How I Came to Islam: The Amazing Story of Dr. Laurence Brown
A graduate from two Ivy League universities with specialty training in ophthalmology, Dr. Brown served as a respected ophthalmologist in the U.S. Air Force for a period of eight years.
Up until his conversion to Islam in April of 1994, Dr. Laurence Brown lived the stereotypical American dream with a wife, two children, and the requisite two cars and a dog. His house was crowded with the full array of comforts and toys which clutter the lives of those preoccupied with materialism. Yet Dr. Brown ended up sacrificing virtually everything when he faced a religious dilemma that changed his lifelong priorities. Following a personal miracle through which the life of his daughter was saved, Dr. Brown redirected his focus to religious study in an attempt to make good on a promise made to God. In the process, Dr. Brown followed the chain of revelation through the Abrahamic religions from Judaism to Christianity and, in the end, to Islam. It is the result of that study that he relates in a series of thought-provoking books he wrote after his conversion to Islam. In the same manner that Dr. Brown’s choice of religion confronted his slice of the American dream, so too do his religious conclusions challenge the Western religious establishment.
Laurence Brown received his B.A. from Cornell University, his MD from Brown University Medical School, and his ophthalmology residency training at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.
Dr Laurence Brown’s Conversion Story in his own words:
Having repeatedly been asked about how I became Muslim, and why, I have decided to tell the story one last time, but this time on paper. However, I feel conversion stories are worthless unless related with the lessons learned, and it is with those lessons that I intend to begin.
No doubt, there is a certain fascination with conversion stories, and for good reason. Frequently they involve dramatic life-altering events, sufficient to shock the convert out of the materialistic world and into the spiritual. Those who experience such life dramas are brought face to face with the bigger issues of life for the first time, forcing them to ask the ‘Purpose of Life’ questions, such as ‘Who made us?’ and ‘Why are we here?’ But there are other common elements to ‘conversion’ stories, and one of them is that the convert is humbled to his or her knees at such moments, and looking back, most relate having prayed with sincerity for the first time in their lives. I have been intrigued by these commonalties, and have noted some significant lessons. The first, I would say, is that most converts who passed through these moments of trial and panic prayed directly to God, without intermediary, and without distraction. For example, even those who spent their lives believing in the Trinity, when faced with catastrophe, instinctively and reflexively prayed directly to God, and never to the other proposed elements of the Trinity.
Let me relate a story as example. A popular television evangelist once had a lady relate her ‘Born Again’ Christian conversion story, which revolved around a terrible boat-wreck, from which she was the sole survivor. This lady related how during her days and nights of survival against the harsh elements of the open ocean God spoke to her, God guided her, God protected her, etc. You get the idea. For maybe five to ten minutes she told her tale, which was indeed dramatic and captivating, but throughout the story she related how God did this, God did that, and seeking His favor, she prayed to God and to God Alone. However, when she was saved by a passing ship, she described how the minute she landed on the ship’s deck she threw her arms open to the heavens and yelled, “Thank you, Jesus.”
Well, there is a lesson there, and it relates to sincerity. When in the panic and stress of circumstance, people instinctively pray to God directly, but when conceiving themselves safe and secure they frequently fall back into previously held beliefs, many (if not most) of which are misdirected. Now, we all know that many Christians equate Jesus with God, and for those who would like to argue the point, I just suggest they read my book on the subject, entitled The First and Final Commandment (Amana Publications). For all others, I would just continue by saying that the real question is ‘Who truly is saved?’ There are countless convert stories, all telling how the God of this or that religion saved the person in question, and all of these converts conceive themselves to be upon the truth by nature of the miracle of their salvation. But as there is only One God, and therefore only one religion of absolute truth, the fact of the matter is that only one group can be right and all others are living in delusion, with their personal miracles having confirmed them upon disbelief rather than upon truth. As Allah teaches in the Holy Qur’an, “Allah leaves astray whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him]” [Quran 13:27] and “So those who believe in Allah and hold fast to Him – He will admit them to mercy from Himself and bounty and guide them to Himself on a straight path.” [Quran 4:175] As for those astray in disbelief, they will be left to stray, as they themselves chose.
But the strength of belief, even when misdirected, is not to be underestimated. So who is going to become Muslim based upon my conversion story? Only one person — me. Muslims may find some encouragement in my story but others may be left empty, just as Muslims sigh and shake their heads in despair when hearing others relate the ‘miracles’ which followed prayers to patron saints, partners in the Trinity, or other distractions from the One True God. For if a person prays to something or someone other than our Creator, who, if not God, might be the one answering those prayers? Could it just possibly be a certain one who has a vested interest in confirming those who are astray upon their particular flavor of disbelief? One whose dedicated purpose is to lead mankind astray?
However a person chooses to answer those questions, these are issues addressed at length in The First and Final Commandment, and those interested can investigate. But for now, I will tell my story.
In the winter of 1990, when my second daughter was born, she was whisked from the birthing room to the neonatal intensive care unit, where she was diagnosed with a coarctation of the aorta. This meaning a critical narrowing in the major vessel from the heart, she was a dusky gunmetal blue from the chest to the toes, for her body simply was not getting enough blood and her tissues were suffocating. When I learned of the diagnosis, I was shattered. Being a doctor, I understood this meant emergency thoracic surgery with a poor chance of long-term survival. A consultant cardio-thoracic surgeon was called from across town at the pediatric hospital in Washington, D.C., and upon his arrival I was asked to leave the intensive care unit, for I had become overly emotional. With no companion but my fears, and no other place of comfort to which to go while awaiting the result of the consultant’s examination, I went to the prayer room in the hospital and fell to my knees. For the first time in my life I prayed with sincerity and commitment. Having spent my life as an atheist, this was the first time that I even partially recognized God. I say partially, for even in this time of panic I was not fully believing, and so prayed a rather skeptical prayer in which I promised God, if, that is, there was a God, that if He would save my daughter then I would seek and follow the religion most pleasing to Him. Ten to fifteen minutes later, when I returned to the Neonatal ICU, I was shocked when the consultant told me that my daughter would be fine. And, true to his assessment, within the next two days her condition resolved without medicine or surgery, and she subsequently grew up a completely normal child.
Now, I know that there is a medical explanation for this. As I said, I am a doctor. So when the consultant explained about a patent ductus arteriosis, low oxygenation and eventual spontaneous resolution, I understood. I just didn’t buy it. More significantly, neither did the Intensivist – the Neonatal ICU specialist who made the diagnosis. To this day I remember seeing him standing, blank-faced and speechless. But in the end, the consultant was right and the condition spontaneously reversed and my daughter, Hannah, left the hospital a normal baby in every respect. And here’s the rub — many who make promises to God in moments of panic find or invent excuses to escape their part of the bargain once the danger is past. As an atheist, it would have been easy to maintain my disbelief in God, assigning my daughter’s recovery to the doctor’s explanation rather than to God. But I couldn’t. We had cardiac ultrasound taken before and after, showing the stricture one day, gone the next, and all I could think of was that God had made good on His part of the deal, and I had to make good on mine. And even if there were an adequate medical explanation, that too was under the control of Almighty God, so by whatever means God chose to effect His decree, He had answered my prayer. Period. I did not then, and I do not now, accept any other explanation.
The next few years I tried to fulfill my side of the bargain, but failed. I studied Judaism and a number of sects of Christianity, but never felt that I had found the truth. Over time I attended a wide variety of Christian churches, spending the longest period of time in Roman Catholic congregation. However, I never embraced Christian faith. I never could, for the simple reason that I could not reconcile the biblical teachings of Jesus with the teachings of the various sects of Christianity. Eventually I just stayed home and read, and during this time I was introduced to the Holy Qur’an and Martin Lings’s biography of the prophet, Muhammad, entitled, Muhammad, His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. During my years of study, I had encountered the Jewish scriptures referencing three prophets to follow Moses. With John the Baptist and Jesus Christ being two, that left one according to the Old Testament, and in the New Testament Jesus Christ himself spoke of a final prophet to follow. Not until I found the Holy Qur’an teaching the oneness of God, as both Moses and Jesus Christ had taught, did I begin to consider Muhammad as the predicted final prophet, and not until I read the biography of Muhammad did I become convinced. And when I did become convinced, suddenly everything made sense. The continuity in the chain of prophethood and revelation, the One-ness of Almighty God, and the completion of revelation in the Holy Qur’an suddenly made perfect sense, and it was then that I became Muslim.
Pretty smart, hunh? No, not at all. For I would err greatly if I believed that I figured it out for myself. One lesson I have learned over the past ten years as a Muslim is that there are a lot of people much more intelligent than I am, but who have not been able to figure out the truth of Islam. It is not a matter of intelligence but of enlightenment, for Allah has revealed that those who disbelieve will remain upon disbelief, even if warned, for in punishment for having denied Allah, Allah in turn has denied them the treasure of His truth. As Allah teaches in the Holy Qur’an, “Indeed, those who disbelieve – it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them – they will not believe. Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil.” [Quran 2:6-7] But, on the other hand, the good news is that “…whoever believes in Allah – He will guide his heart” [Quran 64:11], “Allah chooses for Himself whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back (to Him)” [Quran 42:13], and “And Allah guides whom He wills to a straight path.” [Quran 24:46]
So I thank Allah that He chose to guide me, and I attribute that guidance to one simple formula: recognizing God, praying to God Alone, sincerely promising to seek and follow His religion of truth, and then, once receiving His mercy of guidance, DOING IT.
Trials and Tribulations
Like any sincere convert, going through temptations is inevitable. Similarly Dr. Brown didn’t find a formula of bypassing trials; they just kept coming while he persisted with endurance and steadfastness until God brought easiness. And for sure, “… Allah will grant after hardship, ease.” [Q 65:7] Within a period of one year of his conversion, his ex-wife divorced him, took his children into her custody, took his house, his wealth and of course a certain amount of his happiness. Even after being asked by the court whether Laurence Brown was beating her or mistreating her, the wife admitted that Dr. Laurence was not a wife-beater but she insisted on wanting a divorce. How sad it was for Laurence when the wife was granted a restraining order on him that he can not go 100 yards of her, of their house and of their children. The court made Dr. Brown hire a security officer to protect the children from him! How could she, a catholic cope with a Muslim! Maybe to her, staying with a practicing Muslim husband was a worrisome, life-threatening and shocking experience! They lived together for all that period but after Dr. Brown made the ‘mistake’ of converting to Islam, divorce became an ideal punishment.
Another blow to Dr. Brown was that his parents disinherited him. They at one time wrote a letter to Dr. Laurence Brown saying that they don’t want to see him, hear from him, no phone calls, no nothing. The problems Dr. Brown faced were not confined to his family but kept on following him even at work. After the conversion, he found his job no longer compatible with his faith. At that time, he had been in the American Air force for a period of twelve years. Working as a military major in the US war machine and being Muslim, it troubled his conscience. He had to leave the military. That’s not all. He faced problems at work, as well as problems of prejudice.
His friends whom he used to hang out with deserted him. He was no longer the fun person in their minds. Who will find fun in a guy who would not shake hands with the opposite sex? Someone who doesn’t party anymore, doesn’t drink! Doesn’t even go to places where alcohol is consumed! Not only did he love to take alcohol but he even used to brew his own beer but after the conversion, he gave up all that because he wanted to please God and not his friends or parents. At one time, his parents told Dr. Laurence that they miss his beer. Dr. Brown says that Islamic values such as not shaking hands are completely in line with Jesus way of life. He says that Jesus was a rabbi, an orthodox Jew. “Show me anywhere in the Bible”, Brown challenged, “where Jesus Christ touched a member of the opposite sex outside of his family please. Show me that. It didn’t happen.” He went on to explain that “Orthodox Jews to this day do not touch women outside their family”. According to Dr. Laurence, it is an article of respect not to touch the opposite sex.
Everyone admits that Islam is not an easy religion; you have to go through a lot of hardship. Sacrificing your time to pray five times a day, 365 days a year; Fasting for an entire month every year; mandated to go for pilgrimage in the desert land of Saudi Arabia instead of spending your wealth and time on a once-in-a-lifetime-experience vacation in French Riviera or in Caribbean island. In and of itself, Islam has never been an easy religion and on top of that if you dare to convert, you are most likely going to face more hardships from the rest of humanity. Maybe that is why those who know of the truth of Islam hesitate to convert because of these hardships. “If it were a party everybody would be doing it” says Dr. Brown. As an advice to converts-to-be, Laurence Brown says, “If you become Muslim, expect to be tested”. Despite all these trials, Laurence admits that Allah filled his heart with peace and satisfaction. Probably what gave him strength to go on was his realization of the true meaning of existence as he himself discloses: “… Allah showed me what was really of value, showed me that this world [the material aspects of this life] is nothing compared to living upon the path of truth, living upon the path of the religion of our Creator’s design.”
This might sound funny to others but Laurence Brown says that he doesn’t regret anything, he is happy to have accepted Islam and despite all those difficulties, he does not regret his initial decision of becoming a Muslim. Contemplating on Brown’s hardships because of Islam, one would ask questions like: Why is Islam the most-fought-against religion; why are there hardships and obstacles in the path of Islam; why do people find Islam a difficult religion, then you remember Frank A. Clark’s words: “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere”, and hence it dawns on the thinking person that maybe Islam is that true path which is fought even by Satan.
“I have been Muslim for about fifteen years” says Dr. Laurence, “I can honestly say that I never gave up anything for the pleasure of Allah except that He gave me what was better.” Dr. Brown lost his house in America, but Allah replaced it with a better residence in Madina, the city of the prophet. His wife divorced him but then Allah gave him another wife and as he says “I am happier with my second wife than I ever was with my first wife.” His ex-wife took the children into her custody but then Allah gave him another child with his new wife. His friends in America deserted him but Allah gave him friends from America and abroad. Dr. Brown’s own brother was that kind of brother who was always fighting with him. They were always at each other’s throats, however this brother also converted to Islam and it was after this conversion that they really became true brothers. His parents are now back on good terms with him; Dr. Brown now communicates with his children on phone and every year, they get together on a vacation; and generally his life circumstance improved greatly.
He has been hearing negative statements even worse than the one he narrates here: “Many years ago a Christian bigot described Islam to me as ‘a deviant religion.’” But such parroted slander was the reason for turning Dr. Laurence to be a successful and outstanding author because it made him author his best-selling books God’ed and MisGod’ed. Such books did not only silence the opinionated people but they attracted brain-users to embrace Islam. “We must analyze objectively and embrace the truth, whether it confirms opinions we consider distasteful or conflicts with concepts we hold dear” He writes. To the non-Muslims, Dr. Laurence Brown has the following message for you:
“Anybody out there who perceives the truth of Islam and wants to embrace Islam, do not be afraid for a second. Do not be afraid of what you will lose, do not be afraid of what you will face, do not be afraid of the trials and the hardships. Just pray to Allah to make it easy for you, to give you patience, to give you strength to bear it, not to test you beyond your ability to bear and to bless you with abundance therein. Because I can guarantee you from my experience and from the experiences of other converts I have known that after you become Muslim, Allah will fill you such a sense of internal richness that you will realize that everything that you valued before Islam was for nothing”