Saturday, February 26, 2011

American Priest Converts

I have less non Muslim friends now as I cannot participate in the activities that they choose to do for fun but I have developed valuable friendships with Muslim brothers that are better than anything I have had in the past. Insha Allah, if Allah chooses, I would like to go and study Fiqh to further the cause of Islam and benefit the Ummah that I love. All of this was through the grace of Allah and only the mistakes are mine.

Alhumdulillah (Thank God), I have been blessed by Allah with the gift of Islam since 2006. When I was asked to write about the path that I took and how Allah has blessed me, I was hesitant. I have seen others get caught up with personal fame by telling how they came to Islam and I knew that I didn’t want to have the same challenge.

I ask you then to take this story as the work of Allah and focus on his mercy and greatness rather than my story in particular, insha Allah. No one comes to Islam without the mercy of Allah and it is his work not that of the revert that truly matters.

I was born to a nominally Roman Catholic family in Upstate New York. I had a Roman Catholic mother and a Presbyterian father who converted to Catholicism in order to get married. We attended church on Sundays and I went through catechism, first communion, and eventually confirmation within the Roman Catholic Church. When I was young I began to feel a call from Allah. This call I interpreted as a call to the Roman Catholic priesthood and told my mother as such. She, pleased with this, took me to meet the priest at our local parish.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this particular priest was not happy with his vocation and advised me to stay away from the priesthood. This upset me and even today, I do not know how things would have been different if his response had been more positive. From that earlier brush with Allah’s call, and out of my own foolishness and in my teen years, I went the other way. My family broke up at an early age when I was seven and I suffered from the loss of my father who was not present after the divorce.

Starting at the young age of 15, I began to be more interested in nightclubs and parties than the Lord of the Universe. I dreamed of becoming a lawyer, then politician with a penthouse in Manhattan so I could participate in a party lifestyle with style. After I graduated with honors, from my high school, I went to college briefly. But my own twisted focus led me to drop from college and move to Arizona (where I continue to live until now) instead of getting my degree.

This is something that I regret to this day.Once in Arizona, my situation went from bad to worse. I fell in with a much worse crowd than I had at home and began to use drugs. Due to my lack of education, I worked low end jobs and continued to spend my time in drugs, promiscuity, and nightclubs.

During this time, I had my first encounter with a a Muslim. He was a kind man who was attending a local college as a foreign student. He was dating one of my friends and often accompanied us to nightclubs and other parties that we attended. I did not discuss Islam with him but did question him about his culture which he shared freely. Islam did not come up. Again I wonder how things would have been different had he been a practicing Muslim.

My bad lifestyle continued for some years and I won’t belabor it with details. I had lots of trauma, people that I knew died, I was stabbed and otherwise wounded but this is not a tale of the dangers of drugs. I only mention it to state that no matter where you are, Allah can bring you back from it insha Allah. I will fast forward to when I became clean from drugs. Part of the process of getting off of drugs and narcotics is to establish a relationship with a “higher power”.

For most this is God and or other expressions of divinity. I had long before lost my connection to Allah so I went on a search for my higher power. Sadly, I did not find the truth at first. Instead I went to Hinduism, which appealed to me because of its explanation of why suffering had happened to me. I went all into it, even changing my name to a Hindu name. It was enough to keep me off of drugs and move my life in a more positive direction, for which I am grateful. Eventually, though I began to again feel the tug from Allah. This began to show me that for me, Hinduism was not the true way.

Allah continued to needle me until I left Hinduism and I began to go back to Christianity. I approached the Roman Catholic Church to become a priest, as this is what I felt Allah was calling me for, and they offered me an education and a post in a monastery in New Mexico. By this time my family (mother, brother and sister) had moved to Arizona and I had close relationships with many friends.

Needless to say I was not yet ready. Instead I found an independent catholic church that I could study through their seminary program from home and become ordained and assigned where I was already living.This independent Catholic Church also appealed to my liberal ideals that I had developed through my years living rough. I attended their seminary program and in 2005 I was ordained a priest.

My first ministry in my new role was interfaith relations. My assignment was to visit and learn about the different faith traditions in the Phoenix Metro area and share with them an interfaith message of peace and understanding from my church. Most Christian traditions I already had studied and knew. I brushed up on Judaism and other Far East religions. I was what is known as a worker-priest, which means I had a job at the same time as I was doing my ministry. I had changed from working in corporate America to working in a behavioral health agency.

My post was down the street from a Masjid. I thought that this was my chance to learn about Islam for my interfaith relations. I went to the mosque and met some very nice brothers who directed me to the mosque in Tempe, Arizona. I also began to read about Islam independently and was startled by how touched I was with what I was reading. Allah had me now but I did not yet know it. I went to the Tempe mosque and was to meet a wonderful teacher in the form of Ahmad Al Akoum.

Br. Al Akoum, who is the regional director of Muslim American Society, had an introduction to Islam class open for people of all faiths that I began to attend. While attending this class, I began to see that Islam was the truth. It was only a short time later that I gave Shahadah at the Tempe mosquewith the Sheikh Ahmed Shqeirat. Both Br. Al Akoum and Sheikh Shqeirat are great men and without them I would not have been as comfortable coming into Islam. I resigned from the church and have been Muslim ever since, Alhumdulillah.

My life has changed dramatically for the better since embracing Islam. At first my family was saddened that I left the priesthood and didn’t understand, even feared, Islam. But since my way of interacting with them, based on my increased happiness and my striving to adhere to Quran and Sunnah, has changed—they have seen that it is a good thing. Br. Al Akoum knew that the first year is always toughest for the revert. To lessen the stress of it, he made sure that I was included in multiple community activities and met lots of good practicing brothers. It is only through contact with other Muslims that a revert can be successful.

Left on his or her own, it can be too daunting and their faith may slip too far, so if you know a revert, please visit them at least once every three days. I have advanced further in my job because of my new base as a Muslim. I became a manager of a program that seeks to prevent alcohol and drug abuse, HIV, and Hepatitis for at risk populations.

I have become a volunteer in not only Muslim American Society but also the Muslim Youth Centre of Arizona and other Muslim causes. I have been recently nominated to the board of the Tempe mosque where I first took shahadah. Alhumdulillah it has also clarified who are my true friends versus who were not.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jesus in the Quran

Moses is a Muslim, explained in surah Yunus: 84, which reads [10:84] Moses said, "O my people, if you have really believed in GOD, then put your trust in Him, if you are really Muslim."

Jesus is a Muslim, described in surah Ali 'Imran: 52, which reads [3:52] When Jesus sensed their disbelief, he said, "Who are my supporters towards GOD?" The disciples said, "We are GOD's supporters; we believe in GOD, and bear witness that we are Muslim."

Abraham is a Muslim, described in the letter Ali 'Imran: 67, which reads [3:67] Abraham was neither Jewish, nor Christian; he was a Muslim. He never was an idol worshiper.

Abraham bequeath Islam to his descendants, explained in surah Al-Baqarah: 132 which reads [2:132] Moreover, Abraham exhorted his children to do the same, and so did Jacob: "O my children, GOD has pointed out the religion for you; do not die except as Muslim."

Islam is the religion of the Prophets, explained in surah Al-Baqarah: 136 which reads [2:136] Say, "We believe in GOD, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. To Him alone we are Muslim."

Clear that the Prophet Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad have One Teacher. Then One Teacher have been taught one lesson. And One lesson of all the religion of the Prophets is Islam.

I Was Taught to Hate Islam; Tina Styliandou's story

"All the "caricatures" and slander against Muhammad which is published now by the media, was part of our lessons and our exams!"

I was born in Athens, Greece , to Greek Orthodox parents. My father's family lived in Turkey, Istanbul for most of their lives, and my father was born and raised there. They were wealthy, well–educated, and as most Christian Orthodox who lived in an Islamic country, they held on to their religion.

A time came when the Turkish government decided to kick the majority of Greek citizens out of Turkey and confiscate their wealth, houses, and businesses. So my father's family had to return back to Greece empty-handed. This is what the Turkish Muslims did to them, and this validated, according to them, their hatred towards Islam.

My mother's family was living on a Greek island just on the border between Greece and Turkey. During a Turkish attack, the Turks occupied the island, burnt their houses, and in order to survive, they escaped to the Greek mainland. Even more reason to hate the Turkish Muslims then!

Greece was for more than 400 years occupied by Turks, and we were taught to believe that for every crime committed towards the Greeks, Islam was responsible. The Turks were Muslims and their crimes were reflecting their religious beliefs. This was actually a very wise plan of the Greek Orthodox Church (religion and politics in Greece are the same thing) to build hatred in the hearts of the Greeks against Islam, in order to protect their religion and prevent people from converting to Islam.

So for hundreds of years we were taught in our history and religious books to hate and make fun of the Islamic religion.

In our books, Islam was actually not a religion and Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not a prophet! He was just a very intelligent leader and politician who gathered rules and laws from the Jews and the Christians, added some of his own ideas and conquered the world.

At school, we were taught to make fun of him and of his wives or his Companions. All the "caricatures" and slander against him which are published today by the media were actually part of our lessons and our exams!

Alhamdulillah (thank God), Allah protected my heart, and hatred against Islam didn't enter it.

Other Greeks have also succeeded to rid themselves of the burden of the Orthodox religious inheritance placed on their shoulders and they have opened, by the will of Allah, their eyes, ears, and hearts to see that Islam is a true religion sent by Allah, and Muhammad is a true prophet, and the seal of all prophets.

Muslims believe that Allah sent messengers to mankind as a guidance to them, starting from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them all). But Allah's final message was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It was a great help to me that both of my parents were not very religious themselves. They rarely practiced their religion and used to take me to church only during weddings or funerals.

What drove my father away from his religion was the corruption he was seeing daily among the priests. How could these people preach for God and goodness, and at the same time steal from the church's funds, buy villas, and own Mercedes cars, and spread homosexuality amongst them? Are these the righteous representatives of the religion who will guide us, correct us, and lead us closer to God? He was fed up with them and this led him to become an atheist.

The churches lost most of their followers, at least in my country, because of their actions. In Islam a sheikh or scholar of the religion helps and guides others with full passion and only with the desire to please Allah and earn their way to Paradise.

In Christianity to become a priest is a profitable occupation. This corruption "within" drives many young people away from the religion they were born with and leads them to search for something else.

As a teenager I loved to read a lot and I wasn't really satisfied or convinced with Christianity. I had belief in God, fear and love for Him, but everything else confused me.

I started searching around but I never searched towards Islam (maybe due to the background I had against it).

So alhamdulillah He had mercy on my soul and guided me from darkness to light, from Hell to Paradise God willing.

He brought into my life my husband, a born Muslim, planted the seed of love into our hearts and lead us to marriage without us really paying attention to the religious differences.

My husband was willing to answer any question I had concerning his religion, without humiliating my beliefs (no matter how wrong they were) and without ever putting any pressure on me or even asking me to change my religion.

After 3 years of being married, having the chance to know more about Islam and to read the noble Quran, as well as other religious books, I was convinced that there is no such a thing as a trinity, nor was Jesus God.

Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God, Who has no son, nor partner, and that none has the right to be worshipped but Him alone! No one shares His divinity, nor His attributes.

In the Quran Allah described Himself. He said:
[Say: He is God, the One. God, the eternally Besought of all! He begets not nor is He begotten. and there is none like unto Him."] (Al-Ikhlas 112:1-4)

No one has the right to be invoked, supplicated, prayed to or shown any act of worship but Allah alone.

The religion of Islam is the acceptance of and obedience to the teachings of Allah which were revealed to His final Prophet Muhammad.

I became a Muslim, keeping it secret from my family and friends for many years. We lived with my husband in Greece trying to practice Islam, but it was extremely difficult, almost impossible.

In my home town there are no mosques, no access to Islamic studies, no people praying, or fasting, or women wearing hijab.

There are only some Muslim immigrants who came to Greece for a better financial future and who let the Western lifestyle attract them and eventually corrupt them. As a result, they do not follow their religion and they are completely lost.

It was incredibly difficult to perform our Islamic duties, especially for me, as I wasn't born as a Muslim, and didn't have an Islamic education.

My husband and I had to pray and fast with the use of calendars, no Adhan (the Muslim call for Prayer) in our ears, and no Islamic Ummah (community of Muslims) to support us. We felt that with each passing day we were stepping backwards. Our faith was decreasing and the wave was taking us.

So when my daughter was born, we decided, in order to save our own souls and our daughter's, if God wills, we have to migrate to an Islamic country. We didn't want to raise her in a western open environment where she would struggle to maintain her identity and might end up lost.

Thank Allah, He has guided us and gave us the chance to migrate to an Islamic country, where we can hear the sweet words of the Adhan, and we can increase our knowledge and love for Him, and our beloved Prophet Muhammad.

Source: readingislam (my journey to Islam)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why am I muslim because my parents are muslim ?

As a human being, it is rather strange for me to ask why I am a Moslem just because both of my parents are Moslems. Why don't I become a Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist follower ? If my parents were atheists or of other religion, of course in would not be a Moslem. I believe it applies to other people as well. A long spiritual journey in search for the truth. A search and pursue from one truth to the next.
By the time I entered my adolescence, I faced many problems concerning with my religion. I began to wonder why people look down on Moslem, though as a matter of fact we believe that it is the truth itself. It is quite on the contrary with the atheists. Although in this country we are taught or at least people think that atheists has a negative label, we can see that Russia, and other countries, whose population are mostly atheists, are much more developed than our country. Beside, they are hard working, and they have advanced technology. To put it simply; why don't I become an atheist ? (realizing that we are religious, but we are far left behind).
Other thing that often bother my mind is the fact that most prisoners and criminals are Moslems. If this religion is the truth or about the truth, then there should be very few crime in this country.
I think there many unjust things to see. Why followers of a religion hate atheists, and why followers of one religion hate followers of other religion. If all religion are right, then we should be free to choose one. Those accumulated problems and questions made me neglect my obligations in relation with my being a Moslem. There were so many things that I should have done, but I did not do them. As I quit those obligations, I began to wonder: Does God really exist ?. this question kept bothering me every single day.
Coincidently, one day I walked across a new residential area. There used to be no building there, only a green field. The population increase in the area brought my mind further back, and further back more. If there are some billion of people in this planet now, a few hundred years ago, there must be smaller number, and much fewer some thousands of years ago. The figures get smaller and smaller as draw the line further back to the past until it reach the time when there were only two couple inhabited this Earth. Then I began to ask: Who created that first couple ? from that moment I started believing in The Creator.
Then I learned different religions. When I studied Bhagavad-Gita for a few years which I read again and again, I came to a view of who I was and where I was going. I got the principle that life is not too hard, yet not too easy from Buddhism. I learned that life should be lived to its optimum (not maximum). Though we have not finished some small things, we have finished or at least nearly finished the whole.
Whatever we do, no matter how small it is, is something important. I learned this from The Zen. Here I began to change my view about my daily activity, from merely common daily activity to a 'meaning fun' sets of activities. Having a meal has the same value as praying. From Christianity about love, from the lowest (the love to others) to the highest, the love to God.
From all that I have learned, I finally found an outstanding model. He is a model in many different aspects, and he is Mohammed. In the family, he is a good husband and father. How he took care of the family, how he maintain his relation with his wife and other things, we can take him as a model. In relation with economics, he taught us how run and control economic situation. He was also an excellent state man, we can learn from him how to maintain stability. He was also a genius thinker. We can see this from how spoke or discussed things. And in the battlefield, he was a brilliant commander and a kind hearted man.
It was quite different from the time when I learned about Buddhism. Buddha only emphasized on the spiritual aspect, and so does Jesus. Newton was only good at science. Napoleon was only brilliant in the battle field, so for other aspect, we have to turn to other model.
At the end of my spiritual journey, I see that all this world is moving towards Moslem. French Revolution that called far brotherhood and equality is there in Islam. We can see it in the hajji in which everyone, regardless of his nationality, race, social status are the same.
Abraham Lincoln was famous for his slavery abolishment. It is there in Islam. And so is what Nelson Mandela was fighting for. There is no difference of race and the color of peoples skin in Islam. I think, sooner or later, everyone will accept Islam.