Linda “iLham” Barto
I was raised Southern Baptist, was always religious and active in my religion. In 1999, however, I began a spiritual journey that started with dreams of a country I had never known and people I had never seen. I had never read the Qur’an and did not know anything about Islam, but suddenly I began learning about Islam in my dreams. I eventually discovered that the country in my dreams was Tunisia. During this time, I encountered someone who had lived in Tunisia. He told me that most Tunisians are Muslims because their heritage is Muslim, but many of them have not experienced Islam as a personal and spiritual way of life.
I came to realize that God wanted me to take a message to Tunisia. I had never even thought about doing something like that before, and I really didn’t want to think about it this time, but God made it impossible to ignore Him. He inspired me to read the Qur’an and to research Islam.
Finally God revealed to me, in my dreams, the message He wanted taken to Tunisia. It was the simple message given by Jesus (peace upon him). Jesus said, “I tell you this truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3: 3).
You have likely heard the term “born-again Christian,” but the term “born-again Muslim” is just as appropriate. The Qur’an explains that “what is of you must vanish; what is of God will endure. On those who patiently persevere, God will certainly grant their reward in response to the best of their deeds. To any man or woman who performs righteously and has faith, God will give New Life –a life that is good and pure– and, on such people, God will grant their reward in response to the best of their deeds” (Surah 16: 96-97).
I wrote a message for Tunisia and had it translated into Arabic, but I wondered, ‘Why would any sane person in a Muslim country believe a white, American, Christian, female hillbilly?’ I am an artist, and God gave me a vision of a painting to create as a sign that the message was truly from God. It sounded like a crazy idea to me, but I began creating the painting, which showed the minaret of a mosque surrounded by a wall. In the sky hung the crescent moon, which is the Judaic and Muslim symbol for the new moon festivals. On the wall was a lamp which symbolized the light of God, and a shooting star appeared above the lamp. The tail of the shooting star had three bands of color representing the body, mind, and soul of each person who submits his or her whole self to God (blessed and exalted is He).
Meanwhile, God continued to teach me in my dreams. While I slept, He kept sticking new information into my brain. He reshaped my mind so that I had new perspectives and new understandings.
I created what I believed God wanted me to take to Tunisia. I made prints of the painting and printed the message on cards. I even had a face in mind –the face of a man to whom I was to take the message. I had seen him in a dream.
My husband Tom, who was also a devout Christian, and I traveled to Tunisia. Tunisians speak French, as well as Arabic, and Tom could speak French well enough. Tom explained that we were Christians from the United States, and we had a message from God, and we were supposed to tell it to a man I saw in a dream.
Different people latched onto us and dragged us from house to house and repeated our story. Eventually, I was sitting face-to-face with the man I had seen in my dreams. He was the Grand Imam of the Great Okba Mosque, which is one of the oldest and holiest sites in Islam. His son knew just enough English to act as a translator, so I told my story. The imam maintained a solemn expression, he seemed really suspicious, and I felt completely inadequate. He was not very impressed with me or my message. Finally, there was nothing left to do but present the painting. As soon as he saw the painting, the imam’s expression and demeanor changed. He was suddenly receptive to what we had to say. He wanted the message and the painting to be presented at the mosque.
That evening we went to the Great Okba Mosque, and about a thousand people assembled for worship. At the end of the service, we were taken up front to stand beside the imam. We were invited to say shahada. From my dreams and our research, we had come to believe in the message of the Qur’an, so we took this beautiful opportunity to become born-again Muslims. After the shahada, the imam read the Arabic message for me, and I presented the painting, which was hung in the mosque.
I never felt that I stopped being a Christian in order to become a Muslim. I just added layers of light to the light I already had. It seemed a natural thing to do.
Linda “iLham” Barto is an author, illustrator, editor, and speaker. The full story of her journey to Islam is presented in her book Memoirs of a Hillbilly Muslim. Her books are featured on her website www.Lit-by-Linda.com