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By Br.Jamal Friday, 05 April 2013 00:00 While reading the Quran, I remember the first thing I wanted to know was what did it say about Jesus. I was six years old when my mother accepted her Christian faith. My father on the other hand didn't dedicate himself to any specific church, but his beliefs were based on the trinity. For approximately five years, my family would go to church every Sunday. By the time I reached eleven years old, the only two people in my family still attending the church were my mother and I. I went to church every Wednesday & Sunday, taking bible study classes, and learning scriptures. I went to a church summer camp and went to the altar and accepted Jesus into my heart. I really didn't have a concept on the whole trinity, but I had a lot of questions that couldn't be answered. I would ask my teachers: "How could Jesus be the son of God, when he was a man like me?" But there was absolutely not one person in this church who could answer my question. The only answer given to me was: "I walk by faith and not by sight." This was aggravating and not the type of answers that I was looking for. I begged my dad to let me stop attending church, and the answer was: "Church is good for you." This was funny, because if it was good for me, then why did he stop attending? I left the Church at 13 years of age although I still wanted to worship God, but where would I start? Trying Divert Ways When I turned fourteen I started getting into lots of trouble, doing everything from stealing to drugs and drinking. At this point I started thinking why try and be good if I don't even have a religion anymore. From this age until eighteen I got involved in gangs, selling drugs and even robbery. I moved out of my house and rented an apartment with two friends, this is when my life went downhill. I went to one of my friend's houses that was a non-Muslim and saw on his bookshelf a Quran. This book looked powerful and was very intimidating to me, but I had the urge to pick it up and start reading. My friend asked what I was doing and I told him I never saw a Quran before, inside of my head I was thinking this is the religion of the Arabs. I asked him if I could borrow it to read, and he replied no but if you want to buy it that's cool. I bought my first Quran for $2.00 and rushed home to read. I remember going to my room and locking the door. While reading the Quran, I remember the first thing I wanted to know was what did it say about Jesus. The verses that I read were so beautiful and I agreed with what they said in totality. Starting to Search I had been reading the Quran off and on now for two years and it was time for me to see the Masjid. I called one of my good friends and asked was I allowed to go to the Masjid. He rushed to my house that day and took me with him, what a beautiful place it was. I walked in and asked him where do we sit, and he said follow me. We sat on the floor and waited for the prayer time to come. I was so curious, I couldn't stop looking around. I asked him: "Where are all the women?" He smiled and said behind us. I was thinking: "How weird, why don't the women and men sit together?" At this point they were calling the adhan (call to prayer). I didn't understand what the words meant, but it sounded so beautiful and sent chills through my body. The adhan that I had no idea what it meant is what put in my heart a softness that I never felt before. I saw everyone praying as I sat on the side. This made me think that I could not be a Muslim. I don't speak Arabic and couldn't understand a word they were saying. My friend explained to me that I could learn Arabic and pray just as they did. After this experience, I left and was kind of confused. I was discouraged that I would have to learn Arabic in order to read the Quran in its authentic text. I started going back to my old ways and began doing drugs and drinking. But there was something different now, every time I would do something bad I would think of God. I tried to get it out of my head but it wouldn't work. Not too happy with everything I heard about Islam, I read on every one of the major religions, all of them seemed weird or contradicting. I read about Islam again and now it was different, I felt in my heart this is real. I found out that they only believed in one God, and they were very strong about this. Once again, I went to Dar Al-Hijra to a Sunday class they had. I remember not knowing where to go so I stood in the lobby and kept reading the same scripture engraved on the wall. The Imam came and asked if he could help me, I asked where the class was and he directed me there. I sat in the class and saw lots of non-Muslims asking questions. I just listened and left with my friend. My friend had actually been someone from my past whom I would hang out with frequently. He had accepted Islam two years ago. I went home and wanted to cry because I wanted this so bad, but I knew I had to stop drinking and doing drugs before I accepted the faith. Back to Church About two years went by and I was reading here and there, but nothing serious. One day my mother begged me to just go back to the church for one service. I agreed just to make my mother happy, but when I walked in the church it was as if everyone knew that I didn't believe in the trinity anymore. I had a priest who was in the church congregation whom I had known for some time ask me over and over to accept Jesus into my heart. I refused, and then he asked me why? I wasn't knowledgeable enough to back Islam up so I said I'm just not ready. The Priest said: "Son, you have to catch the fish, then you clean it, then you cook it, and after all that you eat it." What he said was so true, but not for this church. This is what inspired me to want to accept Islam. I knew that in my heart I was a Muslim, but where do I go, and who will give this to me? I didn't know what to do. So after a while, I once again went back to drugs. One night, I went out and I was so drugged up and drunk, when I came home and looked in the mirror, what I saw scared me. I couldn't even recognize my own face. It was as if I was looking at one of those people on the streets who are strung out. I fell to the ground and cried, wondering what had happened to me. I felt sick and disgusted, how could I even walk into that Masjid again? I thought I wasn't good enough to be a Muslim. I prayed all night, begging God to help me to be a better person and to help me with this situation. My Final Decision The next day, I was sitting in my living room, when I heard a knock on my door at 11:00 pm. I looked through my peephole and saw my friend who was already Muslim. This person was someone very beloved to me, and I fully trusted him. He came into my house and began to speak to me about Islam, at this moment I was crying inside and wanted to just say yes. We talked about four hours and after that my best friend and I accepted Islam. This was the best decision I would ever make... http://www.onislam.net/english/reading-Islam/my-journey-to-Islam/contemporary-stories/420038-finding-the-truth-with-the-help-of-a-priest-.html?utm_source=OnIslam+Mailing+Newsletter&utm_campaign=1b9fd457d7-OnIslam_Weekly_Picks_Apr_10_2013&utm_medium=email
Barcelona's Islamic Heritage in a Church By Farrukh I. Younus Sant Paul del Camp church. 'Over the past few years I have regularly attended the city of Barcelona for a number of conferences, this year was no different except that I took to exploring signs of an Islamic influence to the city. Finding Muslims in this city is not a troubled search; more than 300,000 live there, mostly from North Africa. And with 250,000 from Morocco, is it any wonder that the first Muslim member of the Catalan Parliament, Mohammed Chaib, is of Moroccan descent! But no, this wasn’t what I was looking for, rather, something historic. If Muslims came to Spain in the 8th century, and were expelled, at least from this region of Spain, Catalonia, in the 15th century, surely there must be some evidence or presence of Islam in Barcelona. Muslims first step foot in Barcelona in the 8th century when 'the Moors' conquered the city but their presence lasted less than a hundred years as 'the Franks' occupied the city turning it into a military strong post. Still, the Muslim presence in the Catalan region surrounding Barcelona remained for quite some centuries. As I discovered, Catalonia, the most north eastern province of Spain, bordering France, did indeed have an Islamic influence. Barcelona on the other hand, did not. At least, that is what I was able to determine having searched the internet and contacted a number of Spanish publishers who specialized in the history of the region. The cloisters. Old Church With Islamic Architecture! My search found one publication which mentioned traces of the Islamic architecture in what is Barcelona’s oldest church, Sant Paul del Camp. Built outside the city walls surrounded by green fields as its name suggests (Camp = Countryside), today it is just a short walk from Las Ramblas the main tourist street of the city. Arriving late Sunday morning at the church I noticed a small crowd gathering within the church. Outside stood a sign reading ‘Entry to cloisters 3 Euros', I thought, what luck! Inside I asked a lady where I might find the cloisters only to discover that they would be open briefly after Sunday Mass, for which she invited me to stay. Now it has been years since I have attended any form of Sunday service. It may have been a regular feature when I was a young boy at boarding school, but since then, like many of my Christian friends, I had not attended one. I thought to myself, why not, I will stand at one of the pews towards the back. As the service began my first thought was that this is no different than going to a Masjid where the sermon is conducted in Arabic – I understand one, just as much as I understand the other. Looking around, aside from a couple of Polish girls who like me, were waiting to visit the cloisters, the vast majority of individuals were elderly couples. In a strange way, while the church was subtly high tech with an integrated speaker system and good lighting, the balance of old church with old churchgoers seemed to synchronize a certain harmony. This simple fact is proof to me that not only must there have been dialogue between Muslims and Christians during this period, but that dialogue was so good that a church building included strong Islamic design themes. Every now and then a word I would recognize would be spoken, the most common being the reference to Prophet Jesus where in addition to saying "Peace be upon him" I would add, 'There is no god but Allah'. While I know and believe this to be true, that sitting in a church where today Prophet Jesus is referred to as the 'son of God' (Exalted be God above the false things ascribed to Him), I simply would not have felt complete without professing these statements to myself. As I pondered the history of the building while visiting the 'Islamic' cloisters, an elderly Catalan gentlemen was telling the two Polish girls that this church was built on land that used to be a Masjid. Of course the official version found almost everywhere reads that the Benedictines built this church after a Muslim raid destroyed the previous church in 985 AD. Whether there was a church first or a Masjid first, I do not know, in fact, to me as a non-historian, it does not really matter - I will let the historians have that discussion. What mattered to me was the fact that this small cloister built in the 12th century featured Islamic Moorish architecture. This simple fact is proof to me that not only must there have been dialogue between Muslims and Christians during this period, but that dialogue was so good that a church building included strong Islamic design themes. Yet today, despite such a large Muslim community in Barcelona, the city does not have a single Masjid: lots of converted shops and garages, but no Masjid. Much of this, as often in the world today, is down to misunderstandings of the Muslim belief, as well as generic fear. Lessons to Remember Of course I wonder then how Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, made space for the 60 visiting Christians to pray in his Masjid in Medina. Knowing full well that their faith entailed a degree of shirk (associating partners to God, the highest 'crime' in Islam), still, when they came from Najran, he gave them space in his Masjid to conduct their prayers. [Reference: Ibn Ishaque, The Life of Muhammad, pp 270-77, English translation, Guillaume] And despite these fundamental disagreements with regards to faith, a treaty was set up between the Muslims and the Christians of Najran. [Reference: AI‑Baladhuri, Ahmad ibn Yahyi ibn Jibir, Futuh al‑buldan, p. 76; Kitab alamwal, p. 272] This example of Muslim engagement with non-Muslims, through agreement and mutual respect seems to have caught on with the Muslim presence in Spain where it has been observed that "In the earliest period of Muslim domination of Iberia there is evidence of extensive interaction, attested to by shared cemeteries and churches, bilingual coinage, an the continuity of Roman pottery types". [Reference: Brian A Catlos, Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon 1050-1300, p 33] In early Islam this tradition of mutual respect was continued when Caliph Umar, on his way to Syria stopped by a Christian town to meet the Bishop of Ayla spending a significant part of his day with him. And more locally, one of Prophet Muhammad’s neighbors in Medina with whom he retained good relations, a Jewish man, when the Prophet died, Caliph Umar provided him with a stipend, a pension, from the public treasury. That is right, Muslim taxes were paying for the pension of a Jewish man living in Medina. [ Reference: Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-kharaj, Cairo, 1382 H., p.122] In the example of Prophet Muhammad, and one of the first Muslim rulers, Caliph Umar, we witness the most perfect engagement model with non-Muslim, where while there were disagreements with regards to aspects of faith, people came together on common terms. In recent years, the opinions of the minority hard-line Muslims seem clearly to be at odds with these inclusive examples of early Islam. There is so much anger and hatred for non-Muslims by a minority of vocal Muslims it is shameful. Does not Allah say in the Qur'an, (Do not let hatred for a people incite you into being unjust. Justice is closer to piety. Have fear of God. God is aware of what you do.) [The Qur'an- 5:8]? The perception of Muslims in the past as well as Muslim today has been tainted first by misrepresentation and second by fear mongering. The task of men such as Mohammed Chaib, Catalan Parliament's Muslim member, is to break down some of these barriers, show the everyday and beautiful Islam practiced by the vast majority of Muslims and encourage the local government to allow a Masjid to be built. After all, how better to address misrepresentations of Islam than by supporting a Masjid that promotes the better interpretations of Islam? The Muslim contribution to Barcelona is brief, not to mention sketchy, despite the much stronger, positive influence of Islam in Spain. Perhaps with time, barriers such as fear and misunderstanding will be broken down, and Muslims can find a more inclusive way to contribute to Catalan society. That the architecture of the oldest Church of Barcelona includes strong signs of Islamic design, appreciated for hundreds of years, should be a proof that the Christian-Muslim dynamics of Barcelona today and into the future can also benefit from the positive influences that Islam can bring. Source: http://www.onislam.net/english/culture-and-entertainment/iblog/414052-barcelonas-islamic-heritage-in-a-church.html