How A Canadian Scholar Embraced Islam & is Sharing it With The World
Dr. John Andrew Morrow, is a Canadian Islamic scholar and author of the new book The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. In this article he shares his journey from Christianity to Islam:
I am a Métis Canadian, which means I am of mixed Amerindian and European ancestry. We are known as the Otipemisiwak, the people who own themselves, les gens libres or the Free People. Although we have European blood, we are indigenous by culture, and famous for being fiercely independent. I was raised a Catholic, and it is a religion that I continue to respect even though I disagree with certain dogmas and doctrines.
Most of my indigenous ancestors were Huron, Algonquin and Nipissing, or belonged to First Nations that formed part of the Wabanaki Confederacy. They were all friends and allies of the French and among the first Native people to embrace the Catholic faith. Most of my European ancestors were Catholic. Some were Protestants who fled persecution in Europe, but were quickly assimilated into the Catholic majorities in Acadia and Quebec.
While I was a Christian, I had never conceived of Jesus as God, and had never prayed to him. I had always believed that Jesus was the “Son of God” in a spiritual sense. To me, Jesus had clearly been created. “Son of God” was simply a title like “Spirit of God.”
As for the “Holy Spirit,” I always envisaged him as the Angel Gabriel and the Messenger of the Creator. When I learned that many Christians literally believed that Jesus was God, and that God was composed of three beings, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, all of whom were God, I was dismayed. This sent me off on a spiritual quest.
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.