Ramadhan Mubarak!

Salaam alaykum and Ramadhan mubarak to all my brothers and sisters in Islam!  I pray that Allah will make the long hours of fasting easy for you and give you strength to get through these long, hot summer days (for those of you in the northern hemisphere!). 

Ramadhan is a month in which we abstain from food and water to not only purify ourselves physically, but also to constantly remind ourselves to work toward purifying ourselves spiritually.  In light of that, I have some goals in mind for this month that have become apparent to me recently.

Goal 1: Speak up with a smile. 

I’ve recently been mulling over my concept of “being nice” and have concluded that perhaps my definition is incorrect.  Since childhood, thoroughly ingrained into my mentality is the Christian standpoint of “turn the other cheek” and “if someone takes your cloak, give him your shirt also” (Matthew 5:39-40), and therefore now instinctually don’t defend myself or stand up for myself when dealing with others – instead, I just let it go.  But, what happens over and over again is that people, acting on instinct, respond by just running right over me and crossing boundaries without hesitation.  I’ve realized that as social – and imperfect – creatures, we are constantly bumping up against each other, so it is completely natural to bump back in order to maintain your position and standing with everyone around you.  If you offer no resistance when bumped, and instead easily fall down, people will simply step right over you and continue bumping into everyone else.  Thus, naturally – and Islamically – we need to assert ourselves and hold firm when others push up against us.  Islam is very specific about upholding the rights of God, of ourselves, and of others.  We must uphold our own rights.  If we don’t, no one else will.  Someone once told me that a mo’min (a believer) might let it go the first time something happens, but not the second time (which falls in line with the English saying “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”).  In reading the Quran and listening to lectures, I’ve been noticing that indeed it is true – prophets and upright companions were regularly met with resistance and would usually SAY something in response.  They weren’t rude, they didn’t have an attitude, they calmly spoke the truth.  Essentially, my concept of being nice or polite is simply ignoring and avoiding conflict.  Defending myself and pushing back is not something I ever associated with religion or as something “good”; I associated it with being dramatic, concerned with trivial matters, and rude.  Thus, my current project is attempting to change my mental definition and actively put it into practice.  Assert myself, speak up – but with a nice facial expression and calm tone of voice.  I need to gracefully look after my rights, while taking care not to tread on the rights of others –  A delicate balance which requires great attention and skill. 

Goal 2: Use good words

As a Christian, I would never utter swear words or even the words that represent swear words – my family was very strict about this (for instance, we also couldn’t say crap, heck, or dang), so even in college I continued to refrain from bad language.  Despite prolonged, humorous attempts from friends to get me to say some of the less offensive words, I refused.  Yet, due to linguistic awareness (that words are given power and meaning by the society that uses them and are not inherently ‘bad’ or ‘good’, but are simply means of expression) and the decreasing grip that Christianity had on my life, I began letting some of these words in.  Yet as Muslims, we too should refrain from using offensive words and should keep our speech clean and uplifting to others.  If we use certain words, people automatically associate certain qualities or characteristics to us that we wouldn’t want to be known for, and we certainly wouldn’t want people connecting those associations with our religion!  So, while I still don’t use such words around others – mostly to myself – I still want to make a concerted effort to get rid of them and replace them with something more fitting and appropriate to who I am. 

I’ve thought about adding a few more goals, but I think these two will be more than enough to keep me occupied!  It’s easy to type something out, but much harder to act on it every single moment of every single day.  I pray that God will help me in my efforts to improve myself, and that He will help all of you as well to work toward self-improvement and giving to others during this blessed month.

For more on specific rights in Islam: http://www.iec-md.org/IECE/religious/treatise_on_rights.html

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Forgiveness and Respect

Although I’ve written on this subject before, I find myself still continuing to regularly grapple with forgiveness and respect – for myself. 

Earlier today a friend posted something from a Christian site that I found to be very powerful and true for all of us, regardless of religion – or lack thereof.  It stated:

“true respect for another comes from self respect. True love for another comes from self love.   True forgiveness for another comes from self forgiveness.” 

How true this is.  We can’t actually connect to others or have any impact on others until we first deal with ourselves.  Jesus (as) is reported to have said in the Bible that we must take the plank of wood out of our own eye before we can comment on the speck of dust in another person’s eye.  But, in order to begin that process, we must first see ourselves honestly.  Prophet Muhammad (saws) said the one who knows himself knows God.  What does that mean?  It essentially means that knowing yourself opens the door to understanding the world around you and all that is in it.  You must truly know yourself before you can know others, and most certainly before you can truly know God.   

My friend also commented that she found the advice timely as she had been “beating (herself) up” over some past sins that God had long forgiven.  Her thoughts resonated with me because I often do the same thing.  Past sins and mistakes sometimes come hurtling back, hitting me like a runaway train, paralyzing me with shame, fear, and self-loathing, leaving me incredulous that I could have ever done such a thing. 

Yet I often wonder what role our past sins and mistakes should have in our lives.  We should not forget them altogether, because then we may not remember the pain and anguish we suffered through the experience, and the important lessons learned may quickly fade.  We may also find ourselves back in the same place again because we failed to keep in mind the small, seemingly inconsequential steps we took initially that eventually brought us to that horrid place.  Yet in contrast, if we always think about our past sins, we may render ourselves unable to pick ourselves up and move on, paralyzed by the shame and self-hatred.  In essence, we can’t forget our past but we also can’t get lost in it.  It’s a difficult balance to maintain.  

Further, if we lose ourselves in our past sins, we’ll be unable to forgive ourselves, which means we won’t be able to love ourselves, and certainly not respect ourselves.  And if we can’t do that, we will have great difficulty in doing that with others in a way that feels genuine and real to the other person.     Yet, if we easily forget our past and dismiss it quickly, self forgiveness, love, and respect may be shallow, and perhaps not even a conscious process, which may eventually lead to not being aware that we’ve messed up in the first place.  Our ethics with others may be superficial as well; fleeting, changing, insincere.  We will quickly find ourselves repeating the same mistakes over and over, either wondering why it keeps happening, or perhaps simply accepting it as an uncontrollable way of life, part of our personality or environment.  And eventually, some may become completely unaware that they’ve done something wrong, and others may even begin to boldy defend their actions as something good.  

As human beings, we have a tendency to block out the bad things and remember only the good.  Think back to your own childhood or to any fond memory.  Chances are, it’s a warming, glowing, positive memory – with nothing negative clouding the view.  In fact, maybe someday you’ll look back on this moment in time right now with fondness, completely forgetting all the hardship and agony you may currently be facing!  So, it appears that we should actually make concerted efforts to remember the shameful, sinful things we’ve done and struggle retain what it felt like and how we got there – because otherwise… we’ll quickly forget. 

A careful balance is necessary though, because if we go too far, it will be difficult to hold our heads up high, speak with any confidence, or even feel worthy to have friends or other relationships.  Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) encouraged us to look at those less fortunate than us.  This doesn’t mean only financially, but in all other aspects as well.  If you keep your sights set on the big picture, you’ll have a more accurate view of yourself and how you fit in with the world around you.  Chances are, you aren’t that bad.  And even if, in the worst case, you ARE that bad, more than likely you aren’t bad in EVERYTHING in your life.  You probably have something not so bad, or perhaps…. even something good. 

You might think that you’re the only one you know with this particular situation so you have no one less fortunate to look to, but in that case, I would suggest looking online!  There are forums on every possible subject imaginable in which people, strengthened by the anonymity the internet provides, share their stories and experiences with more honesty and detail than they ever would in real life.  Reading the accounts of others is eye-opening.  If you still don’t find someone in a worse situation than you, at the very least you’ll find someone who is similar to you, which helps to make you feel not so alone, and – not so bad. 

So, we can’t forget what we’ve done… but we can’t let it destroy ourselves either.  As Hussain ibn Ali aptly stated, “Moderation is wisdom.”  And so it is.  Balance, moderation… this is the wisest – yet most difficult – path.

Christmas: Jesus is the Reason for the Season… Right?

I have to admit that Christmas has always been my most favorite time of year.  Growing up, I always had a running countdown of the days left until Christmas – in fact, my countdown started even before my mom put up the handmade advent calendar in the shape of a Christmas tree, on which we would hang one bell for each day that passed.  On Christmas Eve, my brothers and I would stay up all night, eagerly anticipating Christmas morning – when we could wait no longer, we would rush into our parents’ room and terrorize them until they got up (5 am isn’t early for Christmas, is it?).  And yes, even now, I still enjoy the festivity of the season, with all the bright lights and beautiful colors and music, and the overall bustle and thrill of anticipation that seems to run through nearly everyone.

Of course, Christmas these days seems to be carried out to the extreme – people rushing from one place to another, spending too much money, desperately searching for discounts, feeling overwhelmed and stressed with all the parties, performances, traveling, and various obligations we have this time of year.  Amidst it all, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and get swept away by the tide of commercialism, consumerism, and decadence, causing many religious observers of the holiday to feel obligated to bring things back into perspective by echoing the well-known phrase: “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  Indeed, we wouldn’t even have Christmas if it weren’t for the birth of Jesus….  right…?

My investigation into the history of Christmas began by accident back when I was in college (and still a Christian).  My friend and I were musing over the purpose of Christmas trees, since it seemed unlikely evergreens would be that common in Palestine during the time of Jesus.  I decided to look it up on the Internet, and immediately saw that indeed, the Christmas tree was of pagan origin.  I didn’t feel too good about that, so I stopped any further searching as I didn’t want to know what else might have pagan origins as well!  Of course though, over time, my curiosity got the better of me and I did begin to look into the origins of Christmas, which became easier to face as I had begun having doubts about Christianity anyway at that point.

So is Jesus the reason for the season?  Well, although it sounds nice and feels good to say, unfortunately, Jesus is not the reason for the season.  In reality, Jesus is more of an afterthought, added to the holiday several centuries later.  The real reason for the season comes not from one sole source, but from a variety of other religions and traditions, the majority stemming from pre-Christian ancient Roman religious practices.  For instance:

Christmas day (Dec. 25th):

In ancient Babylon, this day was a celebration of the son of Isis, during which people would have a feast, throw wild parties, and engage in gluttonous drinking and eating.

Later, in pre-Christian Rome, the holiday, termed Saturnalia, was celebrated in honor of the god Saturn.  This was a time of hedonistic debauchery, celebrated with large feasts, drunkenness, and even orgies.

Another pre-Christian Roman religion was that of Mithra, the sun (or “son”) of God (in fact, much of Paul’s teachings about Jesus are exactly the same as the teachings of this religion).  December 25th was celebrated as the birthday of Mithra.

Christmas caroling:

In celebration of Saturnalia, some ancient Roman people (known as Mummers) would dress up in costumes and travel from house to house, entertaining people with songs and dances.  Incidently, when Christianity came on the scene, caroling was actually banned by the church.

Christmas trees:

Trees were worshipped by the ancient Druids in Northern Europe, and during the winter, people would often bring evergreen trees (and sometimes decorate the trees) inside to remind themselves of the hope of the new life to come in the springtime.  Early Christians abhorred the practice, and believed it to be blasphemy.

Gift-giving

Even giving family and loved ones gifts on Christmas has pagan roots – during the celebrations of the god Isis, people would commonly give each other gifts.  For Saturnalia, the rich often gave to the poor and less well-off people around them.   Gift-giving was also banned by the early church.

Santa Claus

The origin of Santa Claus comes from 4th century bishop, St. Nicholas, who was known for giving gifts to others secretly.  When the church realized the difficulty of preventing people from celebrating the traditions of the popular culture around them, they allowed gift-giving on the rationale that St. Nicholas, a Christian, had done it.  The mythical figure of Santa Claus was modeled after St. Nicholas, and in the 1800s, American cartoonist Thomas Nast began drawing yearly pictures of him (initially in religious robes), which thus began the transformation into the bearded, plump, short man in a red suit that we are familiar with today.   Ironically, the only originally Christian Christmas tradition just so happens to be Santa Claus, whom many modern-day Christians now bemoan and even refuse to include in their Christmas celebrations.

Jesus

Jesus was later added into the well-established tradition of Christmas celebrations about 300 years after his death, as church leaders decided that it was too difficult to fight against the tide of Roman culture, and determined instead that it would be better to add a Christian element to the mix to better attract non-Christian Romans to the religion with the promise of allowing them to retain their popular religious traditions.  In reality, however, Biblical historians believe Jesus to have been born sometime in September, nowhere near the date of December 25th.

The Real Reason for the Season

So, the real reason for the Christmas season is exactly what we see today (minus Santa Claus and the actual name, which stems from “Christ-mass”).  Overindulgence, gluttony, excess spending and the materialistic emphasis on gift-giving (or rather, gift-getting), wild parties, drunkenness, and debauchery.  Excess and frivolty is the reason for the season.

If Christians want to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, then they should celebrate it in September, but should take care to remember that there should be no caroling, no Christmas trees, or presents (unless you’re Catholic, in which case Santa Claus and gift-giving is allowed as per St. Nicholas).

The fact that so many Christians ignore the history of the development of their OWN religion and religious holidays is astounding.  Admittedly, I was once one of them, and in retrospect, I know exactly why I chose to remain blissfully ignorant.  The truth will force one to face the reality of one’s beliefs, much of which is based on mere fantasy and fairytales.  Logic and fact should therefore be avoided at all costs in order to avoid shattering the fragile glass house constituting one’s beliefs.

In the end, celebrating Christmas for what it truly is – a purely cultural holiday – is certainly not something horrific or satanic.  Rather, Christmas is a cultural tradition deeply embedded in Western societies, with a rich and diverse history extending back thousands of years.  It is doubtful that modern Westerners worship Christmas trees, Saturn, or Mithra, nor do they sing songs to Roman deities or engage in mass orgies (well, the majority probably doesn’t anyway).  On the contrary, it is a wonderful holiday during which people gather together with family, give each other presents as a sign of our appreciation and love for one another, and make unforgettable, warm memories that will stay with us to the end of our lives.  Certainly, there is nothing un-Islamic or un-Christian about that.

So, to that end – Merry Christmas everyone!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

http://www.essortment.com/all/christmaspagan_rece.htm

http://www.history.com/topics/christmas

More Thoughts on the Veil

For the Arabic class I’m taking, I had to view a couple of videos regarding the Islamic headscarf, and answer some questions pertaining to the video.  I decided to post both the videos and my responses.  Your response to the videos welcome!

 

 

Al Jazeera: The Veil part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlkaX4csHyM

Al Jazeera: The Veil part 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35cD16_AQAU

Questions & My Responses:

What thoughts come to your mind when you see a woman wearing al-hijaab
الحِجاب or al-niqaab النِقاب ? How do you view one vs. the other?

Before I came into contact with actual Muslim women, I viewed the headscarf as oppressive and forced.  However, when I began teaching for the first time and had a class full of Muslims, my perception immediately changed as I saw these women as having a great deal of honor, respect and dignity for themselves.  They looked like regal princesses to me, and I realized that someone in a position of nobility or high status doesn’t normally reveal their bodies to every common person around them, but would keep their personal appearance for only those in their private circle.

Regarding niqaab, I have had a few students who have worn the niqaab, and while I respect their decision to do so, I find it unnecessary and entirely counterproductive to their purpose of wearing it in the first place.  As the niqaabi woman in the video explained, the niqaab is to cover oneself physically from view of others and not draw unwanted attention to oneself.  However, niqaabis in the US and most other countries (included countries such as Egypt) draw a great deal of attention since they stand out as very different and even suspicious, as the TV reporter noted.  Islamically, the niqaab is not required (except for those in the Wahabi/Salafi sect), so adamantly wearing it and therefore drawing a lot of negative and suspicious attention to oneself, and furthering negative stereotypes of Muslim, is incredibly counterproductive in my view.  Islam encourages Muslims to dress in the same way as the culture they live in, as long as they ensure that the appropriate areas are covered.

How do you view an Arab woman who does not wear either al-hijaab or al-niqaab? Do you think that a woman dressed like that is making a political or a religious statement?

A few thoughts cross my mind when I see an uncovered Arab woman.  I may wonder if she is Christian or irreligious, or if she comes from a liberal Middle Eastern country, such as Lebanon or Syria.  She may also come from a more liberal city or family (Jeddah is Saudi Arabia is fairly liberal, as I have encountered students from Jeddah who don’t cover their hair, and know of individuals from even conservative areas in Saudi Arabia th don’t observe hijab in their private lives simply as the family in general doesn’t practice it).  Further, an uncovered woman may come from the West, from irreligious parents or mixed religion parents, and finally, the woman may simply not believe in it and chooses not to wear it.  Thus, when I see an uncovered Arab woman, I refrain from judgment and prefer to simply wait for more information.

In working with Muslim students from typically conversative countries however, I have seen that uncovered Muslim women are usually treated differently by their Muslim classmates; they are sometimes not respected as much and are treated as ‘loose’ and are not taken seriously, which is in line with what the TV reporter explained regarding women who don’t cover in Egypt.

Do your views apply to Arab or Muslim men who dress in a non-western manner?

Dressing in a non-Western manner for men or women from any country is their prerogative, and has little to do with one’s religious affiliation.  Islam is clear that a person can dress in a culturally appropriate manner wherever they are, as long as the appropriate areas are covered.  A male or female wearing jeans and a T-shirt to me simply look like they’re integrated and are not trying to set themselves distinctly apart from the culture around them.

Do you think that Muslims living this country should dress in a way that is not different from anyone else around them?

Muslims should dress in accordance to the area around them.  What I mean is that if they live in a more educated, open-minded area, dressing in their own cultural attire is fine as the people around them probably would be more accepting and open to that.  However, if they live in a conservative, close-minded, uneducated area, they may want to adopt the dress around them so as to not draw unwanted attention to themselves.  Again, the Islamic emphasis is always on covering the appropriate areas, and beyond that is a personal choice.

Can you think of other religions wheremen and women dress in certain way because they think that their religion requires them to do so? Does the American society view these other religions and their followers as they view Muslims who adhere to particular clothes?

Practicing Jewish women also dress similarly to Muslim women; they wear modest clothing and also cover their hair (which is a practice alive and well today as I came across many websites and tutorials on Jewish hair covering when I was trying to learn how to cover my own hair as a new convert to Islam).  Jewish texts record that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, never left the house without covering her hair, face, and hands (just like the niqaabi woman in the video).

Christian women traditionally also wore modest clothing and covered their hair, as Paul in the Bible admonishes women who come to church without their hair covered, saying that such women bring shame to themselves and deserve to have their heads shaved (incidentally, Islam does not take such an extreme approach!).  Some Christian women in other countries do still cover their hair.  Women in the FLDS denomination of Christianity dress modestly, as well as the Amish (who also cover their hair).  Women in the Apostolic and conservative Evangelical branches of Christianity have strict beliefs against cutting one’s hair (as the Old Testament states that a woman’s hair is her glory and should not be cut), and that women should not wear pants (as the OT also states that women should not wear men’s clothing and vice versa).  Catholic nuns dress in the same way as Muslim women by wearing long, loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf, and no image of Mary mother of Jesus (peace be upon him) is complete without Mary wearing a headscarf.

By no means has Islam introduced modesty or the veil to religious clothing practices; it has simply continued what has been practiced by other Abrahamic faiths for centuries. Yet, Westerners seem to forget the clothing practices of their own faith traditions historically and to the present.  If Mary is seen as holy and pure for wearing a headscarf, why then are Muslim women seen as oppressed and brainwashed for wearing the exact same thing?

My Conversion Story

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.

Some background

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.

Questions

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.

Getting Serious

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.

The 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. 🙂