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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

How One Church Inspired a Jihadist

I do not know how Sayyid wound up at a church in Greeley, Colorado. Perhaps someone from Colorado State Teachers College,[i] where he was studying, invited him. What I do know is that this event had a major impact on his life.

Sayyid was 42 years of age. He had already lived an exemplary life in Egypt, where he worked in the Ministry of Education. The government provided him a scholarship to spend two years studying educational curricula in the United States. That’s how he found himself at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, lonely and lost in a foreign culture.

Sayyid had memorized the Qur’an as a boy but had grown up with a restlessness that caused him to ponder the meaning of life and death. He was curious, with a mystical bent that motivated him to write several volumes of poetry. He was also a moralist who tended to shy away from Western influences. He published a comparative study of the Qur’an and the New Testament in which he argued that European society was little affected by Christian thinking while Egyptian thought and law were greatly affected by the Qur’an and Islamic law.

Now Sayyid was in America, able to see for himself whether or not his preconceptions were right. The event that had the greatest impact on him occurred at the church in Greeley. He attended an evening service followed by a social event for the young people next to the “prayer hall.” The pastor chose the music and the dancing began. “They danced to the tunes of the gramophone, and the dance floor was replete with tapping feet, enticing legs, arms wrapped around waists, lips pressed to lips, and chests pressed to chests. The atmosphere was full of desire . . .”[ii]

What a shame that Sayyid didn’t have a Christian friend, someone to go with him to church, to talk with him about what he was observing in the United States, to exchange thoughts about Christianity and Islam and their impact on morals, daily life, and culture. Most tragic, apparently no one ever showed him what real Christianity looks like. Sayyid returned to Egypt with powerful impressions of America filled with violent games like football, primitive music, severe racial discrimination, and obsessions with sex. 

Back home Egypt was emerging from the shackles of British rule and trying to recover from its army’s humiliating loss to the newly formed country of Israel in 1948. A group called the Muslim Brotherhood was calling for economic reforms to counter the increasing Western influences in the country. Sayyid used his considerable writing skills to express the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood during the period when Egypt was going through political convulsions with the dethronement of their king and the rise to power of President Gamal Abd al-Nasser. Along with other radical thinkers, he was imprisoned in 1954, and during the next ten years, he poured his literary skills into writing several books. Most notable was a tract, completed in 1964, in which he declared that humanity was on the brink of annihilation unless there was surrender to Islam. He issued a call to jihad—not a defensive struggle, but a vast offensive that would bring first the Arab people and eventually all the world under the rule of Islam. His thoughts were considered so dangerous that he was executed in August 1966.

That little book called Milestones has become the manifesto of radical Islam, as powerful as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was to the rise of Nazism or the writings of Karl Marx to Communism. Virtually every extremist group, from Hezbollah to Hamas to al Qaeda points to this book and its author, Sayyid Qutb, as the man who developed the philosophy of modern jihad.

I have often said that we are the Bible to unbelievers. Would things have been different if Sayyid Qutb had become friends with just one man who demonstrated the reality of a Christian life submitted to Jesus Christ? It could have happened in Egypt. It could have happened in America. The tragedy is that apparently he never experienced the real love of Jesus.

 

[i] Today the school is known as the University of Northern Colorado.

[ii] All Things Considered, NPR, May 6, 2003.

Used with permission.  Copyright © 2007 and 2017 by Open Doors International. Adapted from Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen

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