A day at an islamic university

Nicole James | North Africa

Michelle* could hear the whispers as the veiled religious students filed past their instructor into the classroom at the back of the mosque. Unlike the beautiful, ornate building in front, adorned with a massive wooden door carved with words from the Qur’an, the simple classroom wasn’t anything special. Four sets of long tables, each with five chairs facing the front, filled the room. Alone and head uncovered, Michelle saw each girl listen to the teacher and briefly glance her way before taking a seat.

Technically, Michelle was a guest. Her friend, Warda*, taught the class and, in what Michelle interpreted as the latest attempt to convert her to Islam, had invited her to attend. Instead, Michelle used the following four hours—while the students practiced the pronunciation and intonation required for reciting the Muslim holy book—to pray.

That morning, Michelle had met Warda at 05:30 to catch the first minivan out of their city. It filled up faster than usual, so the two women wandered around for nearly an hour until the mosque opened for classes. Warda had asked Michelle if she wanted to “dress up” like her, wearing a long black robe and the traditional hijab. “No,” Michelle replied. “I think I’m conservative enough. I’m not showing anything about my body, and the most important thing for God is my heart.”

Later, when Warda whispered to each incoming student that Michelle was a “believer, a follower of Jesus,” Michelle was glad she stood out.

The women in class that day were enrolled in a certificate programme that, upon completion, would grant them a degree in Islam. Many people in the country are nominally religious, but this group was especially devout. By the end of the course, they would not only have hand-written the entire Qur’an but would also be able to recite the entire book from memory. When the students practiced in class, Warda could correct them without glancing at the text; as the teacher, she already had the words ingrained in her heart.

“I know that I made the difference of being there,” Michelle stated. “I could pray for all these ladies.”

A different kind of friendship

In fact, Michelle had already used plenty of words to share her faith with Warda, especially as she grew more confident with the rather unconventional friendship.

Their friendship had begun one day as Michelle was waiting for the results of some medical tests at a public hospital. She was having trouble communicating to the desk clerk when a lady standing behind her in line—Warda—offered to help. “Thank you so much!” Michelle said.

Papers in hand, Michelle started to leave the hospital, then, on a whim, turned back to the conservatively clothed woman. “Would you like to have coffee with me?” she asked.

“Yes, but I need to ask my husband’s permission,” the woman replied.

A week later, Michelle hadn’t heard from Warda and thought nothing would come from the encounter. Suddenly, she got a text message: Warda’s husband had said yes.

The two women met at a coffee shop, and, right away, things got weird. Instead of the usual small talk, Warda pushed for specific details. “Why are you here? What are you doing? Where does your money come from? Have you ever had trouble with the police? What kind of visa do you have?”

“I went back home, and I was really worried,” Michelle said. “I thought she was going straight to the police station to tell them about me.”

Instead, Warda invited her to her house. Full of fear and anxiety, Michelle prayed and went. Again, Warda posed several probing questions, even repeating some from the coffee shop. Then she brought out her Qur’an.

“You’re studying Arabic. I want you to read something,” she announced.

“My Arabic isn’t good enough. You read it to me,” Michelle suggested.

Warda read the Surah announcing Allah as one God and establishing Muhammed as Islam’s favoured prophet. “What do you understand?” she asked Michelle.

“I understand the Qur’an is saying…,” Michelle began, repeating what Warda had read.

“Why do you not convert?” Warda wondered.

“I believe in the Bible, and the Bible says Jesus is the truth.”

Warda continued to ask Michelle questions about her faith. At first, Michelle worried that she would be turned in for evangelising, but then she realised that Warda’s questions were actually an opportunity. “I could share with her through the answers to her questions.”

When Warda invited Michelle over again, Michelle prayed that God would give her wisdom. “I don’t have to be the one who is full of fear. I know Who wants me to be here, Who is protecting me and Who has the truth. If God wants me to be [in North Africa], it’s not the police who will take me away,” she decided.

The women started talking, and Warda asked again, “Why do you not convert to Islam?”

“I could not turn my back on the One who gave His life to save me,” Michelle replied. “He died on the cross. He rose again to save me. He’s my life.” She continued telling Warda her testimony and everything that God had done in her life, including how she had found peace and rest for her soul—“things she could not say a word against,” Michelle recalled.

Another time, the women discussed the differences between the Bible and the Qur’an, and Warda invited Michelle to the University of Islam where she worked. “I went there, observed all these ladies, who are super conservative, memorising the Qur’an, studying the Qur’an, reciting from their hearts the Qur’an,” Michelle described. “I didn’t share with them anything, but I really believe it’s going to be a new chapter in my friendship with Warda. It’s something else we can talk about. We can go a little deeper about the Qur’an and go deeper about the Bible.”

Warda desires to please God, Michelle noted, but she seeks answers in the Qur’an. Her position as a teacher at the Islamic school allows her to influence many people. “If your teacher from Islam becomes a believer, it’s something really big. Pray that she will find the truth,” Michelle asked.

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with believers to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.

Published: Wednesday, 05 December 2018
Credit: Nicole James
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