Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My conversion to Islam

Bismillah AlRahman AlRaheem

I was born in Nashville Tennessee on May 10, 1977. My father was in the Air Force so I moved around quit a bit and I was lucky enough to live all over the US and to be exposed to other cultures. I was raised as a Methodist Christian (a Protestant sect) but I went to different types of churches whenever my parents moved. I lived in Albuquerque during my early years in Elementary school and it was there that I met a classmate who was Jewish and I found out that they did not believe in Jesus (pbuh) as the son of God. I was surprised because I did not know at the time that there were other religions besides Christianity, so I asked my mom about it. She told me that there were many religions but that they were all wrong except for ours. I was also surprised when I found out that my next door neighbors were Mormon, and that even though they went to church every Sunday and called themselves Christians my mom also said they were not really Christians. She saw that I was interested and confused so she bought me a book for children called “People” which explained other religions and cultures with colorful illustrations. But this made me more confused because I saw that most people were not Christian. I knew that there had to be only one true religion and I remember praying to God that He would guide me to whatever the correct religion is and that I would be upon that religion before I died. I prayed that I would be with those people who were practicing the correct religion and not with those that were wrong. I prayed this prayer throughout my childhood and adolescence but I really was hoping that I would discover that Christianity was the true path because that was what my family was upon and like many people I was into the ‘home team’ mentality. I wanted to study other religions but I did not have access to them so most of my religious study was going to church and reading the Bible. As the years past I was able to learn about Judaism through reading the Bible and I also learned about a few of the separate denominations within Christianity. As I got older my family went to church less but I still wanted to go so I would go with friends and I tried to learn on my own.

I grew very fond of the Bible and I could see God’s word in it. But there were areas that confused me and when I would ask church leaders about them I found myself dissatisfied with some of their answers. For instance, in the first book of the Bible Genesis Ch 32 it says that God came down to earth as a man and wrestled with the Prophet Yaqub (as) (Jacob). As a Christian I believed that Isa (as) was God so it actually did not bother me at the time that God would come to earth as a man but in the Biblical story God loses the fight with Yaqub (as). I did not understand how an all-powerful God could lose a fight to anybody. I was also disturbed to read in Jeremiah Ch 10: 2-4 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” In the very next verse it equates this as the same as idol worship. I made a fuss about this to my parents when I was young and I got them to put away the plastic Christmas tree that year. But the next year they put it up again and said that it was not an important rule, and our minister agreed with them. I felt that every rule in the Bible should be important if it was the word of God. There were other issues that puzzled me in the Bible but it also had so many good and had such a powerful message that I still felt it was still the word of God. I told myself that I know I am not the smartest guy in the world so if I do not understand something then that does not mean it is not truth; it could be my own ignorance. So I put everything I could not understand under this category.

I continued studying on my own and after I graduated high school I officially left the Methodist church to join a non-denominational church. I had too many Biblical disputes with the Methodist church. I joined the Church of Christ (not to be confused with the Latter Day Saints). The Church of Christ believed that they were they only true church of God. Even though I had problems with that belief I still saw the church enforcing Biblical rules that no one else did and the members had a real zeal for God. I was baptized into the church and began to work as hard as I could for them. Soon I was the campus leader for the northern Virginia chapter. But even they would push aside parts of the Bible that went too much against Western thought, but to their credit they did have scholars in the church who tried to give me intellectual answers to my Biblical questions. Something I did not feel I had with the other churches I went to. So through working with the church and with like minded people I decided that I wanted to make a career as a Christian missionary.

One morning as I was reading the Bible and I came upon a Psalms Ch 84, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Selah Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with blessings.” I wanted to know where Baca was because after all, the Bible said those who went on pilgrimage through there were “blessed”. The church leaders did not know the answer, some said it may be the Baca valley in Lebanon, but there was no record of them having a place they called the house of God, where people praised God. Another answer was that Baca was an ancient Hebrew word that was now unknown which is not uncommon in the Hebrew Scriptures. So I just chalked it up to the; “I just don’t understand” category.

Since I wanted to be a missionary I wanted to learn more about other religions so I could know where they were coming from and Islam appealed to me because there were many Muslims at my college and it seemed exotic. I had always heard that the Qur’an teaches Muslims to kill Christians and Jews and that it was a violent religion. I thought the best way to know where Muslims were coming from was to read their scripture, so I checked out a Qur’an from the public Library. I felt like I was about to read the other teams play book. I was stunned when I read the first chapter of the Qur’an called Al Fatiha. The last part of the chapter where it said, “lead us the path of those whom you have guided not the path of those for whom your portion is wrath, or those whom you have lead astray;” it reminded me of the prayer I had been asking God for so long ago. This did not make me want to convert but it got my attention. In the translation of the Qur’an I had there was a concordance and the first thing I did after reading Al Fatiha was to look up what the Qur’an said about Christianity. I had also heard that Jesus (pbuh) was in the Qur’an so I looked that up too. I was surprised that not only did I not find a verse that ordered Muslims to kill Christians but in Sruah Madiah Ch 5:81-83 “… and you will find nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say “We are Christians.” That is because amongst them there are priests and monks and they are not proud. And when they (who call themselves Christians) listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger (Muhammad peacebeuponhim), you see there eyes overflowing with tears because of the truth they have recognized. They say, “Our Lord we believe so write us down among the witnesses. And why should we not believe in Allah and that which has come to us of the truth? And we wish that our Lord will admit us (in Paradise on the day of resurrection) along with the righteous people.” I did not expect to see this at all and through out the Qur’an I felt that it spoke to me on such a personal level and yet was speaking to all mankind. I was still a firm believer in Christianity and I saw the verses in chapter 5 as an opportunity, to relate to them and now I felt that the Muslims at school did not seem that unapproachable. What I learned in the Qur’an was much different from what I had learned from Orientalists and the Christian sources on Islam I had studied.

I tried telling Muslims at Northern Virginia community college and George Mason University about Christianity and they were easy to talk to because religion was something special to them and they did not mind talking about those things. But as I talked with them I noticed that religious Muslims seemed to follow many parts of the Bible better than Christians did because the two faiths were very similar in many ways. The book of Exodus commanded men to trim their mustaches and to let their beards grow but few did that. 1st Corinthians Ch 11 stated that a woman must cover their hair but I didn’t see any who did. All the Prophets in the Bible from Ibrahim to Isa (peace be upon them all) prayed on their faces but few Christians did while I saw that all Muslims did. I also liked the fact that the Qur’an was in the first person, and I had respect for my Muslim friends at school, but I still did not want to convert.

I saw that my efforts to convert Muslims to Christianity was not working so I tried a different approach and I asked the Muslims to tell me about their religion in there own words; since I had been the one doing most of the talking. During one conversation a Muslims was telling me about the five pillars of Islam, I already knew about them but I did not want to be rude so I did not interrupt. Then when they got to the fifth pillar they said the word Baca instead of Mecca. I said “I think you mean Mecca.” They said that they did mean Mecca but that it is also know as Baca and in the Qur’an it is called both Mecca and Baca. I did not let on that what they were saying was the best explanation to Psalms 84 I had ever heard, but I was now I was thinking about Islam as maybe the true faith. It scared me to be honest and I was still rooting for the ‘home team’ and I still wanted to talk to Muslims about Christianity. I began to study about the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but I used a Christian source first. The source said many negative things about the Prophet (pbuh), which I think I should have expected. But as I read it became more and more clear that the Christian authors who were writing these books were contradicting each other about why they thought the Prophet (pbuh) was not a true Prophet. Then I came to the realization it did not make sense that a man who was supposed to be doing these bad things was preaching against those things under extreme persecution would still have followers. So I began to study Islamic sources about Muhammad (pbuh) and others, which were more neutral. There were striking similarities between his flight to Medina and a chapter in Isaiah Ch 23:13-17 “ A prophecy concerning Arabia: You caravans of Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia, bring water for the thirsty; you who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives. They flee from the sword, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow and from the heat of battle. This is what the Lord says to me: "Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the pomp of Kedar will come to an end. The survivors of the bowmen, the warriors of Kedar, will be few." I knew thorough Genesis 25 that Kedar was the second son of Ishmael and Tema was a later son. I found out through investigating that Kedar’s grandson was named Quraish and that was the tribe of the Prophet (pbuh). The children of Tema moved north where Medina is today. And within a year of his arrival to Medina the battle of Badar happen and it was a miraculous defeat of the tribe of Quraish the decedents of Kedar, who had a large army and were known for their bowmen. I still was not a Muslim but by learning more about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a Prophet, a leader, father, husband, mediator, friend, and a man I saw the beauty of what he brought and it was more of his example then anything else that caused me to convert to Islam.

May Allah forgive me, I think I knew Islam was the truth about a month before I converted to Islam but I had a so much invested in Christianity and I knew I would be leaving something big. I did not have any ill will towards my Church, I was not jaded by a bad experience, but even if you have something great to come into it is hard to leave something. So I fasted and prayed about it, I even dropped the classes I was taking to think about my decision, and finally I remembered that I had always said; I only want to do what is right and that I knew I had to submit to God’s will. So I felt ashamed of thinking about what worldly reasons should keep me in Christianity and what type of pain I would experience in this life if I converted. I contacted a Muslim friend of mine and told them that I believed Allah was the only God and that Muhammad was his final prophet, and I wanted to know how to become a Muslim. He said I just did, and then explained that to become a Muslim you need to say ‘I bear witness that there is no deity worthy except Allah and that Muhammad is his servant and final Messenger.” This beautiful phrase is called the shahadah and I said mine on October 7, 1998.