I remember fragrant and tasty family dinners at my grandparents’ house. A picture on the wall near the dining table of a blue-eyed man with long,light-brown hair gazed at us while we ate. I knew he was supposed to be Jesus because there was a heart with thorns over his chest, an image I had seen in church. There were crosses throughout the house andI often saw my grandmother sitting with her rosary beads, faithfully repeating her prayers. Whenever I slept at their house on the weekend,she would take me with her to church on Sunday morning.Although my immediate family did not attend church regularly, we did go on holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Palm Sunday. I performed in church nativity plays on occasion and attended Sunday school, where we studied the bible and Christian doctrine, intermittently until the age of 13.
“There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, The Creator of all, and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.”
In spite of all this, I can’t remember ever feeling affection for Jesus. I never felt connected to him, or that I needed to know more about him. Infact, I can’t recall ever paying him much mind at all. Other than exclaiming, “Jesus Christ!” upon stubbing my toe, he really had no meaningful presence in 22 years of my existence.I had no interest in the bible either,though I remember listening attentively and asking questions in bible classes as a child, but there was little resulting impact on my life.
As I grew into adulthood, my apathy towards, not only Christianity, but also religion in general, changed to disdain. I couldn’t listen to a word about religion or hear the word “Jesus!” or even “God”uttered, without rolling my eyes and sneering haughtily. As I began submersing myself in philosophies,reading Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus and others, it felt as if I had found my niche. I subsequently developed a kind of arrogance. I felt superior to religious adherents because I was able to acknowledge that I didn’t know, while it seemed those who followed religions claimed a certainty I considered irrational. I was sure that uncritically believing an old book could not constitute, or substitute for,a genuine seeking of truth. I sought to use my mind, not resort to some ancient book for assistance in living my life!My disgust for religion was so great, that if someone had offered me millions of dollars to join one faith or another, I would have undoubtedly declined.
One of my preferred authors was Bertrand Russell, who saw religion as manmade and harmful, inhibiting critical thinking and inducing irrational fears. He also saw religion as a major cause of human misery, created through persecutions and war-making carried out by the devotees of the various religions. He painted a picture of a world better off with free-thinking people, released from what he saw as unwarranted faith in an unseen realm and misguided devotion to antiquated books.I remember laughing out loud while reading “Hey, Is That You God?” by Dr. Pasqual Schievella, in which he derided the concept of God through satirical dialogue. It all seemed so logical and satisfying.
Determined to Debunk Religions
I really cannot be sure whether or not I had ever heard of Islam before September 11, 2001, but obviously with that abhorrent crime came the knowledge that there was this other religion out there.Although it seemed to me much more complex than the notion that the attacks were driven by something inherent in Islam, my contempt for religion was still validated when I thought about a religion being even indirectly related to this atrocity. My knowledge of geopolitics was limited at that time, but informed enough to know there were major conflicts occurring in the world resulting in inevitable turmoil and bloodshed. After the 9/11 attacks, I began studying politics and paying attention to current events like never before. At the same time,for me, it wasn’t enough to merely believe the world was better off without religion. I wanted to systematically prove religions were no more than a hoax, by demonstrating how they are flawed and therefore manmade. I purposefully set out to do just that.That meant I would have to read the religious “scriptures.”And so I bought and read the bible. I read the Bhagavad Gita (the Hindu scripture) painstakingly, as well as books on Buddhism.
I remember reading the bible on a warm sunlit day, sitting under the trees in the backyard of my family home. I was shocked when I read in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy: “The pig is also unclean; …You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses” (Deuteronomy 14:8).I was confused. I had not heard of this before.Essentially everyone I had ever known had readily eaten bacon and pork chops. I pressed on. I read many unsettling stories in the bible and eventually I took a hiatus from it, going back to it occasionally, laboriously making my way through, and finally completing it years later.
The Quran Turned Me Around, Exhilarated Me
I had expectations about the Quran based on my readings of the other religious books. I assumed it would be painful, difficult reading: jumbled, unclear stories I would have to struggle to make sense of. Worse, I expected it to be filled with hatred and bigotry. I resolved, nonetheless, that the end goal was well worth my suffering. Fortunately, I was able to acquire a paperback translation of the Quran for free. I didn’t even stop to chat with the oddly dressed MSA students standing at the table stacked with books. I curtly asked, “Is it free?” When they replied in the affirmative, I grabbed one and continued on my way. I had no interest in them, only the free book to assist me in accomplishing my goal of debunking religions once and for all. But as I read that Quran, as its cover became worn and its pages tattered, I became more and more subdued. It was distinct from the other religious books I had read. Its straightforward message was well defined and consistent throughout. One day, a friend of mine began ranting about how God in Islam is angry and vengeful. I instinctively opened up the Quran (which was always near at hand) and easily flipped to one of the many verses that said, “Surely, Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”
I felt as if the Quran was speaking directly to me – even responding to my life as it unfolded. It was an “old book” but somehow it was entirely relevant and there was something captivating about its cadence and imagery and the way it communicated to me intimately.Its exquisite beauty moved me in ways I hadn’t felt when reading other scriptures, reminiscent only of the moments I had spent out west, staring out over a seemingly endless desert landscape. I found it exhilarating like running barefoot in the sand under the stars with powerful ocean waves crashing at my side. And yet, the Quran appealed to my intellect in the most logical and coherent way. It points out signs of God everywhere in the created world and then tells us to think and to ponder all the innumerable signposts pointing to an intelligent order. It rejects the notion of blind faith, encouraging the use of our God-given intellectual faculties including logic, reason, and deduction. It directs us toward recognition of the Creator, virtue, and service of humanity. It declares in unmistakable terms the duty to stand up for social justice.
Thirsting for Knowledge
After some time and a number of life-changing experiences,I developed an insatiable thirst to know more about Islam. My project to debunk all religions was all but forgotten.I began reading other books about Islam. I found that the Quran contained prophecies, as did many of the ahadith. I noticed that Prophet Muhammad was corrected by God several times in the Quran. This seemed inexplicable if he had, in fact, been its author. I began walking down a new path,guided by the amazing Quran, paired with the beautiful paragon of devotion:Prophet Muhammad. This man showed no signs of being a liar or a fraud in his claim to being God’s messenger. Praying through the nights, seeking God’s forgiveness for his oppressors, encouraging kindness, refusing wealth and power, and persevering with the pure message of devotion to God alone, he endured unfathomable hardship.
It was all so uncomplicated. All things in the material universe have been created.All this complexity and diversity could not unfold out of nothingness, and display such surpassing intelligence in design and ordering. So we should naturally follow the guidance of the One who created us and the earth and the vast cosmos. I remember the warm,glowing lighting in my apartment and the way the air felt electric with meaningfulness on the night I read this verse:“Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We split them asunder?And We made from water every living thing. Then will they not believe?” (Quran 21:30).
My mind, itself, was split asunder when I read this -to me, this sounded like the Big Bang! And every living thing from water… isn’t that what science says? I was astonished. It was the most exciting and yet frightening time of my life. I read and studied and double-checked book after book until one night I sat in the library at my school, Pratt Institute, staring wide-eyed at the piles of open books, my mouth agape, in shock. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I realized I had encountered the truth. The truth I had been so sure did not exist. The library closed, forcing me to forsake the pile of books I had been devouring and walk back to my Brooklyn apartment. It was a mild autumn night.
The Moment of Truth
The asphalt and trees glistened in the gleam of orange-hued streetlights. I was deep in thought. I had just come to a realization I had imagined impossible. I had discovered that my preconceptions about all religions being man made had been obliterated by Islam. Momentarily, I walked on the thin line between submitting to truth and persisting in denial.The years that had led me up to that point in time – the travels, the conversations, the long nights gazing into space, the hours spent pouring over book after book on Islam – culminated in this critical moment. Should I affirm what I knew could be none other than the truth, accept this treasure and the responsibility that comes with it? Or, pretend as if I had never found it in the first place? I knew I had to accept it…and it felt so exhilarating. I wanted to scream in joy!
Alone on the sidewalk, I paused under a glowing street lamp and I spoke to my Creator, for the very first time knowing with surety that He was there; that He was listening and knew exactly what had transpired in my heart. I didn’t even have to move my lips to declare: “There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, The Creator of all, and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.”And with that I entered into Islam. It was the beginning of a new chapter in the story that is my life, the greatest and happiest of all my days. For sure, it was the day that led to even more peace and contentment than I had ever hoped for. Through the Quran I found knowledge of my Creator. I found that He knows me and always has, that He knew my sincerity in seeking to know the truth.
Coming Full Circle to Jesus
It was only because of the certainty that I have in Islam, established by the many proofs and signs that led me to accept it, that I believe without a doubt, that Jesus was born of a virgin mother, that I believe 100 percent that he healed lepers and the blind, and even raised the dead, by God’s will. It is only due to the surety that deepens as my knowledge and practice of Islam grows, that I know for sure that Jesus will return to Earth naturally. I felt compelled to look back at the bible after learning about Jesus in Islam. The Quran mentions that God had given him the Injeel (translated by some, as the Gospel). I learned a lot about the compilation of the bible and that still other “gospels” of Jesus exist that have not been included in the Canon established under the rule of Constantine in 325A.D. Indeed,as the Quran suggests, fragments of the original, unchanged message of Jesus still remain, sparkling like bits of gold from the pages of the Christian scriptures.
For example, Jesus is reported to have said, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (John 5:30).This and many other examples are perfectly congruent with Islam.In “The Gospel of Nazarenes,” which is not included in the canonical Bible, one can find many passages confirmed in the Quran. Of particular interest to me is where Jesus is reported to have said, “No blood offering, of beast or bird, or man, can take away sin, for how can the conscience be purged from sin by the shedding of innocent blood? Nay, it will increase the condemnation” (Gospel of the Nazarenes, Lection 33 verse 2).This statement completely contradicts the modern Christian doctrine that Jesus was sacrificed by crucifixion for the sins of humanity, based on the statements of Paul, who authored much of what is followed in the bible today.
Amazingly, all of this brought me full circle, back to Jesus, one of the icons I had grown up with, yet had remained impervious to the significance, until my acceptance of Islam. All of the ambiguity and confusion that previously surrounded him was wiped away. I went from seeing him as an enigmatic figure — a man-god on a poster staring at me with impenetrable eyes while I dined with my grandparents — to a real person. Now, as a Muslim, I see and understand Jesus as an honorable and pious human being I could understand, learn from, respect, and truly love. And I have come to love him, and all of God’s chosen ones – for their forbearance and strength, for their selflessness and fortitude in the face of such extreme adversity, for their sincere, unselfish and unwavering devotion to their Maker and Sustainer to Whom all will return. All of them, including Jesus, are tangible examples of how to be successful in this life and in the hereafter.Through Islam, the truth about Jesus and all the prophets of God – indeed, the truth itself – has been made manifest and affirmed in my mind and heart.