Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How Islam eventually entered his heart

Abdul Hakeem Heinz was brought up in the south of London. He was first introduced to Islam at the tender age of seven when his mother embraced Islam.

Years later he traveled and lived in Egypt for a few years and further developed his knowledge and understanding of Islam as well as his skills in Arabic language.

He was just a young boy when his mother converted, and it was then that he and his brother and sister changed from going to church to practicing Islam. This was quite a shock for him at first because his comfort zone had been in the Christian concepts that he had previously been taught.

Initially, Islam was presented to him as a set of strict rules that had to be followed. He admits that at first he found it all a bit tough to deal with. At seven he was expected to pray and fast.

He also had to learn how to read in Arabic and he found himself praying and reading Quran but without understanding what he was saying and why he had to do all this.

However, the years passed and after some time, it all started to settle in and Islam became his way of life. As he looks back, he notes that as a teenager, it was natural that he would start to question what life is about.

As he passed through the turbulence of his teenage years, the meaning of the message of Islam started to touch his heart and became more and more acceptable to him. He also began to understand what Islam meant in his life and as he learned more, he perceived Islam as the correct way.

Heinz admits, “In my early teens, it was something to be ashamed of to be a Muslim. At school I was taught Islamic studies but I was also taught that it was just like Hinduism and Sikhism.”

It affected him that Islam and those who followed it were considered “different” from others. When he started secondary school, he did not want to be associated with Islam, but he kept it in his heart.

He explains his reaction, “It was because of the pressure from outside, but at the same time, I hadn't gone into Islam enough to justify my faith as I could have.” The public perception of Islam at that time affected how he presented himself as a Muslim. He wanted to be among the common crowd, which is a natural part of human nature. This perception did not change until he was about fourteen years old.

At this age, he changed in the way he practiced Islam and how he presented his religion to others. This happened after he traveled to Holland and Spain. His journey to Spain was especially significant as there he had the chance to interact more with practicing Muslims.

He comments, “There was a minority Muslim community where I was in Spain but they were respected and some of the youth of my age group were very interested in religion. This made me no longer feel ashamed. Young people were embracing Islam and this made me feel proud.”

When he returned to the UK from Spain, he was about fifteen. He went back to school, but the difference this time was that he was a Muslim from the inside! He was much more confident and so he started to talk about Islam more. Heinz says happily, “I could actually say 'I am Muslim'.”

Then attitudes towards Islam started to change among his peers at school. He relates, “At that time, being a Muslim was considered jazzy, snappy, and cool! This helped me become even more confident. One of the things that helped me through all these changes was my independence to know Almighty Allah.”

He admits reading when he was by himself and memorizing Quran. He also says that when he was a teenager, as a household his family members were Muslims, but Islam was not always being practiced properly.

Despite all this, there was something in his heart that was always drawn toward Almighty Allah and Islam. If he found life difficult or had problems, he would pray two units of Prayer and pour his heart out to Almighty Allah. He states, “I learned to submit myself to Allah.”

Heinz believes that Muslims have to be sincere to Almighty Allah and recite Quran everyday. This is what helped him to pass through the difficult teenage years.

He noticed that as he became stronger, people changed their perceptions about him and started to respect him.

He says that if a person acts shyly, feels embarrassed and behaves apologetically, people will put him to one side. But if he does not really care about what people think, because he knows that he is on the truth, people will respect him because of the confidence he has.

Heinz says with surety, “People respect that kind of character. People respect you if you are yourself.”

He believes that we do not owe anything to our friends or the group we are with, and that we should just be ourselves. He advises new Muslims not to try to be like anyone else.

He is now twenty-three years old and believes that generally, in the West, people his age are struggling in terms of responsibility and knowing what is expected of them as adults. He finds that they are not sure because they do not belong to a certain culture, or their culture drives them to succumb to this world that is filled with commotion and strife.

He says that when he was seventeen years old and decided to practice Islam properly, that helped him to grow because Islam gave him a strict code of conduct. He followed what it says and tried to understand his role as a human being.

Slowly he came to know that he has responsibilities and will ultimately become a proper adult and a better person, more considerate and mindful of others. He says that without Islam he would have been lost.

He is grateful to Almighty Allah that He has brought him so far. With Islam, a person can stand out among their peers because Islam makes a person mature.

He says, “Gaining Islamic knowledge in today’s world is important and we cannot escape Satan as he wants to keep us away from where we should be.

“New Muslims want to get on the right path and it is important to keep good company because a person becomes what his group is. If the person around you will bring you down, you might have to cut relations with him.”

Heinz sees that his time in Egypt helped him to see how Muslims live and that it is great to feel that you belong to such a universal community. Apart from the knowledge of Arabic and Islam he obtained, Egypt also helped him to learn more about how to be a Muslim in everyday life.

He says that we learn from the people we mix with and that we should read Quran regularly and ask Almighty Allah to help us understand it properly. Everyone should find out what classes are happening in their area and attend them and spend time in the mosque. People can also go onto Islamic websites and be involved in the community around them.

He observes that in London there are a lot of places where a person can obtain knowledge and there are prominent speakers. He advises new Muslims to seek out such classes and lectures because not only will you gain knowledge, but you will also meet good people.

Looking to the future, Heinz says that he just asks Allah for the best and hopes. He says, “I am more patient now because of the experiences I've had. I gained a lot of stability by having learned about the Companions and the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him.”

He sees that the best way to be a man and the best way to be a woman are by living according to the standards of Almighty Allah.

This article is based on an interview with Abdul Hakeem Heinz, from London.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Martin John Mwaipopo - Former Lutheranp Archbishop

(It was December 23, 1986, two days away from Christmas, when Arch Bishop Martin John Mwaipopo, announced to his congregation that he was leaving Christianity for Islam. The congregation was paralysed with shock on hearing the news, so much so, that his administrator got up from his seat, closed the door and windows, and declared to the church members that the Bishop’s mind had become unhinged, that is, he had gone mad.
Little did they know that inside the Bishop’s heart lay a decision that would blow their minds, and that the entertainment was only a farewell party. But the congregant’s reaction was equally shocking!

They called the police to take the "mad" man away. He was kept in the cells until midnight when Sheikh Ahmed Sheik, the man who initiated him into Islam came to bail him out.

That incident was only a mild beginning of shocks in store for him. Al Qalam reporter, Simphiwe Sesanti, spoke to the Tanzanian born former Lutheran Arch Bishop Martin John Mwaipopo, who on embracing Islam came to be known as Al Hajj Abu Bakr John Mwaipopo) Credit must go to the Zimbabwean brother, Sufyan Sabelo, for provoking this writer’s curiosity, after listening to Mwaipopo’s talk at the Wyebank Islamic Centre, Durban. Sufyan is not sensationalist, but that night he must have heard something - he just could not stop talking about the man! Who would not be hooked after hearing that an Arch Bishop, who had not only obtained a BA and Masters degree, but a doctorate as well, in Divinity, had later turned to Islam?

And since foreign qualifications matter so much to you, a man who had obtained a diploma in Church Administration in England and the latter degrees in Berlin, Germany! A man, who, before becoming a Muslim, had been the World Council of Churches’ General Secretary for Eastern Africa - covering Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and parts of Ethiopia and Somalia. In the Council of Churches, he rubbed shoulders with the present chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission . Barney Pityana and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ‘s chairman, Bishop Desmond Tutu. It is a story of a man who was born 61 years ago, on February 22 in Bukabo, an area that shares its borders with Uganda. Two years, after his birth, his family had him baptised, and five years later, watched him with pride being an alter boy . Seeing him assisting the church minister, preparing the "body and blood" of Christ , filled the Mwaipopos with pride, and filled Mwaipopo Senior with ideas for his son’s future.

"When I was in a boarding school, later , my father wrote to me, stating he wanted me to become a priest. In each and every letter he wrote this" , recalls Abu Bakr. But he had his own ideas about his life, which was joining the police force. But at the age of 25, Mwaipopo gave in to his father’s will. Unlike in Europe where children can do as they will after age 21 , in Africa , children are taught to honour their parent’s will above their own.

"My , son , before I close my eyes (die), I would be glad if you could become a priest", that’s how father told son, and that’s how the son was moved, a move that saw him going to England in 1964, to do a diploma in Church Administration, and a year later to Germany to do a B.A degree. On returning , a year later, he was made acting Bishop.

Later, he went back to do Masters. " All this time, I was just doing things, without questioning . It was when he began to do his doctorate , that he started questioning things. "I started wondering … there is Christianity, Islam, Judaism Buddhism each different religions claiming to the true religion. What is the truth? I wanted the truth" , says Mwaipopo. So began his search , until he reduced it to the "major" four religions. He got himself a copy of the Qur’an, and guess what?

" When I opened the Qur’an , the first verses I came across were, ‘ Say : He is Allah , The One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begeteteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him? (Surah Ikhlas)’ ", he recalls. That was when the seeds of Islam, unknown to him, were first sown. It was then that he discovered that the Qur’an was the only scripture book that had been untampered with, by human beings since its revelation . "And in concluding my doctoral thesis I said so. I didn’t care whether they give me my doctorate or not - that was the truth, and I was looking for the truth." While in that state of mind he called his "beloved" Professor Van Burger.

"I closed the door, looked him in the eye and asked him ‘of all religions in the world, which is true’, I asked.

‘Islam’, he responded.

‘Why then are you not a Muslim?’, I asked again.

He said to me "'One, I hate Arabs, and two, do you see all this luxuries that I have? Do you think that I would give it all up for Islam?’. When I thought about his answer, I thought about my own situation, too", recalls Mwaipopo. His mission, his cars - all these appeared in his imagination. No, he could not embrace Islam, and for one good year, he put it off his mind. But then dreams haunted him, the verses of the Quran kept on appearing, people clad in white kept on coming, "especially on Fridays", until he could take it no more.

So, on December 22, he officially embraced Islam. These dreams that guided him - were they not due to the "superstitious" nature of the Africans? "No, I don’t believe that all dreams are bad. There are those that guide you in the right direction and those which don’t, and these ones, in particular, guided me in the right direction, to Islam", he tells us. Consequently, the church stripped him of his house and his car. His wife could not take it, she packed her clothes, took her children and left, despite Mwaipopo’s assurances that she was not obliged to become a Muslim. When he went to his parents, they, too, had heard the story. "My father told me to denounce Islam and my mother said she did not "want to hear any nonsense from me", remember Mwaipopo. He was on his own! Asked how he now feels towards his parents, he says that he has forgiven them, in fact found time to reconcile with his father before he departed to the world yonder.

"They were just old people who did not know. They could not even read the Bible…all they knew was what they had heard the priest reading", he states. After asking to stay for one night, the following day, he began his journey to where his family had originally come from, Kyela, near the borders between Tanzania and Malawi. His parents had settled in Kilosa, Morogoro. During his journey, he was stranded in Busale, by one family that was selling home brewed beer. It was there that he met his future wife, a Catholic Nun, by the name of Sister Gertrude Kibweya, now known as Sister Zainab. It was with her that he travelled to Kyela, where the old man, who had given him shelter the previous night had told him that that’s where he would find other Muslims. But before that, in the morning of that day he had made the call to prayer (azaan), something which made the villagers come out, asking his host why he was keeping a "mad" man. "It was the Nun who explained that I was not mad but a Muslim", he says. It was the same Nun who later helped Mwaipopo pay his medical fees at the Anglican Mission Hospital, when he had become terribly sick, thanks to the conversation he had had with her. The story goes that he had asked her why she was wearing a rosary, to which she responded that it was because Christ was hanged on it. "But, say, someone had killed your father with a gun, would you go around carrying a gun on your chest?" Mmmhhh. That set the Nun thinking, her mind "challenged", and when the former Bishop proposed marriage to the Nun later, the answer was "yes". Secretly, they married, and four weeks later, she wrote a letter to her authorities, informing them of her leave. When the old man who had given him shelter, (the Nun’s uncle) heard about the marriage, when they arrived at his house, they were advised to leave the house, because "the old man was loading his gun", and the Nun’s father was enraged, "wild like a lion". From the Bishop’s mansion, Mwaipopo went to live in a self built mud house. From earning a living as the World Council of Churches’ General Secretary for Eastern Africa, he began earning a living as a wood cutter and tilling some people’s lands. When not doing that he was preaching Islam publicly. This led to a series of short term imprisonments for preaching blasphemy against Christianity.

While on hajj in 1988, tragedy struck. His house was bombed, and consequently, his infant triplets were killed. "A bishop, whose mother and my own mother were children of the same father, was involved in the plot’, recalls Mwaipopo. He says instead of demoralising him, it did the opposite, as the numbers of people embracing Islam, increased, this including his father in law.

In 1992, he was arrested for 10 months, along with 70 followers, charged with treason. This was after some pork shops, against which he had spoken, were bombed. He did speak against them, he admits, saying that constitutionally, since 1913, there was a law against bars, clubs and pork shops in Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Mafia, Lindi and Kigoma. Fortunately for him, he was acquitted, and immediately thereafter, he fled to Zambia, exile, after he was advised that there was a plot to kill him. He says that that very day he was released, police came to re-arrest him. And guess what? "The women said no ways! They said that they would resist my arrest physically against the police. It was also the women who helped me cross the borders unnoticed. They clothed me in the women’s fashion!", according to Mwaipopo. And that is one of the reasons that make him admire women.

"Women must be given a high place, they must be given good education in Islam. Otherwise how would she understand why a man marries more than one wife…It was my wife, Zainab, who proposed that I should marry my second wife, Shela, (her friend), when she had to go for Islamic studies abroad", it’s the bishop who says so. Yah? To the Muslims, Al Hajj Abu Bakr Mwaipopo’s message is, "There is war against Islam…Flood the world with literature. Right now, Muslims are made to feel ashamed to be regarded as fundamentalists. Muslims must stop their individualistic tendencies, they must be collective. You have do defend your neighbour if you want to be safe", he states, also urging Muslims to be courageous, citing the Islamic Propagation Centre International’s Ahmed Deedat. "That man is not learned, but look at the way he has propagated Islam".


Monday, May 9, 2011

I grew up thinking religion was ridiculous

Journey from Atheism to Islam stunned, disappointed parents

Five months before their marriage, Karen Meek's fiancé told her that he was becoming a Muslim. Ms. Meek, an atheist, was taken aback.
"I thought he was being brainwashed into something," she said. "All of a sudden he stopped drinking alcohol. He wanted to pray every day. He stopped eating pork."
For months, Eric Meek, a lapsed Baptist, had studied Islam without telling her. Now, when he went to work, Ms. Meek poured over his books and videos, trying to understand his faith.
She never expected to be attracted to Islam.

"I grew up thinking religion was ridiculous," said Ms. Meek, 33, of Lewisville. "I didn't believe in God. I had no idea how the universe was created and, frankly, didn't care."
She said Islam had a logic to it that she couldn't resist.

"Coming from an atheist background, I had an easier time accepting Islam than a Christian because I didn't have to unlearn or give up any beliefs," she said.
After getting married, she prayed for the first time while her husband was at work. She learned how from a book.
"Until this point, I had done everything privately, without telling him," she said. "I did not want to join a religion just because he did. I wanted to discover it on my own."
She and her husband began meeting with other Muslims to study the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Eventually, she made her profession of faith.
Her choice of religions stunned her parents.

"One day she came and she wearing a scarf and a dress down to her ankles," said her father, Ray Allred of Carrollton. "I was shocked."
He said he was estranged from his daughter for a time because of her religion. They're close now, though he fears for her safety since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"You want to love your child, but when they do something so foreign to you, it's very difficult," he said. "I'd give anything if she hadn't adopted this religion."
Those comments were echoed by Jane Barrett of Flower Mound, who's Ms. Meek's mother. She said she especially dislikes the hijab, or head covering, that her daughter wears.
"Karen is such a pretty girl with beautiful hair," she said.

Ms. Meek said she understands. After becoming a Muslim, it took her many months to adopt Islamic dress.
"I would wear the hijab places where people didn't know me," she said and laughed. Now, she wears it all the time -- even to work, where she is an accounting clerk for a restaurant chain.
She said embracing Islam has caused her to see life in a new way.

"Going from not believing in God to believing in God is amazing," she said. "Islam opened my eyes to so many things I had taken for granted, mostly that life is a gift."

Source: http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/stories/

Jennifer Harrell

As a child, Jennifer Harrell attended church and Sunday school. In high school, she was on the drill team and dated a football player. After college, she became a Methodist youth minister.
At age 23, she became a single parent. At age 26, she became a Muslim.

"I grew up in Plano doing all the things I thought I was supposed to do," said Ms. Harrell, 29, of Dallas. "I went to church. I went to parties. But I wasn't concerned about heaven or hell. I took it all for granted."
Eventually, she took a job in sales, where she was introduced to Islam by Muslim co-workers. One of them loved to debate religion, which stirred Ms. Harrell to rethink her Christian faith.

She studied the Bible, but also Islam in order to do a better job of defending her faith. Instead, she became intrigued that Muslims prayed five times a day, fasted and gave alms as a way of life.
"I wasn't the type of Christian who prayed every morning," she said.

She said Muslim beliefs about Jesus made more sense to her because they revere him as a prophet and not God's son.
"When I was a Christian, I never understood why Jesus had to die for my sins," Ms. Harrell said. "I mean, they're my sins."
Her first visit to a mosque was memorable.

"I was the furthest thing from what they expected," she said. "Here were all these Arab and Pakistani women, and there I was, a typical Texas girl with blond hair and blue eyes wearing makeup, lipstick and nail polish."
Nobody flinched.

"They looked at me with an understanding that said, 'Finally, somebody has opened her eyes,' " she said.
Before becoming a Muslim, she visited a Christian minister. She said she asked why Christians ate pork, why women didn't cover their heads in church, and why Christians dated.
"I wanted him to defend the Bible," she said. "I gave him everything that I had found wrong with Christian interpretation."
His answers didn't satisfy her.

One day while on her way to the mosque to pray, Ms. Harrell decided to make the shahada, or profession of faith: "There is no God but Allah and Muhammed is His prophet."
Bill Harrell said he knew his daughter had been considering Islam. "I've always encouraged my children to explore and test their beliefs," he said.
Three years later, Ms. Harrell is still a Muslim and teaches at an Episcopal school. She doesn't pray or wear the Muslim head covering known as hijab at work, though she said, "I know it's my duty."
Becoming a Muslim, she said, was the most important decision she's ever made - not just for herself but for her daughter.
"Islam affects every aspect of your life," she said. "It changed my goal from living in the moment to living with the intent of heaven."
Source: http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/stories/

Friday, May 6, 2011

Richard Leiman, Ex-Jew American computer programmer

As a child, I always had access to a short-wave radio. I used to listen to the BBC World Service about the Middle East. I also loved the music from that part of the world, and I probably was listening to the Quran being recited, but did not know it at the time.

As I grew older, I continued to listen to the BBC World Service. Back then, they had a program called Words of Faith in which they had a five- to eight-minute talk given by a different religious speaker each day of the week representing all the major religions in the United Kingdom. Out of all the speakers, the Muslims were the ones I loved listening to most.

Every time the Muslim representative spoke, I wanted to find out more about Islam. My impression of the religion was that the person who practices Islam is a happy person, not like the mean people portrayed by the American media. I just refused to believe people that loved Allah so much could be like the people portrayed by the media. Because I come from a Jewish background, the thing that united me with Islam was the belief that Allah had no partners.
Work in the United Kingdom

An important time in my life came when I met a real Muslim, but did not know it yet. I was doing contracting computer programming work in New York State when I had a strong urge to visit the United Kingdom.

I visited London and loved it. During my visit, I went to several employment agencies without luck. One of the agencies gave me several trade magazines. When I arrived back in the States, I started to send more CV’s to companies and other agencies listed in the magazines. I returned to the United Kingdom because one of the companies wanted to interview me. Then I started to visit more companies and agencies until I landed a position even though I was on a visitor’s visa.

The company that hired me applied for a work permit for me and the Department of Employment told me that I had to leave the country in order for the paperwork to be processed. Again, I went back to the States. Another agency obtained a temporary work permit and employed me for a company called LogoTech, which, at that time, was located in Egham, Surrey.
Meeting a Real Muslim for the First Time

Some time after I started working at LogoTech, I found out that my supervisor, Anis Karim, was Muslim. I asked him if he knew how I could get a copy of the Quran. To my surprise, he obtained a copy of the Quran for me within a few days. He also asked me to pledge that I would have a bath before I read from the Quran[1] and that I would never show it to anyone who might make blasphemous remarks about it.

The next day, I took my morning bath and made breakfast. Then, while eating breakfast, I started to read. Later I found out that “read” is what Allah had the Angel Gabriel instruct our beloved Prophet to do, even though he could not read or write!

Well, words can’t describe how I felt when I read just that small portion of the world’s most holy book. It took only 10 pages, when, at that point, I told myself that this religion was for me. This occurred around 1990. The more I read, the more I wanted to know, and I loved what I was reading.

At the time, I did not know anything about how to pray or any of the details of Islam. If Anis had invited me to go the masjid in London, I would have gone with him. The only thing I knew about praying to Allah was the prostration position. At the time, I knew that Muslims prayed several times a day, and so I started to do so at night before I went to bed and in the morning when I woke up.
Back to the States Again

When the work permit ran out, I had to return to the States and was unemployed for several years. I visited my father in Huntsville, Alabama, and created a database application for him. I saw that Huntsville was a high-tech cosmopolitan city and decided to try to land a programming position there. My father told me that if I did not get a position, I would have to go back to New Jersey to my mother, who had moved from New York to New Jersey. About a fortnight before I was going to go back to New Jersey, I landed a programming position at a company in Huntsville.
My First Trip to a Masjid

My sister and I were planning a trip to Indonesia because we had a pen pal on the Internet. My sister asked me if I could help her find Islamic jewelry as a gift. At that time I had no idea that there were Muslims in Huntsville.

Then Allah put things into place for me. I remembered that there was a shop called Crescent Imports, which I thought was run by Muslims. It was not. It was run by the group called Nation of Islam. Now here is the strange part that only Allah could have arranged. We spoke to the owner of the shop and told him that we wanted to find Islamic jewelry. He directed us to the Huntsville Islamic Center.

I do thank Allah for having them direct me to the masjid. We went to the building, but there was only one car parked there. I spoke to a man in the car, and he told us that we should speak to the imam about where to find the jewelry. I was still afraid to go into the building because for me, it was such a sacred place.

At the moment, I remembered one day when I saw a lady at work wearing a hijab. I told her about accepting Islam personally and she said, “Why don’t you visit the masjid in Huntsville?” I eventually went back to the masjid after I summed up enough courage to go into that sacred place.

I spoke to the imam, and he invited me to perform salah with the Muslim brothers. This was a turning point in my life. I loved it and started to visit the masjid once a week at night. Then I started to visit it several times a week at night. The urge to come more times was stronger and I now perform most of my prayers at the masjid, except `Asr and Maghrib prayers when I am at work.
I Officially Accepted Islam

In November of 1996, I publicly made Shahadah. At work, I pray Zhuhr and Asr by myself or with other Muslim brothers in a small mosque in my work place. I proudly carry my prayer rug in the hallways at my work in an attempt to get people to ask me what they are. When they do ask me about it, I tell them that I am Muslim and the mats are what I use to pray on. Also, my work area, including my computer, is decorated with Islamic artwork. My background on my computer is usually the Ka`bah or our masjid.

Now that I am a Muslim, there is no turning back to disbelief!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Diane Charles Breslin

When I am asked how I became a Muslim I always reply that I always felt myself to be a believer in the ONE AND ONLY, yet I first realized what that meant when I heard about a religion called Islam, and a book called Quran.

But let me first start with a brief synopsis of my American overwhelmingly traditional Irish Catholic background.
Catholic I was Indeed

My dad left the seminary after a three-year stint to train as a missionary. He was the oldest of thirteen children, all born and raised in the Boston area. Two of his sisters became nuns, as was his aunt on his mother’s side. My dad’s younger brother was also in the seminary and quit after 9 years, just before taking his final vows. My grandmother would wake at dawn to dress and climb the hill to the local church for early morning mass while the rest of the house was sleeping. I remember her as being a very stern, kind, fair, and strong woman, and rather deep - unusual for those days. I’m certain she never heard mention of Islam, and may God judge her as to the beliefs she held in her heart. Many who never heard of Islam pray to the One by instinct, although they have inherited labels of various denominations from their ancestors.

I was enrolled in a Catholic nursery school at the age of four and spent the next 12 years of my life surrounded by heavy doses of trinity indoctrination. Crosses were everywhere, all day long - on the nuns themselves, on the walls of the classroom, in church which we attended almost daily, and in almost every room of my house. Not to mention the statues and holy pictures - everywhere you looked there was baby Jesus and his mother Mary - sometimes happy, sometimes sad, yet always classically white and Anglo featured. Various and sundry angels and saints pictures would make their appearances, depending on the holyday approaching.

I have vivid memories picking lilacs and lilies of the valley from our yard to make bouquets which I placed in the vase at the base of the largest Mother Mary statue in the upstairs hallway next to my bedroom. There I would kneel and pray, enjoying the pleasant scent of the freshly picked flowers and serenely contemplating on how lovely was Mary’s long flowing chestnut hair. I can unequivocally state that I never once prayed TO HER or felt that she had any powers to help me. The same was true when I would hold my rosary beads at night in bed. I repeated the ritual supplications of the Our Father and the Hail Mary and the Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, all the while looking upward and saying with my true heart—I know its only You, one almighty You-I’m just saying this stuff because it’s all I ever learned.

On my twelfth birthday, my mom gave me a Bible. As Catholics we were not encouraged to read anything except our Baltimore Catechism, sanctioned by the Vatican. Any comparative introspection was denied and disparaged. Yet I fervently read, seeking to know what I hoped would be a story from and about my creator. I got even more confused. This book was obviously the work of men, convoluted and difficult to grasp. Yet, once again, that’s all that was available.

My prior faithful church attendance dropped off in my mid teens, as was the norm for my generation, and by the time I reached my twenties, I had basically no formal religion. I read a lot on Buddhism, Hinduism and even tried out the local Baptist church for a few months. They were not enough to hold my attention, the former too exotic and the latter too provincial. Yet all through the years of not formally practicing, a day never passed when I didn’t “talk to god” especially as I fell asleep I would always say thanks for all my blessings and seek help for any problems I was experiencing. It was always the same certain ONE AND ONLY whom I was addressing, sure He was listening and confident of His love and care. No one ever taught me anything about this; it was pure instinct.
The Others

It was in my preparation for my master’s degree that I first heard of the Quran. Up until then, as most Americans, I knew only of “the Arabs” as mysterious, dark predators out to plunder our civilization. Islam was never mentioned – only the surly, dirty Arabs, camels and tents in the desert. As a child in religion class, I often wondered who were the other people? Jesus walked in Caana and Galilee and Nazareth, but he had blue eyes — who were the other people? I had a sense that there was a missing link somewhere. In 1967 during the Arab-Israeli war, we all got our first glimpse of the other people, and they were clearly viewed by most as the enemy. But for me, I liked them, and for no apparent reason. I cannot to this day explain it, except to now realize that they were my Muslim brothers.

I was about 35 when I read my first page of Quran. I opened it with the intention of a casual browse to get acquainted with the religion of the inhabitants of the region I was majoring in for my Master’s Degree. God caused the book to fall open to Surat al-Mu’minun (The Believers) verses 52-54:

“Verily, this your nation is one nation and I am your Lord so keep your duty to Me. But they broke up their command into sects, each one rejoicing in its belief. So leave them in their error until a time.” (Quran 23:52-54)

From the first reading, I knew that this was certain truth- clear and forceful, revealing the essence of all humanity and verifying all I had studied as a History major. Humanity’s pathetic rejection of the truth, their unceasing vain competition to be special and their neglectfulness of the purpose for their very existence all set forward in a few words. Nation states, nationalities, cultures, languages – all feeling superior, when in fact, all these identities mask the only reality which we ought to rejoice in sharing- that is to serve one master, THE ONE Who created everything and Who owns everything.
I Still Love Jesus and Mary

As a child I used to say the phrase “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen,” found in the prayer “Hail Mary”. I now see how much Mary has been maligned by the misrepresentation of her as the mother of the godhead. It is quite enough to view her as chosen above all women to bear the great prophet Jesus by the Virgin Birth. My mom would often defend her constant pleas for Mary’s help by explaining that she too was a mother and understood a mother’s sorrows. It would be far more useful for my mom and all others to contemplate how the most pure Mary was slandered by the Jews of her time and accused of a most despicable sin, that of fornication. Mary bore all of this, knowing that she would be vindicated by the Almighty, and that she would be given the strength to bear all of their calumnies.

This recognition of Mary’s faith and trust in God’s mercy will allow one to recognize her most exalted position among women, and at the same time remove the slander of calling her the mother of God, which is an even worse accusation than that of the Jews of her time. As a Muslim you may love Mary and Jesus, but to love God more will gain you the Paradise, as He is the One whose rules you must obey. He will judge you on a day when no one else can help you. He created you, and Jesus, and his blessed mother Mary, as He created Muhammad. All died or will die – God never dies.

Jesus (`Isa in Arabic) never once claimed to be the godhead. Rather, he repeatedly referred to himself as being sent. As I look back on the confusion I experienced in my youth, its root lay in the church’s claim that Jesus was more than he himself admitted. The church fathers formulated a doctrine to invent the concept of Trinity. It is this confused rendering of the original Torah and Injil [Gospel] (scriptures given to Moses and Jesus) which is at the core of the issue of Trinity.

In honest fact, it is enough to simply state that Jesus was a prophet, yes, a messenger who came with the word of the One Who sent him. If we view Jesus, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, in this correct light, it’s easy to then accept Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, as his younger brother who came with the very same mission – to call all to the worship of the Almighty ONE, Who created everything and to whom we shall all return. It is of no consequence whatsoever to debate their physical features. Arab, Jew, Caucausian, blue or brown eyes, long or short hair – all totally irrelevant as to their importance as bearers of the message. Whenever I think of Jesus now, after knowing about Islam, I feel that connectedness which one feels in a happy family – a family of believers. You see Jesus was a “Muslim”, one who submits to his Lord above.

The first of the “Ten Commandments” state:

1. I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have false gods before me.

2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy god in vain.

Anyone who knows the correct meaning of “la ilaha ill-Allah” (there is no god but God) will immediately recognize the similarity in this testimony. Then we can really start to bring together the real story of all the prophets and put an end to the distortions.

“And they said the Most Merciful has taken a son. Indeed you have brought forth a terrible evil thing. Whereby the heavens are almost torn, and the earth split asunder, and the mountains fall in ruins.” (Quran 19:88-90)

My Journey to Islam

It took three full years of my searching and studying Quran before I was ready to proclaim that I wanted to be a Muslim. Of course I feared the changes in clothing and habits, such as dating and drinking to which I had become accustomed. Music and dancing were a big part of my life, and bikinis and mini skirts were my claim to fame. All the while I had no chance to encounter any Muslims, as there were none in my area except a few immigrants who could barely speak English an hour’s drive away at the only mosque in the state at that time. When I would go to Friday Prayer to try and check out what I was considering, I would receive furtive glances as I was perhaps suspected of being a spy as was the case, and still is, in most Islamic gatherings. There was not a single Muslim American available to help me and, as I said, all the immigrant population were rather chilly to say the least.

In the midst of this phase of my life, my dad died of cancer. I was at his bedside and literally witnessed the angel of death remove his soul. He was gripped by fear as tears rolled down his cheeks. A life of luxury, yachts, country clubs, expensive cars … for both him and mom, all a result of interest income, and now it’s all over.

I felt a sudden desire to enter Islam quickly, while there was still time, and to change my ways and not to continue blindly seeking what I had been raised to believe to be the good life. Shortly thereafter I came to Egypt, and involved a long slow journey through the miracle of the Arabic language and the discovery of the clear truth – God is One, the Everlasting Eternal; Who never was born or gave birth and there is nothing at all like Him.

It is also the resulting equality between humans that attracted me most to that religion. The Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said that people are like teeth of a comb – all equal, the best being the most pious. In the Quran, we are told that the best are the pious ones. Piety involves love of and fear of God alone. Yet before you can really be pious, you must learn who God is. And to know Him is to love Him. I started learning Arabic to read the word of Allah in Arabic as it was revealed.

Learning the Quran has changed every facet of my life. I no longer wish to have any earthly luxuries; neither cars nor clothes nor trips can lure me into that web of vain desires which I was so caught up in before. I do enjoy a fairly good life of a believer; but as they say… it is no longer embedded in the heart...only at hand. I don’t fear the loss of my former friends or relatives – if God chooses to bring them close, then so be it, but I know that God gives me exactly what I need, no more – no less. I don’t feel anxious or sad anymore, nor do I feel regret at what has passed me by, because I’m safe in the care of God - THE ONE AND ONLY whom I always knew but didn’t know His name.
A Prayer For America

I pray to Almighty God to allow each and every American the opportunity to receive the message of the Oneness of God in a simple, straightforward fashion… Americans are, for the most part, grossly uninformed in regards to correct Islamic theology. The stress is almost always on politics, which focuses on the deeds of men. It’s high time we concentrated on the deeds of the prophets who all came to lead us out of the darkness and into the light. There is no doubt that darkness is prevailing in the malaise affecting America now. The light of truth will serve us all, and whether or not one chooses to follow the Islamic path, there is no doubt that the blocking of it or the hindering of others from following it will surely lead to further misery. I care very much for the healthy future of my country, and I’m quite certain that learning more about Islam will enhance the chances of my hopes being fulfilled.