Taliban Warrior Fled Madness
"Now I fight to save other people."
Muhammad Khurram—his surname means “a happy person”—and
that’s what he is, despite trials and tribulations and a life of constant
violence. Khurram was born in Pakistan, near the capital Islamabad and brought
up in a world where ‘the truth’ is determined by the barrel of a shotgun. One
day, his Taliban commander ordered him to shoot a handcuffed and blindfolded
man. Oddly enough, this was to be the start of Khurram’s journey with God.
“Where I come from, the Taliban determines what’s true or
not. These extremely fanatic Muslims are always right; other opinions don’t
count. Anyone who dares to think differently will be punished or killed.
Everything is permitted in the name of Allah,” he says.
It starts at school
Khurram’s father is a strict and devout Muslim who spent thirty years among like-minded Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Though not active himself in the Taliban’s war to install Sharia (a strict religious legal system governing Muslims) everywhere, his father supported the Taliban’s ideas. At home and at the Madrassa (a religious school where Islam is taught), the extreme rules of Muslim fundamentalism are kindled from a young age.
“Brainwashing starts at school,” Khurram says. “The extremists have a large influence on schools in Pakistan and they use lessons to train children in their way of thinking. For example, I witnessed children, eight years of age, being put in a room with a lot of chicks and being ordered to trample them to death, in the name of Allah. That’s how children get used to taking lives. From there on, they push their boundaries further and further.”
Despite or perhaps because of their violent actions, the life of a Taliban fighter can seem like an exciting escape for young people living in Khurram’s situation.
“I grew up in a world of violence and extreme views. I have to be honest, heroism appealed to me,” he says. “When you have a gun, you feel like Rambo. For a young man that’s quite cool.”
Fortunately, Khurram soon began to see the Taliban for what they were. He started to question his superiors.
“I didn’t like the way the leaders behaved,” he says. “They thought they were always right, no matter what. I asked questions. I thought, ‘why are you right and someone else isn’t?’”
But life as a Taliban warrior, taking part in armed assaults daily, dragged on. Soon it became clear that the Taliban was willing to attack anyone who disagreed with them.
“The battle to be right all the time takes many victims. Especially among your own people,” Khurram said. “Most of the assaults were in mosques where moderate Muslims worshipped.”
Khurram began to ask himself if there even was a god who wanted prosperity, peace and happiness for mankind. “I started to doubt if such a god even existed,” he says.
But Khurram wouldn’t doubt for long. “After finishing my training, I was forced to kill a man. He was a Pakistani Muslim journalist who was sitting on his knees before me, handcuffed and blindfolded, Khurram says. “‘Shoot him,’ was the first command I got from my leader. I hesitated and thought, ‘God, where are you?’ But I had to shoot him. I couldn’t refuse. I pulled the trigger and…Nothing.
“‘The gun doesn’t work,’ I told my commander. I pulled the trigger again and it still didn’t work,” Khurram says. Something was happening.
“The commander said, ‘take mine.’ I pulled the trigger, and again it didn’t work. Then I realized: God is here!” The commander looked at me and said, ‘there’s something strange about you.’” With that, Khurram was allowed to walk away without carrying out the order, but the violence wouldn’t stop there.
“Unfortunately I learned that the prisoner was later killed by another Taliban warrior,” Khurram says. “But there my journey with God started.”
To the Netherlands
After years of hopeless violence, Khurram couldn’t take it anymore. “I fled to the Netherlands and in my last conversation with my mother I said to her, ‘I won’t be coming back, you know it, don’t you?’ She knew. That was the last time we saw each other, six years ago. I had enough money. I earned a lot in Pakistan. It was in a bank account in Dubai. With the money, I was able to start a new life in the Netherlands.
“I bought a nice apartment, got a job and started a relationship. On New Years Eve, 2010, I was in my apartment looking out over the city where I lived and prayed to God, ‘I know You are there. I want a perfect connection with You.’ He answered my prayer in a remarkable way when the police came to my apartment in June 2011, telling me that my stay in the Netherlands was illegal. I had to come with them. I was imprisoned between murders and rapists and lost it for a while—along with my apartment, my girlfriend and my job. Everything was gone.”
Jesus in a dream
“Three months later, I was sitting in a silence room in prison and cried. A Roman Catholic priest stepped in, laid his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Everything will be all right; even Jesus was punished while He wasn’t guilty of anything.’ I went back to my prison cell and fell asleep… I dreamed. I was in a somewhat misty space. There was a table with food on it and there were people in long gowns walking around and making music. To the left of me, there was a small group of people. Two of them came towards me. ‘Someone is calling you,’ they said. I walked towards the small group… In the center of the group I saw a man sitting. Could that be Jesus?
“The man looked at me and smiled. Then I knew: it’s Him. ‘At last, there you are,’ He said without moving His lips. I was the only one who could hear it. ‘Don’t be afraid. You are not alone,’ He assured me. Then I woke up.”
Out of prison
Suddenly, Khurram’s prison time was over. “The next day I was called out of my prison cell, got my cellphone back and was released,” he says. “Outside the prison walls, I called my lawyer. He was surprised and told me, ‘Your file is still here. We haven’t been able to work on it yet. How is it possible that you’re out?’”
Khurram had lost everything, but he was confident. “Everything in your life happens for a reason. God takes care of balance.” After a short period of wandering around homeless, Khurram came into contact with a Salvation Army corps. “Soup, soap and salvation,” he says, smiling. “Now I want to fight in another army, an army where we battle to save other people. When I think of what others have done to me, I’m sometimes still angry, but I pray for these people. I want to tell everyone, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, atheists etc. about God’s grace that is there for them too.”
And what would his message be to Pakistan? After thinking for a time, the former Taliban warrior says, “Throughout history, God has spoken in different ways and showed that He exists. God wants a relationship with us. Be glad God gives us life and free will. Respect this, and know that you’re not God.”
This article first appeared in the Netherlands "War Cry." Used by permission.