My first seventeen years have been a bit different than the youth experienced by most Americans. I grew up on an extremely rural goat ranch in Western Riverside County, California where my family raises on average 150 to 200 animals for milk, cheese, and meat. My father is a halal butcher (a butcher who slaughters in an Islamic mannered) and supplies to an Islamic Food Mart a few blocks from the Islamic Center in downtown Los Angeles.
My father was raised agnostic or atheist, but he became a believer in One God when he picked up a Bible left on the beach. He once had a number of Muslim friends, but they’ve all moved out of California now. My mother was raised Catholic, so she leans towards Christianity (although she, like my father, disregards the Trinity). I and my siblings were/are home-schooled, and as you may know, most home-school families are Christian. In the last 8 or so years, we have been involved with some home-schooling support groups, thus acquainting me with fundamentalist Christianity. It was an eye-opening experience. Setting aside the blind dogmatism and charismatic wackiness, it was quite a shock to me when I realized that these people, in their prayers, were actually praying to Jesus.
You see, I had always believed that Jesus was, at the very most, the Son of God (since that is what the Bible mistranslates “Servant of God”). As I learned that belief in the Trinity, something I find absolutely ridiculous, is considered by most Christians to be a prerequisite for salvation, I gradually realized I could not be a Christian. In the meantime, I had become obsessed with demonic Heavy Metal music, something the rest of my family (as I now realize, rightfully so) was not happy with. My entire life was focused on expanding my music collection. I eschewed personal cleanliness and let my room reach an unbelievable state of disarray. My relationship with my parents became strained, although only intermittently so. I am sorry even as I write this.
Earlier this year, I began to listen to the apocalyptic ramblings of Christian radio’s “prophecy experts.” Their paranoid espousal of various conspiracy theories, rabid support of Israel and religious Zionism, and fiery preaching about the “Islamic Threat” held for me a strange fascination. Why? Well, I suppose it was simply the need I was feeling to fill that void I had created for myself. In any case, I soon found that the beliefs these evangelists held, such as Original Sin and the Infallibility of “God’s Word”, were not in agreement with my theological ideas (not to mention the Bible) and I began to look for something else to hold onto. The turning point, perhaps, was when I moved in with my grandparents here in Santa Ana, the county seat of Orange, California. My grandmother, a computer whiz, is hooked up to America Online and I have been scooting the information superhighway since January. But when I moved in, with the intent of finding a job (easier said than done), I begin to visit the religion folders on AOL and the Usenet newsgroups, where I found discussions on Islam to be the most intriguing. You see, I discovered that the beliefs and practices of this religion fit my personal theology and intellect as well as basic human logic. Islam presents God not as an anthropomorphic being but as an entity beyond human comprehension, transcendent of man, independent and undivided. Islam has a holy book that is comprehensible to a layman, and there is no papacy or priesthood that is considered infallible in matters of interpretation: All Muslims are free to reflect and interpret the book given a sufficient education. Islam does not believe that all men are doomed to Hell unless they simply accept that God (apparently unable to forgive otherwise) magnanimously allowed Himself to be tortured on a cross to enable Him to forgive all human beings who just believe that He allowed Himself to be tortured on a cross. Islam doesn’t believe in a Chosen Race. And so on…
As I began reading English translations of the Quran, I became more and more convinced of the truth and authenticity of Allah’s teachings contained in those 114 chapters. Having been around Muslims in my formative years, I knew well that they were not the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists that the news media and the televangelists paint them to be. Perhaps this knowledge led me to continue my personal research further than another person would have. I can’t say when I actually decided that Islam was for me. It was really a natural progression. In any case, last week (November 1995 – ed) I went to the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove and told the brother in charge of the library I wanted to be a Muslim. He gave me some excellent reading material, and last Friday I took Shahada in front of a packed masjid.
I have spent this week learning to perform Salat and reflecting on the greatness of Allah. It feels great to be a Muslim! Subhaana rabbiyal ‘azeem! (Glory to my Great God).