University Professor of Comparative Religion Shares his Islam Story
The Rabbi, I remember very clearly, looked at his watch and said “I have to go”. I don’t think he realized how angry that made me. Also, I don’t think he realized that he set me on a course that would lead me to where I am today because I became very interested in those questions.
So at first I thought I would try to answer those questions in respect to my grandmother’s memory. I would try to find a Jewish community where I could answer those questions. I was 18 or 19 years old at that time and the communities I found were not satisfactory to me. I asked the questions which I asked many times as a child and I was told that God is only the god of the Jews! There are only 20 million Jews in the world, and yet there are billions and billions of other people, and God created them also, right?
So I began to study on my own. I began to read The Bible and that summer I was in England where I was there for an internship, and there were some evangelical Christians who sort of approached me and wanted to socialize. Of course they also wanted me to accept their faith. I thought OK, why not try Christianity? I’ve never really thought about it.
In reading The Bible I came to develop a very strong feeling of love and respect for Jesus. But they wanted me to make an extra leap; to accept Jesus as my lord and my savior, and that’s what I couldn’t do. Jesus for me was like a big brother or like a teacher. Jesus for me was a Jew, and I couldn’t accept the claims they were making about him, but as I said I did develop strong feeling of affection towards him. I thought OK I’m not going to find any answers to my questions.
I studied other things on my own. I studied eastern philosophies like Buddhism. I studied western philosophies particularly Greek, Roman and historic philosophy. But nothing really was answering the profound questions that I have. And one day I was back in New York just before I began my new semester, and I was at Times Square which was very different than it is today. There were all sorts of religious preachers there. I always love to talk to people about religion, often as a skeptic.
I remember speaking to one guy who was a Jew for Jesus. He was telling me what he believed and I heard that before and to me it was basically Christianity. He asked me if I agree with him and I said “I’m sorry, I don’t believe in what you believe” and he said “You believe in God, don’t you?” I said “I think I do” and he said “Then pray with me, just pray to God”. He put his hand on my shoulder, closed his eyes and started speaking to the father.