Now a devout Christian, Daniel Shayesteh shares his life story
This weekend, many Santa Clarita residents piled into Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Canyon Country to hear the testimony of a man who, at one point in his life, called Christians his enemy.
Daniel Shayesteh’s story is a vivid, incredible journey that starts as a Muslim religious teacher, and continues on through the Iranian Revolution, a death sentence, a daring escape, and spiritual upheaval. Today, Mr. Shayesteh travels around the world telling his story, and KHTS AM-1220 sat down with him Sunday morning to listen.
It all began in Iran. Being one of twelve children, young Daniel was nominated by his parents to go into religious work. There, he studied the Qur’an, and was often called upon in his neighborhood to teach and read from the book that guides the Muslim faith.
Not long into his adulthood, he soon grew to empathize with many other in Iran who were protesting the government. Communists, atheists, students and Muslims alike were all looking for a change. “In the beginning, it started out in the Universities as an economic revolution,” remembers Shayesteh.
But one of the most prominent figures of the opposition was the man who would soon become Ayatollah Khomeini, and Shayesteh joined him in overthrowing the Iranian government. After the dust settled, Iran became a theocratic Islamic government.
In the second year after the revolution, Shayesteh and others began to question the lack of freedom underneath the Iranian government. Before the upheaval of the government, even the soon to be Ayatollah promised that everyone would have freedom under the new government. But now that Iran was under Islamic law, Shayesteh soon found out that it strictly forbids any questioning of its leadership, and such offenses are looked upon as criticism of Muhammad and Allah. But regardless, Shayesteh helped to form his own political party.
While his party’s message resonated with the people and earned them power in the new government, the radical Islamists soon began killing all opposition to their strict rule.
One night, Shayesteh was kidnapped in the middle of the night and thrown into a cell with a death sentence. Four of his friends shared that cell with him. All of them were killed, but Shayesteh managed to arrange release. Once out, he tried to flee to Turkey twice, but his passport was revoked, so he was rejected. On his second attempt, guards were called in to arrest him, but when they didn’t show after some time, he was allowed to pass over the border.
In Turkey, Shayesteh battled many things. His family was in Iran and his money was stolen by an ex business partner. It was in these troubling times that he came to know Christ.
He recalls having an apocalyptic dream, filled with destruction and chaos. In the dream, he was in his father’s house, frightened and he called out to God for help.
“I was in my father’s house and I saw a light and a voice that said ‘I am Jesus and I will help you.’ Then, Jesus told me to come out of my father’s house. So I rushed out, and the house fell down…it was destroyed.”
When he awoke from the dream, Shayesteh made a decision to attend a Christian church. So he did, and on that day, the message of the service echoed Shayesteh’s dream. “I heard from the preacher everything I had heard and seen in my dreams. The title of the sermon was ‘The house on the rock of Jesus,’ and he said ‘come out from your father’s house. Come out from your old house, live in the house that Jesus has built for you on the rock.’”
That caused Shayesteh to start reading Christian philosophy, and learning more. He says that he vigorously compared the Muslim religion to Christianity and found many things that resonated with him.
“I found that God was a personal God in the bible,” he says. “This is not possible in all other religions especially Islam…even Mohamed is not able to see God. And then, I’m sitting here in the church, a tiny young man and I am with God! And the reality of that was so strong. This was the cry of my heart always.”
The question of sin also made a powerful statement in Shayesteh’s heart. “I was amazed that God in the Bible is not the creator and author of sin, as it is in Islam…Allah is the creator of sin,” he says. “My conscious said to me ‘hey, there are two Gods, one is the creator of sin, one is not…which one do you like?’ It’s a simple question, but at the same time, a powerful question.”
And in the end, the love of God is what Shayesteh most fondly remembers. “And of course, the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Conditional love does can not create real peace among people.”
Through this experience, Shayesteh says that he was able to put is hatred aside, and he discovered that he was able to do things he could never do before, like love his wife.
“In Islam, your wife is a mute animal,” he says.
After his turn to Christianity, Shayesteh’s wife was able to get out of Iran and meet him in Turkey. Of course, he couldn’t tell her that he had converted. If he had, she would have divorced him. “That’s Islam, if a member of your family becomes a Christian, you ask them to come back. If they don’t you kill them.”
But it didn't take long for Shayesteh’s new character to come through. “In the second week she discovered that I was a different man. ‘Why you treating me like this’ she says…I was a nice to her.”
His wife was terrified at first; however a dream of her own instilled enough faith to open her heart and mind to the change. In her dream, she was walking with Jesus in a mountainous area he walked into a valley. He told her to come with him, but she was afraid because the decent in to the valley was steep. She then dreamed that he told her to just take the step, and when she did the valley was raised up. When she told her husband about this dream, he ran to get his Bible. “I jumped and brought my bible and said ‘This is the message of Isaiah.’”
On that morning, Shayesteh’s wife accepted the Christian faith. “That was the first morning of my life,” says Shayesteh.
Gradually, through the next few years, Daniel’s children came to Christianity as well.
In Turkey, Daniel received a Doctorate degree in International Management with a focus on how culture and religion influences people’s attitude. After receiving that, the moved to Australia where he created the Exodus from Darkness Ministry. He also teaches at the college level.
Now, he travels the world speaking to people about his journey. He was in Santa Clarita for two days, speaking at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. He is currently on the “hit list” for extremist Muslims, however he continues to share his message to all those willing to listen.