Christians. I was instructed to bring them back with me up the Nile by boat, so that they could be "brain washed". He told me that it was our job to collect money from the Muslims and to use it to make the Muslims, Christians. He said that this was one of our goals.
As we were in the ship travelling up the Nile, I went out of my cabin to check how they were doing. I went into the cabin of one of the new converts and to my surprise I found him praying as a Muslim prays. I had given this young man 35000, which had made him a millionaire in Sudan and I saw him still not behaving as I would have expected a Christian to behave. I left the cabin and told one of my aides to call the young man in question to my cabin. I must say at this point that Praise be to Allah, that in my 47 yrs in Egypt, I havent met one Muslim who wanted to become a Christian. However due to Allahs grace and mercy, ten people become Muslims through Al Azhar University (in Cairo) alone, every day.
I called the young man in and said to him " son didnt you become a Christian?" He replied, "yes I took 35000, but I sold you myself and my body, not my heart and soul! My heart will always remain in the belief of La Ila Ha Ilalla Muhammad Ar Rasool UllAh (That there is no God But Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger)." He continued by saying that we Christians had the money and he used it to help his family but that he would remain a Muslim. He said " Here I am, you have my body, you can throw me in the Nile, kill me but you cannot stop me from worshipping Ar Rahman (The Most Gracious = God)."
After all that had happened to me I decided there and then that I wanted to be a Muslim, to worship the One GOD, the Maker of the day and of the night. At that time when we were on the Nile, I started to pray as a Muslim. I thank Allah for helping me see the Truth!
To those who are Christian, I say go back to God and believe that there is One God, Allah. Come back to the true book of God, The Quran. And I say to the Muslims, keep hold of your religion and I warn you that the day is coming (for conflict), progress fast in technology and be united.
I swear by Allah, your brothers and sisters who became Muslims in Egypt dont find food to eat. The Christians go and eat heartily, billing it to the Ministry of Interior (ie get free food).
All Praise is due to Allah the Lord and Master of the Worlds.
Peace Be Upon You All.