From Teenager to Terrorist Target
Ali Husnain was born into a prominent Shia Muslim family in Pakistan. His family background brought him respect, prestige, security and wealth. However, after Husnain had an encounter with Jesus, his world came crashing down. He went from doing the things typical teenagers enjoy like riding his motorbike and playing video games, to living his life on the run from terrorists. Husnain tells his story in The Cost: My Life on a Terrorist Hit List, including how he had to leave everything behind, even his family, to follow Christ. In one of his first interviews, Husnain talked to Risen about the near fatal stabbing he survived, his faith with other Muslims, and why he wants to return to Pakistan.
Editor’s Note: English is Husnain’s second language, and in an effort to allow his voice and words to reflect him, grammatical editing has been limited.
Interview exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: You grew up in a prominent Muslim family in Pakistan. What was that experience like?
Ali Husnain: Looking back, the experience was very good. It was an amazing experience how the community respected us, and the honor we had. When I was born, my mother employed a nanny to look after us. We had many servants. We had a big house. We were treated very differently. There were people coming into our house asking for prayers. I felt like I was part of an influential family.
RM: In the book, you share the differences between the different castes of Muslim. Can you briefly help our readers understand this and why there is so much tension?
AH: When Muhammad died, after him, they were deciding who would be the next khalifah, the next leader. Muhammad’s daughter married a man named Ali and he was Shia and Saeed. From there, people have different castes. My family was highly respected because our name is Shia, and Saeed because we come directly from Muhammad’s roots.
RM: You made the decision to follow Christ after a miraculous healing. What was your faith journey like?
AH: I grew up in Pakistan in a Muslim family and came to the United Kingdom to see my aunt. That’s when I found out she was a Christian. That was a big shock to me. I became very angry with her and wanted her to go back to Islam. I started praying for her and asking questions. One day I decided to go to church with her and try and find out some answers. When I went to church and saw the people worshiping, it was different. There wasn’t any fear. I started asking questions to this guy sitting next to me, “Why are you so happy?” He shared about the forgiveness of sin. Then I asked, “How do you know that you are forgiven?” He shared, “Because Jesus Christ gave His life for my sin.” From there I started to become more interested in Christ. I started to pray more and more. I asked God, “Show yourself to me. Who is the true God? Reveal it to me.” From there, I went to another church where the pastor said, “If you want to see Jesus Christ, come forward.” And I really felt that was for me and I went forward. I told the pastor, “I want to see Jesus Christ.” I prayed and then I don’t know what happened, a strange feeling came over me. I fell on the floor and a bright light came over me. When I fell down, I saw someone standing there. He said, “I am Jesus Christ. You wanted to see me. I am here. If you believe in me, I will give you eternal life. I forgive your sin.”
When I woke up, I was crying. I thought I was going to die because as a Muslim I had always believed that the day that you saw God was the last day of your life. I didn’t share this experience with anyone. I came back to my aunt’s house and went into the bedroom. I had a dream from Jesus Christ. I heard his voice, “Don’t be afraid. I will be with you. I will protect you.” I woke up and went to my aunt’s room. I told her about the dream and what happened. I asked my aunt what I should do. She said, “You were praying for this. God came and revealed himself to you. Now it is your choice.” Because she knew that I was going back to Pakistan. That’s when I decided that I have not been a Christian, but now I will follow Jesus Christ.
Since then, my faith has grown very strong. It was very hard when I left Pakistan. I questioned myself all the time, “Why does this have to be?” Everything I tried was going wrong even when I kept trying. It was very difficult, but my faith in God helped me to come out of it. If I would have known how hard it was going to be from the very beginning, I would probably not be a Christian. I would have gone back to Islam. But when I was in the hospital, Jesus Christ put His hand on me and said, “My son, your life hasn’t ended just because of me. You will not die now.
From there on, I knew who saved my life and who was my Savior. I was fully confidant in Jesus Christ.
I thought I was going to die because as a Muslim I had always believed that the day that you saw God was the last day of your life.
RM: Your aunt played a special role in your coming to the Christian faith by praying for you, answering your questions, taking you to church and even taking you in when your family rejected you. Many of us have family members or loved ones that have rejected Christianity. What advice do you have for them?
AH: What I learned through my experience is that I have lost my family and my family has lost me as well. I’m sure they were angry and missed me. I had to be patient and keep asking God. If someone were in a similar position as I was, I would say, be patient and do what you can do to support your family. Forgive. That will take a lot of burden from your heart. Every time I called my family, they were very angry at me. They didn’t want to talk to me. But I kept telling them how much I loved them and that I am their son. It was just because I started following Christ. My advice would be to keep loving because love is stronger than hate.
RM: Throughout the book, you share how you lived your life on the run and even went into hiding. Your family even hid you in a shack on an isolated farm at one point. Many in Pakistan see your conversion to Christianity as an offense and yet you want to return. Why?
AH: Jesus Christ forgave me and I want to go back and share His love with my family and the people who stabbed me. Because that’s what the Bible said Jesus did and is the message of love. I want to show them my God, my Jesus, is different. They took my family. I haven’t seen my family since I was 17 years old. I am now 24. I want to go back and evangelize there and forgive them. They hated me, but I still love them. This is a strong message I can give to them. Jesus Christ is all about love.
RM: When you were living your life on the run and hiding, what were your prayers like?
AH: When I was running away and I was in this forest, I remember every night before I would go to bed I would pray the Psalms. I was always praying, “Protect me. Protect my family. I don’t know what’s happening. Why is this happening?” Everything was happening very fast. I had no fear of dying since I had that dream where Jesus said, “You will not die now. I will protect you.” I kept praying, “God you promised me that I would live through it. If I live, I want to give this life to you. I want to serve you.”
RM: More than 23 percent of the world’s population is Muslim. What are some practical ways that Christians can share the Gospel with Muslims in a non-threatening way?
AH: The way I do evangelism is that it is hard to get a Muslim to read a Bible, but if I can be the Bible to them [by living out the Word, then that is so powerful]. I try to show the Bible through my actions. I show them, I love them. I share Bible stories with them and stories about my life and how Jesus has changed my life. I offer to pray for them. My aunt prayed for me for 17 years and was very patient. Being patient and offering support especially because of what is happening with the Muslim community. People are saying things to them and threatening them. That is the best way Christians can share Christ’s love with them.
My mom wants me to come back to Muslim and threatens me. It is very painful. My dad sent me a letter that said I don’t belong to the family anymore. I am not allowed to come back home.
RM: Why have you decided to share your story in The Cost, and what is your hope that the readers will take away?
AH: The reason I shared my story is because it is something that happened to me. The way I grew up, I never met any Christians. If God can save me, God can save you as well. For Christians, I want them to know that we are still human and we still go through tough times and to encourage people that whatever the cost to follow Christ, it is worth it. I also want to share that when we are born, we are born as a human. We each have a choice. I made a choice to follow Christ. I encourage other Muslims, my brothers and sisters to make that choice too. A lot of people have family pressure similar to mine but if they make that choice, God is with us. He will protect you, just like He protected me.
RM: Since leaving Pakistan and writing the book, what has your relationship been like with your family?
AH: I left Pakistan at a very young age and moved to the U.K. For the first few years, I didn’t have any contact with my family. I didn’t see them or talk to them for three years. Then suddenly we started talking again. It has been very emotional. Sometimes it is very difficult. My mom wants me to come back to Muslim and threatens me. It is very painful. My dad sent me a letter that said I don’t belong to the family anymore. I am not allowed to come back home. Jesus Christ has helped me to overcome this and forgive them. It has gotten better. It is emotional and God has played a big role in helping me work through it. I pray that my family calls me and talks to me. They will call me up sometimes and say, “This is happening. Will you pray for me?”
RM: Because of your choice to follow Christ you became a target of a terrorist organization based in your hometown. In America we hear “terrorist” and many immediately think ISIS. Can you shed some light on what it meant to become a target? Also, how does the current global terrorism we are witnessing relate to you or your story, if at all?
AH: There are different terrorist organizations. They all come together under the larger organization, ISIS. The terrorist organization that was after me was a group of Wahhabi Muslims. They had a large network. Everywhere I went they managed to track me down. I was always living on the edge wondering, “Is someone going to walk through that door, kill me, and I will die?” It was a very fearful time.
RM: Iranian American Saeed Abedini is the Christian pastor that was recently released after being imprisoned in 2012 on charges of setting up home churches in Iran. The story has gotten quite a lot of media attention. He, like you converted from Shia Islam to Christianity. How did his story affect you?
AH: It gives me encouragement to see that there is another brother that is going through something similar to me. He has kept his faith. God is a provider. When we talk about living on faith, this is living on faith. God is in charge. It just shows me that God is able. He was in prison and he still managed to get out. It was a God thing. It wasn’t something humans could do.