His dark, deep-set eyes and chiseled chin fit the stereotype of a middle-eastern political leader. His broken English resounds with the halting grammar of one who is foreign to the soil he now calls home.
He knows danger and has paid the price of power. His body language reveals shadows of suspicion and readiness for unflinching response to any threat.
However, there is an unexpected incongruity. His handshake is a greeting. Joy-filled eyes join an ever-widening smile.
Most amazing of all is his story; one that few have lived to tell. As a former radical Muslim who was heavily involved in the Iranian fundamentalist revolution, Daniel Shayesteh was once committed to exterminating Jews, Christians and other “infidels.”
That was before his Creator became his redeemer. His heart transformed by the love of Christ, Daniel is now a born-again Christian who is committed to helping others understand and properly respond to the Islamic faith.
He reveals the inconsistencies and alarming directives of Islam’s holy book and its associated worldview.
Although Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world,1 the vast majority of “westerners” have a limited idea of what it really teaches. True followers of Allah (the Qur’an’s version of God) must be actively involved in the merciless extermination of Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims, yet communities across the United States have naively welcomed thousands of new mosques.
Muslims (followers of the Islamic faith) are widely recognized as sincere, but the Islamic holy book (the Qur’an) is read by only a fraction of those who live in Islamic societies. Just as America is called a Christian nation (yet few consistently read and follow the Bible), in most nations identified as Islamic, few consistently read and follow the Qur’an.
There is much more that Christians need to know.
Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham discussed various topics of Islamic faith and culture with Daniel when he visited AiG–USA recently. The following questions and answers are derived primarily from a recorded studio conversation between Ken and Daniel.
As part of his militant training, Daniel Shayesteh, on the right, once taught terrorist techniques to young Islamic extremists.
Daniel, let’s start by learning a bit about your background. What was life like for you as a child?
Well, I grew up in northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea. I was raised in a nominal Islamic family. But my parents wanted me to be a good religious boy and they invested in my life. From a young age I was a practicing Muslim and by the age of nine I was able to recite the entire Qur’an (Koran) from the beginning to the end. And that made me somewhat famous in the area where I lived.
What about your teen and college years? How did the fact that you had memorized the Muslim “bible” affect you?
In my teens, before finishing high school, I was a committed Muslim boy, carrying out my daily religious obligation as much as I could. In the time of the Shah (the king of Iran), radicalism was an offense to the kingdom. Therefore, to be in contact with a radical Muslim leader was not easy. However, through my university years I was very active in the militant Free Islamic Revolutionary Movement. We helped oust the Shah of Iran in the late 1970s. I became a radical Muslim, closely followed the Ayatollah Khomeini, and aided him in his rise to power.
In the 1970s, Daniel supported the Ayatollah Khomeini and helped him rise to power.
So your group took control of the country. Why then did you escape Iran?
In 1980 my colleague Abolhassan Banisadr became the president of our country and I was elected to a seat in the Iranian parliament, but was not allowed to enter the parliament. The Ayatollah Khomeini and his radical religious clerics decided they wanted even more control of the government and they began in secret to terrorize and kill the political leaders. Eventually, the president escaped to France, but I was kidnapped at nighttime—my wife and family did not know where I was—and placed in a cell on death row with four other friends. It was a very terrible prison. It was a toilet, so painful you beg them to kill you. All four of my friends were hanged. But by what I later realized was God’s grace, I was freed from the prison and after two attempts, escaped from Iran into Turkey.
How did you become a Christian?
In Iran I studied and taught philosophy because I had always been interested in other philosophies and religions. Once in Turkey, I had the opportunity to read the Bible and God revealed Himself to me in an amazing way. Through an evangelical church in Turkey, God began a great revolution in my mind and my heart. The people in that church were so good to me and showed me that the God in the Bible is a personal God and you can have a relationship with Him here in this life on earth. All other religions and philosophies have left that for the afterlife. It was amazing, and I gave my heart to Jesus. It was a radical decision and it required a radical change.
Mary, Daniel’s wife, also participated in militant training.
What about your wife?
You must understand that in Islam, it is a death sentence for you and very hard for your family if you convert to Christianity. At first my wife was very amazed and really angry that I had become a Christian. But, I prayed and prayed and begged the Lord and my wife to give her heart to Jesus. Soon, she did, after an amazing revelation of Christ to her. We both were radical Muslims who did many bad things and we would have in an instant been involved, directly or indirectly, in Jihad because that is the doctrine of Islam (Q.9:5, 29-30). Any true Muslim who does not support Jihad is a sinner. But when we both gave our hearts to Jesus, we left Islam (the religion) and entered Christianity (the relationship with Jesus Christ). In time our three daughters chose to follow Jesus as well.
How has life changed for your wife and your children?
Once we lived in darkness. In darkness, there is no true happiness. But now we live in the light, and in the light is true freedom and true joy and true happiness. My wife and daughters now understand that they were created equal to men, which is contrary to the Qur’an.2 They know that they are precious to God and because my heart has changed, they are so much more precious to me than they could have been if I had been true to the Qur’an and to the Islamic faith.
Do you get threats on your life?
The biggest death threat is the one written in the Qur’an that says that all Christians, Jews, and other infidels must be killed. But in addition to that, we do from time to time receive threats. Because I am speaking out and revealing the truth about Islam and Mohammed, I am a target. But the God of the Bible is sovereign, and if His eye is on the sparrow, we know that He is watching us, too. Our purpose is not to live safe, comfortable lives, but to live for Jesus and glorify God, whether in life or in death. It is the same for all Christians.
What does the Qur’an teach about the doctrine of Creation?
The Qur’an is a contradictory book.3 In one place, it says Allah created the world in 8 days. In other places, it says 4 (Q.41:9, 10, 12). In other areas, it says God created heaven and earth in six days (Q.7:54; 10:3; 2:4; 50:38). The Qur’an does not have a chronological order. It jumps from one issue to another. Eighty-five percent of it is from oral Christian and Jewish traditions and other religions and philosophies. Therefore, it really does not have a sound doctrine about Creation.
What does the Qur’an say about the origin of man and woman?
Exactly the same as the Bible. He created man from dust and woman from his side. And in the Islamic doctrine that has really caused a problem for ladies, because they say she’s the crooked rib and you cannot really straighten her.
So how do Muslims view women?
It varies in Muslim culture, but in terms of the Islamic religion the Qur’an declares women to be inferior to men (Q.2:228,282). Even some great Muslim scholars say that women are in the same category as mute animals. And in the Qur’an it’s written you can beat your wife. You can lock your wife in a room until she dies. Like an animal, the man owns his wife (Q.4:34). Women are just “fields” for man’s production. You just put the seed there, you know, and it grows (like a field). Men can just use their wives the way they want. In tradition, Mohammed says ladies should not go out of their house. It says that if the husband at any time calls her to his bed, if she doesn’t go, she will be cursed. There are a whole lot of things about women.
How do the women actually feel, then? I mean, what was it like for your wife before she became a Christian?
You see, Ken, there is a problem. Muslims think their religion is the last and perfect religion. Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism and Buddhism are all terrible because they all came before Islam. Muslims think that even though Allah is putting ladies down, Islam is the most perfect religion. They don’t know that Christianity elevates women to the same level as men. They don’t know that God loves them as much as the men. Some of the women that took my comparative religion courses in Australia eventually gave their heart to Christ. Some of them told me that these verses that are so humiliating in the Qur’an were really disturbing, but they couldn’t live in that doubt because they were afraid that Allah would curse them. They were afraid that they would be turned into stone or that their children would be treated harshly. They lived in fear.
Do they know of love?
Love is a strange thing in the Qur’an, in Islam. There is not a sense of relationship in Islam. Even in the Qur’an, Mohammed says not to treat your wives alike even though you may want to. Understand, I’m not talking about middle eastern culture. There are wonderful love stories in the culture. But not in the pages of the Qur’an. Not in the doctrine of Islam. In the Bible men are instructed to love their wives, but in the Qur’an it is just the opposite. To please Allah you must treat your wife like an animal and just use her as a field for reproduction. There are many Islamic traditions, but only one quotes Mohammad as having said: the most perfect in faith is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife (Tirmidhi & Ibn Majah). However, Mohammad, who is the most perfect among all Muslims, did not treat his wives alike and decreed the beating of wives, as the Qur’an points out.
Does the Qur’an say that death came into the world because of sin? Does it say anything about the origin of death?
Islamic doctrine does not focus on original sin. But according to Allah, the original sin was here even before the creation. In other words, Allah is the cause of sin and death.
What does the Qur’an teach about the fall of mankind?
According to the Qur’an, Allah is the creator of sin. It was Allah who inspired sin in humankind, not Satan. And when we read the tradition of Islam, it says sin existed 40 years before the creation.4 It is true that in some areas of the Qur’an it says God created humans with free choice, but since it also says in chapter 91 that Allah inspired both debauchery and righteousness in man that really destroys the idea of free choice, doesn’t it?
What has that led to? What do the Iranian people of today believe about origins?
They accept evolution. But they also still believe that Allah created. It has been 18 years since I have been back to Iran, but from what I know this inconsistent belief has not changed. They believe that man can be evolved from a monkey or something but it’s still the hand of God.
Like theistic evolution?
Does the Qur’an mention Noah or the Global Flood?
Yes, Noah is a famous prophet. It says Noah built a ship. It does not say anything about the flood covering the whole world. It says, “O earth swallow up the water and cease o heaven” (Q.11:44). This can be said even when a garden or a house is flooded.
Are Muslims interested in finding Noah’s Ark today?
No. It is just interesting for the Christian world I think.
In what style is the Qur’an written?
In the Arabic language and in a poetic style. It’s called Ghaseeda, which basically is a war poem. Hundreds of times it says to go and kill Jews and Christians and other infidels. It’s a book of war, which turns Muslims against the world.
Why do so few Muslims publicly discuss questions and concerns about the teachings of the Qur’an?
Simple. If you criticize the Qur’an, that’s the death penalty (Q.8:10-12 33:36). You can study it but you cannot question it. To point out mistakes or inconsistencies is seen as acting adversely to Allah and his Apostle (Mohammed). In the Qur’an, chapter 8 verse 12, it says that your fingers and your head should be chopped off. If even the scholars are asked about such things, they quickly change the discussion and go to another topic because, in Islam, you cannot question the authority of the Qur’an and Mohammed. There is tremendous pressure and fear—both within Islamic culture and especially within the religion of Islam—to never point out inconsistencies or criticize anything about the Qur’an.
How does the Qur’an say a person can go to heaven?
In chapter 19 it says that Allah sends both the righteous and the unrighteous first to hell. From there, if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds and if they are able to cross a tiny bridge to heaven, a bridge that is as thin as your hair, then they go to paradise. If not, they fall into the fire.
What does the Qur’an teach about the death and resurrection of Jesus?
It says that Jesus went to heaven without dying. He was not crucified. The Qur’an and the traditions say that Jews were trying to crucify Him, but Allah changed the face of one of them who were trying to kill Him and he was shouting “I’m not Jesus, I’m not Jesus, don’t kill me!” But people saw that he had the face of Jesus and they crucified him. At the same time Jesus without dying and without being crucified was taken to Heaven and He’s in Heaven now. (Read Q.4:157-158).
Where does the idea of there being assured passage to heaven and 70 virgins come from for these terrorists who kill themselves while killing Jews or Christians or pagans?
The idea of “70 virgins” comes in the Islamic traditions, which are the narrations from Mohammad. The Qur’an doesn’t say 70 but it says many maidens (virgins) are the rewards for those involved in Jihad. Jihad is the Arabic word for “war” against non-Muslims.
What are the main differences between Jesus Christ and Mohammed?
The Qur’an itself says that the great prophet Mohammed (approx. AD 570–632) was a sinner. It does not claim that he was divine. Mohammed did not know whether he would go to Heaven or to Hell (Q.46:9). But even the Qur’an says that Jesus was perfect and holy, that He is the word and the spirit of God, and that Jesus is living in Heaven (Q.4:171; 19:17-19). Many Muslims have come to the Lord Jesus and this is one of the reasons. That is the area where we have to challenge Muslims. Why should they follow a dead sinner when they can have a relationship with the living son of God who was perfect and now lives in Heaven!
A lot of people in America and other western nations think that Islam is just another religious faith and that Muslims seem like nice people. What do you think about this?
You said “Muslims seem like nice people.” But really this nice attitude does not come from Islam. It comes from the culture. But it’s very important for people in the west to understand that Islam is not a religion of peace. Any Muslim who doesn’t get involved in Jihad is sinning. That’s the doctrine of Islam.
How should Christians respond to Muslims?
Our attitudes and responses to Muslims should get their power from the mission philosophy of Christ in order to touch their hearts:
- Muslims do know that God can save, but they do not know that God can save them now. Neither do they know that God has paid the price for their salvation and has prepared the way through Christ for them to come back to Him (Romans 5:18–19).
- Muslims are sure that God is Almighty, Omnipresent, and He controls everything now and forever, but they do not know that God is also able to give them assurance of salvation now.
- Ironically, Muslims do not know some of the characteristics that are mentioned about Jesus in the Qur’an itself. If they would take a moment and compare the Jesus of the Qur’an with Mohammad they would be shocked and amazed by the supremacy of Jesus.
- All Muslims believe that God must be given first priority. This could help Christians to convince them to open up their minds to learn about God.
- Religion in Islamic language means “the way.” Muslims need to be awakened to the fact that to discover “the way” involves searching with an open mind and open eyes.
- Muslims have not been encouraged to know their own religious Scriptures. In fact, one of the major obstacles that makes it so hard for Muslims to understand the Christian faith is their lack of ability to compare the Qur'an to the Bible.