Again Magazine Volume 19 Number 3 Sept/Oct 1996 Page 8-9
By a Muslim Convert to the Orthodox faith
As the sun sets, the call to prayer is being chanted from the loudspeaker of the mosque near my house. I am five years old. It is time for evening prayer, followed by a lesson in reading the Qur’an in Arabic (even though I am not an Arab myself, but an Asiatic-Oriental). All good Muslim boys have to study the language of the Qur’an because it is the language of revelation given by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad.
It is there, in the mosque, that I learn how to perform the required prayers which have to be done five times a day. These prayers are one of the Pillars of Islam. The prayer consists of standing upright, genuflection, bowing, prostrating the face on the ground, in a certain rhythm and order. Every Muslim prayer has to face the direction of Mecca. No Muslim prayer is allowed to be translated out of the Arabic. It must be spoken in Arabic, since God communicated His revelation through the prophet Muhammad.
I was very happy when at every morning break and at sunset I had to go to the mosque to perform my prayers. We usually had our Arabic language classes in the evening, after the evening prayers. We used the Qur’an (Koran) as our text. Besides the Islamic holy language, the prayers, and the faith itself, the stories of the prophets from the Qur’an were also taught. As a child, I found these stories more helpful than most of the other lessons. The Qur’anic stories have many similarities with the Bible, with some slight variations. The Qur’an recognizes all the prophets of the Old and New Testaments, including Jesus Christ. Muhammad is considered the seal of all these biblical prophets. Yet I found it interesting that the stories of Jesus and the Virgin Mary occupy more space in the Qur’an than those of any other prophet.
Although Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet, it does not regard Him as God. Islam does not accept the doctrine of the Trinity nor that of the Incarnation. As a Muslim, it was difficult for me, living in such a religious environment, to understand why Christians believed a man to be God and why they believed in one God in three persons (in fact, the Trinity, to me and to most Muslims, seemed instead of One God). I was convinced that Christianity was a pagan, blasphemous religion, and that its followers were infidels worthy only of hell.
MY SEARCH BEGINS
When I grew older, I began to ask questions concerning God. I still performed my religious duties, but I felt God was vague and far away. I asked some older people, “Who is God?” but no one gave me a satisfactory answer. I still believed in Islam, but became curious about other religions. So I began to read and study other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the indigenous religion of my people. I did not read anything about Christianity, since I thought I knew enough about Christianity from my teacher at the Mosque and from the Qur’an. However, after reading all these books I concluded that Islam was the best; no religion could match the grandeur of Islam in its affirmation of God’s oneness.
Years went by as I routinely performed my religious duties. Nothing happened to change my mind about Islam, but my questions about God remained unanswered. One day when I was in high school I met a Christian for the first time. He was the husband of my former primary school teacher. He had been a Muslim when I knew him before. When I met up with him for the first time after his conversion, I did not know he had become a Christian. He invited me to his house for dinner. There he began to tell me about Christ based on the Islamic story. First he told me the story of Adam’s Fall and continued on to the stories of the sending of the prophets as the sign of God’s love for sinners. He ended by describing how God became man, thus showing His ultimate love for man—this God-man being the prophet Jesus Christ.
I was horrified by such an idea. As soon as I realized that this man was a Christian, I left his house for fear of blasphemy. A local village superstition also put fear in me. Children were warned not to eat food offered by Christians since it would be secretly sprinkled with “magic water’ (“christening water”). This water purportedly caused a person automatically to become a Christian. I had eaten the food!
Later, this man diligently visited me to tell me about Jesus. I could not take his propaganda any longer. I felt my Muslin faith being challenged. I countered him by attacking the doctrine of the Trinity, Christ’s Divinity, and the Incarnation pointing out their absurdities from Muslim’s viewpoint. He could not defend his own Christian faith. Finally, I told him to stop his blasphemy and return to Islam. I felt more firm and convinced of my Islamic faith after this encounter, because I thought I had been able to defeat an “infidel” on his own ground.
This encounter did not make any significant difference in my life. I didn’t see the man again, nor did I think about Christianity after that. Things were normal. I prayed five times a day, recited the Qur’an, etc. However, the movement of the Holy Spirit is always unexpected. In spite of my stubbornness and pride in opposing Christianity, the Lord suddenly revealed Himself to me.
THE LIGHT OF TRUTH
One evening, after my evening prayer, I was reciting the Qur’an as usual. This time I recited the chapter called “the Chapter of Al-Imran” (chapter 3). This story recounts the appearance of the Angel to the Virgin Mary announcing the coming birth of Christ. The story was familiar to me, but this time the Holy Spirit used it to enlighten my mind regarding who Jesus really is. The fourth verse of this chapter calls Jesus the “Word from (God) Himself.” I had known this title before, but it had had no special meaning to me then, just as it has no special meaning to a Muslim now. However, that evening God helped me to understand the implications of this title.
I began to think about this verse and to make an analogy between God and myself. Certainly, my words come from me. If Jesus is God’s Word, He has to come from God. My word is in me, and one with me, but it is distinct from me. If Jesus is God’s Word, He must be one with God and inseparable from Him, though He is distinct from God (the Father). My word is the way I reveal my deepest thought and the way I communicate this thought to other people. If Jesus is God’s Word, He must be the self-revelation of God and the way God communicates Himself to us.
Through this analogy it became clear to me why Christians believe as they do. I shouted for joy, “Christians are right then!” I cried to God and asked Him to let me believe His Word, so that I could communicate with Him in an intimate way. That night I accepted Jesus Christ into my life, not as a mere prophet, but as Lord and Savior. Immediately, I knew that the God I had been worshiping all my life was not a remote God, but a close and intimate Being whom I could address by way of His Word, Jesus Christ. Yes, this God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Ishmael— in whom the prophet Muhammad believed—was now revealed to me in His fullness. I experienced great joy that night when I knew that Christ had entered my heart.
The following morning I visited the only Christian I knew, my former teacher’s husband. He was dumbfounded. I told him I wanted to go to the church. He did not believe me. Then I explained what had happened to me the night before. The following Sunday we went to his church, a Reformed (Presbyterian) church.
THE ISLAM OF CHRIST
Later my family realized I had become a Christian. When I heard that one of my family members intended to harm me because of my conversion, I fled and hid in the church for three days. There I prayed and fasted. After the third day I felt led by God to go home. I went home and no one harmed me. My grandparents called me and asked me why I had left Islam and why I had ceased to be a Muslim. I said I had not left Islam, nor ceased to be a Muslim. My grandfather asked whether I would go to the mosque again. I said I would not.
I then asked my grandfather the meaning of the words “Islam” and “Muslim:’ Islam is the name of the religion. The word is derived from the root Arabic word salaam, which means “peace,” “salvation,” or “well-being:’ Muslim is the name of a person who believes in Islam. This word means “submission,” that is, submission to the will of God.
I told my grandfather that Christ died on the cross for my salvation; thus salvation is not because of my merit but because of God’s grace. If it is by grace, then by submitting to that grace, I will receive salvation and peace. Therefore through the death of Christ, I am a Muslim (person who submits) in its truest sense. Since it is not my merit nor my own goodness which saves me, but my submission by faith in Christ to the One and only God, I am a completed Muslim. Because I receive salvation and peace (salaam) through Christ, I still believe in Islam—the Islam (salvation) of Christ.
After discussing the meaning of Islam and Muslim, my grandparents decided immediately to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. One by one, by God’s grace, my family members accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. Exactly one month after his baptism, my grandfather went home to be with the Lord in heaven.
Since that time, my burning desire has been to make known the Good News that Christ has risen from the dead and, by His own death, has trampled death. While religions give theories on how one can escape the eternal pain of death, Christ gives more than a theory. He has destroyed death itself through His Resurrection. He is the only one who can move mankind beyond religious theory to the reality that union with God is possible. Christ not only makes a Muslim a complete Muslim, and a Jew a complete Jew, but he also fulfills the yearnings of Hindus, Buddhists, etc. to know God.
In believing in the finality of Christ as the answer of human existence, I have been untiring in preaching Christ to anybody who wants to hear and to experience union with God. Since my conversion I have traveled all over the country where I live proclaiming the resurrection power of Christ to all.
In 1978, I went overseas to pursue my theological studies, and stayed overseas for ten years. With the plethora of Christian denominations and sects, I began wondering as to the truthfulness of them all. If God is One, and His Word and Spirit are One, and the Bible is one, by necessity the teaching has to be one. And His people (the Church) has to be one. The multiplicity of denominations runs contrary to these premises.
The history of this one people of God (the Church) has to be one, also. I found out that the Old Testament is an Oriental book, written in Asia (western Asia). The New Testament books too were written in Palestine or the Middle East. Therefore the whole Bible is an Eastern book. If that is so, the original Christianity has to be Eastern in character and has to have some similarities to Islam, because both arose from the same cultural milieu.
I began to yearn for this original Eastern Christianity as it is depicted in the Bible. Finally, I found the Orthodox Christian Faith to be the original Faith of the Apostles, which has the answer for Islam. Since then I have joined the Orthodox Church and been ordained a priest, and I now serve God in His Holy Orthodox Church.