By the time I was thirteen, I was reading one book per week. To the shock of my family, I read the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments. I read all sorts of apocryphal literature and lost books. I studied all of the world religions along with their sacred scriptures.
Eventually, I came across the Qur’an, and I was convinced that Islam was the religion that had always resided in my heart. I remember the actual moment that I recognized my primordial nature. It was during a ski trip to Vermont. I had been reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X for weeks. I finished it in the car, closed the book and said to myself: “I am a Muslim.” I was sixteen years of age. From that moment forward, I would be an observant Muslim known in Islamic circles as Ilyas ‘Abd al-‘Alim Islam.
Since that time, my studies have never stopped. By the time I was an undergraduate student, I was devouring one book per night. My desire was always to go to the East to study Islam. However, the clerics I associated with believed that I would be of more value to Islam if I completed my studies in the West. Some told me quite clearly that I would not find true Islam in the East, and that I would only find it in books.
Fortunately, the University of Toronto has the largest collection of books in Canada. It has the third largest collection in North America. Its collection of Islamic manuscripts easily surpasses those found at the best universities in the Muslim world. I could therefore complete my theological studies in Toronto, which is precisely what I did, learning Islamic Studies both inside and outside of academia.
I took religion and philosophy classes at the University of Toronto. I studied the history of Islamic Spain, the Moriscos and the literature that they produced. I delved into the Arabic and Islamic influence on Spanish and French Literature. I even studied the Muslim presence in the pre-Columbian Americas. At the same time, I learned Islam independently and at the hands of a series of Muslim scholars: Sunnis, Shi’ites and Sufis, essentially extracting all the information from them that I could. While it took decades, it was in this fashion that I completed the three levels of traditional Islamic seminary studies. As a seeker of knowledge, of course, my research has never ceased.
My book The Covenants of Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World is about true Islam; it presents Islam as it really is, in essence, in nature and, quite often, in practice. This is not to say that “Islam is peace,” that “Islam turns the other cheek,” that “Islam is passive,” and that “Islam is non-violent.” If someone is raping your wife and killing your kids, you would be an emasculated idiot to remain non-violent. What Islam aims to do is establish a climate of peace. This can be established by diplomacy and dialogue. Sometimes, however, peace can only be achieved by eliminating the enemy.