It was a typical hot sunny day in Florida and I thought that I would stop by the bookstore to get out of the heat. I had been there many times and always went to the section titled Religion. Having been a Christian for many years I always went to the rows of books concerning Christianity. As I perused through the various titles, I did not see anything that piqued my interest that day. Slowly, I went over to the Judaic section of books. Because the Old Testament part of the Bible was written by the Jews. And sometimes I would find a book that would help me better understand the Torah. Which was the first 5 books in the Christian Bible. But nothing in that section of books attracted my attention.
Then I noticed there was a small section with a few books under the heading of Islamic literature. Quickly scanning the shelf I noticed a copy of the Quran. Admittedly I knew very little about Muslims, Islam, or the Quran. At the church that I attended there were small booklets explaining various cults. I remember reading one of the small pamphlets that said Islam was a religion that worshipped a moon god. Which made sense to me; because I had seen a mosque once, and it had a crescent moon on the top of the building.
Something urged me to stick my hand out and reach for the copy of the Quran. I looked around the store to make sure no one was observing me as I held this strange book in my hands. I noticed it had the Arabic calligraphy across the front cover. Looking down I opened up the book and turned to the first page. I saw there were just 7 verses; so I decided to read them:
Al-Fatiha (The Opening)
1.* In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
2.* Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the world;
3.* Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
4.* Master of the Day of Judgment.
5.* Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
6.* Show us the straight path,
7.* The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace,
**** those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.
The instant I finished reading these words. It was as though the whole store was flooded with a bright light………. And time seemed to have stopped…….. I was absolutely astounded with what I had just read…….I stood there as though frozen in place………… and in a low voice I muttered to myself, “whoever wrote this knows God!!”
Intuitively, somehow, I knew what I had read was going to change my life. But I had no idea that I had just been given a front row seat on an speeding roller coaster. And that every aspect of my life was going to change in a dramatic way I could never have imagined.
Rapidly, I started turning the pages of this mysterious book. There were names of people whom I knew from my Bible. There was Moses and Abraham. Lot and Noah. To my astonishment there was even Mary and Jesus. How could this be?? These people belong in the Bible; not in some strange book called the Quran!!
In a state of mental puzzlement I looked at the outside cover of the book I was holding in my hand. It listed the author of the text I was holding as a person named “Pickthall.” I thought well maybe this is my answer. Some crazy Englishman has put together a fraudulent book using the names of Bible characters. But now I was totally intrigued as to what was actually contained inside of a “real” Quran. So I placed the book back on the shelf and headed out of the store. I wanted a copy of a real Quran…….. and knew right where to go to purchase one.
“we do not sell Quran’s, but I will give you one”
In the town where I lived there was a small building with a sign that said: “Islamic Dawa Center.” I had driven by it many times in the past on my way to work. I assumed that it had something to do with Muslims and their religion because of the words Islam and Center. But I had no idea what that word “Dawa” meant?
As I started up my car I was filled with a sense of excitement tempered with confusion. Although it was about a 20 min. drive. It seemed like I was there in a flash.
*I parked my car in the parking lot and walked up to the front door of the mosque. Looking through the side window next to the door I did not see anyone. So I went ahead and knocked on the front door.
When no one came to answer the door I proceeded to knock several times; increasingly louder each time. I had no idea that you could actually just walk into a mosque and enter into the main lobby. After several minutes of knocking the door started to open. And there stood a tall African-American woman wearing all black from head to toe with a black veil over her face. All I could see was her eyes. I was a little taken back, and thought to myself; “Oh no, I have stumbled into the Nation of Islam!!”*
But the woman eased my trepidation when she said in a pleasant voice, “how may I help you?” I told her that I wanted to purchase a Quran. She replied with, “we do not sell Quran’s, but I will give you one.” She then stepped away from the door and was gone for about a minute. When she returned; this enigmatic lady handed me a large beautiful blue hardcover Quran that said it was published by Dar Islam, in Saudi Arabia. Looking down at the book I could see that it was a used book with a slight wearing on the spine and cover She then informed me that it was her personal Quran; but I was more than welcome to have it as a gift from her.
“Do you know that you are already a Muslim.”
* Driving to my house with the Quran on the front seat. I felt a sense of wonderment. Over the next several days I would pick up the Quran and start to read it. But I was accustomed to reading the Bible which was laid out in a chronological fashion. Starting with the chapter named Genesis; the beginning of the world. And ending with the final chapter called the Book of Revelations; dealing with the End Times.
Eventually, I realized that the Quran was not laid out like a typical book, but was more topical in character. So I learned go to the index and find the verses that addressed the subject I was inquiring about; marriage, inheritance, charity, etc.
My bachelors degree is in sociology. So anything dealing with how a society should be set up and structured was always intriguing. The more I read, the more everything made sense. I quickly came to the realization that Islam provided a framework for a just and equitable society. Yet, fundamentally structured using a different paradigm then the one I had grown up with. Also, I was amazed at how the Quran took into account basic human nature by addressing it with logic and just plain common sense.
*I had purchased a small loose leaf notebook and was continuously writing down various questions concerning what the Quran said about various topics. A week had now passed by and I needed someone to talk to about this intriguing book.
Standing once again at the front door of the mosque I began to do the door knocking routine again. Eventually a man showed up at the door wearing what appeared to be a brown robe and he had the longest beard I had ever seen. Holding up my copy of the Quran, I informed him that I had questions about this book. He graciously invited me into his office, while informing me that he was the Imam of the mosque, and was from Morocco. I wasn’t sure what the word “Imam” met, but I assumed he was like a priest or something. As we sat down to talk he offered me a small cup of tea. *Surprisingly he spoke perfect English, and come to find out, he was a guidance counselor and taught French at the local high school.
*We begin a conversation that lasted about an hour. During the conversation I told him that I had been a Christian for many years. But had grown disillusioned with Christianity because it finally dawned on me that Jesus was not God. Yes, I still went to church with my wife and children; although my heart really wasn’t into it anymore.
The Imam mentioned to me during the conversation that Muslims did not eat pork or drink alcohol. I related that I never was into alcohol and believed that it did society way more harm than any temporary benefit people claimed they got out of it. As for eating pork; I told him that several years ago I had come to the conclusion that Jesus never ate pork. The Bible states that Jesus was a righteous Rabbi and followed all of the Torah laws. In the Torah it states that the eating of pork is an abomination to God. So I figured if Jesus did not eat pork; then I would follow his example and not eat pork.
* Finally our conversation was over and I stood up to leave. As I was shaking the Imam’s hand he commented to me, “do you know that you are already a Muslim.” That statement did not quite process in my mind; and I could not figure out what he was talking about? *Maybe he had misunderstood me……. I was a Christian not a Muslim……. Besides, I am a white man with blue eyes of Irish heritage……….. Anyone who watches the news on television knows that there is no such thing as a caucasian Muslim.
* Another week went by as I attempted to read the Quran and write down my questions. Once again, I found myself at the front of the mosque knocking on the front door. After few minutes, yet again, a completely different person answered the door. He was a much younger man wearing a long white robe. He had what appeared to be a red and white checkered tablecloth like you would see in an Italian restaurant wrapped around his head. That seemed to be held on by a black fan belt from a car. I showed him my copy of the Quran and stated there were a few questions I would like to ask him about this book. He invited me in and I proceeded to follow him into the same office where I had gone before. He offered me a small glass of coffee in a little cup. While at the same time telling me that he was a student from Saudi Arabia and was an Imam.
* For the next hour we basically the same conversation that I had with the other Imam. Telling him that I was a Christian, but I did not drink alcohol, eat pork, or believe that Jesus was the son of God. As I was getting ready to leave the office this young Imam looked at me and said, “do you know that you are already a Muslim?” Now this was getting too strange. And I wondered why these people kept saying this to me.
* He mentioned that he and the other students had rented an apartment and used it for a mosque. And that I was welcome to visit any evening. It was where they did their prayers and held social activities. I lived in a medium sized city, but as chance would have it, the apartment they used as a mosque was just down the street from where I lived. Easily within a short walking distance.
“Dad, there is a dead animal on top of the food with the head still on it !!”
The next evening I went there with my Quran and notebook in hand. Over the next several hours the Muslim students took turns setting down beside me and answering my questions about Islam. All the while pouring coffee into a cup about the size of a thimble. I had a great time and started going there every day. Eventually, I grew to be friends with all of the men who attended the prayers and dinner celebrations at the mosque and learned their names. As I began to admire their personal behavior and character. It seemed like half of them were named Mohammed; so that made it easy to remember them. But the other half had strange sounding names that I had never heard of before. So it took me a while to be able to pronounce and memorize their names.*
Most of the brothers there were from Saudi Arabia with their families. And the rest were from Kuwait. It seemed like every other night they were having a dinner; to celebrate the birth of a baby; one of the brothers had just gotten married; or someone was graduating school and leaving to go back home. Basically, any excuse to get together and have a feast. Typically, there was a couple of very large trays with a cooked goat setting on top a bed of rice with vegetables. At first I was given a fork and spoon to eat with. But quickly observed that no one else was using eating utensils. So I started eating with my hands like they did; learning to squish the rice into a ball and clumsily try to stuff it in my mouth without dropping half of it on my lap..
One time, I took my 10-year-old son to the dinner with me. As it worked out he was sitting with another group of men to eat from a different tray. I had just started to eat when all at once there was a quick tapping on my shoulder. I turned around and there was my son his eyes as big around as dinner plates. In a panicked voice he said,“Dad, there is a dead animal on top of the food with the head still on it !!” I still laugh every time I think about the look on his face. And how he was about to run out the door when one of the brothers reached in and pulled out the goats tongue and offered him a piece.
I was having a great time and the behavior and character of these Muslim men was impeccable. Arriving early at the mosque one day. I went ahead and entered because the door was always unlocked. As I waited for the brothers to arrive. I noticed that there was a dime laying on the floor. When I went back the next day the dime was still laying in the exact same spot. One of the brothers would vacuum the carpet just about every day; yet the dime was still there week after week.This was a level of honor and honesty that I had never encountered before.
*I had been going to the mosque every evening for several weeks and my wife was getting concerned. She wanted to know what I was up to. She even accused me of going to clubs and bars because sometimes it was midnight before I came home. I just laughed and said, “smell my breath, there is no alcohol on it”. Previously, I had informed her that I was going to a small mosque and trying to learn about Islam and Muslims. Reminding her that as Christians we are told in the Bible to convert people to Christianity.Yet, little did I understand. I was the one being converted; not them.
“There is no God but Allah,*and Mohammed is his messenger”
* I had come to the realization that conversion to Islam was in my future. In fact the word convert wasn’t exactly the correct term. A new term at entered into my vocabulary; “revert”. In essence, meaning that I would be reverting back to the original monotheistic religion of Abraham. Now I understood what the two Imam’s were saying when they told me that; “I was already a Muslim.”
In the back of my mind I knew that accepting Islam would cause a big problem in my marriage. But I felt like I had no choice. Because Islam held the “Truth” that I had been seeking for most of my life. Not once had I read anything in the Quran that I disagreed with or found to be untrue. Finally, I could not remain a non-Muslim any longer. *Asking the Imam one evening to teach me the Islamic profession of faith; which in arabic is called the “Shahada”.
*The next Friday I went to the mosque. It was a beautiful day and I was determined to remember the date; 11 May, 2001
*As I entered the local downtown mosque. Many of the brothers shook my hand with smiles on their faces. I assumed that word had gotten around I was going to accept Islam that day. Because the numbers in attendance seemed larger than normal. When the call to prayer finished. I got into one of the straight line’s with all the other brothers.
During all of those weeks of going to the mosque I had never joined in on the prayer. This would be the first time for me to join in on the salat. As I stood there waiting for the Imam to start the prayer. The brother next to me scooted his foot over and touched his little toe against mine. I then moved my foot inward an inch. Once again, the brother on my left side scooted his foot over so that our toes touched. Now the brother on the right was doing the same thing. I started to panic a little bit until I realized that the line in front of me had everybody touching toes. As I chuckled to myself; I realized that everything was going to be fine.
At the end of the prayer that he Imam asked me to come up to the front of the mosque. Facing the brothers and following his verbal prompting;
I said the “Shahada” in Arabic.
Ash-hadu an laa ilaaha illallah
Wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasulullah
Then I immediately repeated the words in English.
“I bear witness that there is no god except God,
and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
*In no way was I prepared for what was to happen next. All of the brothers formed a greeting line and came up to me one at a time. Giving me the cultural hug and air kiss on both cheeks. As a western man this was a completely new experience that I was totally unaccustomed to performing. Several of the brothers then handed me gifts; such as a prayer rug, dates, and various articles of clothing.
Afterwords, several of the brothers took me out to eat at a Middle East halal restaurant. It was a great day that I will never forget. Within the convert community some of us jokingly refer to this as a “Shahada High.” Because you feel so exhilarated by the whole experience that it’s almost like being on some sort of spiritual intoxicant and you never want the feeling to end.
“so you are a Muslim now, and want to kill Christians?”
The whole day’s events were like a whirlwind and flew by quickly. Now it was time to go back home. As I entered my house a sobering reality hit me. During these weeks that I had been going to the mosque and learning about Islam. My wife had grown very distant. Once she had even taken some of the notes that I had written about Islam and threw them in the trash. Telling her that I had accepted Islam was not going to be easy. So I decided to wait a few days and slowly ease it into a conversation. But most women have something referred to as “woman’s intuition.”
A couple of days later, out of nowhere, she looked at me and said, “so you are a Muslim now, and want to kill Christians?”
In a stunned silence; I watched as she turned her back and walked away. That was our one and only conversation about Islam. Later that day she moved her stuff into the other bedroom and all meaningful communication between us ceased.
In a way, I can understand her feelings. She and I had structured our lives around Christianity. Both of us had taught Sunday school at the church and held held many Bible studies in our home. Although I was not an ordained minister. I had done some preaching at the church. Even being involved in street ministries together and helping to organize functions at the church. My converting to Islam was an act of betrayal to her and she was deeply hurt. I had joined the enemy camp and abandoned Christianity.
She and I both knew the verse in the Bible that says not to be “unevenly yoked.” An example showing that no farmer would ever yoke together two different animals to pull a plow; such as an oxen and a horse. Because the animal’s would be too different in size and temperament. And he would have great difficulty trying to plow straight lines for his crops to grow.
In essence; saying that a Christian’s should not be married to a non-Christian.
In my heart and mind I knew that the marriage was over. And that a divorce would soon be pending. I assumed that it wouldn’t take place for a few months.
Little did I know that behind the scenes events were already in play.
“you are either going to live, or you’re going to die.”
A couple of weeks after reverting to Islam I had gone to the doctor about a cough and problem in my throat. A biopsy and an MRI quickly confirmed that I had a tumor. It was very advanced and I was in what they call stage 4. There is no stage 5. The oncologist was very concerned and told me that we would have to start maximum radiation treatments immediately. I then asked him what the prognosis and survival rate was after treatment for this illness. Figuring that he would give me a percentage; hopefully in my favor.
Slowly, he turned to looked at me, and with no emotion, bluntly stated…… “you are either going to live, or you”re going to die.”
I was to receive radiation treatments twice a day for 31 week days. For a total of 62 treatments. One in the morning; and another in the afternoon. I informed them at my place of work and they put me on temporary disability.
Within a few days into the treatments. I could neither eat any food or drink water. The inside of my throat felt like a third-degree sunburn. Even trying to put one drop of water in my mouth felt like I was being stabbed with a knife. Quickly I started to lose weight. I am already a thin person. But by the end of the treatments I had lost 40 pounds. Making me look like a walking skeleton. My big event each day was walking to the mailbox. Then I would have to rest for 30 min.
If you think Ramadan can be a little taxing; especially during the first few days. Try going without any food or water at all for over a month. Admittedly, I had zero appetite; but I wanted a drink of water so bad I could hardly stand it.
Strangely enough, I had a complete feeling of inner peace. I had learned enough about Islam to know that Allah (swt) was in control of everything. To the amazement of the doctors, I was driving myself round trip twice a day, to get the treatments. Several times they were adamant that I start taking a powerful narcotic called OxyContin to ease my pain. I had tried it once but it just sent me off into a state of mental numbness. I told the doctors I would rather be fully aware and conscious of my surroundings no matter what the outcome. And that I could handle the pain. It was now mid summer and the hot and humid days and nights seemed to last forever…….. Each one blending into the other…………..Very slowly the weeks of treatments went by……………..
“you have 5 min. to pack your things and leave the house”
It was early in the evening, and my wife unexpectedly said she was taking the kids and going shopping at the mall. This was not unusual since her and the kids loved to go shopping at the mall. About an hour later there was a knock at the door. I slowly walked over and struggled to open the door. There stood two policeman holding a piece of paper they said was a restraining order from the court. As I collapsed on the couch they read it to me. Then one policeman said, “you have 5 min. to pack your things and leave the house.”
She had apparently had taken it out against me a few days earlier. Claiming that she feared for her life. Although I didn’t have the strength to squish a bug. And still had my final week of radiation treatments to finish. The court felt like she had probable cause to fear me. This was my first taste of Islamophobia; but not the last that I would experience.
We had only lived in Florida for one year and I knew very few people. The policemen had graciously packed my suitcase for me when they saw my true condition. My mind racing as to what to do and where would I go. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the phone number of one of the brothers from the mosque and called him. Later he would tell me that he always turned off his cell phone when at the mosque. But that evening had neglected to turn it off and was surprised when it rang.
“you can stay here as long as you want”
After I had received my diagnosis and started treatments. I had quit going to the mosque. In my mind I felt like I had let down all of my muslim brothers. Because in Christianity when a person is having problems with their business, marriage, finances, etc. The general view is that God is punishing them. Because obviously they are sinning in some area of their life and brought this upon themselves. It wasn’t until later that I learned in Islam that events like this are seen as a trial and even considered a blessing.
A few days earlier my car had broken down and was towed to the mechanic shop for a major engine repair. Now I needed a ride to get a motel room because I had very little cash on me. And the policemen were running out of patience and needed me to vacate my house. There was a new revert at the mosque who I had become friends with and had written down his phone number. By now my throat was so bad I can only squeeze out 2 words at a time. In broken sentences I explained to him the situation and asked for a ride. Unknown to me he was at the mosque with all of the brothers. Within a few minutes he and the Imam had arrived to give me a ride. After they loaded up my suitcase. We drove straight to the apartment that was rented for use as a mosque. Quite a few brothers and their families lived in the same apartment complex where the mosque was located.
By then I was so exhausted I could barely stand up as we walked towards the front door. That’s when I observed several men carrying various pieces of furniture into the mosque. The Imam turned to me and said, “the back bedroom is yours, and you can stay here as long as you want.” As I looked into the room, I could see one brother had brought a bed; another brother had provided a lamp; there was a nightstand, chest of drawers, fresh linen for the bed and towels; and even a television. All donated to me by my new muslim brothers. As I lay down on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. I realized that I had just observed the beautiful religion of Islam in action.
I was finishing up my last week of treatments. Several of the brothers had volunteered to drive me to my appointments. Also I needed to stop by the bank and draw out money to pay the mechanic’s bill to get my car.
As we drove away from the bank’s drive-through window. I stared at the piece of paper with my bank balance. I had a whopping total of $1.21 in the bank. My wife had gone there the day before and had cleaned out the bank account. Arriving back at the apartment I went into my room to lay down and rest. I was flat broke and had no way to pay the bill and get my car out of the shop. I blankly stared at the ceiling in a state of numbness……….
After a few minutes one of the brothers came into the room and said he had something for me. He then stuck out his hand and gave me $2,000. And said, “this should be enough to get your car fixed.”
Later, I would found out that all of the brothers had chipped in to help me with my car repair bill. So when people talk about the “ummah” of Islam; I have witnessed it first hand.
“they have done it again!! ”
*Today was a special anniversary. It was September 11 and I had been a Muslim for exactly 4 months. I was still living at the mosque and was learning more about Islam every day. Even though I had to undergo a serious operation on my neck that left me with a bad scar. My health was starting to return and I was able to eat and drink like a normal person. Unfortunately, the radiation had burned up my saliva glands and destroyed the enamel on my teeth. So whenever I ate any food I would have to have something to drink in order to swallow it. But that is a small inconvenience compared to the alternative of not being alive.
* I had gotten up early that morning to go to the local store that provided cable service for my television. The cable at the apartment only had the very basic channels. Having a little bit of extra money now I wanted to upgrade and get more channels. Walking into the store I saw a strange sight. This store had several large screen TVs mounted on the wall. All of the customers and sales representatives were standing in front of them and watching what looked to be a live news cast. Every single TV was on the same channel showing a very tall building that was smoking and appeared to be on fire.
* *Since no one was working the sales desk. I join the people and started watching this cataclysmic event. After a few minutes I was getting bored just watching a building burn and started to walk away. Figuring that I would just come back later that day or tomorrow morning. Then all at once, what looked like a jetliner, smashed into an identical looking building next to the one that was already on fire and bellowing smoke. Everyone in the crowd made a gasping sound. Then one man in a loud aggravated voice said, “they’ve done it again.” *Immediately, the seriousness of the situation hit me. This was the twin towers in New York City that had been bombed several years before; and I knew exactly “who” was going to be blamed.
* *Immediately, I was speeding back to the apartment complex as fast as I could to warn the brothers about what had just happened. As I entered the mosque several of them had already heard the news and were concerned about their families safety. I told them not to worry; and that I would be around to help them if any problems came up. All of the brothers had attended a English language course in San Antonio, Texas for 6 months before starting their 2 years of school. The Gulf Arabs look very similar to the Mexican people in South Texas. *And several of the brother’s *had told me that while they were living there. People were always trying to speak Spanish to them. I told them if anybody starts to question you as to your ethnicity. Just reply in the few Spanish words that you can remember. Also, I advised them to keep their wives and children inside of the their apartments. Because all of their wives wore the black abayas and could easily identified as Muslim.
* *Within a couple of days the national media had sent several reporters to the apartment complex. With large cameras on their shoulders and a microphone in their hand. They started knocking on doors hoping to find the Saudi mosque or interview some of the Muslims who live there about the event on 9/11
* *To the credit of the people who also lived at the apartment complex Not a single person or the management told which apartment the mosque was located or where any of the Muslims lived to the reporters. The Muslims who lived at the apartment had been good and friendly neighbors and never caused any problems. It made my heart glad to see average American citizens protect innocent families from harassment. After 2 or 3 days the reporters went away and never returned.
“driving on Interstate 10 heading West”
* Within a few days of 9/11 a government official from their country came to the apartment and told me that I would have to leave. He stated they were worried about an American citizen living there in case an incident took place. And right now they did not need any more negative publicity.
All of the brothers and their families had already been relocated to a undisclosed secure location. Their government had done this for their safety. Tensions and emotions were running high throughout our nation. And nobody knew what was going to happen.
It was with a heavy heart that I once again packed my bags. Not knowing if I would ever see my Muslim brothers and sisters again. I would miss the evenings setting on the floor drinking tea and eating dates. While discussing Islam and the Quran; and listening to stories about life in their country. I would miss the strange and exotic food that their wives would prepare, and have their husbands deliver it to me in a covered dish to my apartment. I wasn’t much of a cook. So this was always a special treat.
My car was packed with everything that I owned and I was now; “driving on Interstate 10 heading West”. The highway going there was long and straight as an arrow. Which seemed to be a metaphor for the; “Straight Path” that the Quran talks about.
Surah 1:6 * “Show us the Straight Path”
Both my mother and sister still lived back in Texas. The doctors would not release me to go back to work for a few more months. My younger Sister owned a large house and offered to let me stay in the guest bedroom until I could return to work. It would be a very long drive lasting all day and night. Giving me plenty of time to reflect on my life, and my journey to Islam.
*I had been a Muslim for less than 6 months. My world had been turned completely turned upside down. I had gone from being an evangelical Christian with a stable family life, marriage, and a home. To a soon to be divorced, financially broke, homeless muslim convert, living in a mosque.
Yet, inexplicably, there was a complete sense of peace and calmness that seemed to surround me. Allah (swt) had been merciful and taken care of me in ways I could never have imagined.