My Long Journey to Islam
as presented at The University of Western Australia
on 12th July 2003
It has been quite a long journey to Islam for me, but I wouldn’t say I chose Islam, I would say that my Lord chose me to be Muslim; and He chose to guide me towards it.
I wanted to divide my talk into two sections: The first basically a brief introduction to what a Muslim believes, and to clarify one misconception, which is relevant to the second part of my talk, which is my journey to Islam.
How to proceed with a brief introduction of my beliefs as a Muslim:
Firstly, the misconception that I wanted to clarify is the name of Allah. The name Allah is the inauguration of two Arabic words, Al and ilah. Al means The, and ilah means God. Those two words come together and refer to The God, which implies The Only God, or The Only True God. The word is not created by the Muslims or introduced by the Qur’an, it is used by Arabic-speaking people of Jewish descent; Christian descent, and Arabs, from any background when they refer to the Creator. They refer to Him as Allah, The God. And as I shall restate, this word has no gender and cannot be pluralised. I just wanted to clarify this, as it will be relevant later on when I talk about my journey to Islam.
Basically I thought it might be useful if I state briefly what a Muslim believes, before presenting my story.
A Muslim believes in God; whatever God has revealed in the scriptures, and whatever God has revealed to His messengers, all of which we believe is contained in the Glorious Qur’an, the final revelation of God to mankind, as is written:
The Apostle believeth in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believeth in God, His angels, His books, and His apostles. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles.” And they say: “We hear, and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys.” Qur’an 2:285.
From the Qur’an we know the first man created was Adam, and he was given knowledge from his Lord, and he was tempted by Satan who suggested to Adam and his wife to eat the forbidden fruit. We also believe that after their act of disobedience, Adam and his wife were sent to dwell on the Earth, and that the succeeding generations of mankind were tested in a similar fashion to Adam and Eve, throughout history. We believe that God sent messengers, and raised up righteous men to teach people the path of righteousness, which leads to the salvation of the soul. We believe the body is given an appointed time on the Earth, to be tested, and when this time expires, the soul will be taken to an abode until the last day, when creation will cease, and all mankind will be resurrected and judged according to their beliefs, their actions and their deeds.
“O ye Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you, in the same manner as He got your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their raiment, to expose their shame: for he and his tribe watch you from a position where ye cannot see them: We made the evil ones friends (only) to those without faith.” Qur’an 7:27
We believe that those who have believed in God’s messengers, and followed His message, will be placed in an eternal abode of happiness with no further suffering or tests. Those who have turned away from the messengers and their message, who have refused to live according to God’s law, will be in an abode of punishment. Messengers have been sent to every generation, throughout the history of mankind. To name some of these messengers as they are named in the Qur’an, and other scriptures before it, we must mention Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, His final messenger (saw). The Qur’an says that none of the previous scriptures, revealed to previous generations of mankind, have been preserved to our time, and the only scripture that will be preserved is the Qur’an, which will be preserved until the last day.
Now I will proceed:
Anything that I am unable to cover during this short space of time, hopefully will be able to be addressed during the question and answer time.
* * *
To begin with, I was baptized an Orthodox Christian, in a Greek Orthodox Church. My Father was a migrant to Australia arriving at the age of ten, and my Mother was an Australian of many generations, who had been baptized a Catholic. I was raised with Greek customs and traditions; many of which came into play during Christmas and Easter.
I grew up and was educated in the Western suburbs of Sydney, where diversity of religion and culture were virtually non-existent. I had no knowledge of a religion other than Christianity, and no knowledge of a culture other than that of my family and my community.
I enjoyed attending Bible class during my primary years of school and listening to Scripture stories. During my secondary years the emphasis was placed on achieving grades, and competitiveness in the secular life. Our classes were graded from highest to lowest, or dumbest to smartest, as we saw at that time. Everyone focused on competing with one another in this fashion. Not much time was spent contemplating life or its purpose or what we were meant to do.
Scripture in the secondary years of school was limited to once a term. Some people would come and give a talk, something like this. I never knew why there where differences amongst the Christians, and why there where different denominations in Christianity. The adults around me never seemed to be able to answer these questions.
I always prayed to God in my room quietly, asking God to solve family problems and world problems. I was aware of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they used to knock on my front door. My Father would take them out the back to have a cup of tea and discuss matters with them. But my household were all warned to stay clear and stay away from these discussions that my Father had with them. We were not allowed to listen in, and if my Father took literature from the Jehovah Witnesses, he would keep it well hidden. Basically my Father’s attitude was that you would never change his customs or his beliefs, whether they be right or wrong, and he was determined that his children would do the same.
Then I attended the University of Wollongong in New South Wales and for the first time I met people from a diversity of cultures and religious backgrounds. I joined a circle of friends and associates who were mostly from Greek, Lebanese, or Egyptian descent. I also had a couple of Palestinian friends. This group of friends were truly the warmest and most down to Earth people I had ever met. Religion wasn’t a topic of discussion amongst the group, but I always had a habit of asking people if they believed in God. A close friend of mine, from a Russian-Polish background, once responded to my question by saying “Well I’d have to say yes, because of the kind of things you mess around with”. I felt that was a very weak response. I wanted to learn more about my religion and become more active in the religion. I joined the Christian Evangelist group at University, and we met once a week for discussions. I felt very out of place at these meetings because I couldn’t often relate to what was being said, as so many people were often quite opinionated and had some other strange ideas. One week the topic of discussion was the Trinity. I knew nothing of this concept, and the Orthodox Christianity concept does not exist. So after that meeting I approached one girl and I asked her to explain this concept of Trinity to me. She was rather disgruntled when I concluded, after the explanation, that the concept of Trinity defied logic and contradicted the Bible. That was my last meeting with the University Christian group.
At that stage I still had no idea that there was more than one version of the Bible, and that the Catholic version contained a statement that it was the Trinity of three Gods, in one. Nevertheless at this point I renounced my title of being Greek Orthodox Christian, and concluded that I was a Christian, without denomination or label.
I reasoned that if the Bible was God’s word, and if all Christians believed in the Bible, then why should they have separate Churches and different names. So I had no specific loyalty to the Greek Orthodox Church, although I now know a really interesting piece of history – that the Greek Orthodox Church held
closer beliefs to the original teachings of Christ, than some of the other denominations of Christianity.
Again at this point, I had no idea that there were other religions, who also believed in God, in our Creator or for that matter Jesus, God’s messenger, until one day I overheard a small group of people from my social circle of friends informing others that they were going to say their prayers. I immediately turned and asked if I could join them, they looked a little bewildered, but they agreed. I followed them to some prayer rooms above the cafeteria. Then they announced that the women pray in one room and the men pray in another, because they were male. I was too shy to enter the female room alone, so I excused myself and went back to continue my lunch.
Later one of them approached me and explained that he was Muslim and that he believed in God. He said that he would get me some literature to read, and an English interpretation of their Holy book if I was interested to know more.
I was surprised at my own ignorance. I thought to myself that in all my life I had never known that there were other religions that also claimed to believe in God. What was worse was that they give up their lunch hour to pray and worship Him. I was ashamed because I had thought that I was religious and a dedicated worshipper, where in reality, I had sacrificed nothing of my life or my time in God’s service. I declared that day that I would search the world’s religions, and I would make up my mind which one was telling the truth.
I started reading the Muslims’ literature and the English interpretation of their book, the Glorious Qur’an. I was careful to keep it well hidden in my house, otherwise I would be in serious trouble from my Father. Every morning and afternoon during my 45 minute bus trip to University I read about Islam. I couldn’t put down, the translation of the Qur’an, and I didn’t want to stop reading it. It touched my heart, it described my desires, my thoughts, my feelings; it was specifically enforced; straight-forward in its punishments, and generous in its rewards. I believed that it was the truth.
Some of the Christian Lebanese girls and guys at my University noticed my long conversations with the Muslims. They started to warn me against them, they said I was getting lost. So I was wary and cautious, but at the same time I began to realise the false claims of our Christian friends, toward our Muslim friends. I hadn’t accepted Islam at this point, but I was full of praise for the Muslims. For their manners and their morals, and their dedication to God.
“If any do deeds of righteousness,- be they male or female – and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them.” Qur’an 4:124.
One day I was watching the movie Malcolm X with Denzel Washington, and I was amazed to learn that Jesus was born in the Middle East, and that he was not a white man with blue eyes as he is portrayed in pictures. I felt I had to come out of Christian deception, to admit that Islam was the truth.
The next morning I swarmed into the University and I excitedly announced to one of my Christian friends that I was going to become a Muslim. He responded with “don’t you believe in God?” I said “Yes”. He said, “Well Muslims don’t believe in God, they believe in Allah”. I was devastated. Muslims don’t believe in God? I was perplexed. My road to Islam came to a grinding halt. I returned all my literature to its original owners, and the case was closed.
That year my parents separated and I moved with my Mother and my siblings to Perth. My university studies were on hold and my life was empty. I started work as a manager at McDonalds in the city, and I slowly began to make friends. Two of my employees became my best friends; one was German and half Indonesian, the other was half British and half Indonesian. They were both Muslim, but there was no discussion of religion between us, just about boys and music. They took me with them to a birthday party one evening, and there I met a young South African man. We started to talk and we never spent a day apart after that.
After several months of this inseparable relationship the topic of marriage entered the conversation. But there was a problem…. I was a Christian and he was a Muslim, and he thought it was not allowed for us to be married. I was determined never to become a Muslim, certainly not just to be allowed to marry, but in the end, the heartache of losing the one that I loved, pushed me to ask my Indonesian friend to escort me to a local Mosque. This was so that I could make the testimony of faith that Muslims make, when they
convert, which I did. I removed the gold cross from my neck and I kept my beliefs deep in my heart.
My husband and I married and I left my job at McDonalds and returned to my studies at The University of Western Australia.
I was not required by my husband to wear a veil, or to change my life, as my husband had been raised in a
Christian dominated society and had most of the customs that I did. We prayed on occasion but it was not constant or regular. We did, however, eat halal food and abstained from eating pork or alcohol. This was easy for me to do, because I had never drank alcohol before I was Muslim, and giving up pork was a small sacrifice to be with the one I loved.
Quite quickly I became pregnant with our first child, and the wife of one of my husband’s friends invited me to attend Islamic classes for women. I avoided the invitation for quite a while, deferring to my University studies. Toward the end of my first pregnancy I found myself with a lot of spare time on my hands. I thought it was only fair to learn a little about my husband’s religion in order to teach our children, so I finally agreed to go to the Islamic classes.
I convinced another friend of mine to come, as she had converted under much the same circumstances as I had. We thought we had better dress a little conservatively in case the class were all wearing veils, and might take us for hypocrites. So rather than our usual midriff tops and hipsters we managed to put together an ensemble of hipsters, knee length leather jackets, eyeliner (but no lipstick), and a small cloth tied around our hair. We thought we’d fit in nicely with our Muslim friends-to-be, but when we arrived I don’t know who was more in shock – them or us!
We walked into the gathering and I was shocked to see people who, at that time, looked to me like impersonators of Mother Mary. They looked so holy, so clean, so innocent with their very long plain veils and their clean sweet faces. My friend and I tried to sit quickly, as we felt our ‘modest’ appearance was blaring out in front of the crowd. I started to think to myself, “What kind of a scarf am I wearing? I feel like a gangster in a bandana!” I listened to the lecture with an extra critical ear, determined to prove that the Muslims had got it all wrong.
I continued to attend classes, week by week; listening intently; keeping my hidden agenda close to my chest. My friend didn’t continue after the first lesson, so I was in this on my own. The teacher never raised the issue of my dress, this was a matter I’d invite upon myself, later down the track.
I was a thorn in the side of my teacher. I would read books, listen to cassette tapes and so forth, looking for some kind of inconsistency. I would frequently pose tricky questions – but nothing the teacher couldn’t handle. I went to an Islamic resource centre and I came across some video tapes of a man called Ahmad Deedat. He was a Muslim scholar of the Christian Bible who challenged the highest-ranking Christian scholars to debate with him on the topics of Christianity and Islam. I quickly decided that if I watched these debates, and the Christians won, I would openly declare Christianity as the truth; and if the Muslims won, I would openly declare Islam as the truth.
Well you are looking at me now, so you don’t have to guess who won the debate!
I’d just like to finish with a few verses from the Qur’an where Allah (swt) talks about Christians and Jews.
“And they say, ‘None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.’ These are their own desires. Say (O Muhammad), ‘Produce your proof if you are truthful.’” Qur’an 2:111
I personally testify that the Muslims are the only ones that can prove that their book is truly from their Creator. I have been through the historic, the scientific, the innate proofs of the Qur’an and the Bible in order to come to the firm conclusion, that Islam has an authentic book, straight from God.
And Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:-
“And they say, ‘Be Jews or Christians, then you will be guided.’ Say (to them, O Muhammad) ‘Nay, (We follow) only the religion of Ibrahim (Abraham),[Islamic Monotheism, i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone], and he was not of Al-Mushrikun (those who worshipped others along with Allah).’” Qur’an 2:135.
Why hadn’t I realized that Abraham was mentioned in the Bible but he was neither a Christian nor a Jew? He was born before both of them, so how did he achieve salvation? Not by following the Ten Commandments of Moses, and not by believing in the supposed death of Jesus, but by believing in The Almighty; by submitting to the revealed scripture of his time. For that matter, what about the first man Adam, how did he achieve salvation? Only Islam has the answer to this question.
And finally, Allah (swt) says:-
“Say (O Muslims), ‘We believe in Allah and that which has been sent down to us and that which has been sent down to Ibrahim (Abraham), Isma’il (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Ya’qub (Jacob), and to Al-Asbat [the twelve sons of Ya’qub (Jacob)], and that which has been given to Musa (Moses) and ‘Iesa (Jesus), and that which has been given to the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we have submitted (in Islam).’” Qur’an 2 : 136
All praise is due to Allah.