Jan Abdelkhalek: A Path to Paradise

Jan Abdelkhalek, a resident of New York, shares her story of having faith guide her family’s decisions, without force or judgements.

In the early 1990s, I married an Egyptian Muslim. Early in our relationship, he would comment a few times, something to the effect of… “You know, if you become a Muslim, Allah will bless me and take me straight to jannah.” My response was always polite, but firmly honest: “I love you, but if you were counting on me to be your ‘ticket to paradise,’ I’m sorry, but you will have to find another way.”

Whenever he would become anxious or overwhelmed by the challenges of daily life, I would remind him that I was sure God would give him a path to paradise because he was a good man. Twenty years ago, I was 8 months pregnant with our second child. At 5 a.m. one beautiful spring Sunday morning, my husband was just leaving the house to go to the mosque to pray. It was the Eid after Ramadan that year. As is custom, he was dressed in a new outfit: traditional Middle Eastern silk pants, long tunic and leather sandals. As I kissed him goodbye at the door, we heard a very loud crash. A car had hit a tree lining the street and was teetering on its driver’s side, with two young men trapped inside and a fire immediately beginning under the front hood.

I called 911 and then we waited outside on the empty street. After only a minute, the flames grew rapidly. We could see the young men pounding on the rear window trying to escape. We were alone, watching this horrific circumstance unfold only 50 meters away. My husband turned to look at me. We had just bought a home and I was soon to give birth. What to do, what to do … no words were exchanged.

I simply nodded. He ran to the car. I watched nervously as he tried three times to single-handedly push the car upright onto its tires. Each time, the car would rock dangerously back in his direction, threatening to topple over on him. I felt weakened with fear. I dropped to my knees on the lawn, raised my face and palms heavenward and begged for God’s mercy with all my heart, my soul truly believing He would help us.

Then an idea popped into my head. I yelled to my husband… “Smash the rear window with the metal trash can!” He turned and looked at me. I pointed to the public trash canister only a few feet nearby and repeated the words that had come into my mind. With only one powerful swing, the vehicle’s rear window was shattered. He pulled each man to safety through the broken glass as I kept yelling, “NOW GET AWAY! GET AWAY!” He quickly dragged both men at least 20 meters. Within seconds, the car exploded completely in flames. But they were all safe.

The fire trucks arrived, and people started appearing on the scene. The next day, our local paper headlines read, “Man Saves Two Lives from Fiery Crash, Wife Credits Divine Inspiration.” A month later, our daughter was born and two months later, my husband was awarded a Hero’s Medal by our mayor and the commissioner of the fire department. Our family was so proud of him, but he was humble. He insisted he had to work and could not attend the ceremony in which they would honor his actions. My dad had to force him to go. I told him: “You see, God has indeed given you the path to paradise. To risk your life to save even one life is the same as saving all humanity. And you have saved two.”

After that incident, he never mentioned my converting to Islam ever again. In fact, when people, whether Muslim, Christian or whatever their faith, have asked us about conversions in general, my heart smiles to hear his response, “We are raising our children to be good people under the religious label of Muslim. We don’t believe in converting anybody. God knows who we are.”

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