From being a faithful Muslim praying to Allah three times a day, fasting, almsgiving, and doing Namaz, to being baptized in the Pope’s Private Chapel, Munira’s journey has twists and turns that might surprise you!
My image of Allah was of a stern master who would punish my slightest error. If I wanted anything, I had to buy Allah’s favor with fasting and prayer. I always had this fear that if I were to do anything wrong, I would be punished.
A cousin of mine had a near-death experience, and he told me that he experienced a vision of plunging through a dark tunnel, at the end of which he saw a bright light and two people standing there—Jesus and Mary. I was confused; shouldn’t he have seen the prophet Mohammed or Imam Ali? Since he felt so sure that it was Jesus and Mary, we asked our imam for an explanation. He replied that Isa (Jesus) is also a great prophet, so when we die, he comes to escort our souls.
His answer didn’t satisfy me, but it began my search for the truth about Jesus.
Despite having lots of Christian friends, I didn’t know where to start. They invited me to a Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, and I started attending the novenas regularly, listening carefully to the homilies explaining the word of God. Although I didn’t understand much, I believe that it was Mary who understood and eventually led me to the truth.
In a series of dreams through which the Lord would speak to me over the years, I saw a finger pointing out a man dressed as a shepherd while a voice called me by name, saying, “Munira, follow Him.” I knew the shepherd was Jesus, so I asked who was speaking. He replied: “He and I are one.” I wanted to follow Him, but I didn’t know how.
We had a friend whose daughter seemed to be possessed. They were so desperate that they even asked me for a solution. As a Muslim, I told her that we have these Babas they could go to. Two months later, I was astounded when I saw her again. Instead of a thin, puny ghost of a figure I had seen earlier, she had become a healthy, radiant, robust teenager. They told me that a priest, Father Rufus, had delivered her in the name of Jesus.
After several refusals, when we finally accepted their invitation to join them at Mass with Father Rufus, he prayed over me and asked me to read a verse from the Bible; I felt such peace that there was no turning back. He spoke about The Man on the Cross—who died for Muslims, Hindus, and all mankind throughout the world. It awakened a deep desire to know more about Jesus, and I felt that God had sent him in answer to my prayer to know the Truth. When I came home, I opened the Bible for the first time and started reading it with interest.
Father Rufus advised me to seek out a prayer group, but I didn’t know how, so I started praying to Jesus on my own. At one point, I was alternately reading the Bible and the Quran, and I asked Him: “Lord, what is the Truth? If you are the Truth, then give me the desire to only read the Bible.” From then on, I was led to open only the Bible.
When a friend invited me to a prayer group, I initially said no, but she insisted, and the third time, I had to give in. The second time I went, I took my sister along. It turned out to be life-changing for both of us. When the preacher spoke, he said that he’d received a message, “There are two sisters here who have come searching for the Truth. Now their search has ended.”
As we attended the weekly prayer meetings, I slowly started to understand The Word, and I realized that I had to do two things—forgive and repent. My family was intrigued when they noticed a visible change in me, so they started coming too. When my dad learned about the importance of the Rosary, he surprisingly suggested that we start praying it together at home. From then on, we, a Muslim family, would kneel down and pray the Rosary every day.
My growing love for Jesus prompted me to join a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Before we went, a voice in a dream told me that although I held fear and anger deep within me, it would soon be released. When I shared this dream with my sister, wondering what it could all mean, she advised me to ask the Holy Spirit. I was puzzled because I didn’t really know who the Holy Spirit was. That would soon change in an amazing way.
When we visited the Church of Saint Peter (where he had that dream showing him all the animals that God now permitted them to eat (Acts 10:11-16)), the Church doors were closed because we were late. Father Rufus rang the bell, but nobody answered. After about 20 minutes, he said, “Let us just pray outside the Church,” but I suddenly felt a voice within me saying: “Munira, you go ring the bell.” With the permission of Father Rufus, I rang the bell. Within seconds, those huge doors opened. The priest had been sitting right beside them, but he only heard the bell when I rang it. Father Rufus exclaimed: “The Gentiles will receive the Holy Spirit.” I was the Gentile!
In Jerusalem, we visited the Upper Room where the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit had taken place. As we were praising God, we heard a roar of thunder, a wind blew into the room, and I was blessed with the gift of tongues. I couldn’t believe it! He baptized me in the Holy Spirit in the same place where Mother Mary and the apostles received the Holy Spirit. Even our Jewish tour guide was astonished. He fell to his knees and prayed with us.
When I returned home, I was longing to be baptized, but my mom said: “See Munira, we follow Jesus, we believe in Jesus, we love Jesus, but conversion…I don’t think we should do it. You know there will be many repercussions from our community.” But there was a deep desire within me to receive the Lord, especially after a dream in which He asked me to attend the Eucharist every day. I remember imploring the Lord like the Canaanite woman: “You fed her the crumbs from Your table, treat me like her and make it possible for me to attend the Eucharist.”
Shortly afterward, while I was walking with my dad, we unexpectedly arrived at a church where the Eucharistic celebration was just beginning. After attending the Mass, my dad said: “Let us come here every day.”
I feel that my road to baptism started there.
My sister and I decided to join the prayer group on a trip to Rome and Medjugorje. Sister Hazel, who was organizing it, casually asked me if I would like to get baptized in Rome. I wanted a quiet baptism, but the Lord had other plans. She spoke to the Bishop, who got us a five-minute appointment with a Cardinal that lasted two and a half hours; the Cardinal said he would take care of all arrangements to be baptized in Rome.
So we were baptized in the Pope’s Private Chapel by the Cardinal. I took on the name Fatima and my sister took on the name Maria. We joyfully celebrated our baptismal lunch with many cardinals, priests, and religious over there. I just felt that right through it all, the Lord was telling us: “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).
Soon came the Cross of Calvary. Our family experienced a financial crisis that people in our community blamed on our conversion to Christianity. Astonishingly, the rest of my family went the other way. Instead of turning their backs on us and our faith, they also asked for baptism. Amid adversity and opposition, they found strength and courage, and hope in Jesus. Dad expressed it well, “There is no Christianity without a Cross.”
Today, we continue to encourage each other in our faith and share it with others whenever we have the opportunity. When I was speaking to my aunt about my conversion experience, she asked me why I addressed God as “Father.” God, for her, is Allah. I told her that I call Him Father because He has invited me to be His beloved child. I rejoice to have a loving relationship with Him Who loves me so much that He sent His Son to wash me clean from all my sins and reveal the promise of eternal life. After I shared my remarkable experiences, I asked her if she would still follow Allah if she were in my place.
She had no answer.
Munira Millwala is a hairdresser by profession and lives in Mumbai, India.
I was driving home when I noticed two street signs that seemed incongruous. The train station and shop signs were pointing in the wrong directions; the exact opposite ones, to be precise. If I were a tourist, a traveler who is not familiar with the suburb, I would have followed the sign and got lost. I guess somebody had moved the street signs as a prank or even as an intentional deception. In our walk with the Lord too, we need to know who is navigating us—God, ourselves, others, or the evil one. If we are not aware of our surroundings, we can easily get lost or misled. This Lent, whose voice will we listen to? Judas…the crowd…Pilate…or Jesus…?
To be good at anything, we have to put time, effort, and practice into it. The same applies to our preparation for eternity. How well are we going to do at the end of year exams if we have put little or no time towards studying during the year? Similarly, how well will we stand up on judgment day when we are held accountable for our lives? In our preparation period on earth for eternity, how much of our life was spent in prayer, good works, and sacrifice? Our Lord paid the ultimate price for our salvation, but we have to play our part. As He has graciously allowed us to be part of that sacrifice, let us not waste this valuable opportunity. He, through Calvary, has given us a chance to be part of His redemption, to be part of His sanctity, consequently allowing mere humans to be called into sainthood. What a privilege! As my mother would always remind us, children, this life of ours on earth, short or long, is but a preparation period, the springboard to eternity. How we fare in the structure of eternal life will be determined not only by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but by every thought, word, and deed we perpetrated during the time we spent on earth.
If your sacrifices are dragging you down and causing you to dread Lent—take heart. Our Lady at Fatima gave the children a prayer which offers compelling reasons to sacrifice. Her words may help dispel your Lenten dreads. The prayer begins: “O Jesus, it (this sacrifice I am making) is for love of You.” Why not borrow those words and make them your own? Telling Jesus you are doing this hard Lenten thing for love of Him may remind you why you are denying yourself in the first place: you are making room in your heart, so that you may love Him more. Further, the prayer helped the children offer their sacrifices for “the conversion of sinners.” You can do the same. When you make a Lenten sacrifice, offer it for a specific loved one who is living far from God. “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of......” Praying in Our Lady’s words will not lessen the difficulty of your sacrifices; but, because it sweetens them with love for Jesus and for lost souls, her words may truly help to dispel your Lenten dreads.
I am not one of those holy souls who look forward to Lent. However, I do have a few friends and family members who do. So, I try to take note of why that is the case. Just last week, my mom mentioned she was looking forward to Lent so she could invite her band, who are all senior citizens, to her parish fish fry. She said she’s really looking forward to it, since most of them aren’t Catholic but have mentioned that they like attending fish fries. After enjoying their traditional fish and chips, my mom is planning on reserving a room in the parish hall so the band can make music together after dinner. They call themselves the Silver Foxes and often visit nursing homes together to spread a little joy. My mom is a joyful evangelist, even at age 80! And she has unlocked the secret that Lent is for more than making penitential acts, but it is a time for growing the Kingdom of God by growing the Body of Christ.
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