“If I were to become a Christian, it would mean not only changing my religion but changing my whole identity. . . . Changing from Islam to Christianity would mess up my life forever,” said Abu Atallah, a Calvin Theological Seminary graduate, about his journey from Islam to the Christian faith.
Kent Van Til, a 1980 graduate of Calvin College, collaborated with Atalla to share the remarkable story of Atalla’s life in their book From Cairo to Christ. Growing up in Cairo, Egypt, as an ordinary Muslim, Atalla was deeply embedded in his culture and family. This bookis a story of how he was drawn to Christ and to a life of ministry.
Van Til and Atalla met while they were both Calvin Seminary students in the 1980s. At that time, Van Til said he did not know Atalla’s story or really anything about Islam. During a chance reunion, he heard his story and was amazed.
“I have always had somewhat of a global interest,” said Van Til. While a student at Calvin College, he took off during his sophomore year to travel Europe.
“I myself was a missionary, so when I heard him start talking about Islam a few years ago, I was fascinated,” Van Til said. He was immediately convinced this story was something that needed to be shared and that he would be the one to do it.
“During my time at Calvin, I had learned to be good at writing, but I never saw myself as a writer,” said Van Til.
Starting about six years ago, Van Til said he started writing on and off whenever he got a chance. “The book is based on lots of interviews with [Atalla],” he said. “I was over at his house numerous times over a period of four years.”
Van Til completed in-depth research on the history of Islam for some of the chapters. And while he said he loves reading theological and historical works, the challenge was incorporating this important content in a way that was engaging for any audience.
Van Til also did a lot of experimenting on how to write this book. “The process was a real trial and error. I tried writing this in third person and then in first person,” he said. “When I switched to first, something really seemed to click, while in third person I felt the reader was put at a distance from the story.”
“One thing I took away from this process is just how big Christ is,” said Van Til. “Throughout this writing process, I have learned a lot more about Islam. I find myself reading much more on related subjects now.”
He said the process sparked his interest in the study of Arabic; he has recently started taking courses on the subject. “I hope this book will give readers more of a knowledge of Islam and an understanding of what it is like to live in the middle of it,” he said.
Atalla is the founder of European Training Center, which he runs with his family in Spain. Van Til has authored two other books and anticipates completing two more literary works in the coming years.