Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ir-Raheem (In the Name of Allah the Most Merciful the Most Benificent)
How did I become a Muslim?
Since my childhood, through the good times and the bad, I have always somehow felt a personal connection with God, some may call it a sense of spirituality. My mother left our home when I was seven years old, my father worked all of the time and God was all that I had in my life to keep me grounded. During my rebellious teenage years, I too left my home and Roman Catholicism and joined a fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian church. It was a spiritual boot camp supposedly to bring me closer to God but became a prison where I was brutally beaten and tortured for nearly two years in the name of Jesus. In fear of my life, I fled the church.
Still, my first inclination wasn’t to abandon God, but to look to Him for the direction and stability that I was missing as a child and so desperately needed. The experience defined the course of my life as I determined myself to be strong and never to allow another human being to control my mind again.
My reversion to Islam was not one of grand vision, experiencing a miracle, or waking up one day and suddenly “seeing the light.” It was long and arduous.
In early 1992, I was in the United Kingdom working as a civilian with the USAF. I was a young man in my twenties still in search of something and as a result spent a lot of time drinking and partying and I felt that it was time to clean up my life. I decided to embark on a personal study on religion, utilizing all of my spare time to discover what I believed and establish stability in my life. I still considered myself a Christian and I began to pray every day, go to church and bible study. I still felt empty and ungrounded.
I began to pray to God for guidance in my life and whether I am following the right path. I opened my mind to the possibility that I could be wrong in arbitrarily accepting Christianity because it was the assumed faith in which I was born. I could not find any denomination of church that I felt were true to his teachings. So, I began to question the origins of the Church and the New Testament. Then I came to the realization that Jesus followed more closely Jewish Law and Tradition and his teachings were strikingly similar to Jewish teachings from Rabbis and Scribes in his lifetime. It was then that I began to affiliate with the Messianic Jewish Movement. The study I did in this movement exposed me to a lot of Jewish teaching in the Torah and Midrash (oral Torah). In 1993, I connected with a Messianic Jewish Congregation called “The Vineyard” in Long Grove, Illinois.
As I began to study more about the lifetime of Jesus, I decided that I wanted to learn more about his life’s teachings and practice and began reading books to advance in my understanding of Bible history, both Old and New Testament.
A close friend of mine and the Pastor of our congregation was Jewish by birth but accepted Jesus (Yeshua) as the Messiah of Israel. He was also a professor at Trinity College in Palos Heights, Illinois. He took me under his wing and made me a researcher for two books he was working on that would not only help him but me in my quest for knowledge.
One cannot delve into the history of Jesus without learning about Judaism, so I thought I needed to learn more about Judaism. It seemed only natural as it was the very religion that Jesus practiced and the cultural and social context where he grew up and lived. I came to feel that I believed in Jesus as the Messiah, but I wasn’t convinced of his divinity.
I organized a meeting with the Rabbi of a Conservative Jewish Synagogue in my area. I made many good friends there and one of my best friends was named David. David took me under his wing and between him and the Rabbi, I became hugely attracted to Judaism because of their strict adherence to the idea of the Oneness of God. God is One, Absolute and Unique. He cannot be part of the creation or corruptible and all that exists comes from him.
There was a catch though.
Before I could convert to Judaism, I had to resolve the issues concerning Jesus being the Messiah. Although some Reconstructionist Jews seemed to have suggested that Jesus, if he existed, must have been a great teacher, Jews do not believe the Messiah has come and Jesus certainly is not the Messiah.
I went back to my New Testament and found that Jesus was in agreement on the Jewish concept of the Oneness of God. It seemed that much of Christian Doctrine was derived from the Pauline Scriptures or others which were not his teachings or influenced by the great thinkers of the Pauline churches. Was I to follow Paul? Or, some other person? I wanted to follow Jesus teachings and those alone.
The Messiah has no divine nature according to the Judaism. It has always been viewed like this in the religion. It seemed that most modern accepted theologies of Christ’s divinity prevailed after the destruction of the original Jerusalem Church founded by the direct disciples of Jesus. The sack of Jerusalem by the Romans was in 70AD. Prior to 70AD the original disciples maintained relations with Jewish rabbis and remained in their synagogues rather than forming separate congregations, until Paul’s missions to the Gentiles.
I thought to myself, how could this be? If Jesus was a Jew, he and his followers taught and practiced within the context of existing synagogues (who do not believe the Messiah figure was God or divine) for so many years after he died, then they must have taught his messiahship according to the Jewish religion.
In Jesus time and in the Jewish context in which he taught, the Jews seemed to have taken major issue with his claim to Messiahship not his divinity, though they certainly would have took issue had Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. After all, since the 2nd century BC Jews were on the lookout for their Messiah and it was commonplace for people to lay claim to Messiahship. Jesus was just one of many other Jewish Messiah claimants. Messiah claimants appeared through history and even to this day.
The concept of Messiah that Jesus taught according to the New Testament was a Jewish concept. So, I began to believe that the Jews and Jesus were the same in their core teachings on the idea of the Oneness of God. Many other Jewish traditions and the New Testament Scriptures were Jewish in origin, some taken directly from the Midrash. So, Jesus was simply a reforming figure who often challenged religious hypocrisy of some Jewish rabbis or groups. He always taught within a Jewish context, even in his rejected claim of Messiahship.
This is where one might say that I exited Christianity. I no longer believed in this idea of a Triune God. I didn’t feel the need to voice it. It just gave me a feeling of being more at peace with what I believed which happened to not be a Christian enough concept. I felt more at peace having discovered this without any outside influences. It was my discovery of what I believed.
My interest in conversion to Orthodox Judaism began to intensify, but I still wrestled with my remaining notion that Jesus was the Messiah.
Nearly two more years, I continued to study after work and during all of my spare time. During the course of my study of Christianity and the spread of religious ideas through Roman trade routes, I even picked up some knowledge of other religions. I had a Hindu friend who gave me some books, so I even pick up some spare reading into Hinduism and Buddhism. I was really attracted to the philosophy of Buddhism, but wasn’t convinced about some of the rituals.
After concluding my studies into origins of the New Testament Scriptures, I devoted time to focus more intently on the origins of the Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures). Ultimately, my conclusion was that I could not rely on the authenticity of any of the Scriptures that we have today. I could not rely on the authors being ascribed to the books as they were ascribed at so much of a later date than the books were written and collected to form the Jewish Tanakh and Christian Bible. I had to be certain. And, if my quest ended in none of the above on religion then I would be agnostic and not be bothered by it.
My Muslim friends at work were good people. I gave them private time for their prayers in my office. Their devotion certainly spoke to me as a good quality. I was willing to give Islam a fair chance.
My friends gave me a copy of the Qur’an in English and explained to me that it was written as a first person conversation in the context of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. It was unlike the Bible, which was written in the third person as a set of stories or narratives told much later than the events happened.
When I began to study Islam, I was shocked at the similarities to Judaism’s concept of the Oneness of God. I discovered that I already agreed with much of it based on my Christian and Jewish studies. It was an Abrahamic religion through the line of Abraham and Ishmael, his first born son, whereas the Judeo-Christian religions were from the line of Abraham and Isaac his second born son. The bible taught that God would bless Abraham’s son Ishmael, so surely taught both his sons that God is One and this was a very important thing for me. I had read about other religions but I felt drawn to strict Abrahamic monotheism, that ultimately there is only One God who is Unique and not part of the creation or bound by space and time.
I became more deeply involved in resolving some nagging notions that I had been taught by Christian churches. Do Muslims really believe in killing non-believers? Did Islam teach to destroy Israel? Does Islam teach to kill apostates? If I converted and found that Islam wasn’t what I thought it was, I certainly don’t want to put myself into that position. How did Muhammad receive his message, satan? Was Allah really the moon god of ancient Arabia? I still had a lot of church indoctrination to overcome.
In late 1996, I set out to resolve all of my issues on Islam. The internet was a relatively new phenomena. I dialed into American Online (AOL) on my incredibly slow modem and hit the Islamic chatroom.
The tone of the Muslims answering questions in the chatroom was unlike anything I had even seen in the churches when I asked hard questions. In many church studies I attended, it seemed that to question aspects of my faith was tantamount to abandoning it and people got very hostile. Here I was talking to Muslims online and they seemed not only knowledgeable to help me but genuinely nice people, even when I challenged them on killing unbelievers.
I met two Muslim women in the chatroom that were incredibly helpful. They showed me verses and explained Islam to me. Killing of non-believers and apostates was not permitted. Though political issues regarding Israel exist rooted in British partition and urgently need to be resolved, Islam doesn’t teach to destroy Israel. It was explained to me that Allah was not the moon god, but was from the Abrahamic tradition and literally meant The God, there is only One, i.e. the Creator. The Qur’an expressly forbids worshipping anything other than the Creator alone. Finally, I discovered that they believed in Jesus as the Messiah, but he was not divine. Amazed, I couldn’t get enough. I had to visit a Mosque and ask a scholar to see if it was true.
My only question remaining was the authenticity of the Qur’an. Can I trust that the Prophet Muhammad saw and authorized the version we see today?
I was at a loss to find a Mosque. I had not seen one, let alone in my area. Do they even exist in my area? But, I couldn’t stop now. I asked the women in the chatroom where to go and to my surprise they found one within a half mile of my home. I had never seen it there before. How could I have missed it? I must have been blind.
I was scared, but mostly because of my prior conditioning about Islam in the church. Would I be whisked away to Saudi Arabia never to be seen again?
“Do you want to go tonight?” One of the women asked.
I paused and then typed.
“Yes. I am scared because I don’t know what to expect.”
“If you go, I will meet you there and introduce you,” She said.
We set up a time and I met them about 30 minutes before Maghrib Salat (dusk time prayer).
I rushed out of the house, nervous and excited at the same time then met the two women at the Mosque. The mosque was a traditional looking large beige colored brick building with a huge green dome. In the parking lot, they were sitting in their car and I approached cautiously. One of them told me that they had organized a meeting for me with the Sheikh, the scholar of the Mosque. They handed me a gift of a Qur’an and a prayer rug and explained where to go into the men’s area. I had one last question for them that I was concerned about before talking to the Sheikh. Was this a Shi’a or Sunni Mosque? I hadn’t known the difference yet.
One of the woman answered me, “We attend and teach here and are Shi’a and this is a Sunni mosque. The most important thing is that you are Muslim. You can discover the differences later.”
It is a comment that cemented in my mind and would greatly affect my outlook on Muslim unity and Islamic activism to this day.
As I entered the Mosque, I became incredibly nervous. I waited by the office of Sheikh. I was greeted by curious attendees coming for prayer and told them why I was there. When the Sheikh arrived I was introduced and brought into his office then the Adhan (call to prayer) sounded for Maghrib salat (dusk prayer). It was perhaps the most beautiful awe inspiring sound I had ever heard. The Sheikh asked if I wanted to watch, but I was so nervous of doing something wrong, I stayed in his office until they were finished.
The sheikh came back with one of the mosque board members to have a chat with me. I told him my history. I was a Christian, but no longer consider myself Christian. I studied Judaism in the synagogue but still believe that Jesus is the Messiah. I explained to him what I’ve learned about Islam so far, but had one main question about the authenticity of the Qur’an.
He laid out the history of the Prophet Muhammad and how he received revelation through the angel Gabriel and immediately went to his wife Khadijah who believed him. She took him to her cousin who was a Christian monk, Waraqa ibn Naufal, who authenticated his message. I still wasn’t at ease with the authenticity of the Qur’an and continued to question about the origins of the Qur’an we see today. I had put the bible through this scrutiny and wanted Islam to go through it just the same.
The sheikh explained about the time of the death of the Prophet and the steps taken to preserve the Qur’an. After the death of the Prophet in 632CE, Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph (leader) of the Islamic Republic and took immediate steps to preserve it so that it didn’t suffer the same fate as the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. He ordered that all of those who memorized the Qur’an from the Prophet be tested for accuracy and they recited the entire Qur’an. He ordered Muhammad’s formal secretary, Zaid Ibn Thabet, to collect all the writings. All current writings that did not match the words of the Qur’an exactly were gathered up and destroyed. All of those who recited the Qur’an without flaw worked on putting the Qur’an in compiled written form for the purpose of spreading the faith. The final version was established by Caliph ‘Uthman around 650CE. The whole process from start (the Prophets death) to finish (the final copy) took about 18 years to complete. We can still view the earliest originals in Museums today. So, anyone can see of their Qur’an matches the original exactly and can be assured that it was the same one revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
By this time I was convinced I was a Muslim.
The Shiekh told me that I must be certain and explained all six basic beliefs to me that Muslims subscribe, in the Oneness of God, in the Angels or Unseen, in all of the Prophets and Messengers (including Jesus the Messiah), in the Holy Books or Scriptures (including the original Torah and Gospel of Jesus), in the coming of the Day of Judgement and the Foreknowledge of God (al Qadr).
I shook my head, yes, yes, yes, I do believe in all of that. Then he told me of the requirements of being a Muslim in the five pillars. First was the one thing that makes a Muslim a Muslim, the Shahaddah (statement of faith), Salat (mandatory five daily prayers), Zakat (mandatory yearly charity), Sawm (fasting Ramadan) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah). I was still convinced I was a Muslim in my heart and should revert to Islam.
He still pressed me to be certain and then asked me a question.
“If you believe that there is no God but the One God (Allah) and Muhammad is his messenger and you believe in all of these things, you should become Muslim. Do you want to become Muslim?”
“Yes,” I said eagerly.
That night was December 31, 1996. As I said the Shahaddah, the Adhan sounded for ‘Isha prayer (night-time prayer). A sense of euphoria came over me and since that day I felt a deep feeling of being home at last. The Sheikh invited me to prayer and instructed me to just follow along because I am knew and aren’t expected to know everything in a night. I reverted to Islam and made my first salat on New Year’s Eve. After salat, the Shiekh told the congregation that he had a special treat for them. He announced that I walked into the masjid (mosque) and became a Muslim.
“It was his New Year’s resolution to become a Muslim,” the sheikh joked.
The entire mosque busted out in laughter.
As I was being congratulated someone shouted.
“Takbir.” (God is most great)
The entire congregation shouted back.
“Allahu Akbar.” (God is great)
Article by BrJimC 2005; Revised 2017
Click on the link here to see some of my accomplishments resulting from my reversion to Islam.