Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fred - An American's Journey to Islam

My name is Fred, and this is the story of my journey to Islam.

It is a journey which began in Judaism and extended through Atheism and Christianity before ending with a new beginning in Islam.

After searching for decades for a faith which would make sense to me, a faith which would encompass the whole of life, a faith which would provide for me a sense of community and a support group for the trials of life, I found that I was still adrift in a sea of conflicting religions -- each claiming that the others were false.

It was in a public library in Columbus, Ohio, that I looked at a book titled The Holy Qur'an. I knew nothing about the Qur'an, and even less about Islam -- except that I was fairly certain that Islam was a religion of violence and terrorism.

I thumbed throiugh this odd book, and found that its language was old-fashioned and difficult to read casually. It would require study. So I purchased a copy at a bookstore, and began to study this strange book.

What I found both dismayed me and captivated me.

It dismayed me, in that its one hundred fourteen chapters (called Suras) are nothing new. They are a restatement and simplification of material found in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. This book -- the Holy Qur'an -- is a distillation of the important parts of both Testaments.

It captivated me, in that what I was reading was a powerful statement of God's formation of the world and His love for humankind.

After reading the book, I wanted to know more about this religion whose followers constitute well over a billion men and women in every corner of the world.

I was amazed to find that there are between seven and ten million Muslims here in the United States. And I was even more amazed to find that they are men and women just like you and me -- not wild-eyed terrorists, not wife-beaters, and not intolerant of others' viewpoints.

So I decided to dig deeper, to find out the 'inside story' about these people who call themselvs Muslims (those who obey the will of God).

As I traveled in my job, I visited mosques in Columbus, Ohio; I spoke with Muslim leaders in Sacramento, California; I attended festivals in Portland, Oregon; I shared meals with Muslims in Tucson, Arizona.

And what I found was a group of warm, caring people who were willing to share with me whatever they had -- no questions asked.

After a couple of years of poking into this religion, I decided that it just might be for me. So I inquired about becoming a Muslim, and I was told that it as simple: all I had to do was declare that "there is no god other than God, and Muhammad is His Messenger."

But Muhammad is not the only Messenger; Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus -- these were all Messengers of God, acording to Islam. Muhammad was not a divinity; he was a man who was chosen by God as His final Messenger.

I asked several Muslims about prayer in Islam, and was told that Muslims pray five times each day at specified times. This affords a Muslim the opportunity to separate himself or herself from the world and communicate directly with God five times a day. I thought it was a real burden, but it's a rest-in-the-shade-on-a-hot-day kind of thing that provides breaks from the awful world in which we humans live.

As to terrorism, there are always those in any group -- religious or political or whatever -- who make it difficult for the rest of the group. In Northern Ireland, there are a few Protestants and a few Catholics that give their religions a bad name; in the U.S. there are the white supremacists; and the ultraconservative Christians; in South Africa there were the apartheid whites; in the late fifteenth century in Spain there was the Inquisition; in Sri Lanka today there are the Tamil rebels; in Iraq, as I write this in early 2005, a relatively small number of Muslims are terrorizing the rest of the country's population. My point is that a relatively small percentage of any group can make that group look bad.

As to the treatment of women, the Qur'an states clearly that in the eyes of God there is no difference between the genders. What we see in the news from various countries is their cultural perversion of the teachings of the Qur'an. This is not Islam.

About Jesus. Non-Muslims are always surprised to find that the Qur'an speaks of Jesus and Mary respectfully, treating Jesus as a prophet and a worker of God's miracles of healing. However, Islam does not view Jesus as God.

To sum up, Islam is an extenion of Judaism and Christianity, respecting the followers of both faiths. The Qur'an simplifies the truths set forth in both Testaments of the Bible, and is also in complete accord with science. In fact, the Qur'an contains absolutely no internal inconsistencies whatsoever.

I found that Islam is what I've been searching for, and I said that phrase which constitutes acceptance of Islam. Do I pray five times a day? Yes. Do I fast during the month of Ramadan? Yes. Do I give charity to others? Yes. Have I had doubts about Islam? Yes. But I always come back to the fact that God has touched me with His mercy and His kindness, and I feel that I am -- at long last -- home with my God and my people.

May the peace of almighty God be with you.

An American Muslim

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