University Professor of Comparative Religion Shares his Islam Story

Well, in January 1990, I was out with some friends from high school. We were having coffee and we were just talking about what’s going on in our lives. They asked me “What do you believe in these days?!” Because they knew me when I was a communist and then when I went through many different phases as a young person and they knew me as someone who didn’t really believe in anything. So they asked me and I said “Well, I believe in God.”

They said “Really, what god?”
I said “There’s only one god”
They asked “Where did you get this from?”
I replied “Well, for me it was from reading the Quran”
One of them who was a Muslim said “You have been reading the Quran, so you must believe this is the message of God and that Muhammad is the messenger of god” I said “Yea, I guess so”
He said “OK, let me get this right: you believe that there’s only one god and that Muhammad is His messenger?”
I said “Yea, since you put it that way, I do”
He said “Then you are a Muslim”.
I laughed and said “I’m a Muslim? You are a Muslim, you are from Pakistan, I’m just a guy who believes in God.”
He said “No, you are a Muslim. You believe that there’s no God but the one god and Muhammad is His messenger.” “You are a Muslim.”
I was in shock.

For the next few days, I had to think what that meant and I contacted my friend Mansour; the one who gave me the Quran when I was 13 years old. He was at university in Pennsylvania and worked at the Muslim Student Association there.

So I asked him if he can send me some literature that might serve as an introduction to Islam and the life requirements of a Muslim. He sent me a book or two, and one book in particular (Islam in Focus) provided a very good introduction, not only to the basic Islamic beliefs but also to the five pillars of Islam. I learned how to make salat, how to pronounce the shahadah, and how to make my wudu’ from that book.

I started praying. I guess you could say I’m a closet Muslim because I was living with my parents at that time and I closed the door and performed my prayers. Even the first time I’ve ever fasted in the month of Ramadan I did it completely on my own. I had no community. I just found out what time the sun would rise and what time the sun would set and ate at the times that were permitted.

And so for the first six or eight months of my life as a new Muslim, I did this completely alone and my guide was the Quran and the book of this scholar. That’s the story of how I embraced Islam actually.

At a certain point I had to tell my family and it was like coming out of the closet. One night at dinner, I told my family I’ve been reading the Quran, and they said “Yea, we’ve seen you carrying it everywhere” I said that I really believe it and that I learned that besides believing there are certain practical implications of that belief which I’ve chosen to follow also, so I guess that makes me a Muslim.

My mother’s reaction was very strong; she cried and I think she looked at my father and thought “Where did we go wrong, how did this happen?” I think my father’s approach was much more relaxed. He probably thought to himself “Well, my son was a communist when he was 13, he was a skinhead when he was 16. He went through so many different phases, so maybe this is just another phase.”