How I came to Islam by AbdulKhaliq Alemao –
Growing up in a Roman Catholic household is something I reflect on as an emotionally fulfilling experience. Religiously I was raised in a culture where names of Saints(Peter, Jude…) were bandied about and there was, in conversation, mention of plans to attend either prayer services, such as Novenas, or making pilgrimages to sacred sites around the world, like Lourdes or Fatima in Iberia. It was an environment of familial attachment and tradition, tradition envisaged as medieval churches and monasteries still inhabited as places of ritual. Vocations like alter service were mentioned as being part of household tradition, an aspiration I yearned for. I yearned for more than this, the priesthood and total devotion to the church; being part of conducting religious ritual and invocation of God were what I dearly wanted. Yet from an early age I wanted to know exactly why it was that we were doing what we were doing in the church and as part of general religious practice. I once waited to have a conversation with a parish priest and one of the queries I wanted satisfied was why it is that we worshiped Jesus as God when he was a human being. Already I had been exposed to films such as The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. Demille and had watched therein actions by Charleton Heston, playing Moses, that were miraculous, like parting the sea or throwing the stick which became a snake and ate up all the other snakes; so miracles and wonders done at the hands of humans wasn’t something particularly telling of a claim to divinity. I wanted the priest to give me something overwhelming in splendor as evidence. The answer was basically that Jesus performed miracles and that this bolstered the claim of him being divine. I was not satisfied with this response. It is at about this time or years later as I increased in watching movies about Biblical matters and about matters concerning the ancient Middle East that I began to notice differences in what was depicted on screen and what was manifested in Church service and religious doctrine.
Superficial matters, such as clothing and dress were something I noticed. In films about Jesus the bearded man wearing what is now pejoratively describes as raghead headgear, pieces of cloth held on the head with those Arab style rings ,were a mainstay whereas when I went to church the priests did not look this way, nor did the Pope in Rome for that matter. Masada was one movie in which I saw ancient Jewish clothing and thought that to be the archetypal description of what religious people, people devoted to the God of Abraham would look like. I did not find such a manifestation of equal religious attire amongst the priests I would regularly encounter at church service. Two matters which I found utterly incomprehensible regarding worship were praying in front of statues of Jesus, or lighting candles and then kneeling in front of statues of Mary to ask for what I wanted. Already I had been narrated to stories about the idols and statues of the formed pagans and heathens, statues and idols which merited divine rebuke. If those people had been rebuked for praying in front of statues and idols what made praying in front of a statue of Mary alright? Another matter which caused me consternation was over the matter of praying to the Saints, or even the matter of beatification; where in the bible or the teachings of Jesus did he say that two miracles by a dead person meant they became a saint and where did he narrate the manner in which to verify these miracles as belonging to intercession by the dead person? These matters began to shake the fundamental core of my adherence to the church. My social and leisure activity was such that I was an avid viewer of PBS series and documentaries, before the rise of Reality TV, which(as an aside) retarded and cheapened and stupefied the TV watching experience. Globe Trekker was one particular enjoyment and I relished the sight seeing adventures they showed. When they went to the Middle East and North Africa I saw exactly what I had witnessed in the Cecil B. Demille productions as well as all the other Hollywood films about religion and religious matters pertaining to Judaism and Christianity.
These people in the Middle East and North Africa were living the lifestyles shown to me in the Cecil B. Demille type productions. In particular when the traveler went to the Arab Gulf states I saw exactly the same type of head covering that I had seen Eleazar Ben Ya’ir, the protagonist in the movie Masada wearing. It should be apparent that I was increasing in the perception that these people, the Arabs whom I was watching, were congruent with the ancient Jewish/Christian lifestyle whereas the Pope and all other ecclesiastical structure of the Church seemed distant from it. This was still notional and I had not yet begun to investigate their religion or their core beliefs. Exposure to that came form networks like National Geographic and the History Channel as well as PBS. “Islam Empire of Faith”,”The Kings From Babylon to Baghdad“, “Inside Mecca”. Appeal for Islam started to increase as I saw that these people on screen were living the religious life, in the ancient and traditional manner. Disillusionment with Christianity persisted but I was not yet ready to give it up wholesale. I still wanted to know why it is that we did what we did and believed what we believed. I did not want to resolve the matter from the perspective of belief or convincing speech, but logic. If what I was I was trained to believe as a Christian was in conformity with logic and logical propositions, I was wholly willing to accept it. I started at the beginning, from my conception of God, what I thought God to be. The concept of belief was repugnant to me, because one person may believe one thing while another believes something else, each locked in his own little world. I wanted absolute truth.
Logical deduction was chosen because I wanted an impartial and objective means to derive the truth, and since logic was used to accrue dividends such as physics and the space age, that 2+2 must equal 4, that 5-3=2, it seemed a solid means to accomplish the task. God could not be a man or have a physical or corporeal form. The logical deduction for this was that if God had a form and forms were a part of creation and God created all of creation did God create himself? Yet God is the Creator and everything else is a part of Creation, so God could not have created himself, so God cannot have a form. With this the notion that Jesus, a human being, could be God was deemed irrational. The concept of praying or kneeling to statues: If God is the creator and knows what is inside my heart before I even comprehend it, what need have I to ask verbalize my request in the direction of a stone statue, or a saint for that matter? What need have I of these intermediaries when God knows me and my heart and my desires before I can even comprehend them? One by one, intellectually, matters of religious doctrine were deemed irrational and not in keeping with logic. I had not yet begun to study Islam or Islamic doctrine, but I believe the moment it became a matter that I became transfixed upon was when I watched a program called “Decoding The Past: Secrets of the Qur’an” on the History Channel and what was narrated about the essential message of Islam with reference to Judaism and Christianity, that there were grains of truth in them but that later generations had perverted the messages of the initial carriers. In particular was the matter of the Crucifixion, that Jesus dying on the cross, a staple and fundamental of Chrstian doctrine was false. The perennial favorite, logic, was used to analyze the fundamental assertions of the Crucifixion story, namely that Jesus died for my sins.
#1: The Jews were plotting an assassination attempt against Jesus because they hated him, the bible narrates this much or implies this much as do films such as “King of Kings” wherein Jesus is taken to the Jewish officials before he is taken to the Romans, It then seemed fitting that a merciful God would save him from the assassin and not leave him to the same fate as befell Martin Luther King, another man seen to be an exemplar of righteous inclinations.
#2: Does an all powerful God need to have someone killed, much less himself, in order to forgive me? If he can create the atom and the nuclear physics required to facilitate the space age, is it really such a burdensome matter for him to see the remorse in me and forgive me outright? Nay!
The Islamic narrative therefore, was thoroughly in keeping with logic and the general tenor of the narration of events in the story of the life of Jesus. Later a PBS documentary called “House of Saud” clinched the matter for me. Not only was there what I had expected, that the people were living the ancient Jewish/Christian lifestyle but that it could be accomplished in the modern era, and that the Saudi King was like King Solomon or David and the law of the land was God’s law and that the main site of ritual, Makkah was filled with worshipers just as the Temple in Jerusalem was during the First Kingdom period, the Solomonic period. “Islam Empire of Faith” had provided me such an example when it narrated the lifetime of Solomon the Magnificent, but that was in the past. What I had seen in “House of Saud” was that this God based approach to living could be maintained in the modern era, with cell phones and high rise buildings; this was awe inspiring.* Christianity therefore was seen to be an invention and fabrication while Islam was seen to be fidelity to the original lifestyle of the God revealed message.