I was raised a Christian (Methodist) but felt even as a child that this religion had some serious problems. For me, the so-called "trinity" remains a major defect in Christianity. As a matter of fact, it's downright wrong. If you are a Christian, you're probably thinking, "How can someone say such a thing?" Well, the Bible told me so:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me [David], Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.
(St. Mark 10:17-18)
From Psalms 2:7 we learn that a "begotten son" is not a characteristic unique to Jesus, nor is it to be understood literally. It simply means God has created us, and that his Prophets, like David and Jesus, are simply closer to God than we are. The other two passages confirm the absolute unity and "oneness" (not three-ness or trinity) of God. Jesus's answer to the man was that he follow the Ten Commandments, not that the man should worship him as a divine being, the second part of a three-part God. No! His first priority was to set this man straight on who he, Jesus, really was: not the "Good Master" for there can be only one and he is God, the same God already mentioned in Deuteronomy: "The Lord our God is one Lord".
If you wish to find out more about the authenticity of the New Testament, a short article called Interfaith Dialogue Publication No. 12, "The New Testament" provides many examples with book and verse numbers so that you can open your Bible and see for yourself whether or not you still wish to gamble away the fate of your soul based these scriptures.
Since Christianity in its 20th century form, after its alterations by Paul and others over the course of centuries, was never able to give me the answers I was looking for, I went on a 20-year-long search for the truth. I was not looking for a religion that would necessarily fit my personality, lifestyle, or convenience. I wanted to find the right path, no matter how unpleasant its practices or belief system might be. As you can see, I was not satisfied to accept the religion of my forefathers simply on the basis of tradition.
During this time I searched and studied. Many times I gave up and lapsed into atheism. I looked into Buddhism, Hinduism, est, the Unitarians, and read up on the Mormons. I listened to Jehovah's Witnesses and discussed religion with those who tried to convince me of the validity of their beliefs.
About ten years ago I started to look more closely at Judaism. I began to spend all of my spare time in the theological section of the university's library where I was studying in Germany at the time. Judaism appealed to me at first because of its monotheism and its relationship to Christianity: Jesus, along with his disciples were Jews and the Bible consists mostly of a translation of the Jewish Torah and Prophets, i.e. the "Old Testament".
After about a year of learning Hebrew and about the Jewish rituals as they are practiced both in the synagogue and at home, I began to entertain the thought of actually converting. All this time I had been learning about the religion from books. I still needed to learn first-hand from Jews and see their religion in practice. In Germany, where I was still studying at the time, there were not too many Jews living there because of Jewish attitudes towards Germany and the Holocaust. In the city where I lived, however, there was an active, though small for American standards, Jewish community and I met with a man who ran the synagogue. He was very unhelpful. Despite this I would occasionally attend Sabbath services there and did so all alone. No one ever bothered to introduce themselves to me.
Through an Israeli friend, who was not Jewish, I was put in contact with an Israeli Jew who was visiting his fiancee, a German girl. She had plans to convert. Moshe, an Israeli Jew, was a very kind person. He helped me with the many questions I had. The last time I talked to Moshe was after he went back to Israel while I was on vacation there. He was very annoyed that it was going to cost him over $5,000 for his German wife, Tanja, to officially be converted to Judaism. Later on that vacation I discussed my consideration to possibly convert to Judaism with our tour guide in Eilat. This elderly Jewish man responded with, "What? You don't have enough problems in life already?"
My falling from grace with Judaism was a gradual process that began on my first trip to Israel after seeing Judaism in everyday practice. To sum up my reasons for not converting to Judaism, they would be:
This religion is for Jews. I am not a Jew. The main provision in the Torah for accepting gentiles into Judaism is for those who live among the Jews. Since the Jews live among my people in my country, I would be trying to create an artificial situation.
The present-day interpretations of Mosaic Law after centuries of innovation and the alteration of the Hebrew language would cause the Prophet David to not recognize his own religion or language if he were to suddenly walk the streets of Mea Shearim today.
The Jews failed to learn anything from their Prophet Jesus, for his message of reform was directed straight at them, not the gentiles (this will be explained in detail later on). As a result of this, Judaism lacks the mercy and compassion for non-Jews found in the other two world religions.
Jews are more likely to help someone convert if the convert is doing it just to marry a Jew. They don't care about people who are interested in worshiping God the same way they do. If the convert is already married to a gentile ... forget it! A rabbi won't give you the time of day unless both and your spouse are going to convert. My wife had no intention of converting.
No matter what people say, I get the impression from many Jews that a convert is not really the same as a born-Jew. I know a rabbi would disagree with this, but I'm talking about Jewish society and the common man. I remember a fellow Jewish student here in America telling me, "You think you know the Jewish culture, but you don't." This implied that no matter how much Torah and Talmud I learned, I would forever remain some kind of goy convert, perhaps half-Jewish in the eyes of born-Jews.
I don't know Jewish culture, and at this point, I really don't want to know any more than I already do. In theory, it has some good teachings, it's just that its practitioners seem to lack the same degree of mercy, that willingness to "reach out and help" anyone other than their own kind. Many ethnic groups are more than happy to see outsiders striving to learn their ways and beliefs. The vast majority of the Jews I've come in contact with never showed any great joy whenever I would mention my serious consideration of converting. My new brethren in my new religion, however, showed genuine joy when I converted.
After this rather unfortunate episode with Judaism, I decided to worship God as Adam, Noah, and Abraham did, since none of them were Jews or Christians. I believed that Jesus was a man of God who was sent to reform the Jews from the very error in their religious practice that still afflicts them to this day: they follow the letter of the Law, but not the spirit of the Law. For instance, the extremes that even orthodox Jews employ to bend the Sabbath restrictions are too numerous to mention here. Also, Faith plays little or no role in Judaism. The Christianity of modern times calls for nothing but faith. Go out, kill someone, say you believe that Jesus died for our sins, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and you'll go to Heaven. I'm sorry. Neither my heart nor my mind tells me this is OK with God. In my understanding of God, good deeds and daily worship are what He requires of us. He would also require some form of repentance from a murderer before forgiving such a grave sin. Even the Bible tells us faith without deeds is worthless:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
In a country like the U.S. where 159 million claim membership in a Christian church (60% of the population), we shouldn't be seeing any needy people should we? Certainly if six out of every ten Americans are Christians, and their religion calls for deeds as well as faith, poverty should not exist in this country, should it? The fact is, 36.5 million Americans live below the poverty level. That's 13.7% of the U.S. population. (Source: The New York Times 1999 Almanac, p. 320.)
Well, I made up my mind like so many people nowadays to just worship God in my own way. How many times have you heard from people, "I believe in God, but I just don't like organized religion."? This is where I was after my first trip to Israel.
Closer inspection of the New Testament also pointed me in the right direction. It turns out, Christianity is not a new religion at all, it was God's gift to the Jews which they refused (at least most of them) to accept:
But he [Jesus] answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
From these passages it becomes crystal clear that Jesus was indeed the Moshiach (Messiah) the Jews had been waiting for. His prophecy was not meant for the Gentiles. It was meant for the Jews. He also did not preach any new "religion". His mission was to guide the Jews back onto the straight path and help them learn the spirit of the Law, the laws given to them at Mount Sinai:
Think not that I [Jesus] am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
It was, of course, Paul who abolished some of the laws, directly opposing Jesus Christ the Messiah. Since most of the books in the New Testament were written by Paul, and Paul's doctrine directly opposes that of Jesus Christ's teachings, Paul's books should be considered heresy, leaving us with a "New Testament" that is at best, severely flawed, and certainly not the word of God. At any rate, God did not send Jesus to create a new religion for the Gentiles. Paul did that all on his very own. Christianity is, thus, a misnomer. For the sake of honesty, it should be called Paulism.
One evening in Germany, I was looking around in the Videothek [German for "video rental store"] when I came across a film with Anthony Quinn called, Mohammed, Der Gesandte Gottes [English: "Mohammed, The Messenger of God", the English/American title is The Message]. On a whim, I decided to check it out. I knew very little about Islam or Mohammed at the time, but did know that it was a monotheistic religion that Christians didn't like very much. Since my wife and I lived in a neighborhood of Koln (Cologne, Germany) with a high Turkish population, I was kind of interested in this if only to better understand the religion of these fellow foreigners in Germany.
The Message is a film about the life of Mohammed starting with the point in his life when he starts receiving revelations. It portrays the difficult process he encountered of spreading God's word to the pagan Arabs of his time. From this film I learned a lot about what Islam really is, as opposed to the many myths propagated by Westerners since the Crusades. After seeing this film, I felt I had found what I was looking for. But being the skeptical person I am, I decided I would first place it under the same kind of scrutiny I had placed Judaism before accepting a religion based on the interpretation of one film director.
As chance would have it, soon thereafter I had another opportunity to travel to Israel again where I could observe Muslims and their behavior, this time around with a little more objectivity; I still found much value in the ways of Judaism, yet I felt Islam was meant for me, being the non-Jew I am. While in Akko and in Al-Quds (Jerusalem) I was able to meet Muslims and talk to them. I found their hospitality met, if not exceeded, that of the Jews I had encountered on this and my previous trip to Israel.
Interestingly enough, Muslims have no logical reason for being kind to Americans. It is our government that supports the Israeli military. Israeli Jews, however, have every reason for being nice to American tourists, yet the more conservative Jews can exhibit a typical Israeli "lack of politeness", which although does not equate to rudeness, certainly borders on it at times. This I experienced on my first trip to Israel when trying to acquire a certain book for a German professor who specializes in Jewish history. The owner of the bookstore in Jerusalem which would have been most likely to carry this obscure book practically interrogated me about my professor and what he teaches in a most unfriendly way. To summarize, my dealings with Jews have been very mixed: a few very positive, many neutral, and some down right negative. My encounters with Muslims, however, have been singularly positive. This observation of Muslim behavior is based on encounters at home, abroad, on vacations, at university, at my various places of employment, and random encounters in day-to-day life. I'm sure there are some Muslims somewhere (or at least people who consider themselves Muslims) who are bad-tempered, violent, and hate Americans, although I've never encountered them.
To be fair, when comparing and contrasting religions, it is important to weigh not only the moral behavior of each religion's adherents, but also its teachings, laws, and beliefs. If people were to judge Christianity solely on the deeds of its followers since its inception by Paul, it would no doubt not fair well at all since atrocities like the Inquisition, the Crusades, persecution of Jews, wars between Christian countries, brutal treatment of native peoples wherever any Christian nation landed in the world with the goal of expanding their empire, etc., would surely deter anyone from considering this religion. So, it must have some attraction in its belief system or practices, otherwise it would not be the world's most popular religion.
Back to my own saga. While still in Germany, I decided I would start the same type of serious investigation into Islam that I had performed with Judaism. The people-side of the religion looked great, but I still needed to look into its laws, beliefs, and moral codes. I tried to get a copy of the Qur'an with an English translation while in Al-Quds (Jerusalem), but I only managed to get some small collection of chapters at an Arab bookstore. It is interesting to note that the store owner did not ask any money for this.
All of sudden, my life situation changed. My wife was pregnant. We were extremely happy about this. Our studies, however, were taking longer than we had expected and our finances were running low. It was time to move back to the U.S. and finish our degrees there. My life was suddenly centered around economical survival. Our daughter Sarah was born and our lives changed completely. Somehow I managed to help with caring for Sarah and finish my last full-time semester with good grades. Then, the job hunt was on. My first two jobs didn't even pay the bills. After many long evenings of self-study and training myself in the latest technologies of my profession, I finally got a break. About the time my career and financial situation had stabilized I no longer needed to burn the midnight oil to survive.
Ironically, it was the strong faith of a Christian co-worker whose e-mail signatures always ended in a Bible verse that reminded me of what I still needed to take care of: that promise I had made to myself to finish checking out Islam. I got a copy of the Qur'an with both the original Arabic and the English translation next to it and started reading. I knew after reading a few chapters, "this is it!". I was still cautious, since adopting a new religion before being absolutely sure can be disastrous thing. So, I went on the Web and starting visiting web sites both for and against Islam. I also called and talked to a former co-worker who is Muslim about my thoughts. Ironically, the more anti-Islamic literature I read on Christian web sites, the more I was drawn to Islam. Their arguments were flimsy and their view of the religion completely skewed. They helped me put the last nail in the coffin of the American Judeo-Christian tradition for me in my life.
Through reading the Qur'an and a small collection of Hadith, I felt pretty confident that I wanted to become a Muslim. I was still pretty nervous though. Giving up my former life and committing myself to praying 5 times a day and fasting during Ramadan was leaving me kind of anxious. Could I be a good Muslim? What if it's too much for me? I felt that I needed a sign from God before I actually contacted anyone at the local mosque in order to begin the formal process of accepting Islam and converting. So, I prayed to God and asked Him for a sign (it was something dealing with my work), a sign that would be statistically improbable. I promised God that I would not delay my conversion to Islam any further should he grant me this favor I asked of Him. I also asked Him to not grant me this sign should He not want me to become a Muslim.
Well, All Praise be to God the Highest! He came through for me! He made the improbable reality and I went without delay to the mosque. I arrived at a time when there wasn't a prayer, but I got enough information so that I could e-mail the mosque with my intentions. Due to some upcoming events at the mosque, I wasn't contacted until a little over two weeks later by phone and asked if I could pronounce the Shahada that coming Friday. It is most interesting to note that Allah repeated the sign I had requested twice (tripling my original request!): on the 8th of July, on the 15th of July, and finally again on the 22nd of July. Who says Allah doesn't answer prayers? On the 23rd of July 1999 I became a Muslim.
Since becoming a Muslim, many people (both fellow Muslims and non-Muslims) have asked me which aspects of Islam were most influential in my decision to submit entirely to Allah. After careful consideration, I have numbered them in their order of importance to me personally:
1. Islam is purely monotheistic. Muslims do not worship Muhammad. Muslims do not seek intervention through anyone, including Muhammad, in their prayers. If you believe in God, are monotheistic, and were not born Jewish, there's really no choice at all. You must become a Muslim. (Actually Jews who have been introduced to Muhammad and the Qur'an are obligated to become Muslims since their Mosaic law became abrogated with Allah's gift to mankind of the Qur'an.)
If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good).
2. Allah's message given to us through Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in the form of the Holy Qur'an contains knowledge that was not known to man during Muhammad's time, knowledge that could only have been derived from Allah. Reading the Qur'an should be enough to make anyone want to convert.
3. The 5 Pillars of Islam have a unifying effect on mankind. Anyone seeking admittance to a "secret", "private", "exclusive" kind of organization will be greatly disappointed by Islam. Race, nationality, sex, IQ, skills, wealth, virtually all the things that people use against one another in a sad attempt to fool themselves into believing they are superior to another person or group of people have no meaning whatsoever in Islam.
Prayer is the same, in the same language, in every mosque in the whole world. Racism is not tolerated. How often does one see church services with only whites or other churches with only African-Americans? Why are we still seeing racial problems all over America, a country permeated by Christianity? Perhaps because the foundation of Christianity is made of sand and the foundation of Islam is five granite pillars.
4. The authenticity of Allah's Word in the Qur'an: The revelations received by Muhammad were witnessed by many people. Muhammad had them written down and read back to him to verify the correctness of the transcriptions. This same level of verification can never be attributed to the Bible.
5. One of the Holiest places on earth (for all three world religions) is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the location of the former Jewish temples. Is there any church on the Temple Mount? No. Is there any Jewish temple or synagogue on the Temple Mount? No. Is there a mosque? Yes, the Al-Aqsa Mosque (comprised of two structures: The Grand Mosque of Omar and the Dome of the Rock). Surely if God wanted all mankind to embrace Christianity, He would have allowed the Christians to erect some sort of Grand Church on this Holy location. Or, if He intended to accept the continuing practice of Judaism alongside Christianity as valid forms of worship accepted by Him, He would have let the Jews rebuild their Temple. But no, only the Al-Aqsa Mosque stands on this Holy place as a sign to all mankind, showing us the only form of worship He will accept.
6. Islam is clearly a religion defined by God, and is, thus, perfect. The result of this is uniformity in religion. 90% of all Muslims in the world consider the Sunnah (The Way of The Prophet) to be the guideline for practicing their religion. This is why they are called "Sunni Muslims". You won't find anything approaching a 90% consensus among Jews (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Lubavitcher, etc.) or Christians (Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, the thousands of Protestant denominations, etc.). Islam is a timeless religion that can be practiced without the advance of technology causing any conflicts with it. Just take note of the Orthodox Jews and their attitude regarding light switches or driving a car on the Sabbath.
7. The level of knowledge of Muslims is astounding when compared to Christians or Jews. For instance, all Muslims need to memorize at least three Suras (chapters or books) from the Qur'an just to be able to perform their prayers. This must be done in Arabic, the language of the Qur'an. For many Muslims, if not most, Arabic is not their native language. Some laymen have memorized the entire Qur'an by heart. In congregational prayer, the prayer leader recites two long Suras for certain prayers, like Fajr, the morning prayer performed prior to sunrise. This is done completely from memory. Prayer is never a process of reading from the Qur'an, it is an act of recitation from memory.
When I compare this to Christianity, I find it surprising that so few pastors or ministers can recite entire chapters from the New Testament. I also wonder why so few clergy can read the Hebrew of the Old Testament or the Greek of the New Testament.
8. Women have more rights under Islamic law than they have according to Christianity: Women's Rights - Interfaith Dialogue, Publication No. 4
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