I Saw Angels – The Tsunami Changed My Life

This is Muhammad Cheng’s story. He converted to Islam in 2005 after the devastating Tsunami hit his home town in Aceh, Indonesia.

I am of Chinese descent. My family has lived in Aceh, in present-day Indonesia, for three generations. We are traders. My ancestors came to this very Islamic part of Southeast Asia for trading. They stayed because they found it a conducive environment. The rulers were just and the people were friendly and did not bother us.

My family kept their old Chinese traditions of venerating and worshipping our ancestors. And I did the same. Before I opened my shop I usually gave offerings to the altar of our ancestors. During the day I repeated to offer incense several times.

My shop was very close to the Grand Mosque. I could hear the call for prayer everyday but it never occurred to me to become Muslim. Never until this fatal morning.

Just Like Any Other Morning?

I was just about to open my shop near the Grand Mosque of Banda Aceh on the 26th of December 2004. It was a regular morning. Nice weather. Nothing out of the ordinary. At least it seemed like that.

But something was strange. The birds had stopped singing. And the cats that usually waited in front of my shop for some leftover food were not there. I did not pay so much attention to these odds.

However, all of a sudden there was a strong rumbling and a loud sound. I ran outside. “It must have been an earthquake”, I said to myself. Other people also came out of their shops but after a few minutes we all went back inside.

Tsunami – The Sea is Coming

However, after a while people came running and screaming: “Water! The sea is coming. Water!” I was confused. Although I understood the words, I did not know what they meant. I went outside again. People were hysteric. Running towards the mosque. Screaming. Shouting.

And then I saw the water flowing. I ran to get my incense. I wanted to ask my ancestors for help. More water was coming. Flowing, gushing down the street and towards the mosque.

I became afraid and ran upstairs. I watched the tsunami from the small balcony. More and more water came. It was unbelievable.

They Lifted up the Mosque

Then I saw something very strange. There were tall men dressed in white clothes. They made movements like policemen directing traffic. They stood in different places in front of the Grand Mosque. And the water followed their directives. The water split a few meters in front of the mosque and flowed on the right and left side of the mosque.

However, then more water came. The full force of the sea just pushed its way into the city and towards the mosque. The men dressed in white did not run away like everybody else. Hundreds and hundreds of people rushed towards the mosque, running for their lives.

📙 Read More Stories of Converts to Islam

Some fell and the water took them. I saw all this from my balcony. More and more water. But the water did not go inside the mosque. And the people in the mosque were safe.

Then all of a sudden, more men dressed in white appeared and they lifted up the mosque. Yes! They lifted up the mosque, the whole mosque. Just above the ground. And the water gushed underneath. I was totally stunned. What was that?

My First Time in the Mosque Compound

If somebody had told me what I saw, I would not have believed him. Never! But I saw it with my own eyes. I was wide awake. “God protects this mosque”, I said to myself again and again.

Weeks after this horrific disaster, tsunami, I pushed myself to tell what I saw to the Muslim shopkeeper next to my shop. He advised me to meet the Imam of the mosque. I walked towards the mosque hesitant.

It was the first time in my life to enter the mosque compound although I had basically lived next to it my whole life. The Imam recognized me from afar and came outside to greet me. “Good Morning. Can I help you, Uncle”, he greeted me politely.

“I need to talk to you”, I replied.

We sat down and I told him the whole story. He sat quietly, tears flowed from his eyes. After I finished, we just hugged. It was this natural hug that people exchange because they went through the same horrific experience.

The Imam said:

“Uncle, what you saw were God’s angels following His command. God wanted that His mosque will not be destroyed by this devastating tsunami. Uncle, maybe God wanted to show you something to bring you closer to Him. Because He loves you. Because He sees you are a kind man. He wants to give you happiness in this world and paradise in the next. Would you like to become Muslim, Uncle?”

How Can I Become Muslim?

I was shocked about the Imam’s question. It confused me. How can I, a Chinese, become Muslim? As Chinese, we have our own traditions, rituals and beliefs. I thanked the Imam and left.

Then I went back to my shop. I kept the doors closed for the day and just sat quietly in the corner. Again and again I saw before my inner eye the scenes of the day when the tsunami hit. The men dressed in white cloth. Directing the water. Lifting up the mosque. God’s angels doing His work. And I was allowed to witness it. I did not open my shop for two days, I just sat there and pondered.

I Became Muslim

On the third day somebody knocked on the door. It was the Imam of the mosque looking for me. He was worried because he had seen my shop closed for three days and that had never happened before. “I was thinking, Imam”, I told him. “I think you were right. God gave me a sign. A huge sign. I should not be a fool now and just forget about it. Can you please tell me how to become a Muslim.”

“Uncle, it is very easy”, the Imam said.  “You just need to recite these words”. And he showed me a piece of paper. I recited the words and it was as if a bright light filled my shop.

Since that day, the Imam came every day to teach me about Islam. He showed me how to pray and how to read Quran. And since I can pray, I also join the prayer in the Grand Mosque. It is one of the most beautiful things in my life. Alhamdulilah.

📙 Read More Stories of Converts to Islam

I Knew I Was Lost, I Asked for Guidance

Angels are creatures that are unseen by us who worship Allah. They do not have any of the traits of divinity or lordship. Allah created them from pure light and gave them the inflexible and innate inclination to always obey Him. They have great powers to execute whatever they are commanded.

Who Are the Angels?

Whenever I hear the sound of the ocean crashing upon itself in never-ending movement – rising and falling as it measures out time, I think about the beginning of my life and the journey I began and am still traveling.

Indonesia’s tsunami Aftermath from Above

Scenes of destruction after an eruption of Anak Krakatau volcano triggered a tsunami that killed at least 430 people.

About Claudia Azizah
Claudia Azizah is originally from Germany and mother of two children and writer. She served as Assistant Professor at the International Islamic University in Malaysia until August 2019. She is co-founder of the Ulu-Ilir-Institute in Indonesia. She regularly writes for the German Islamic newspaper. She is interested in Islamic spirituality, art and Southeast Asia. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram: #clazahsei