Malaysia didn't turn out as I imagined or planned, and that in itself made it so wonderful. It taught me to believe in my own capabilities and in myself more than ever, and that comes with taking a deep breath and stepping into the world on your own for the very first time. Malaysia gave me adventure. It kick started my career in journalism. It allowed me to meet wonderful, terrible yet interesting people. But most importantly... Malaysia gave me Islam. I truly believe I was meant to go there.
I was a very strong Christian before converting to Islam. It's an extremely focal point of my faith journey and without it I would not be a Muslim. My love for Jesus (peace be upon him) actually led me to Islam. Christianity is actually the closest religion to Islam, not only theoretically but also historically.
There are many misconceptions about what Islam teaches about Christianity. To begin, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) wrote a letter regarding how Muslims should treat Christians. To summarize it, we are to treat Christians with respect, and even if a Muslim man is married to a Christian woman, she cannot be stopped from praying in her place of worship. In Surat Al-Maidah, Quran 5:82, it says – ' and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers who say "We are Christians". That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant'. Aameen. Christians and Jews are commonly referred to as 'People of the Book' in Islam, because we all have the same Abrahamic roots.
Jesus' (pbuh) name is actually mentioned more times in the Qur'an than the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh). Muslims still believe in the virgin birth and place importance on Mary (may Allah be pleased with her). Jesus (pbuh) is an important figure and you cannot be a Muslim without believing in the life and work of Jesus (pbuh). I could write a huge post about this, which I will discuss further in future blog posts. Jesus (pbuh) prostrated and humbled himself before God. He only performed miracles under God's permission. He was an incredible prophet who taught love and compassion to the children of Israel. The only difference between Christians and Muslims is that we take Jesus (pbuh) to be a prophet and not to be worshipped alongside God. Islam teaches the Oneness of God, and to worship Allah (swt) alone and we believe that Jesus (pbuh) taught this himself. The term 'Allah', by the way, is the Arabic word for 'God' and is not just an Islamic term. Arab Christians also call God 'Allah'.
I love most aspects of Christianity. I love how it teaches compassion, mercy, love and all the good things that we human beings should aspire to be. I loved all my Christian friends, I think they are wonderful people and I will always pray for them. I think it is wonderful that many churches are so active in the community and want to do good things in society and help others. However, after returning from Malaysia I felt like something was missing. I researched key aspects and foundations of Christianity, right down to the trinity and where the concept came from. I researched what Paul taught, what various historical leaders implemented after the death of Christ and I read my Bible inside out. I researched on what has been taken out of the Bible, what has been put in and the various contradictions and solid truths of the Bible. There are similarities between the Qur'an and the Bible. For me, the Qur'an answered many questions I had about my Christian faith for a long time. I could find no fault, no contradictions in the Qur'an. I listened to debates between world-renowned Biblical and Qur'anic scholars, and felt that the Qur'an made more sense.
However, even when I found Islam to be the truth for me, it was very hard for me to actually leave Christianity. Religion has always been the most important thing in my life, and I wanted to make sure I was converting to Islam with all my heart and for all the right reasons. Converting to Islam meant I had certain obligations – praying at least five times a day, giving more to charity, wearing more modest clothing (a choice that I gradually implemented in my life) and give up drinking (drinking is forbidden in Islam). This is a mammoth change; as much as I didn't want to leave the safe haven of the church, I also knew I had to follow my heart to what I believe whole-heartedly is the complete truth. I didn't see converting to Islam as so drastically different to Christianity however I saw it more as an update of my faith, for many reasons.