Selma A. Cook
An Australian Missionary’s Journey to Allah
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Whenever I hear the sound of the ocean crashing upon itself in never-ending movement – rising and falling as it measures out time, I think about the beginning of my life and the journey I began and am still traveling. As the tides inch their way towards me where I sit on the sand, I remember that the time of my death remains unknown to me. I feel a sense of fear; of urgency to do more, learn more, discover more before the tides of my own life rise and sweep me along to the Hereafter. I am like a grain of sand – one tiny part of human existence – a small part of all that has lived.
For many years I lived alone, isolated in a world of fear and unrest. Some happy childhood memories, times of love and joy were always covered by a cloud of uncertainty; a feeling of being lost but not knowing where my real place was. I watched my life unfold, taking note of the decisions that I made, which either drove me forward or pushed me back. I was constantly moving further away from the light or getting closer to it. It was the source of truth whose reality I recognized deep within my heart.
“And Allah increases in guidance those who walk aright and love Allah much.” (Surah Maryam (Mary), verse 76)
In my isolation, I sought help and comfort in the One Who had created me; I had no doubt that there exists a Creator and Sustainer of all things. I knew this as clearly and as surely as I know the sun rises and sets, the movement of the tides, the echo of a thunder storm and the delicate beauty of a spider’s web. No! This world was no accident! As sure as an explosion in a paint factory could never produce an encyclopedia, I always knew this world has a Designer – the Source of all peace.
On Him I called, yet at that time I didn’t know His name but only the reality of Him. His Existence and His Creation was so overwhelmingly obvious that I knew I could ask and He would give: I asked for peace in my troubled heart; I asked to understand my life and what He wanted from me. I asked for guidance for I knew I was lost.
At sixteen years of age, I prayed as I had always done, knowing that He is so Powerful and All-Encompassing that there was no need to pray in the name of Jesus (peace be upon him). I forced myself to throw off the shackles of Christianity and dependence upon Jesus as a medium between my Creator and myself. I felt a surge of peace and inner quietness. It is a feeling that guided me and still does, telling my spirit that I’m on the right way – just keep going. Step by step I moved towards the light of truth whose rays flickered far in the distance. I began to measure the success of my life by the amount of peace that I felt within, but so often in the materialistic world in which I lived, this peace and inner joy was drowned out by trivial pursuits and passing pleasures.
A deep awareness followed me that every step I took in life is significant – every word counted and followed me like the echo of my reality. So many paths of life confronted me, each one having its own destination. I was in a state of confusion but guided by my inner feeling, which acted like a radar. Surely, the one who wants to be guided, will be guided.
I always felt close to God and prayer was a way of life for me. Deep in my mind, for I could never voice any doubts, I had some misgivings about what I’d been taught about Jesus (peace be upon him): some things didn’t make sense to me, but as a missionary I felt I was calling to God, not to a particular church. I could recognize a harmony and structure in all the nature around me, yet I found an absence of order wherever I looked around people.
His Existence and His Creation was so overwhelmingly obvious that I knew I could ask and He would give…
I learned to love Jesus as a messenger of God but it seemed strange to me, that God would require a sacrifice in order to forgive us. I believed that God was above having any need. I felt I could communicate with Him as I was, without the necessity of an intermediary because, again, God didn’t need any help to hear what I said.
As a Christian I had been taught that Jesus was God’s son and that man could only be saved through belief in Jesus. I wondered why God, who was so obviously powerful would require anything, let alone a son to fulfill His purpose. Why couldn’t the Creator just forgive His creation without an intermediary. I also knew deep within my heart that when mankind stepped away from righteousness, all harmony was lost.
I clung to what I’d been taught since a child but I kept looking, searching and thinking.
At school, I learned to be “tolerant.” People said that all religions lead to God. However, instinctively I knew that I knew without any doubt that there was one God, one system of life, one truth, and one path leading to it. There couldn’t be many diverging paths that were so contradictory! The Jews hate Jesus, the Christians love him, other religions ignore him and some others do not even know him. Are they all true? At the end of all these religions is there one God; the Creator who made everything so harmonious in nature. Is this the same God who created the marvels of the universe but also allows all this ignorance and confusion and calls it worship? Such an idea lacked logic, respect for human dignity and mercy from the Creator. One God, one truth, one way. But where was it? I kept looking.
Life changes continually but usually these changes take place gradually and are of a subtle nature, and then, from time to time, intermittent situations pound our lives and make us pause and take new directions. One such vital crossroads confronted me in 1983. I was moving into a new flat and had the choice of two apartments. I was unsure which one to take, so as usual, I prayed and asked. I had a very strong feeling that if I moved into one particular flat my life would change dramatically. I was as a boat cast adrift on the sea, led by the winds and tides but my weight affected the direction of the boat. Likewise, our intentions, decisions, and actions steer the course of our lives.
I met my neighbors who were Muslims. I thought I would do some missionary work. I always like to remind people about the Creator, goodness, and the existence of truth. What little I knew about Muslims and Islam was colored by the Christian-Judaic doctrine in which I’d been raised. I was taught that Muslims did not believe in Jesus (peace be upon him), that they were ignorant heathens who deserved to be usurped from the land of Palestine. How ignorant I was!
They listened to me patiently, and then I too listened to them. They did not try to explain any complicated issues, they just read to me from the Qur’an. First they read in Arabic, then in English. It was the chapter of Maryam (Mary). I listened in silence. The sound was so tranquil – something independent from the reader, something that contained the ability to touch hearts, remove the obstacles we place in front of ourselves, and redirect us towards light, guidance, and that constantly elusive element of life called happiness. I cried. I could not find words to explain my tears and all I could say was, “It’s beautiful.”
The beautiful sound of the Arabic recitation and then t he plain and direct language of the English translation struck a chord within me. The beautiful story of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) and his miracle birth to the virgin Mary was a marvel of simplicity. God, or as I learned to call Him, Allah, had sent Prophets and Messengers since the beginning of time - Prophet Adam (peace be upon him), Prophet Abraham, Prophet Moses, Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them all) and many others. They all came with God’s message: to eschew all worship except the worship of the One True God and to submit to His Will. Such is the meaning of Islam. A Muslim is one who bows to the Will of Allah refusing the worship of anyone or anything else while seeking to establish piety on earth.
The simple story of Jesus (peace be upon him) and his pious mother. The fact that he (peace be upon him) was a special and wondrous creation; that Allah, the Almighty said “Be” and it was. A miracle birth! No need for an intermediary!
One God! One truth! One way of life! One path! I was home!
I learned that prayer is strictly between the individual and God, and that each person is held responsible for the actions they have sent forward. No one can bear the sins of another, not even a parent, child, or friend. Thus Jesus (peace be upon him), is loved and revered as a Prophet and Messenger of Allah; for his righteousness and closeness to Allah. I learnt that Muslims believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) will come again to the earth and that all the confusion about his origin and role will be wiped away.
Each and every human being on this earth, will be held accountable before Allah, the Almighty on the Day of Judgment; it is up to us to obey or disobey our Creator. A famous saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was that, if we turn to Allah He will turn to us. If we approach Allah by a hand’s span, He approaches us by an arm’s length, and if we go towards Him walking, He rushes towards us.
I knew deep within myself that I had reached the place of light that I had sought for so many years. I was twenty-two years old. I had been a missionary since I was seventeen. In my heart, I left the church the moment I heard the Qur’an. But I decided to go to the church one more time to publicly announce in the monthly “testimony meeting” the following Sunday that my life had taken a new direction and I wouldn’t be seeing them again, but that I was glad to have known them and wished them all well.
I knew deep within myself that I had reached the place of light that I had sought for so many years…
My leaving the church caused something of an uproar in my family and community. Deep down I knew I was alone in life. Family and friends could come close to us but no one really knows us or can help us except Allah. Indeed, we are born alone, will die alone and will stand for judgment alone. I had always felt alone. I was right.
The loud and often hostile reaction of people is easy to confront when one remains in a state of reliance upon Allah, the Almighty. I considered myself a Muslim but had a long way to go, much to change and much to understand. I felt like a young child who had just taken her first steps. I knew with conviction that Allah was the One to whom I’d always prayed but it wasn’t until that time that I knew His name and reality. I spent the next five years rediscovering my life.
As I read the Qur’an in English, I knew that all the things I had ever thought or felt were contained in a book that existed before this world came into being.
How deeply grateful I am that Allah has guided me to Islam, despite the propaganda and hype that abounds this world concerning it. Indeed, Allah, the Almighty, will never allow His message to stop, and He will rescue those who have fallen prey to this life if only they turn to Him with sincerity.
What Hands May Do
Spirals of day and night
Coiling upon each other
In rays of light
Moonbeams cheer a weary world
Hiding the ugliness of man's hands
Which the sun will soon disclose
The mind of man stretches o'er
Time and space
Encompassing past glories and present hopes
Hands clothed in wonder
Snatch sand from the ground
Which runs like water through fingers
That entreat the Power on High
To send forth rain
Clouds drifting on high
Driven like slaves
Shield us from the sun's harsh rays
Giving life to a parched earth
Those same hands assault goodness with evil
Relishing in the power and strength
Provided by the rain
Stretching and snatching all within
Grasping for more until the grave
Swallows their desire
Only then do hands lie still
That once pleaded
Then ignored the One Who gave
That once misused power
Forgetting from where it comes
Day and night turn on each other
Unmindful of where and when we fall
Light and dark continues
'Til the day we see what
Our hands have sent before
*This story is based upon excerpts from “The Miracles of My Life” by Selma A. Cook. It has been reproduced with the permission and assistance of the author.