Zakhira* entered the hospital lab with her mother, who was in so much pain she could barely walk. After the older woman shuffled to a seat, Zakhira called out a traditional Muslim greeting to the man sitting behind the desk.
“Salaam,” he replied.
Zakhira roiled with anger at his incomplete salutation. How dare he not bless her in the name of Allah.
She approached the desk. “Are you even a Muslim?” she asked.
“No,” he replied. “Thank God, I’m a Christian.”
She controlled her anger, choosing to be polite and invite this lost soul to join Islam. She assured him Islam could offer him anything he wanted, even salvation.
The man snorted and disagreed, challenging Zakhira to read the Quran more closely. Both scuffled with the other’s beliefs like foes locked in an arm wrestle.
Finally, the man asked her to read a specific verse in the Quran. Zakhira agreed, and once she left for home with her mother, she was ready to prove him wrong.
Later she read the verse, and to her dismay, found that the man was right—Muhammad could not save her.
This Christian man, John Ahmad, had toppled her Muslim beliefs like a house of cards. More importantly, he awakened her desire for truth.
Volunteering to die
Zakhira was born in Pakistan to a Muslim family. She grew up going to the mosque, reading the Quran and praying to Allah in her prayer room at home. As dedicated as she was to her Muslim faith, she desired her father’s love and respect even more.
On the day she was born, her father was disappointed—he’d wanted a son. From that day on, he was cold and distant toward her. Around the time she turned 10, a group of militant Islamic extremists recruited her father. If he had been detached before, he was more so now. How would Zakhira earn admiration from a heartless father? Eventually she came up with a plan: She would become a trained jihadist.
To Zakhira, volunteering for jihad meant more than sacrificing her life to secure a place in paradise for herself and her parents. It meant more than accumulating rewards in the afterlife by killing infidels. For Zakhira, jihad meant she might finally gain her father’s approval. And it didn’t matter if she had to wear and detonate a suicide vest to do it.
“My father was feeling very proud that I volunteered for jihad,” she remembers, “and I felt very happy because a girl never gets this kind of respect, especially a girl her father did not accept when she was born.”
Following a heavenly Father
Four days before she was to leave for jihad training, Zakhira had a dream. A man beckoned to her, saying, “Come and follow Me.” Two times He asked, and two times she said no. But the third time, when He called her “daughter,” she followed. He told her He was “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” When she awoke, she felt something she had never felt: peace.
Two days later she found herself at the hospital with her ailing mother. That’s when she met John, the Christian man who shook her faith.
She couldn’t leave for jihad training, not now. She asked her mother to call and tell her leaders she needed more time to prepare. They granted a reprieve.
She used her time to study her Quran more closely. John invited her to read his Bible at the hospital. After reading the Scriptures and discussing them with John, she chose to become part of God’s family.
Facing Muslim terror
Zakhira guarded her newfound faith, but in time, her secret surfaced. Those closest to her roared with fury, especially her father.
“I thought I would die for sure,” says Esther, who no longer goes by the name Zakhira. One night, Esther’s mother overheard Islamic clerics tell her father he would go straight to heaven when he died if he killed her himself. Plans to end Esther’s life publicly, and spectacularly, were set in motion because they wanted to use her as an example.
Her mother would have none of it. Through her daughter’s prayers and perseverance, she had also secretly accepted the Christian faith. She decided to aid in Esther’s escape.
Running for her life
The following day, Esther left her house at 2 in the morning, hours before her execution. She met John at a rendezvous point. “I was thinking if someone saw me, they would shoot me,” Esther recalls.
But the streets were empty as they hopped on his motorbike. He drove her to another part of the city where she could hide with a Christian family for a few nights.
That first night, Esther contemplated her future as she lay in bed, alone and scared. She cried as she remembered her mother saying, “I might not see you again, but in the kingdom of God I will see you again.”
Her mother had counseled her to marry to gain some protection and financial security. There was only one person Esther could ask.
The following morning, she proposed to John. They professed their “like” for each other, and he said yes. A week later, his pastor married them in secret, and they began their life together. At the time, Esther was 21; John was 30.
Praying together for courage
When Esther’s father discovered his daughter had run away, he hung “wanted” posters around their community, forcing Esther and John to go into hiding. They stayed with John’s family and friends for the following two years, in safety yet in poverty.
“When people marry, they start a new life together,” says Esther. “But we were focused on staying alive.”
Esther said she and John prayed together daily, a practice they maintain to this day. They also read the New Testament because “these types of hard things happened to the apostles; they happened to Jesus,” she says.
Ministering to Muslims together
After two years, Esther, John, and their newborn daughter were granted asylum in Malaysia. They spent eight years there, living as refugees.
Today John and Esther have made a home for their family in the southern United States. He works in medical billing and coding. She’s written two books, DefyingJihad, released in 2019, and Unveiled, which
came out in May.
As a couple, they believe in sharing their faith with Muslims one-on-one. Esther often gives Muslim friends copies of her books, inviting them to explore the content and ask questions.
She always remembers who she once was, a potential suicide bomber, ready to die and kill infidels. But she’s at peace with who she and her husband have become, ministers of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I just cry,” says Esther, her eyes misting with tears. “Each of my tears gives thanks to God . . . because He has done great things for us.”
*Names and other identifying details have been changed.