Thursday, August 20, 2009

Islam 101

Yup, I actually went, even though I was pretty nervous. I was wearing niqab.

I didn't know where to go at first, so I just went in through the women's entrance. I went into the prayer room and there were two women there. One was probably around 50 and had been Muslim for a month (she'd converted from Catholicism). The other was probably a little younger than me, and she'd been Muslim for four months, but had studied for the eight months prior to her conversion. We chatted for a while, and another lady (another new convert) came in with her 17 month-old daughter. I talked to her for a bit, and then we all went to the class, in what was actually the cafeteria, in a separate building. There were two men there (one the teacher), and the rest (about 10-12) were women.

The man who was teaching the class seemed to know a lot. One thing he said got me to thinking. He said "People are made to want to worship one God, not 2 or 3 or a thousand." He also mentioned that all of the prophets had come with the message that God was the only God, and only He was to be worshiped. Like it says in the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt have no other God before (besides) Me.

After he said that, the wheels in my head started turning. He'd made a very valid point, regardless of whether or not I agreed with the rest of what he said (and I didn't disagree, really).

It left me with a lot to think about.

I also found out that there is a Muslim clothing store here -- it just opened a couple of weeks ago, and it's not too far from my house. It's called The Sunnah The Better. I talked to the lady who owns it for a long time -- she was very nice and gave me a CD with a sermon called "Why You Should Be Muslim". The sheikh/imam who gave it was a convert. I've listened to it, and it's very good. He brings up a lot of interesting points, including one about people who stay with the religion they grew up with because it was what their parents taught them. He said that his own mother was Christian and believed in the trinity because that was what her parents had taught.

So, even more to think about.

If I were to convert, the hardest part would be having to change my belief in Jesus. It would be like turning my back on everything I'd ever been taught or believed about Christianity. How could I reconcile that? I guess my biggest fear about all this is converting to Islam, and finding out after I die that I was wrong and Christianity was the right religion, or not converting and finding out that Islam was the right religion. I wish there were a way to know for SURE which is the right path to take.

Which of you ladies has converted from Christianity to Islam? What convinced you to do so?

It feels like a huge dilemma right now. I guess I'll keep studying and see if God nudges me one way or another.

The good thing about there being no classes during Ramadan (because they have to use the cafeteria for the after-dusk meal) is that I'll have plenty of time to read through the Qu'ran and write down any questions that I have.

I bought a new Qu'ran today -- the one I had had such small print, it was hard to read. The new one is better.

Lita (the girl around my age) invited me for Jummah prayers tomorrow. I'm planning on going.

Even right now I want to go back and sit in the prayer room and think and pray about what to do. It's like I'm being drawn back. Could that be an indication in and of itself?


  1. I myself have not converted to Islam, but I feel very comfortable with it and attracted to it. That said, I still have issues with some things in the Quran and especially the hadith. Its something to consider definitely, but I would suggest to take your time. I think that God understands how the amount of contradicting information out there can be overwhelming.

    I would read through the Quran fully, mark things that don't make sense or bother you, then look up answers and ask other Muslims how they have been interpreted historically.
    I think you can involve yourself in the Muslim community and study for as long as you need to without making any formal declaration.

    I just got a new Quran too. Its translated by Ahmed Ali and is much easier to read than the other translation I had.

    May you find joy in your journey!

  2. I was raised a catholic and I called myself one before Islam, but I really wasn't. Because I didn't believe in the trinity or the divinity of Jesus (peace be upon him). In your case you do. What led me to Islam was actually learning more about Christianity. You see I didn't want to leave Christianity unless I understood it. The more I studied it the more I realized it had been tampered with and that my views of life and the hereafter were more inline with Islam.

    I didn't study by myself, i was blessed to be in a school with a lot of priests and Christian theologians. I learned a lot from them mainly a time line of when the things that bothered me the most occurred. For example the divinity of Jesus (pbuh) wasn't established until the first council of nicea in AD 325. Prior to that he was just a very important prophet. The trinity wasn't hammered out until 500 years after Christ. So you see since you are concerned with the role of Jesus (pbuh) I suggest you do your own research and make sure that when you are asking people of authority, not a lay person, you don't mention that you are considering converting to any other religion. In my experience every time I shared that tidbit I wouldn't get straight answers instead I was preached to and it was annoying.

    Also bear in mind that of all the sins we can commit on this world if we were to die they will be forgiven, you might need to do some time to purify it, but eventually you will move on to heaven.

    The one sin that will not be forgiven is to associate partners with God.

    I think with Ramadan almost upon us you should ask for guidance and understanding. I will be making the same dua for all of us. May Allah swt make your decision easier ameen.

    ps sorry for such a short inadequate response but my little guy is on me.

  3. I am a Protestant who has been reading about other religions - and particularly much about Islam - for years. I've observed prayer times, fasted during Ramadan, read the Qur'an, worn hijab at home and even in public on a few occasions. I've even performed ablutions.

    Before going on, I should mention that I am a Christian by choice, not by upbringing. I converted at the age of 15. What attracted me to God was simply His presence. I was at a church youth group meeting friends had invited me to (and I'd accepted because they were my friends and I wanted to be polite, even though I was not a believer).

    We had been talking about God all evening, and at a certain point I became aware that there was an invisible presence in the room besides the people I could see. And I knew that this Presence was good and did not condemn me for my past blasphemies and other sins, and that if there is a God, that means I need to start worshiping Him.

    So I began to go to church, read the Bible, and respond to any direct convictions I got from the Lord. Again, I felt no condemnation; I was just relieved to leave behind any old practices, leftovers from my former life as an atheist blasphemer. I began to take every possible opportunity at school to witness about my faith - even though no ohter human being had told me I should do this.

    Another thing that God dealt with quickly was my habit of lying to my parents about such matters as whether I had gotten to school on time. One afternoon a few weeks after my conversion, my stepmother called me from work to check up on me. And you got it, she asked whether I'd gotten to school on time. And without thinking - lying had become so automatic - I said Yes.

    But she persisted, asking, 'Are you sure about that?' Well, by that moment I'd had time to think, and so I replied, 'No Mom, I'm sorry, I'm not sure about that.' And thus ended my habit of lying to my parents. Indeed, I have made a habit since then of presenting as fact only things that are factual. And it was just a relief to leave my old ways behind.

    As far as my knowledge of Christianity is concerned, I have read the Bible and can cite basically on demand from memory the Biblical basis for everything I believe. I have not studied theology, for I care nothing for the traditions of men, only for the Bible. So I have learned Greek to read the New Testament, and made a start at Hebrew as well, to read the Old Testament.

    You could say that engaging with Islamic customs (insofar as they do not conflict with the Bible) has been an experiment in separating 'cultural trappings' from 'the real deal'. I have tried out each custom to see what its meaning will be for me personally. The result is a religious practice that looks very different from that of the circles I travel in - both inside and out.

    The main reason I have not converted to Islam is that I am too convinced by the Bible. It is apparently the best-attested book in the world, it has the most manuscript evidence as to its content. But most of all, 30 years of reading it, knowing it and living it have taught me to know its power, so that I need no one to tell me whether it is God's word.

    The Bible can only be true if Jesus is who it claims He is. The whole system falls apart if that isn't in place. So why did Jesus come? The Bible says that He came because in God's plan of salvation, an ultimate sacrifice for sin is absolutely necessary. The sacrifices detailed in the Old Testament are pictures to teach us how it works and why it's necessary.

    The gist is that 1) God is just, and 2) there have to be consequences for sin. It will not suffice for God to just overlook it. And yes, sin is more than just individual transgressions of God's law. Our actions invariably reflect our beliefs. If we do things that we 'don't believe in', it means we don't really believe in the first place. So it is the whole person who must be redeemed, not merely sinful actions for which restitution must be made.

    (to be continued)

  4. No mere animal sacrifices can take away our sins once for all. Nor can we do it ourselves. God has revealed, God has saved, God has proclaimed. He and not another. If we are looking to anything or anyone else besides Him for our salvation – and that includes our own good works– then we are committing idolatry, attributing salvation to something that is not God, Who is, again, the only source of salvation.

    Nor can any mere human being make a kosher sacrifice of their own person. We neither have split hooves nor do we chew cud, both of which were prerequisites for mammals in the Old Testament to be acceptable for sacrificial purposes. And Jesus came into the world as a Jew, born under the Law, as detailed in the Old Testament, and came to fulfill that Law).

    But if that human being who is proposed as a potential sacrifice for sins is in fact God incarnate, well, then the sacrifice becomes kosher because God is the ultimate in cleanness and holiness. He is infinitely more clean and holy than an animal that has split hooves and chews cud. And furthermore, only God is ‘sufficiently infinite’ to provide a once-for-all sacrifice capable of redeeming the sin of the whole world.

    So there we have it: a man who came here, having begun His earthly existence by God’s sovereign hand bringing about a baby, without the aid of a man. In that sense, and that sense only, Jesus is said to be the ‘Son of God’ in the Bible. God definitely did not sleep with Mary – as both the Bible and the Qur’an teach.

    Now, the thing that gets a lot of people is how God can still be up in heaven to be prayed to by this man who is walking around down on earth, who is also supposedly God. I think the answer here lies in God’s infinitude.

    Think about it: sure, the equation 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 does not make sense in the mathematical system we are accustomed to. There may even be mathematical systems where it does, which would even reinforce my argument. But the equation x + x + x = x does indeed make sense for two values, one of which is zero, so it doesn’t concern us here – but the other is infinity.

    What I am driving at here is that God is infinite – this means He cannot be limited by the mere fact of having taken on a human body for a particular time and purpose. He still has an independent existence outside of this. To put it another way, we can divide infinity by whatever we like, and it is still infinity. X / n = x, where n = any numerical value. So the question is, what is God’s view on the value of n?

    Different religions teach different things on the subject. For example, you have heard no doubt that Hinduism acknowledges 300 000 000 deities. What may escape notice is that there are Hindus who actually believe that these deities are only manifestations of one Deity. In other words, they believe n = 300 000 000. The Jewish and Islamic faiths, on the other hand, would say that n = 1.

    The Christian faith would say that n = 3. Because the one referred to as God the Father is there, and that man who turned out to be God incarnate is there, and then the Spirit of God is there. And the Spirit, by the way, is not a mere force. He has a mind that can be known, a will that can be subject to the one known as God the Father, and emotions that can be grieved.

    No other entities in the Bible are given the status of divinity. So by process of elimination, n would equal 3. But as we have seen, this does not in any way mitigate God’s infinitude. There is only one infinity, for that is the nature of infinity.

    And even the Old Testament, which Jews understand to teach absolute oneness, does not necessarily do so. Even the confession of faith ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One’ does not necessarily do so. Because there are different words for oneness in Hebrew. One is for absolute oneness, and the other can be used for composite oneness. And it is the latter word that is used in this verse of Scripture.

    (to be continued)

  5. My worry about those who teach absolute oneness is that they may be worshiping an idea of God instead of God Himself, Who cannot be counted or confined to our little boxes. And maybe this is why the doctrine referred to as the Trinity is so ‘between the lines’ in the Bible. Nowhere does the word Trinity occur in it. This word is just a one-word summary of the Bible’s teaching.

    And maybe such a shorthand is necessary for purposes of conversation or other discourse, so that one doesn’t have to make a speech the length of this comment every time one mentions the word ‘God’. But no historical facts of when this teaching was codified can take away what the Bible actually does teach – and taught from the beginning, hundreds of years before the council of Nicea. Nicea just provided the shorthand to talk about it.

    There is another very important question: why do we need salvation? For the Christian Church is unfortunately vulnerable to the charge of worshiping salvation instead of God. I have read few if any testimonies of Christian conversion that weren’t based ultimately on the question ‘What can God do for me?’ instead of, for example, ‘Which religion gives the most honor to God?’

    This latter question does appear – even frequently – in testimonies of Muslim conversion. But the fact remains that it is indeed possible to pose this question and still remain a Christian, even if everyone around you is worshiping not God, but His salvation and power and benefits – in other word, their own desires for those benefits.

    First of all, sin is a real concept. There are real consequences. There is something to be saved from. So we cannot just sweep the matter under the carpet and ‘come to God’. This is an affront to His justice. The wages of sin is death. If we try to ‘pay our own way’ to salvation, we will pay with our lives for all eternity. Because sin takes place in a plane outside of time and space. It is not just our deeds. It is our hearts. It is what we have put our faith in. And faith is the connection between this earthly plane and the plane in which the Eternal One lives. And sin is an offense against that Eternal One, namely God.

    So we cannot pay it ourselves. The bondage between sin and death must be broken. And not just any way. Because sin without death will land us in hell. So what about death without sin? And who is without sin, that they could die such a death? Only One – namely God. That is what the whole matter of kosher sacrifices was a picture of. The Law had to be fulfilled. Without that, there is no salvation.

    The problem here is that many people stop here and think, ‘OK, salvation allows me to avoid punishment (i.e. hell) and receive benefits (i.e. go to heaven).’ This attitude is rampant in the Church today. But if we stop there and come to God only for such reasons, then we are worshiping not God, but rather our own desire to avoid punishment or receive benefits. Which is idolatry.

    So, the whole point of salvation is to remove the punishment issue from the picture so we can come to God for the right reasons. The sacrifice has been made, it is there for anyone who will accept it. But we can open the door of a jail all we like and tell the imprisoned person they are free to walk out, but until they do it, they are still in prison. And not everyone chooses to see the reality of the sacrifice and walk out.

    The point, again, is to come to God not to avoid punishment, nor to receive benefits, but only for God Himself. Even the Qur’an teaches that. Even the Qur’an teaches that if we believe or do good deeds, it is only because God has graciously given that to us.

    (to be continued)

  6. Of course, the traditional understanding of the Qur’an will not countenance this, but it is possible to reconcile its statements about God not begetting or having children with what the Bible teaches. For God did not sleep with Mary. And Jesus, for all His ‘separateness’ as He walked this earth, accepting for a time the limitations that having a physical life entails, did not thereby cease to be included in the Infinity that is God.

    It is even possible to reconcile the Qur’an’s teaching about the Cross with the Bible. The Bible teaches that Jesus was given authority to lay down His life and take it up again. So that it is very true – no human being, in the end, killed Him. He made a choice and laid down His own life.

    And the Qur’an’s words, quoting God speaking to Jesus something to the effect of ‘Behold, I am about to cause you to fall asleep and take you up to Myself,’ are reconcilable with His death as well, since the Arabic word used for ‘to fall asleep’ can indeed mean ‘to die’. Which would make the teaching of Jesus’ having been taken up to heaven, as the Qur’an teaches unambiguously, a matter of resurrection, as it is in the Bible.

    And the matter of Jesus’ coming back can be reconciled too. Most Muslims believe that Jesus will die at that time, after Israel has come to believe. I have seen at least one – even Muslim – commentator who interpreted it to mean that when Jesus comes back, no Jew will die before becoming a believer. Or something to that effect. And I think the grammar even checks out – the antecedent is not very clear in the Arabic, as far as I can tell.

    And there is an important exception made to the rule that none can intercede with God: except the one He authorizes. And there are those who believe that this Authorized Intercessor is Jesus Himself.

    Again, none of this is the standard, traditional Muslim interpretation of the Qur’an, which relies not only on the words of the Qur’an itself, but also on the hadith, which are a tradition in much the same way that tradition functions in the Catholic Church. And I am not referring to the hadith in these interpretations. Only on the literal meaning of the Arabic, as it has been explained by Muslims who know Arabic a lot better than I do.

    The one big question where I cannot see any agreement is that there is a verse in the Qur’an which states that ‘Unbelievers are those who declare that Allah is the Messiah, the Son of Mary.’ I don’t really see any other way to translate that verse. Which would indeed place the Qur’an fundamentally at odds with the Bible. So you are very right to view the question of Jesus’ identity – God incarnate, or just a prophet? – as the big issue.

    We have already discussed the function of Jesus’ death in God’s economy of redemption and salvation, as taught by the Bible. But the Bible also assigns it another function. It teaches certain things about Who Jesus is and what He came here to do, and that the most important evidence of His identity, not to mention the efficacy of His sacrifice, is the fact that He rose *from the dead*.

    Each side of these questions presents evidence, questions the veracity of the other side’s evidence. The fact of the matter is that we no more have the original leaves on which Muhammad’s hearers first wrote down the verses of the Qur’an, than we do the original manuscripts of the Old or New Testaments. So that either side can claim all they like that – whether literally or materially – nothing has been changed, but nothing is proven.

    Either side can point out contradictions between the Qur’an and the Bible, or even apparent internal contradictions within each of the two books. So that this is not going to decide the issue of whether a given one of them is true either.

    (to be continued)

  7. The answer is going to be found ultimately in our hearts. Are we worshiping ourselves and our own works? Our religion? Our parents, teachers or other authority figures? Human reason? Our own desires to avoid punishment or receive benefits or rewards? Our desire for a set of rules to follow? Our own expectations (for example, about how followers of a given faith ‘should’ behave?) Our own preferences (for example, a lifestyle or customs that may appeal to us)?

    Or are we rightly understanding both God’s justice and God’s mercy? God’s truth? Are we living what He reveals to us? Are we worshiping only God, doing our works for God and God alone, so that our reasoning, our desires, our expectations, our lifestyle are informed by Him and Him alone? So that our motivation is God and God alone?

    For make no mistake – our ultimate motivation must be only God. Especially in something so important as deciding which religion should be ours. Anything else is idolatry. Neither fear nor desire can be it. There is no place for fear in love. And this is what God commands us to do above all: love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. And this is what Jesus taught us and came to make possible for us. And when hold to His teaching, we have His promise that we shall know the truth, and the truth shall set us free.

  8. I agree with what Stacey said about studying. You need to look, objectively, at both 'sides' of the argument, and decide based on something other than feelings. Feelings can change, and aren't a very good basis for faith imo.

    So many people rush into a religion without *knowing* it first. Islam is a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface, and no more unified than any other, despite what many Muslims would like everyone else to believe. There are things that I like about Islam, but there are, for me, far too many things that simply make no sense.

    I'd disagree with the man who said that people are wired to worship only one god. Prior to the rise of the Abrahamic faiths, all societies were polytheistic. Monotheism is the new kid on the block, as it were (I am aware that all the Abrahamic traditions teach that monotheism existed from the beginning, but up until the advent of Judaism, all societies that I'm aware of were polytheistic). We're wired for faith, but I don't think there's any encoding as to the type of faith, or polytheism wouldn't exist.

    And, since Jesus isn't an 'other god', there's no problem with 'thou shalt have no other god's before me'. Christians don't worship three gods, we worship one - just because Muslims don't understand this doesn't make it untrue.

  9. I definitely agree with Amber about Jesus not being an 'other god'. One problem one sees a lot among people who grew up in Christian environments but converted to Islam is that when they start asking questions about this very matter of who Jesus is, about the Trinity, they get told 'it's a mystery'. Hopefully the present discussion will do something to dispel that: we're allowed to think, question, etc. - and there are actual answers to the questions.

    Something just occurred to me: there are folks who convert to various religions, and say in their testimonies that their chosen religion answered their questions. Now, these religions are very different from each other, and one might wonder how they didn't all choose the same religion. This may seem obvious, but it looks to me, now that I think about it, like the difference boils down to exactly what questions the people were asking. All this by way of pointing out just how imoportant it is to ask the right questions...

  10. The Hebrew Bible also shows lots of evidence that the early Israelites weren't monotheistic by how we would define that term today. El and Yahweh were originally 2 regional gods that were identified into a single deity during the earliest stages of Israelite religion. Islam likes to take the idea of "Abrahamic monotheism" and project it onto the historical peoples of God, but all the evidence shows that this isn't what actually happened. Israel wasn't monotheistic by how we define the term today until after the exile in 586 BCE. Studying the origins of early Israelite religion gave me a lot of doubt about things I learned about Islam and proper worship of the true God.
    You should read this book by Mark S. Smith
    Its not too long and talks specifically about the development of a lot of the ideas we now take for granted in early Judaism that also have continued into Christianity and Islam.

  11. @carboska, Why don't you start a blog? I really love reading your comments on people's blogs.

  12. Stacy, Not everyone loves my comments so much ;) There's at least one blog where I got such hostile reactions that I no longer comment there. Discretion is the better part of valor. Or if possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men. Or something to that effect.

    But then again, neither are you the first person to suggest I start my own blog. I don't have a concept for one at the moment, but no doubt it will happen in due time, if God so wills. Thank you for your feedback and God bless you!

  13. I converted to Islam from Judaism. I think once you get past the stigma, everything becomes a lot easier. Jesus AS is respected, Moses AS is respected, all of the prophets are respected, which is nice.