University Professor of Comparative Religion Shares his Islam Story

Also at that time, I suppose this might be one of the earliest exposures to Islam that I can remember, my best friend at that time was from Pakistan. I went to an international school so I had friends from all over the world. My Pakistani friend gave me a copy of the Quran and he wanted me to read it. He said “I don’t want you to go to Hell”. Of course at this period of my life thoughts of hell were not really in my consciousness. I think I took the book and put it on my shelf and there it stayed for many years without being opened.

A couple of years later I think I became quite disillusioned about communism as I learned more about the way that communism is actually practiced in many countries of the world and so I gave up the philosophy as well. It really wasn’t until I entered university that I began to ask the questions that will lead me directly onto this path. I think as a child I was always thoughtful and I always wondered about the meaning of life.

Those basic questions about why we are here, where we are going and why we suffer, all of these things were always present in my mind even when I was a child. But as I got older and when I went to university, I focused a lot more on my studies until I had a particular experience.

Remember the grandmother that I mentioned before? In university, I was living in Washington DC and I got a phone call from my cousin who was going to school in Maryland and there was a surprise visit from my grandmother, my aunt and another cousin and they took me out for dinner.

I spent the evening basically just talking to my grandmother. I told her about my plans to start studying Chinese which I was doing at that time. I told her about my plans to move back to New York and my transfer to Columbia University. It was as if she was giving me her blessing on all of these various decisions that I was making in my life as a young adult.