When Hazem Farraj was 15, he became a Christian. But as a Palestinian
Muslim living in east Jerusalem, he couldn’t tell anyone, especially his
“For almost three years I was an underground believer,” Farraj
told The Media Line during a visit to Jerusalem. “I would go to the local mosque
and to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and pray Islamically, but in my heart I
was praying to Jesus.”
Today Farraj, 27, is very public. He lives in
California and hosts Reflections, a Christian TV show in English and Arabic. He
is grateful for everything in his life, he says, but he has also made sacrifices
for his faith.
Farraj was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1984. Like
many immigrants, his father insisted the children speak Arabic at home. An
observant Muslim, he worked hard to teach his children about Islam.
Farraj was 12, his father moved the family back to Beit Hanina, a middle-class
east Jerusalem suburb. The large family of 13 siblings studied Islam, and many
of them became more committed Muslims.
“Islam says to pray five time
daily – I only prayed four times, because I was too lazy to get up for the early
morning prayer,” Farraj recounts. “Do the prayers. Memorize the verses from the
Koran. Go to Islamic class and the mosque. It was all just actions to me. The
deeper I got into Islam, the more depressing it was for me.”
decided the solution was to convert some Christians to Islam. He approached his
upstairs neighbors, Christians, and they began a discussion that lasted more
than a year and a half.
“I said to them, ‘What if I told you that God can
answer your prayers in the name of Allah,’” he recalls. “Now, he wasn’t
answering my prayers, but I needed something to hold onto. They told me things I
was searching for, like ‘Cast your worries upon Jesus, who cares for you’ and
‘God so loved Hazem that He gave His only son for him.’”
When Farraj was 15, he
attended an east Jerusalem church with these neighbors. He does not want to name
the church, fearing it could become a target of attacks.
“I sat in the
last pew in the back corner, and I saw something I had never seen,” he recalls
with a wistful smile. “I saw a guy named Steve singing with a guitar and smiling
as if he knew Jesus. I saw people at the altar raising their hands and loving
God, and it made me mad because I wanted it to be the God of the
He fled to a downstairs room, where he lay a piece of carpet on
the floor and prayed facing Mecca in Saudi Arabia, according to Islamic
Nothing happened. He went back upstairs to the church, and, he
says, became a Christian.
“I started to pray in the name of Jesus and
something happened on the inside that transformed me,” he remembers.
afterward, the second intifada broke out, and his father moved the family back
to the US.
Farraj continued to practice as an underground Christian.
Finally, just before his 18th birthday, he told his father that he had become a
Christian. His father cut off all contact with him, and Farraj has not seen him
The pain hurts even 10 years later.
“You don’t ever get
over it, you just get through it,” he says. “It has left me wounded even
He also has no relationship with his stepmother or his
At age 18 he followed his former neighbors to Alabama, where
they had moved.
“I slept for six months, and when I wasn’t sleeping I was
eating – I weighed 225 pounds and I was so depressed,” he recalls.
one day I came across a Christian TV station, and there was this preacher. This
voice inside me – I believe it was the voice of God – said, ‘I’ve called you to
this.’ I knew it meant that I was called to tell people about Jesus and to help
them come to prayer.”
His TV show, Reflections, reaches millions of
viewers around the world.
Farraj says there are “many” underground
Christians in Arab countries today, and that he gets emails thanking him from
around the Arab world.
He also gets death threats.
the media director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, says
there are “hundreds” if not “thousands” of underground Christians in the West
“There’s a lot of upheaval in the Arab and Muslim world right now,”
Parsons told The Media Line
“Some are saying ‘Islam is the answer,’ but
there are a lot of Muslims who know they tried it for hundreds of years and it’s
not the answer. As a Christian I would attribute it to the movement of the Holy
Spirit. People are looking for different answers.”
Parsons says the
International Christian Embassy has opened branches in “several North African
Farraj says his recent trip to Jerusalem was to recharge his
own batteries and to meet underground Christians.
“I love Jerusalem,” he
said with a grin. “I’m here to enjoy the spirituality of Jerusalem and to
encourage the believers. I thought I was the only ex-Muslim in the world, but
they’re really everywhere.”For more stories from The Media Line go to www.themedialine.org