JNN 23 Aug 2014 New York : My name is William, and I live in a large Midwestern city in the United States.
I am a typical American in many ways that are reflected in both my professional and personal lives. Professionally, I am a supervisor with a major police department, and I have been in the military, both active duty and in the reserves for the majority of my adult life.
Personally, I live in the suburbs with my wife and child, drive a pickup truck and occasionally wear cowboy boots. I pay my bills, treat my neighbors well, and prior to my reversion/conversion to Islam, I followed my religion in the manner in which I had been instructed.
As I said, my life was that of a typical American, with my main concerns being the little details of everyday life that everyone worries about. Little did I know that my religious beliefs would take me out of the “typical” life that I lead, and that they would instead become a major factor in my life, providing me with a sense of peace and completion that only a short time before I would not have thought possible.
My journey to Islam began with my association, and later friendship, with a man named Nasir. I met Nasir through work in the late 1980’s, and was impressed with his manners and the way that he treated me. I had met very few Muslims, and I was always a little uneasy around them as I was not sure how they would accept me.
Besides having the appearance of a pickup-driving-shotgun-toting-redneck, I was also a Jew, and the combination often seemed to unsettle people. Nasir, however, took everything in stride, and as a result a friendship slowly bloomed. Through Nasir, I really formed my first impressions of Islam and its adherents.
Over the years I watched how Nasir dealt with different situations, and was constantly impressed with the wisdom and patience that he displayed when he was dealing with difficult people or situations. He always took the high road, even at times when I, if I had been in the same situation, would have been tempted to treat the persons differently.
If I asked him why he did certain things, he would tell me a bit of wisdom which guided his actions. Most of these, (I realized later), were direct or indirect quotes from the Quran, which he told me not in a proselytizing way, but in a gentle manner as if he were teaching a child the proper way to conduct itself in the world.
In fact, prior to reading the Quran, I often marveled at how one person could be so wise and knowledgeable! Little did I know that those guiding principles were written down where I or anyone else could read them. I realize now how blessed I am that I was exposed to Islam and Muslims in such a positive way.
Around the winter of 2000, I began to have a serious interest in Islam. I read the Quran, but could not seem to fully understand it. Despite this difficulty, I continued to have a nagging feeling that I should continue, and so I studied other books about Islam. I learned a great deal, but in an academic and not in a spiritual way.
I double checked the dates of many of the modern “discoveries” that had been addressed in the Qur’an, and was astounded at what I found.
Again I attempted to read and understand the Quran, and again I had difficulties. I finally resolved to ask Nasir for help, and then the 9-11 incident happened. Suddenly I had a host of new worries, and I put my questions on hold. During this time period, I had a great deal of exposure to Islam, however very little of it was put to me in a positive manner.
As a police supervisor, I was constantly receiving warnings about perceived Islamic threats, and as an officer in the reserves I was around people who perceived Islam as a direct threat and Muslims as possible enemies. So, to my shame, I continued to wait and kept my studies on the Islamic world to those areas that directly influenced my professional life.
Then, in the late summer of 2004, that nagging feeling that had persisted suddenly intensified, and I finally asked Nasir for guidance. He told me about the tenets of his faith, and about the nature of the Quran. More importantly, he told me how crucial Islam was to his life, and how strongly he believed in it, not only as the word of God, but as the way in which man was meant to live.
He and his brother Riyadh then provided me with booklets about Islam that had answers to many of the questions that I had. With this knowledge in hand, I again approached the Quran, and suddenly found that it was not only readable, but that it made sense! I can only think that either I was not mentally ‘ready’ before, or that I simply needed the extra input in order to properly understand and process the information. Either way, I read and re-read everything that I had been provided, and then double checked the facts that had been presented to me. The more I read, the more amazed I was.
I found that the information that was in the Quran would have been impossible for Muhammad to have known had he not been a Prophet. Not only would it have been impossible for a man of his background and geographic location to have known many of these things, it would have been impossible for anyone of his time-period to have known them. I double checked the dates of many of the modern “discoveries” that had been addressed in the Quran, and was astounded at what I found. Not only did the Quran contain information that was centuries ahead of its time, but it did so with details, many of which could not have been known until this century.
I did not receive any new information or beliefs, but was instead capable of understanding that which I had already learned.
I became convinced that Muhammad was indeed a Prophet that had been inspired by God through his angel. Despite this, I still faced a dilemma. Although I now believed that Muhammad was a Prophet, I still was confused about what to do. Everything that I had ever believed was suddenly turned upside down, and I was at a loss for an explanation.
That night I prayed for guidance and understanding. I only believed in one god, but I wanted to know the manner in which I should hold that belief. The prayer was simple, but heartfelt, and I went to sleep full of hope that I would receive an understanding of the situation. When I awoke, I did so with the feeling that I had experienced an epiphany.
Everything was suddenly clear, and I understood how all the things that I had practiced before were simply observances that had been contrived by man in an attempt to follow religious principles that had changed over the millennia. I did not receive any new information or beliefs, but was instead capable of understanding that which I had already learned. I felt exhilarated, happy and at peace, and that morning I said the shahadah.
I told Nasir, and he took me to a nearby mosque for the Friday prayers. At the mosque I was lead to the front by Nasir, and I told the assembled congregation about why I had come there. Then Nasir and the Iman helped me repeat the profession of faith in Arabic.
Although I was a little nervous, the joy I felt upon doing this far outweighed any other feelings that I had. Afterwards, I was welcomed by the majority of the members in a manner that was so welcoming that I can hardly describe it. Most of the congregation shook my hand and welcomed me to Islam, and many of them offered to help me or to answer any questions that I might have. It was a wonderful experience which I will never forget.
In closing, let me say that the feeling of peace that came over me is still with me, and although I am still very early in the learning stages, I am happy and confident that I made the right decision. I am still a redneck-looking, pickup truck-driving, typical American.
Only now I am a Muslim American, and with the continued guidance and assistance of people like Nasir and Riyadh, I hope to one day set as good an example for others and they have been for me.
British Catholic Preist Converts to Islam :
This was what happened to the former British Catholic Priest Idris Tawfiq on reciting Islam’s holy book, the Holy Quran, to his students at a school in Britain. And this was one of the important steps in his journey of conversion to Islam.
During a recent lecture he gave at the British Council in Cairo, Tawfiq made clear that he has no regrets about his past and what he holds in regard to what Christians do and his life at the Vatican for five years.
“I enjoyed being a priest helping the people for some years. However, deep inside I was not happy and I felt that there was something not right. Fortunately, and it is God’s will, some events and coincidences in my life led me to Islam,” he told a packed hall at the British Council.
A second important coincidence for Tawfiq was his decision to quit his work at the Vatican, a step followed by making a trip to Egypt.
“I used to think of Egypt as a country of Pyramids, camels, sand and palm trees. I actually took a charter flight to Hurghada.
Shocked to find it similar to some European beaches, I took the first bus to Cairo where I spent the most wonderful week in my life.
This was my first introduction to Muslims and Islam. I noticed how Egyptians are such gentle, sweet people, but also very strong.
“Like all Britons, my knowledge about Muslims up to that time didn’t exceed what I heard from the TV about suicide bombers and fighters, which gave the impression that Islam is a religion of troubles. However, getting into Cairo I discovered how beautiful this religion is. Very simple people selling goods on the street would abandon their trade and direct their face to Allah and pray the moment they heard the call to prayer from the mosque. They have a strong faith in the presence and will of Allah. They pray, fast, help the needy and dream to have a trip to Mecca with the hope of living in heaven in the hereafter,” he said.
“On my return I resumed my old job of teaching religion. The only compulsory subject in British education is Religious Studies. I was teaching about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and others. So everyday I had to read about these religions to be able to teach my lessons to the students, many of whom were Arab Muslim refugees. In other words, teaching about Islam taught me many things.
“Unlike many troublesome teenagers, these students set a good example of what a Muslim could be. They were polite and kind. So a friendship developed between us and they asked if they could use my classroom for prayers during the fasting month of Ramadan.
“Luckily, my room was the only one with a carpet. So I got accustomed to sitting at the back, watching them praying for a month. I sought to encourage them by fasting during Ramadan with them, even though I wasn’t yet a Muslim.
“Once while reciting a translation of the holy Quran in class I reached the verse:
“And when they listen to the revelation received by the Messenger, thou wilt see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth.”
To my surprise, I felt tears welling up in my eyes and I tried hard to hide it from the students.”
A turning point in his life, however, came in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001.
“The following day, I was taking the underground and noticed how terrified the people were. I was also afraid of the repetition of such acts in Britain. At the time, the Western people started fearing this religion they blamed for terrorism.
“However, my previous experience with Muslims took me to a different direction. I started wondering ‘Why Islam? Why do we blame Islam as a religion for the action of terrorists who happened to be Muslims, when no-one accused Christianity of terrorism when some Christians have acted the same way?
“One day I headed to the biggest Mosque in London, to hear more about this religion. Getting into London Central Mosque, there was Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer, sitting in a circle talking to some people about Islam. After a while, I found myself asking him” ‘What do you actually do to become a Muslim?’”
“He answered that a Muslim should believe in one God, pray five times a day and fast during Ramadan. I interrupted him saying that I believed all this and had even fasted during Ramadan. So he asked, ‘What are you waiting for? What is holding you back?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t intend to convert.’
“At that moment the call to prayer was made and everyone got ready and stood in lines to pray.
“I sat at the back, and I cried and cried. Then I said to myself, ‘Who am I trying to fool?’
“After they ended their prayers, I headed to Yusuf Islam, asking him to teach me the words by which I announce my conversion.
“After explaining its meanings to me in English, I recited after him in Arabic that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,” recounted Tawfiq, holding back his tears.
‘Gardens of Islam’
Thus his life has taken a different course. Living in Egypt, Tawfiq wrote a book about the tenets of Islam.
Explaining why he penned his book Gardens of Delight: a Simple Introduction to Islam, Tawfiq noted that everyone is saying that Islam is not a religion of terrorism and isn’t a religion of hatred, but no-one tries to explain what it is.
“So I decided to write this book to give non-Muslims an idea about the basic principles of Islam. I tried to tell people how beautiful Islam is and that Islam has the most extraordinary treasures, the most important being Muslims’ love for each other. The Prophet says ‘Even a smile to your brother is a charity.’
Tawfiq told the Gazette that he is working on a book about the Prophet Muhammad [may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him] which he thinks will be different from the many books already written about him.
He thinks that the “best and fastest way” of acquainting the world with the true image of Islam is to set a good example in real life.