Assalamu aleikum, my sisters. I've been asked about what led to my conversion to Islam. Let me tell you, it wasn't an easy decision! It took a lot of praying, thinking, and studying -- and a lot of time. I had to be willing to let my previous understanding of God, Christianity, and Islam be put to the test, and to accept the results with an open mind and heart. Please keep in mind that these are my personal experiences and opinions, and that my interpretation of things may often differ from yours. I do not intend to cause any offense to anyone or say anything against Christianity, but merely to give you all a glimpse into my personal journey.
Let's rewind back to spring 2009. As a previously life-long Christian, I never thought much about my faith or the reasons that I believed the things I did. Religion had never been a major interest or priority in my life. Not that I was indifferent to it. I just had that whole "young and invincible" mindset. You all know the one I'm talking about. The one where you think you'll live forever. The soul, religion, and what comes after death just weren't things I ever thought much about.
My interest in religion began after I read a Spanish article on the condition of women in Islam, followed by an article from the same site on the hijab. I was intrigued by the concept of covering up for God, and that such covering was an exterior expression of an internal state of modesty and purity. The idea that covering up like that was not really encouraged until a woman had achieved this internal purity was also interesting, and ran counter to what I'd always heard about women being forced to cover by their husbands, fathers, and brothers (and that was if I heard anything about it at all). I had never thought about Islam or Muslims before. Though I knew virtually nothing about Islam, I knew that my dad's assertion that Muslims worshiped Muhammad (PBUH) and not God couldn't be right. Also, having come of age in post-9/11 America, I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.
This branched off initially as in interest in Muslim women. I read countless articles, blog posts, and books about hijab and the rights of women in Islam. I won't repeat any of that here, since I know a lot of you know just as much, if not more, on these topics than I do. Suffice it to say, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. My interest didn't expand out of that small area for several months. Because of what I'd read about hijab and the fact that, historically, Christian women also covered, I branched out into learning about modern-day Christian head covering and adopted the practice myself. (For those of you who are interested but tired of reading books by men on the topic, I recommend Michelle Barnes McClendon's excellent book "Life as a Prayer: Recapturing the Wind of Headcovering".)
As time went on, I began reading more. Books about the history of Islam, current Muslim beliefs and practices, the different groups within Islam, guides on how best to study the Qur'an, books that compared Islam and Christianity (with virtually all of them, to my annoyance and frustration, leaning towards one or another of them, never being truly impartial and scholarly), and, of course, the Qur'an. But wait! There's more. In my study of Islam, for the first time I became genuinely curious about Christianity, and just a little annoyed at the assertions I found everywhere that the Bible was a "corrupted" (altered) text. Rather than take the word of a preacher as I'd always done in the past, I began to study and learn about Christianity for myself. I read about its history and that of the Bible, compared verses from several different translations of the Bible, and generally searched for answers to my questions.
One of my first questions was:
Why did God keep the Qur'an from being changed, but not the Bible or the Torah?
In my mind, such a thing implied that God was incapable of preventing changes (whether deliberate or accidental) to the earlier books. The idea that God couldn't do something was (and remains) utterly foreign to me. As I read about the history of the Bible, I learned that it wasn't originally one or two books, but dozens of separate books pieced together and decided upon as the Christian scripture in council several hundred years after Jesus (PBUH) preached his message. So what did Christians follow before they had the Bible to tell them what to believe? (I must add that I was also amazed at the sheer variety of belief just within the first 200 years of Christianity. Some sects say Jesus was never crucified, others say he never died at all, and others say he WASN'T the Son of God! Nevertheless, they all claimed to be Christian.) Many of the books they used are now contained in the Apocrypha, floating around out there individually, or lost to time and burning. I still haven't found a satisfactory answer to this question, but I'll keep looking.
From there, I began to wonder other things, such as:
What was Jesus' (PBUH) true role in all this?
The Bible, quite frankly, confused me on this topic. It never gave what I considered to be a definite "I am God" answer. In two of the three translations I have with me here, one of the verses that could be used as answer for this question is Matthew 27:11: "Jesus stood before the Roman governor, who questioned him. "Are you the king of the Jews?" he asked. "So you say," answered Jesus." The verse is virtually identical in Luke 23:3-4. Another translation says "You have said it" as Jesus' response. Or, another popular one, Matthew 3:17: "Then a voice said from heaven: "This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased."
Once again, it doesn't outright say that Jesus is God. I knew from my studies that the Jews at that time would not have interpreted "Son of God" to mean literally God's son, but that he was a holy man. Jesus was not the only person in the Bible to be called "Son" by God. Adam and, if I remember correctly, Saul, and others whose names currently slip my mind, were also called the son of God.
Jesus called himself "the Son of Man" in Matthew 16:13, but not God. A couple of verses down, Peter says "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus says "Good for you! For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven." But go a couple of verses farther down: (v. 20) "Then Jesus ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah." Messiah, I found, simply meant "the anointed one", as did "Christ" in Greek. Jesus wasn't the only one to be anointed as a holy man; rabbis were also, in the temple. *sigh* So, once again, nothing for sure.
The Qur'an, on the other hand, makes it clear in many verses who Jesus was:
"O people of the Book, do not overstep in your system, nor say about God except the truth. Jesus, son of Mary, was no more than a messenger of God and the fulfillment of His word to Mary and a Spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and do not say: “Trinity.” Cease, for it is better for you. God is only One god, be He glorified that He should have a son! To Him is all that is in the heavens and the earth; and God is enough as a Caretaker." 4:171
"The Messiah, son of Mary, is no more than a messenger; like whom messengers have passed away; and his mother was trustworthy, they used to eat the food. See how We clarify the signs for them, then see how they deviate." 5:75
"He was no more than a servant whom We blessed, and We made him an example for the Children of Israel." 43:59
Nothing confusing about that answer.
Question number 2: What happens after death to all the people who aren't Christian?
According to what I'd always been taught, you had to be a Christian to go to heaven. That's it. Oh, but wait! God has a covenant with the Jews, so they're okay, too. My reaction: HUH???? For me, this is quite possibly the biggest contradiction of belief. And what about all the people since the dawn of humanity who weren't Jews or Christians? What about all the Muslims in the last 1,500-ish years? Why would it be okay to be a monotheist Jew but not a monotheist Muslim? A loving, just God wouldn't consign the majority of the world's population over the course of history to Hell, for not being born a Jew or, later, a Christian.
Luke 10:25-28: "What must I do to receive eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?" The man answered "Love the Lord your God with all your heart,with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as you love yourself." "You are right," Jesus replied; "do this and you will live."
Says nothing about having to be a Jew or Christian.
2:62 "Surely those who believe; and those who are Jewish, and the Nazarenes (Christians), and the Sabians, whoever of them believes in God and the Last Day and does good works; they will have their recompense with their Lord, and there is no fear upon them, nor will they grieve."
This is the loving, just God that I believe in. This is one of the things that most brought me to Islam. And it's not that Him accepting Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others who believe in Him is a wide, easy road. The requirements are basically the same: Love and obey God and be kind to others. It's a narrow path, just as Jesus said.
To be continued...