Journey to Islam

21-05-2019 18:05

MY JOURNEY TO ISLAM

SR. NOUR 

Bismillahir-Rahmaanir-Raheem. Al-Hamdulillah Rabbil-’Alameen.  Subhanah Allaahi Rabbil-’Arshil-Adheem.  In the Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate. All praises are for Allah The Lord of the Worlds. The Glory is for Allah, the Lord of The Magnificent Throne.  May the peace, mercy and blessing of Allah be upon His last messenger and Prophet Muhammad.

I am about to share with you all, God-willing, the story of my journey to Islam, the natural state of surrender to one’s creator, the final, complete and preserved message from the Creator to His most favored creation.  It will be, God-willing, a personal story of the journey of one mind and one heart in the search for meaning, truth, clarity, cohesion, structure and good amongst the chaos, confusion, fragmentation, and injustice that prevailed in the surrounding environment.  The world that existed around me lacked these qualities.

To borrow from another convert to Islam, it was ultimately a home-coming of my heart.

I spent my early formative years in India in a single parent, Sikh household. My mother is a tough, stern and strong woman but also deeply loving and spiritual in her own way, who endured many, many hardships to ensure a good upbringing and education for my sister and me. Life was very difficult. There was no personal and financial security. India is a highly patriarchal society where women don’t have a lot of value. Being in a “single” mother household made me feel always unsafe and like we were under threat. Even though I was very naïve about the relationships between men and women, I knew from very young that we had to be afraid of men and of being “violated” somehow. Being out at night, was a very real and present danger. I always felt afraid for my mother and living in their anxious state was very unhealthy for my growing mind.  I learned to worry as a way of being. Then there was our financial situation which was tenuous at best. We lived a very basic existence. Most of the time, we did have just enough to eat. Lack of money was a constant source of misery. She would often cry uncontrollably and I would feel completely helpless. I tried my best to be a good child who wouldn’t add to her troubles. I learned to take her worry and problems on to myself as if to lighten her burden. I tried to work hard to please her whether at school or at home.  All of this turned me into a serious person as though my childhood had sneakily slipped past me while I was busy thinking and worrying.

The environment around me was stern, and imposing in a mental, emotional and physical way. I was sent to an expensive prestigious Sikh School even though we could just barely afford the food we ate. My mother was not afforded the opportunity to go to school for very long and she was determined that we wouldn’t have the same handicap in the world that she did. So there was a great deal of emphasis placed on learning and education. The school fees were always paid even if we weren’t sure how we were going to pay the rent or have enough food. There were times when would have no money left and rent would be due or we needed food or clothes. We would be praying and hoping and suddenly we would receive a check in the mail from my father. So there was a deep sense of spirituality and faith in God in the house. But my religious training at home, at the temple, and at school led me to believe that religion and God could not be thought about rationally. That reason had no place in these matters. I remember thinking from my child’s mind about the sky and the earth and that if I had been born, and had gotten here somehow, then they must also have gotten here somehow. I remember thinking about how things begin to exist and so how did the world begin to exist. I remember questioning my mother about her pantheistic (that God was everywhere and in everything, including myself) beliefs, but my questions were never answered in a satisfactory manner. I was told to just believe and accept. I was told, and saw others believing, that God was to be ‘attained’ through meditation and mystical experience. Deep inside of myself I held to the belief that God was separate from me, and that I could ‘talk’ to Him, and that He heard me.  If he was a part of me then what was the need to talk to Him or pray to Him.

The society in general was corrupt, chaotic and lacked any structure. The rich and powerful were the most dishonest, deceitful and corrupt.  No one helped the downtrodden, destitute person. I came across the naked ugly face of severe poverty because although we were poor, there were so many who were much much worse off than us. I remember seeing these people sleeping on bricks under bridges with sheets hanging for privacy and it would break my child’s heart. I would see children begging on the streets and children whose limbs had been cut off so they would draw some sympathy from the hardened Indian population because a child begging was such a common sight.  Imagine that there were people that I could feel sorry for! There were no guiding principles for society at large.  It was each man for himself. It seemed the poor had almost no chance of raising their lot or even fulfilling their most basic needs. The lower a person was in class and wealth, the less dignity they were shown. The poor were treated with complete contempt by the higher classes.

What held this society together in retrospect were a common culture and a national propaganda, history and pride. All this was fed through a steady diet of songs and movies. They exploited the emotions of the general population, promoted escapism and discouraged any deep and serious understanding, thinking, and criticism of society, preventing any real social change.

I think it was this absence of reason, structure, absoluteness and purity that made me gravitate in my studies, by the grace of God, towards science and math. I loved the objectivity and purity that existed in them.  It was perhaps my escape or saving grace. Also the fact that there was such an emphasis on education combined with the fact that going to a Sikh religious school taught me that the meaning of the word Sikh is to learn and a Sikh is the one who learns. I internalized these ideas for seeking knowledge and truth and they became the most deeply embedded and dearly held part of me.

When I was 13, my family moved to Canada to join my father. Suddenly, I was in the midst of a more law-abiding, civilized, and structured society. There was no need to constantly worry about our daily needs or feel unsafe all the time. So from this perspective, I felt I could finally breath a little. But the environment at home was still stern and imposing. My parents held tightly to their cultural values and religious beliefs.  I was cajoled, encouraged, threatened, and scared into doing the same.  It wasn’t until I went away to university that I truly felt free to start thinking for my own self. It took me a few years to start adopting western values and thinking. I became freedom loving and secular in my thinking. I truly believed that these values were superior and would lead to a better world. I tried hard to enjoy the lifestyle that my newly adopted ideas of “freedom” and individualism led me to. I wanted embody the carefree and reckless image of youth that was presented as the standard by the media and society. But that’s exactly what I was doing, “trying hard”. It was something that didn’t seem to come naturally to me. I had grown up as a serious person carrying the burdens of life who had lost her childhood and didn’t even know how to “let loose”. Having had to share my mother’s burdens and carry my family’s sorrows and shelter my younger sister from the painful reality of our situation and at times my mother’s harshness and abuse had made the idea of caring for others over oneself and sacrificing for others a integral part of my personality. These concepts weren’t compatible with the ideas of individualism, having the freedom to do what you want, not caring about what anyone thought etc.

Unbeknownst to me, there had begun in me a conflict which was a troubling to me. The more I tried to be carefree and fun-loving, and not serious, the more anxious I would feel. I would try to mask it but I was always aware of it. Other aspects of the my new value system bothered me as well. Although, human beings had greater dignity and value than what I was used to seeing, I began to notice that the society promoted values which were destructive to the human nature, such as an extreme level of individualism and freedom where a person would only care for themselves at the expense of others, exploitation of women, and a lack of respect for parents and elders. I had always held an idea that you can measure the ‘greatness’ of a society by the way it treats its children and elders, the two groups who were dependent on others and too weak to have their own voices and advocate for themselves. By this criterion, my society failed abysmally. And having adopted some of these values myself, I found myself feeling lost and dissatisfied. I was neither here nor there. I did not want to go back to my old beliefs which made no sense and had no basis, but I also didn’t like what I was left with, which was nothing. The good thing was that I was now open to question everything and think about things more deeply and deliberately.

I was studying biology and began to notice the intricate, sophisticated, and beautiful design in creation.  As I took various biology, chemistry and physics courses, the universe opened up for me in a completely new way.  From the magnitude of the universe to its subatomic levels, and everything in between, amazed and astounded me.  Yet at every level it held this sophistication, complexity, cohesion, and harmony. In every branch of science I studied, there were “almost-universes” that existed…. seas and oceans of knowledge… One could spend their lifetime studying just a small part of this reality, yet there could still be more to discover.

And I wondered at how human beings had the ability to understand and attain this knowledge. I started to think, for the first time really, about God in an intellectual sense. I started to become convinced that behind such an intelligent design there had to be a designer.  All things in the universe were made of the same building blocks, yet it was a mystery how life existed and that human beings were these living, intelligent, self-conscious, self-aware, and emotional creatures. And the world seemed to be perfectly designed for our existence. If the water cycle or the oxygen cycle didn’t exist, then humans wouldn’t either. Or if the plants were not able to do photosynthesis, then other larger forms of life, including humans, couldn’t exist either. Everything was so fine-tuned and perfectly balanced, such as the charge of the electrons and protons, the masses of 2 of the subatomic particles, protons and neutrons. Certain forces, such as the nuclear force and the gravitational force, had to be just right for life, and in fact the universe, to exist. When these various probabilities are multiplied, then the probability that the universe came to exist by chance became impossible.

I began searching for other proofs for the existence of a Creator from an intellectual perspective. I studied the Intelligent Design argument, the First Cause argument, the teleological argument, etc. I realized that everything in this world breaks down so that nothing in this world is eternal, including the stars and galaxies, so the universe needed to have been created by something that is eternal; that always existed and that didn’t need to be created. I remembered how as I child I had wondered about how everything ‘had gotten here’ i.e. had come into existence. So I became convinced that there had to be an intelligent entity that was not created, and was eternal, who created life, man, and the universe. But how could I know anything about it? I did not know. This had to be what people called God.

The religious practices of the religion and culture I identified myself with started to make less and less sense to me. There was no thinking in it. It was just about believing. I, on the other hand, couldn’t not think. Religion was more about cultural identification, ritual, and something that made you feel good, rather than about truth. God, in this context, was someone you turned to when you wanted something. I saw religious people as hypocrites, who only wanted to control gullible people who didn’t think or were weak minded. So now I started to internally reject these practices and values. I avoided anything religious, although not always consciously, because I believed that so much of my identity was still tied to the Sikh religion and culture. I dabbled in Western and European philosophies and systems of society. I subscribed to various ones for brief periods of time, but they never held my interest for long because I was looking for some sort of system that put everything in perspective. I believed that there had to be a theory or system that presented a unified and cohesive view of the whole universe, life, and man and how man, as a living conscious being, should exist in this universe. But whatever philosophy, new age idea, or therapy I adopted, in the end, it always seemed to contain some erroneous view of human nature. They each seemed to hold for me small bits of truth. The world of science and math showed such beauty and structure, but the affairs of men were still a mystery to me. How were we supposed to live our lives? How could it be that, from such an extraordinary universe, we came into being from “I didn’t know where”, existed for a brief period of time, and then perished to go “I didn’t know where”? What were we supposed to do here? There had to be purpose. What? I didn’t know.  Where were we going to end up, if anywhere? I didn’t know.

I started to think that my purpose in this life was to grow and improve.  I thought each person had a goal they had to fulfill. Since I had a restrictive, imposing, and slightly suffocating sort of upbringing as a child, I decided that I needed to expand in a psychological, emotional, mental, and spiritual way. I thought that my upbringing and difficult life was the reason that I didn’t know how to “let loose” and “be free”, and thought that there was something severely wrong with me. I felt a very almost tangible emptiness inside, as though I was floating in life with no connection to anything real. This emptiness, this void inside me felt so deep like it was bottomless. I felt a pain in my core which was so difficult to bear. I would go for drives and cry uncontrollably to myself. I had tried to be like everyone else carefree, party-going and fun-loving but I felt so different, alone and empty even when I was surrounded by people who were “having the time of their life”. Drugs helped me connect and forget my void but it returned as soon as they wore off. I knew they weren’t the answer. There had to be some deeper meaning and connection in life. I still cannot describe that pain it was so palpable. (I will talk more about how this changed later God-willing.) So I attended different forms of therapy; from cognitive to body-centered.  I learned from these to become more self-aware, to open up more, and to analyze myself and my ideas from an objective viewpoint.  An interesting thing happened once during the therapy session. I was lying down and my therapist asked me to go back to my childhood and call to someone who could help me and who I could turn to. Without a second thought, I called out to God. I wondered about this later and was surprised I didn’t call out to my dad who wasn’t there or other family members. It’s like I knew that he was also just helpless and we all were. I spent thousands of dollars in therapy. I just had to attain that actualized self. To be what I was here to be. To discover it. But ultimately, I still felt unsatisfied.

I was missing something in my understanding. How was it that such an intelligent design existed in the universe and an intelligent designer created all this, but we as human beings were so flawed, incomplete and lost? There was so much corruption, injustice, and misery in the world. The West which had seemed so perfect to me, I learned was built on the slavery and blood and stolen resources of the “third world countries”.  This system of corruption and oppression was set and maintained through the relationships and international bodies and institutions that existed globally. Oh what confusion and disillusionment! What did God want from us? Why did not God reveal himself to us? I transferred my own belief of growth, self-awareness, and self-actualization onto humanity, and comforted myself with the thought that most probably, human beings were going to one day come upon a system of life that was going to be based on some unifying principles of creation which will be discovered by the convergence of the different branches of knowledge such as science, math, astronomy and psychology etc.

Then in the spring of 2002, I had a surgery that went horribly bad. I started to get sick. I didn’t worry much in the beginning. Everything always turned out alright, so this would too.  But that didn’t happen. I kept getting sicker to the point of utter despair. I could barely think straight, was tired, and in severe pain all the time. I thought that I was going to die! And if I wasn’t going to die, then, with all the pain that I was suffering, I preferred and hoped that I would.  I begged my father to shoot me in the head. What was even more desperate was the feeling of complete helplessness at the state of my affairs. The illusion that I was in control shattered, and I started to become acutely aware of the fact that a higher power; the Creator, God, or whatever He was called, was in fact, the one in control. If God also controlled the affairs of people, then how could He allow this to happen to me? What could be the purpose in this suffering, in any suffering? What was the point of this? What was the point of anything? Why create such an extraordinary universe replete with such beauty, intelligence, precision, complex and sophisticated design, also, such goodness, greatness, and wisdom, and then allow for such pain, suffering, evil, and confusion… not just mine, but all over the earth. In my heart and mind… utter darkness and hopelessness.

It was the period right after the war on Afghanistan and the Iraq War period, where innocent people were being bombed and “shocked and awe-ed” from the sky into the dark ages by a much more powerful nation, without any just cause. My despair for the fate of man converged with my despair for myself. There was no hope for me… no hope for mankind. How could such an intelligent designer create such a world that worked so perfectly, in which He established rules that never changed, thus allowing life to exist and human beings to create civilizations, yet he then placed us human beings in this world. We had a consciousness, and a mind, and our own will, so that we could do whatever we wanted. Such a perfect structure and unchanging rules for the physical world, but when it came to human beings, there were no structures, system or rules. They could do whatever they wanted. They could create misery orgood. And sometimes, even when we tried to do good, the results turned out to be horrible! Why leave us without rules and clarity, and in such utter confusion? What did he want from us? What was the point of all this?

I prayed, and talked, (pleaded actually), to God, the one in charge, the Creator, because I was already convinced of His existence, and also, because something in me just naturally made me turn to Him. I think, sincerely perhaps, for the first time, I said something to the effect of, “O God, if you are real, and I am sure you are, then help me, and show me the way; the purpose of this life, and the truth about it”.

A few days after that request, I was watching a show on a Canadian national music channel on T.V. They were showing the story of a man who had converted to Islam, (Yusuf Islam; Cat Stevens). Before this, I had never thought that I was going to find my answer in ‘religion’. I was biased against the idea of religion. It was something that I had worked hard to leave behind because to me, it meant irrationality, blind faith, and hypocrisy. I can’t remember what about his story appealed to me, but just that he displayed purity, sincerity, truthfulness, humility, and wisdom, which were not commonplace. He talked about those higher values and ideals…life and the meaning of life. According to him, it was Islam that brought out in him these noble qualities. He seemed to have a sense of peace and an understanding about life that showed as tranquility on his face. I decided that I had to find out more about this.  I started to search for information on Islam on the internet.  What did the Muslims believe about God? This was foremost on my mind.  Well, everything that I read about God and the concept of tawheed was completely acceptable to me. They said that there was only one God, and that He was imbued with Absolute Power and He was the One Who created the whole world, life, and man. I already believed this. It was nothing new. What was new was the emphasis that was placed on it.  La Ilaaha Illah Allah. There is no God but God. I started to wonder why it needed to be stated so emphatically. As I learned more and more about how Muslims conducted their lives, I realized that this was the idea; the core belief, which was central to Islam, from which they derived all of their concepts, ideas, thoughts, emotions, and actions. I was extremely impressed by the dedication and seriousness they had for this concept of one God. I agreed that, since the Creator created us, gave us life, and created everything around us, for us, then He did deserve complete dedication, gratitude, and devotion.

I studied that Qur’an to see what it had to say about God, and what sort of advice and wisdom it offered to man. What I noticed first was that the Qur’an addressed the nature of man so directly.  It seemed to understand him so much better and at such a greater depth than the various psychological models I had explored.  It was the encumbered, naked truth of His nature, seen from a much greater perspective than I had ever seen before. I wondered about the concept of the Hereafter. The Qur’an said that there had to be a final reckoning, where true and complete justice would be dealt out. This was very different from the idea of the Hereafter in Sikhism, but it made so much sense to me and to my complete surprise brought me a lot of peace at an intellectual level. So many times, I had seen wrongs being done to innocent people in life without any reparations, and I had always felt deeply troubled by the unfairness of this.

The Qur’an was for me, at first, an amazing book that called on the reader to think, to ponder, to reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth. It was an engaging text, and never made for passive reading.

{Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the great ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people, and what Allah has sent down from the heaven of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every kind of moving creature, and His directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and earth are signs for a people who use reason.}   [The Qur’an 2:164]

I found that the Qur’an repeatedly asks the reader to use rational thinking and not just follow blindly. I was amazed at how many of the verses of the Qur’an ask man to reflect, to think, and then follow the truth. I realized that the idea of belief in Islam was something that wasn’t based on mysticism or emotional attachment, but on reason. Here are some verses which call on man to think, ponder, reflect, use his intellect, etc. (there are way too many to mention all of them).

{Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an, or are there locks upon their hearts?}[The Qur’an 47:24]

 {Do they not contemplate within themselves? Allah has not created the heavens and the earth, and what is between them, except in truth and for a specified term.  And indeed, many of the people, in the matter of meeting with their Lord, are disbelievers.} [The Qur’an 30:8]

{Indeed in that is a reminder for whoever has a heart or who listens while he is present in mind.}[The Qur’an 50:37]

 {This is a blessed Book which We have revealed to you, (O Muhammad), that they might reflect upon its verses and that those of understanding would be reminded.} [The Qur’an 38:29]

{Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, are signs for those of understanding} [The Qur’an 3:190-191]

{Then is He who creates like one who does not create? So will you not be reminded? And if you should count the favors of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.} [The Qur’an 16:17-18]

{And He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth – all from Him. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.[The Qur’an 45:13]

{There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding. Never was it, (the Qur’an) a narration invented, but a confirmation of what was before it, and a detailed explanation of all things, and guidance and mercy for a people who believe.} [The Qur’an 12:111]

{And man says, “When I have died, am I going to be brought forth alive? Does man not remember that We created him before, while he was nothing?} [The Qur’an 19:66-67]

{And He has subjected for you the night and day, and the sun and moon, and the stars are subjected by His command.  Indeed in that are signs for a people who reason.}  [The Qur’an 16:12]

As I was reading the Qur’an, impressed as I was by its beauty and wisdom, but because I had found some wisdom and beauty in other places, I thought that as with other things before, I would take the good that I found in it and integrate it in my life, and my thoughts, and ideas, and then move on. In my readings on Islam I came across the claim that the Quran was the final, complete, unchanged, preserved, and directly revealed word of God. My idea of religious books based on the Sikh tradition was that they were devotional hymns and thoughts of pious and righteous men which were “inspired” by God because of their pious, righteous and ascetic lifestyle. But a revealed, unchanged and exact word of God was an idea which was completely new to me.

Then I came upon something in the Qur’an that made me stop in my tracks. I came upon the verses that challenged man to produce something like the Qur’an, or produce 10 chapters like it or to produce even 1 chapter.

{Say, “If mankind and the jinn gathered in order to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they were to each other assistants.”}  [The Qur’an 17:88]

{Or do they say, “He has made it up?” Rather, they do not believe.} [The Qur’an 52:33-34]

{Or do they say, “He invented it”? Say, “Then bring ten surahs like it that have been invented and call upon (for assistance) whomever you can besides Allah, if you should be truthful.”}  [The Qur’an 11:13]

{And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down (i.e.: the Qur’an), upon Our Servant (i.e.: Prophet Muhammad), then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses (i.e.: supporters) other than Allah, if you should be truthful.}  [The Qur’an 2:23]

{And it was not (possible) for this Qur’an to be produced by other than Allah, but (it is) a confirmation of what was before it, and a detailed explanation of the (former) Scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds.} [The Qur’an 10:37-38]

The author of the Qur’an had attached a condition to its validity. I was taken aback by the boldness of this challenge and how it was repeated, undauntedly. I thought, ‘Well, this is a beautiful book with wisdom and goodness but whoever has written this has definitely shot themselves in the foot because this is something that can obviously be proven wrong.’ I thought, ‘Now I have to find out if this is true or if this challenge was met. If this is not true and this challenge was met then I’ll take what good I found in it and move on. If on the other hand this was true and this challenge could not be met, then I will follow this message wholeheartedly and completely because in this case it had to be exactly what it said it was, which was the revealed, and preserved word from the Creator of the universe.’ The idea of truth as a singular reality became clearer to me. Secularism had taught me the truth was relative, that there were many truths and that everyone had their own truth. Yet the reality was that outside of personal emotions and likes etc., something was either an objective verifiable reality or it wasn’t. The Qur’an was either from the Creator or it wasn’t. It couldn’t be both. It had to be one. The answer carried so much weight since the consequence of each option was an entirely different world and paradigm. The consequences were heavy if the Creator did send the Qu’ran. If the Creator of the universe had sent me a message then everything in it had to be correct and true. And whatever He had commanded in it had to be followed and whatever he had forbidden had to be avoided. And whatever consequences, promises, rewards, and punishments were promised in it were true and were going to happen.

And the consequences were not trivial either. Each choice led to realities which were diametrically opposed and profound significant results. Thinking deeply about the message and its truthfulness and then submitting to it with sincerity and dedication meant an eternal life of pleasure and goodness.

“And whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it as he ought to strive and he is a believer; (as for) these, their striving shall surely be accepted.” [17:19]

Description of Paradise in the Qur’an

“The description of Paradise, which the righteous are promised, wherein are rivers of water unaltered, rivers of milk the taste of which never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink, and rivers of purified honey, in which they will have from all [kinds of] fruits and forgiveness from their Lord” [The Qur’an 47:15]

“And will reward them for what they patiently endured [with] a garden [in Paradise] and silk [garments]. [They will be] reclining therein on adorned couches. They will not see therein any [burning] sun or [freezing] cold. And near above them are its shades, and its [fruit] to be picked will be lowered in compliance. And there will be circulated among them vessels of silver and cups having been [created] clear [as glass], Clear glasses [made] from silver of which they have determined the measure. And they will be given to drink a cup [of wine] whose mixture is of ginger [From] a fountain within Paradise named Salsabeel. There will circulate among them young boys made eternal. When you see them, you would think them [as beautiful as] scattered pearls. And when you look there [in Paradise], you will see pleasure and great dominion. Upon the inhabitants will be green garments of fine silk and brocade. And they will be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord will give them a purifying drink. [And it will be said], “Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated.” [The Qur’an 76:12-21]

And the forerunners, the forerunners –

Those are the ones brought near [to Allah ]

In the Gardens of Pleasure,

A [large] company of the former peoples

And a few of the later peoples,

On thrones woven [with ornament],

Reclining on them, facing each other.

There will circulate among them young boys made eternal

With vessels, pitchers and a cup [of wine] from a flowing spring –

No headache will they have therefrom, nor will they be intoxicated –

And fruit of what they select

And the meat of fowl, from whatever they desire.

And [for them are] fair women with large, [beautiful] eyes,

The likenesses of pearls well-protected,

As reward for what they used to do.

They will not hear therein ill speech or commission of sin –

Only a saying: “Peace, peace.”

The companions of the right – what are the companions of the right?

[They will be] among lote trees with thorns removed

And [banana] trees layered [with fruit]

And shade extended

And water poured out

And fruit, abundant [and varied],

Neither limited [to season] nor forbidden,

And [upon] beds raised high.

Indeed, We have produced the women of Paradise in a [new] creation

And made them virgins,

Devoted [to their husbands] and of equal age [The Qur’an 56:10-37]

Not pondering it sincerely and rejecting it meant a life of eternal punishment, torture and pain in a fire more horrifying than any in this world.

And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah , if you should be truthful. But if you do not – and you will never be able to – then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. [The Qur’an 2:23-24]

And some among them believed in it, and some among them were averse to it. And sufficient is Hell as a blaze. [The Qur’an 4:55]

Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses – We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise. [The Qur’an 4:55-56]

But those who disbelieved will have cut out for them garments of fire. Poured upon their heads will be scalding water. By which is melted that within their bellies and [their] skins. And for [striking] them are maces of iron. Every time they want to get out of Hellfire from anguish, they will be returned to it, and [it will be said], “Taste the punishment of the Burning Fire!” [The Qur’an 22:19-22]

Before him is Hell, and he will be given a drink of purulent water. He will gulp it but will hardly [be able to] swallow it. And death will come to him from everywhere, but he is not to die. And before him is a massive punishment. [The Qur’an 14:16-17]

Indeed, the tree of zaqqum  Is food for the sinful. Like murky oil, it boils within bellies Like the boiling of scalding water. [It will be commanded], “Seize him and drag him into the midst of the Hellfire, Then pour over his head from the torment of scalding water.” [It will be said], “Taste! Indeed, you are the honored, the noble! Indeed, this is what you used to dispute.” [The Qur’an 44:43-50]

Those who followed will say, “If only we had another turn [at worldly life] so we could disassociate ourselves from them as they have disassociated themselves from us.” Thus will Allah show them their deeds as regrets upon them. And they are never to emerge from the Fire. [The Qur’an 2:167]

Indeed, those who disbelieve – if they should have all that is in the earth and the like of it with it by which to ransom themselves from the punishment of the Day of Resurrection, it will not be accepted from them, and for them is a painful punishment. They will wish to get out of the Fire, but never are they to emerge therefrom, and for them is an enduring punishment. [The Qur’an 5:36-37]

It was as though the Qur’an was having a dialogue with me, and it was cornering me into answering these questions. It was never vague about things. I felt that I was constantly needing to define my ideas, as it left no room for ambiguity. Even though I was reading the translation of the meaning of the Qur’an in English, I felt the powerfulness of its message. It speaks to the reader so directly that it seemed to bore right into my heart, mind, and soul; into those corners where I had never even looked.

So, I set about trying to find out which scenario was true. I learned that the Qur’an is understood in the context of the life of the messenger, Muhammad, (peace be upon him), to whom it was revealed. So I read the biography of Muhammad’s life. I learned that when Muhammad came with the revelation to his people, who were pagans, it was antithetical to their beliefs and threatened their traditions and way of life. They rejected his message and eventually they even fought Muhammad and his companions on the battlefield. I realized that they were never able to successfully answer the challenge of the Qur’an. And they were at the height of the mastery of the Arabic language! Yet they couldn’t reply to the challenge. Instead, they spent their wealth and lives in fighting the message of Islam. Why? Why would they do this if they could just answer the challenge of the Qur’an and produce something similar to the Qur’an, or even 10 chapters, or at least 1 chapter like it? They didn’t do it because they couldn’t do it! Muhammad and his message threatened their way of life and they hated him and his message. The Qur’an gave them a simple way to refute and nullify its validity, and yet they never took up the challenge to reply to it successfully. The answer became clear to me. This book was from none other than the Creator of the planets, the stars, the whole universe, the earth, and the life that lived on it. It was from the Creator of man.  It was from the one who created me!

{We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth.  But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness?} [The Qur’an 41:53]

Wow!!!! What a realization!!! A huge, dark, and heavy veil seemed to lift from my eyes, from my mind, from my heart, and from my understanding. Our Creator, my Creator had not left us in the dark. He had sent us a clear message and guidance. Life had meaning. Life had a purpose. My search for God and truth was over. I didn’t even know it myself, but this was the message that I had been searching for. The God I had wondered about all of my life had actually sent us His message and His mercy. We had His actual message, His words! Even through such severe horrible pain….such joy! I felt like climbing on rooftops and proclaiming it to the world so that it would help and save everyone!!! (I later learnt that this was not going to be so easy and unfortunately people don’t always want to hear the truth.)

{And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.} [The Qur’an 51:56]

So this was the purpose of life. Everything started to make sense. This life was a test. And we had to live according to the rules that the Creator, Allah, had made for us. Obedience and sincerity would result in eternal pleasure and happiness. What a great reward! Eternal reward in return for a short and finite life! And on the other hand, rejection of His message would deservedly result in eternal punishment.

I began to practice Islam with the joy of truth in my heart, but also a heaviness about the seriousness of this life because it also meant that everything we believe and do leads to serious consequences. My mother began to notice changes in me. I used to read the Qur’an in the bathroom so no one would notice (may Allah, Subhana Wa Ta’ala, (Glorified and Exalted be He) forgive me), but now I couldn’t hide my new ideas about life. In fact, I wanted her to follow this way because it is the truth about life. I began to speak to her about the idea of truth and some of the concepts from Islam. She liked and agreed with a lot of it. Initially, I didn’t tell her it was from Islam.  But slowly, I began to tell her more. She would tell me that it’s okay to take some ideas. But then she noticed me change more and more and then asked me directly if I had become Muslim. I said yes, and she completely lost it! She was hurt and felt betrayed. I was hurt due to my deep love for her and strong bond with her. She had been through and had sacrificed a lot for me and my sister. I could hardly bear to see her heartbroken and in pain. My father stopped speaking to me, and wouldn’t even look at me except with the look of disgust on his face.

Yet, the truth was clear to me and I would not abandon it for anything in the world. What sort of person would I be if I chose anything else over the truth, no matter how dear that thing was to me. And now that I knew the consequences of leaving the truth, there was no leaving it. She would talk to me, argue, and cry. She threatened to kill herself. I would be screamed at, emotionally blackmailed, and threatened. I would be ambushed with other family members. They used all sorts of arguments from ‘loyalty to your people’ to ‘the status of women in Islam’ to ‘taking good from everywhere and not limiting yourself to one thing’. None of them held any water when I thought about them. I was only concerned with following the truth, and if they had shown me that what I was following was not the truth then I would have left it, but their arguments were just weak. As for loyalty, it only deserved to be given to the truth and the Creator. As for the status of women in Islam, I thought Islam gave women the noblest of positions.  And because it was from the Creator, it aligned perfectly with the nature of men and women. As for taking good from everywhere and not limiting yourself to one thing, once it was clear to me that the message was from the Creator, and uncorrupted, then it had to be followed completely and exclusively. This is because He had said that we would be accounted for all of it.

I found other signs in the Qur’an which told of the creation of man and the universe, things which have only become known to man after years of scientific study and thought;

{Have those how disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe?} [The Qur’an 21:30]

{Then He Istawâ (rose over) towards the heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth: “Come (into being), willingly or by compulsion.” They said: “We have come willingly.”} [The Qur’an 41:11]

{And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are (its) expander.} [The Qur’an 51: 47]

{Allâh has created every (living) creature from water. And of them are those that move on their bellies, and are them of those that walk on two legs, and of them are those that walk on four. Allâh creates what He wills. Indeed! Allâh is, over all things competent.} [The Qur’an 24:45]

We know now that living beings are made up mostly of water, and that the heavens and the earth were joined together until they were ‘clove asunder’ (The Big Bang) and that the universe is expanding. This could not possibly have been known to the Prophet of Islam at the time of revelation. Of course, I thought, if the Creator was telling us that a message was from Him, He would tell us in it something about how we and our universe were created. The knowledge of which would only be with the Creator. I learned about the process of revelation of the Qur’an. What happened and how it happened had been preserved so well in this one unique instance in history. I was convinced of the origin of the Qur’an, and did not have any doubts whatsoever.

What was the meaning of worship and obedience? I came to understand that since human beings have the free will to make choices, they to come to these choices through their ability to have thoughts, ideas and concepts. All our concepts, thoughts, and attitudes, and ultimately, our choices, are derived from some sort of a belief system. All human beings have an innate belief system and worship something, whether it is clearly defined or not. I looked back at the various things, ideas, systems, people, and models I had inadvertently worshipped in my life because I lacked a clearly defined belief system. Since the human being is finite in his existence and capabilities, he needs guidance from a higher source to define a system for him to live by. Left to his own mind, which is susceptible to bias and influence from his environment, (which is what had happened to me), he is bound to go astray.

{Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him?) [The Qur’an 25:43]

So it has to be a higher source that gives him guidance for life. This higher source has to be the Creator, who is of infinite intelligence, and who has created him and therefore understands what brings him prosperity and happiness and what leads to his misery and destruction. The Creator is also free from any limitations, or biases, or environmental influences that plague the created beings. So He is the best source of guidance for us in this life. It was all finally starting to make sense. The chaos, confusion, misery and injustice that had troubled me all my life was a result of man not following the guidance of His Creator and using his own mind instead.

{Say: Who provides for you from the heaven and the earth? Or Who controls hearing and sigh, and Who brings the living out of the dead, and brings the dead out of the living, and Who arranges (every) matter? They will say: “Allah”,  so say, “Then will you not fear Him?”} [The Qur’an 10: 31]

{For that is Allah, your Lord, the Truth. And what can be beyond truth except error? So how are you averted?}  [The Qur’an 10: 32]

{Thus the word (i.e. decree) of your Lord has come into effect upon those who defiantly disobeyed – that they will not believe.}[The Qur’an 10: 33]

{Say, “Are there none of your ‘partners’ any who begins creation and then repeats it?” Say, “Allah begins creation and then He repeats it, so how are you deluded?”} [The Qur’an 10: 34]

{Say“Are there none of your ‘partners’ any who guides to the truth?” Say, “Allah guides to the truth. So is He Who guides to the truth more worthy to be followed or he who guides not unless he is guided? Then what is wrong with you – how do you judge?”}[The Qur’an 10: 35)

And then the Quran emphasizes the importance of following the clear and definite truth, and warns against following a guess or that which has no proof.

{And most of them follow not but assumption. Indeed, assumption avails not against the truth at all. Indeed, Allah is knowing of what they do.} [The Qur’an 10: 35)

I later learned that the root of the word Iman in Arabic is a-m-n which means: to be calm and quiet in one’s heart; to be protected from fear; trustworthiness and truthfulness. Iman means to accept truthfully, to be convinced, to verify something, to rely upon or have confidence in something. Iman is usually translated in English as faith or belief, and faith in turn signifies acceptance without proof or argument, without reference to reason or thought, knowledge or insight. According to the Quran, Iman is conviction which is based upon reason and knowledge; a conviction that results from full mental acceptance and intellectual satisfaction; the kind of conviction that gives one a feeling of inner contentment and peace. And a Mu’min (believer; also from the same root, a-m-n) is one who accepts truth in such a way that it ensures his own peace and helps him to safeguard the peace and security of the rest of mankind. Allah, Subhana wa Ta’ala has told us in the Quran about those who disbelieve; that they:

{“And they have thereof no knowledge. They follow not accept assumption, and indeed, assumption avails not against the truth at all”} [The Qur’an 53:28]

This was the structure, clarity, cohesion, absolute truth and guidance that I had wondered about and searched for all of my life. This was the context for the survival and prosperity of man. The Qur’an not only gave guidance, direction, and purpose towards nobler values and goals but offered practical solutions to the problems of man. It aimed to guide him in his life and his needs at his various levels of existence; from being an individual to being the part of a family, to being a member of society. It made his obligations, rights, and responsibilities in his various roles and relationships clear. It organized his life in terms of his needs and instincts, and his behavior and social interactions, in a truly graceful, simple, and dignified way.

For example, I had seen how each of the sexes had their own natures which were innate in them, and how men, and even women were trapped by their own desires for each other. The Qur’an offered simple rules and commands such as:

{Tell the believing men to reduce (some) of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is acquainted with what they do.} [The Qur’an 24:30]

{And tell the believing women to reduce (some) of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which (necessarily) appears thereof, and to wrap a portion of their head covers over their chests, and not to expose their adornment (i.e. beauty) except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers, their brother’s sons,  their sister’s sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, (i.e. slaves) or those  male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allâh in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.} [The Qur’an 24:31]

{O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves (part) of their outer garments. That is more suitable, that they would be known and  not abused. And ever is Allâh Forgiving and Merciful.}  [The Qur’an 33:59]

Far from being oppressive to women it gave them their dignified and rightful place in society. I saw within Islam a social system that brought harmony between the sexes. Islam lays down clear rules for relationships between men and women, making clear the rights, responsibilities, and obligations for both.

Islam is a system, a way of life, that I think lifts man out of enslavement to false ideas and notions, and raises him to his true potential for good. It gives meaning and direction to man’s life, and provides the proper context for the events in this life.

I would like to end with the following verses from the Quran which emphasize the difference between guidance and misguidance, and between truth and falsehood:

{And no bearer of burden will bear the burden of another. And if a heavily laden soul calls (another) to (carry some of) its load, nothing of it will be carried, even if he should be a close relative. You can only warn those who fear their Lord unseen and have established prayer. And whoever purifies himself only purifies himself for (the benefit of) his soul. And to Allâh is the (final) destination.} [The Qur’an 35:18]

{Not equal are the blind and the seeing,} [The Qur’an 35:19]

{Nor are the darkness and the light,} [The Qur’an 35:20]

{Nor are the shade and the heat,} [The Qur’an 35:21]

{And not equal are the living and the dead.  Allâh causes to hear whom He wills, but you cannot make hear those in the graves.} [The Qur’an 35:22]

{And is one who was dead and We gave him life and made for him light by which to walk among the people like one who is in darkness, never to emerge therefrom? Thus it is made pleasing to the disbelievers that which were doing.} [The Qur’an 6:122]

I went through so many different things, ideas, outlooks on my way to Islam. I often wonder how it is that I ended up on the truth. The only answer I can come up is that there was an invisible hand guiding me and although I was so lost Allah out of His Great Mercy brought to the right path. I am reminded of the story of one of the companions of my beloved Prophet Salman Farsi (His story can be found here and here.) It is a beautiful story of a man who went through many different paths to find the truth, the final message from the Creator to His most preferred creation, man. I am reminded when I think of his story and my own journey (although I cannot come anywhere close to such a great companion) that the sincere seeker of truth will not be misguided and that Allah is with us at times when we might not even realize it. There are two parts in the story that I love. One is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself freed Salman from slavery. This is the story in his own words, “Consequently, my master did agree to free me, but in exchange for the following: ‘Three hundred date trees, as well as one thousand, six hundred silver coins.’ Hence, the Sahaba (may Allah be pleased with them) helped by providing around twenty to thirty date plants each, and a tenth of every man’s land in accordance to how much he owned. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to me, “Dig a hole for each date-plant. When you are finished, let me know so that I can personally fix all the date-plants into place with my own hands.” Thus, with the help of my friends, I dug holes wherever the date-plants were to be put.

Later on, the Prophet (peace be upon him) came. We stood by his side holding the plants as he fixed them into the ground. I swear by The Being Who sent the Prophet (peace be upon him) with the Truth, not a single plant died out (which still exist in Madina near Masjid Quba).

Nevertheless, I still had the silver to pay. A man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) bringing from the mines some gold which was roughly the size of a pigeon’s egg. The Prophet said, “O Salman! Take this and pay off whatever you have to.”

I replied, “O Messenger of Allah! How will this be enough for my debt?”

He said, “Allah will surely make it sufficient for your debt.”

As a result to this statement, I swear By Allah, it outweighed the one thousand, six hundred coins. I not only paid off my dues, but what I had left with me was equivalent to what I had given them.”

The other part of the story that I truly love is that once the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who were in two groups, the Emigrants (those who migrated to Medina) and the Helpers (the original inhabitants of Medina who gave support to the Prophet to establish Islam) were argument with each other about which camp Salman belonged to. Each side was claiming Salman as their own. The Prophet settled the disagreement by saying, “Salman is neither Muhajir nor Ansar. He is one of us. He is one of the People of the House.” This is how Islam and its noble Prophet valued the seeker of truth.

Looking back, I can see that Allah Almighty planned everything so perfectly for me, and made things so easy for me.  All the ease and comfort that He, Subhana wa Ta’ala, has given me is too much to mention here. Suffice to say that He, Subhana wa Ta’ala, has helped me and carried me through circumstances that I know for certain I could never have gotten through myself. He gave me the courage and patience that I never had within myself. I was able to do things that I could never have imagined myself doing in the past. The torturous pain was still there on a daily basis, in every moment of time, but now it had context and meaning. I felt happier and more peaceful in the severely painful state as a Muslim than I did when I was pain-free, “carefree” and ignorant. Life had a purpose. A life without meaning and purpose is hopeless and really not worth living. Now, I can hope for His Mercy in this life and the next.

I can never express enough gratitude to Allah, Subhana Wa Ta’ala, that He guided me and brought me out of the misery, despair, and confusion of the darkness of ignorance, into the mercy, hope, and clarity of the light of the truth. I can never do anything that will equal all of His favors on me. I pray, and beg, and plead to Him that He will give me life and death in the state of service and submission to Him and His Will, and that I will meet Him in a state where He is immensely pleased with me. If I have said anything good or beneficial, then it is from Allah, the Almighty. If I said anything wrong or harmful, then it is from myself, and I ask Allah, the Almighty to forgive me and correct me.

{By Time, indeed, mankind is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds, and advised each other to truth, and advised each other to patience.} [The Qur’an 103:1-3]

If anyone reading this story is thinking about the big questions of life: What is the truth about this life? How did all this get here? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is my purpose in life? Then remember that those are the most important questions to answer. Take the time to seek the truth with sincerity and dedication. Don’t trivialize them just because the society you live in doesn’t value them. Don’t you think that if there is an even remote possibility that there is an afterlife and that there are serious consequences attached to how you answer these questions then any time and effort that you spend is worth it. Value yourself and what will happen to you. Be a sincere seeker of truth and the truth will find you.

If the servant draws near to Me a hand span, I draw near to him an arm’s length; and if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I come to him running. [Narrated by Al-Bukhari]

“Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?” [The Qur’an 3:115]

All translated verses of The Qur’an from The Qur’an by Saheeh International, published by AbulQasim Publishing House, 1997

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