Praise be to Allah, the Eternal Refuge. I ask Him to bless our Noble Prophet Muhammad ?, his family and all who believe and thank Him for guiding me to the Straight Path, Islam, and for removing the veil from my eyes through His Mercy so that I could understand that He sent the glorious Qur’an. I have heard other reverts say that Islam was the last religion that they turned to in their search for the best way of living. That was also true for me.
My grandmother taught me most of what I knew about religion as a child. She was a devout Irish Catholic who instilled in me a deep love of Jesus, his mother Mary, and Saint Michael the Archangel – peace be upon them. My parents honored the religious tradition she loved by sending me to Christian schools, and I heard about Islam for the first time in my high school religious studies class. We were taught that there were five “great” religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. At my university, I was surprised to learn in a Judaic studies class that Muslims, like Christians, also believed that Jesus was born miraculously of Mary, peace and blessings of God be upon them.
Islam disappeared from my mind for several years later until a Muslim in a bookstore next to a mosque in Seoul, South Korea, told me that a man’s intention is part of his soul. Despite these early encounters with Islam, it did not yet become my way of life. Nonetheless, they were like illuminating seeds that would eventually take root in the landscape of my heart.
I took a job in Japan, still looking for the best way of living. In Kyoto, there were a multiplicity of shrines devoted to various spirits, but I turned again to what I knew, which meant to pray the rosary intensively. Catholics say the Hail Mary prayer one hundred times when they pray the rosary: “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us …” Before long, I began to wonder for the first time in my life, “How could God have a mother?”
As an American whose parents had grown up in the “Vietnam era,” that country had long held a place in my consciousness, and I decided to travel there, to see if I could find the secret to life. To my surprise, I found that there were many Christian churches in the south
Vietnam. I began attending Mass every day. The priests were humble, and devoted to poverty – they seemed to be living in the way Jesus ? had taught in the Gospels. I thought that the path that would be best suited for me would be to become a priest. But when I started to research how to become a priest, I found that part of the initiation ceremony involved lying face-down on the ground in front of a bishop. “If this is done for a human, then what is left for God?” I remember thinking.
Inspired by this idea at an orphanage in neighboring Cambodia, I began praying by lying face-down on the ground. Around that time, I was inspired to go to Saudi Arabia to learn about Islam. But in order to process the visa, it was necessary that I first return to the United States. When I returned to the States from Cambodia, one of the first things I did was buy an English Qur’an. I was reading the Psalms and the Bible, trying to make sense of it all. One thing I felt sure of was that my Christian practices were not affording me great protection from devils. Islam and Judaism had so much in common that I felt that either of those religions must be the correct one.
In Chicago, my father – may Allah have mercy on him – undertook to help me in my spiritual quest by taking me around to venues of various religions to let me find what was right. One day, we went to a Jewish neighborhood in north Skokie. He bought me a wool shawl with verses of the Torah on it called a tallit that Jews wear during prayer. All the tassels were white. None of them was blue, even though God commanded that in the Torah. I learned that most tallitot are made without the blue strand because the Rabbis cannot decide how the blue dye should be made. I got a blue pen and colored one of the tassels blue, to conform with the Torah. Although he was not a Jew or Muslim, he later brought me to a mosque, on 1/1/1433. A sign in the window said: “Don’t talk to strangers.”
I went out for pizza with some visitors to Chicago. I had been thinking of giving up eating pork, and midway through our meal, I realized that the sausage in the local pizza might contain pork. That evening I said to Allah, “I will never eat pork again.” When I woke up in the morning, there were words in my mind ringing like a bell: “Today I have made you a Muslim.”
I didn’t exactly know what a “Muslim” was, so I looked in the dictionary. It said that the world “Muslim” meant “One who surrenders to God.” It came from the word “Salaam,” which meant, “peace.” So being a Muslim meant having peace because you surrendered to God. On the internet, I found that becoming Muslim meant making the shahadah. Not knowing any better, I typed out the shahadah and had the document certified by a public notary. Even though I had never prayed in a mosque, I considered myself a Muslim. But as I later found out, the religion had not yet fully taken root in my life.
The Muslims of Saudi Arabia made me feel that I had finally come to meet people who followed the right religion, and my heart feels at peace. They were more patient than the people I knew back at home Their commitment to their religion, praying five times a day, was greater than any I had ever known. They were courteous, devout, chaste, and they smelled nice. It made me happy because, in some other cultures I knew, people prized fornication and drunkenness. In some places, people didn’t consider you a man until you had committed fornication.
I had been feeling followed by the Satan. But after I read that Ayat al Kursi protects from devils, I began to say it after every prayer. The feelings of persecution stopped. That to me was a clear sign.
One of my colleagues showed me some basics of the religion. I was amazed to discover wu’du (ablution) – I couldn’t believe I hadn’t ever performed it before. People brought me all kinds of books about Islam. I was amazed to hear the Qur’an recited in a beautiful way, like the ancient poems TheOdyssey and Beowulf – not read in flat monotone like the Gospels I used to hear in church. I was amazed to discover the prayer – bowing, and prostration. In church, we had only knelt. I felt that I had found the blessed path that I had spent my whole life searching for.
He eventually brought me to a da’wah center in Riyadh to speak with a scholar, and when he told me that Jesus could be called God’s “son” in a metaphorical sense, it increased my confidence in Islam and I made the shahadah in that office. Then he said we would go to the mosque and make the shahadah again, and we did. To my amazement, many people came up to me to hug me, and many of them had tears in their eyes or on their faces. I was amazed – “Why are they so happy?” I wondered. The Sheikh told me to go home and to make ghusl, and when I did, something incredible happened.
After I exited the shower in my hotel, I went to my bed and picked up the English Qur’an I had brought from the States. When I opened it and looked at the page, I felt something like an invisible cloth, or veil fall from my eyes, and at the same moment, I understood that the Qur’an was actually sent by Allah and that it was not composed by Prophet Muhammad ?.
Glory be to Allah, the Holy, the Sublime, the King, who has no partner and does not share his authority with anyone. May He bless us, forgive us, and give us what is good in this world and the next.