I’ve been asked on several occasions to share my story of how I came to Islam, and each time I struggle with exactly how to tell it, what to include, and where to start. There are so many things that have influenced me and taken me toward Islam that it would be impossible to mention all of them. So, I’ll try to give you the basic version of it here without it being too long and overwhelming.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home with two happily married parents – my dad worked and my mom stayed at home with my brothers and I to home school us through the large part of my K-12 experience. We were dual-enrolled much of the time, meaning we would go in to public school for sports and music (and art sometimes), so we still had the opportunity to interact with other kids. We belonged to the Pentacostal side of Christianity (although I never really understood the whole speaking in tongues thing; it was all a little weird and fake to me), and moved our way over to Southern Baptist when I was in high school. I began attending a Christian church (yes, this is actually the name of another denomination of Christianity) in college, and felt pretty happy with the emphasis on reason and intellect rather than solely emotions.
One of my main goals when I first started college was to become a missionary to other countries, but very quickly hit a pretty big roadblock when I began to get involved with international ministries on campus and developing friendships with people from other countries. I just could not fathom how a fair and just God could send all these people, and all their ancestors, straight to hell for not believing in Jesus (as). One day they die, and they find themselves in a horrible place for simply not believing in someone they’d never heard of? This bothered me immensely, and I realized that I needed to find the answer to this question before I set off to another country to try to convince people to believe in my religion when I wasn’t even entirely sure of it myself.
Time progressed and while in graduate school, I developed a friendship with a girl who graduated from seminary, who was studying in the same graduate program as I. We began discussing the concept of the deity of Jesus, and neither of us could find any logical explanation for it, nor could we find any concrete support for it Biblically. She herself, having gone through Bible school, had given up and became agnostic (along with several other of her classmates!). I resigned myself to the fact that perhaps these questions could never be solved – I would continue to believe in God and follow Christianity because it was the best religion out there. And as many Christians say, I’d rather be wrong and believe in God than be wrong and not believe in God! In my mind, Christianity was the only viable religion through which I could believe in God.
An encounter with Islam
Upon graduating from graduate school, I began teaching at a university language program. I walked in to class and immediately saw that the majority of my class was Arab. I had never really met an Arab before and knew nothing about their culture or religion. I was surprised to find that they were very social, outgoing, polite, and well-mannered. From what I had seen on TV, I thought they would all be angry and suspicious of me! I decided I needed to learn more about my students, so I began to read online about the culture and religion. One of the first things I learned that shocked me immensely was the fact that Islam considers itself an extension of the monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity, and accepts all the prophets, including Jesus (as), culminating in Prophet Muhammad (saws). I was surprised that Muslims were so closely tied to Christians religiously, as I had thought they worshiped Prophet Muhammad like Christians worshipped Jesus.
Since the majority of my students were very friendly, I decided to ask them some questions about their religion. Some had no idea; others were more knowledgeable. One in particular (a friend of a student) began to even debate with me about Christianity, which always left me shocked and infuriated because I had always considered myself to be very knowledgeable about my faith, yet I couldn’t give him one logical answer that didn’t involve Christian jargon or concepts that had no alternate explanation. I tried to get him to discuss some of the issues I had with Islam, but he easily explained those in such a logical fashion that I was left stuttering and had nothing else to say since he made perfect sense.
Finally, I decided to take matters seriously and began pouring over a huge Bible concordance, along with a hefty book entitled “Hard Sayings of the Bible,” written by renowned Biblical scholars. I thought surely if I understand the difficult aspects of Christianity, I could convince him that my faith was right, and he might even convert!
So I began my journey. Some of the issues were explainable, such as the differences in numbers and dates and even names among the Old Testament books – a scribe made a simple error. That doesn’t mean the meaning is compromised though… did it? But as I read, the issues grew more numerous, the contradictions more obvious, and the inconsistency of the portrayal of God more difficult to ignore. As a fairly educated individual, if I read something like this for a class, in no way would I pass over any of this without ripping it apart for numerous logical inconsistencies and a lack to prove conclusions with solid evidence. Finally, I reached the breaking point when I came to the explanation of when God told the Israelites to destroy the occupants of the land of Canaan – to kill every man, woman, and child – everything that breathes. The explanation? God knew these children would grow up to be evil so He wanted them to be killed too. Wait. I thought children weren’t responsible for their sins until they reached a certain age. And more important, how could God create innocent life with the knowledge that He would order their destruction without giving them a chance to know the truth and choose their path on their own? Where was their free will? They were punished for being born in the wrong land? How was that their fault?
I wept as I read the explanation. So cold, so callous… yet more than that, is this the God I serve? An unmerciful, unjust, unfair God? Is it? I laid awake in bed that night, crying and pleading with God to make it right somehow. Help me to understand. After some time, I slowly began to realize that I had two choices if I wanted to continue to believe in God – which I absolutely did. 1. The Bible is correct and God is an unjust and unmerciful God, or 2. The Bible is incorrect and God may actually be just and merciful. With all the other blatant inconsistencies in the Bible, along with my earlier doubts about the deity of Jesus, I chose option 2.
From darkness to light
Even though I had decided the Bible could not be God’s word, I still felt very unsettled and uprooted from everything I had based my entire life around. I recall telling my Muslim friend once that he was so lucky to have such a solid, logical base to support his beliefs. I felt I had nothing. I felt so empty. I believed in God but I knew nothing else. It became a very dark time for me; I slept little and my mind was always occupied with reading more about the Bible and trying to educate myself as much as possible – I wanted to be really sure. I delved into the issues surrounding the compilation of the New Testament (politics, power, and control!), and the coffin lid was officially nailed shut when I learned with a shock that Paul’s version of Christianity was copied and pasted directly from the prominent religion of Tarsus at that time – the religion of Mithra! That was when I decided I was no longer a Christian. I had joined the ranks of my seminary friend.
Around this time, my Muslim friend randomly brought me a Quran with commentary. I had asked him for one several months earlier, but he hadn’t seemed too interested and had apparently forgotten. But, by God’s perfect timing, he suddenly remembered and brought it me – just as I had lost all hope in my own religion. I remember when he gave it to me; I was excited to finally get the real truth on Islam, from Islamic scholars themselves – but I also wondered if I had time to get into all the inconsistencies of yet another religion. If Christianity was this exhausting and the explanations obscure and based primarily on conjecture and not fact or evidence, I imagined other religions would be much worse.
That night, as I got into bed to read before sleeping, I looked between the Bible concordance and the Quran, trying to decide which one to read. I opted for the Quran, thinking I needed a change. I opened it, and began reading the first chapter, the Fatiha. From the very first line, the very first sentence, the very first verse, I felt the strength of the words. The power of the words. The pure, simple logic. It was as if the Author were speaking directly to me, to someone who has the same doubts and questions as I had. The commentary also went into great detail about many of the issues I had been dealing with in Christianity, and even brought up a few I hadn’t even thought of yet! I couldn’t put it down, and found myself reading far longer than I had planned.
That night, for the first night in months, I slept all the way through the night, without waking fitfully, without feeling fearful (I had been feeling so afraid at night that I had started leaving the light on… I had actually been seeing lights and strange movements in my room which scared the living crap out of me). That night I needed no light. I slept with the Quran and my Bible next to me.
And so I continued reading, and learning. I visited websites (such as al-islam.org), and tried to learn what Muslim scholars had to say about the religion. It made so much sense. I also greatly admired the honorable and respectful treatment women were given, all the rights and great care afforded to their protection. It was so refreshing to the point that when I saw my female Muslim students in class, I would have tears in my eyes because I was so awed at how they respected themselves, and how the men around them respected them. In all honesty, I was convinced that Islam was the right path from that very first night. But, I wanted to be sure. I could still barely even think the word “Islam” without a negative reaction, so I wanted to explore everything before making a final decision. And, after about a month more of reading, listening to lectures, asking questions, and praying, I made my decision.
I wanted to tell my Muslim friend about my decision, since he, after all, was the impetus for all of this. He began a debate with me about something in Christianity, and didn’t even notice when I agreed with him. He finally stopped and thought I was being sarcastic, and seemed unsure of continuing. I tried my best to convince him I agreed with him, but he still seemed dubious. I finally went further and told him that well…. actually I’m not a Christian anymore…. it just doesn’t make sense to me. He was dumbfounded. And I continued, “and I’m about 85-90% convinced that Islam is the right path.” He was in even more shock, and certainly didn’t believe me immediately. He began asking me a lot of questions to determine my sincerity, which I found interesting since Christians would simply start rejoicing and start pushing them to get baptized – no questions asked!
Finally, in May 2008, I said my shahada. My conversion was not like what many Christians say they experience – upon accepting Jesus as God and Savior, they always say they feel overwhelming joy and happiness – a great rush of emotion. When I realized fully that Islam was the right path, I didn’t feel a huge rush of emotions. Instead, I felt clean. I felt pure. I felt that the turmoil inside was finally quiet and at rest. I felt that my logic and belief in God were finally in accordance with one another – both supported the other. I felt so relieved. In fact, I felt like I had come home.
The beginning of a new story
My story doesn’t end there of course; I still had much to learn, and many challenges and trials ahead of me, which I hope to share here as well. I’ll save it for a new post though since I fear this one is far too long! I hope no one is asleep yet. 🙂