I had been reading the Quran in bits and pieces for nearly an entire year at that time, as research for what I imagined would be a groundbreaking study of religions alongside Political philosophies. I had intended to prove all religions were mere fabrications, but the Quran eventually dominated my reading and I found an affinity for it I didn’t expect. But until that time, in a faraway land steeped in strife, I had not yet heard the Quran recited.
When the 20-day curfew was finally lifted from that ancient city, enabling the people to come out of their homes for food, activity filled the previously deserted streets. I heard a beautiful sound. A sound that, to me, was symbolic of the life now thriving where there had previously been desolation. I told a journalist I was walking with, “Ah, It’s so good to hear music!”. She laughed at me and shook her head, “That’s not music. That’s the Quran!”. Her statement stopped me in my tracks. When the Quran I had been reading, connected with the sound of its recitation for the first time, a new burning desire was ignited inside me. That recitation, coupled with my experience living with Muslims in the weeks I spent there, resulted in an insatiable thirst to know more about Islam.
As the days went by while I was living with Muslims in their homes, my respect and awe for their tolerance, kindness and fortitude grew. In a building occupied by military personnel, causing most of the tenants to gather in the first floor apartment – I sat with these smiling ladies and one of them said to me, “You are so nice. You should be Muslim like us.” It was a statement I would have normally scoffed at and repelled, but when she said it, I felt flattered.
When I returned home to New York, I was thirsty like someone who had been wandering a desert for 22 years. The only thing that would satisfy my thirst was more knowledge about Islam. I had to know more. The library became my oasis and I read and read and read. I drank in every bit of information I could about Islam. I read books by Muslims and non-Muslims. For months, I studied and I pondered and I deliberated within myself.
Finally, one evening in the library with a pile of open books in front of me, I stared in disbelief at the words on the pages. There is nothing worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is His messenger.
This can’t be happening. I couldn’t possibly believe that. I couldn’t possibly be certain. The library had to close its doors. I mechanically made my way out through the campus and onto the sidewalk. The streets of Brooklyn glisten in the warm artificial light of the street lamps.
My shock culminated in elation. It was true. I gratefully surrendered to the Owner of the heavens and the Earth, under the streetlamp on a balmy autumn night. It was as if the trees and lights glistened and danced in happiness with me as I continued the rest of the way to my apartment. To my new life.