2013 was nothing short of miraculous.
I would never have imagined at the start of 2013 that by the end of 2013 I would be speaking and writing about God in my life. I remember myself even looking at the really pious Christians and thinking how could religion be even a topic they can get so passionate about? I couldn’t ever see myself putting God on top of anything else. Life was more important, wasn’t it? But here I am, at the start of 2014, and I am recounting my story in the hope that I might inspire others to begin seeking their own journey to, and with God.
Let’s just say I have never been an active participant in church. There had been many unfortunate events littering my teenage years that made me skeptical (I shall not recall that), eventually I just became a Sunday church-goer, and God was pretty much non-existent from my life (or so I thought). Well, he did shake me up a little once or twice, but never once did I find it strong enough to start making Him my priority.
A hopeless case like me would never have read the Bible or remembered God unless I needed something. I was spiraling downhill but I didn’t know it. I needed to turn back. God pushed me in the only way He could think possible. And that was through S. It all started as a curious question to him and for the sake of starting a conversation, “tell me about your religion.” Because all I knew of Muslims at that point of time was of women who had to wear hijabs and clothes that weren’t suitable for Singapore’s hot weather, halal food, and fasting. I don’t even know why I was also afraid when I asked the question, just as I thought it was offensive that I should talk about alcohol or pigs in front of Muslims, or accidentally disturb them when they are praying. One word to describe what I’d think of Muslims- strictness. It surprises me now why I was so focused on the superficial aspect of their practices, and never once asking about who this “Allah” was that was making them do all this.
And when I found out who this Allah was, the same God that had grown up with me, the One True Creator, I was shocked. Not shocked at the newfound realization, but shocked that I had never bothered to realize it until then. All these while I had thought that Christianity, though imperfect, was surely the right religion because our God was present in his miracles throughout all history, from Adam to Abraham to Moses to Jesus. It simply didn’t occur to me that there would be another religion apart from Christianity that spoke about this same God, or the same Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
Reading the Quran for the First Time
Well just for curiosity’s sake I decided to download a Quran app for some light reading, and to be honest it wasn’t very light at all. I got quite a culture-shock (or should I say, religion-shock) as I went through the first few verses of Al-Baqara as every few sentences would warn of punishment and Hellfire if you didn’t pray, or if you disbelieve, or if you commit sins. It was definitely a far cry from the Bible’s interesting storybook-like writing style.
So I remember asking S, why does the Quran sound so scary? His simple answer to me, “Shouldn’t God’s Word be like that?” I was completely baffled. I had this implanted idea that God’s Word should be like a history book (like how the Bible is) to tell us events, miracles and recorded texts from people who lived from that period so that we would read and believe. Not a book which stated rule after rule like an authoritative parent (which I eventually found to be not the case, but more on that later). So I stopped reading the Quran, and the app lay forgotten (for a while) in the depths of my Google Play Store.
Back to True Monotheism
Yet God wasn’t done with me. The questions I had since I was younger (but never bothered to ask) started to resurface, one of which was about the Trinity. And this time, I had answers. True, logical answers in Islam that no matter how much I wanted to doubt, I could not. But still I was stubborn, I could not see how the Bible could be corrupted over time and translation, and I still wanted to seek answers from the Christian perspective. I still believed the Bible was all truth. And with lots of pushing from S (“Read your bible. Isn’t God the most important in your life?”), slowly, I started to read my Bible. From start to end.
I read it with my own basic understanding, and with full conviction that every sentence was true and uncorrupted. I read it without looking for underlying metaphorical meanings. And as I read, the Truth became clearer and clearer (I won’t go through these here, I’ve already covered them in previous posts). Yes, just with the Bible and my simple understanding, the Truth was apparent. Jesus did not call us to worship him, he called us to worship God. Not once did I see a trace of the Trinity in the Bible (stop linking up patterns!). So I read more, history articles (where I could be sure there were no bias), a few Christian sites which actually talked about the history of the Trinity concept (they were hard to find, but I could be sure they wouldn’t say things which would be detrimental to the faith). I spoke to nuns, to priests, to my parents. And the answer simply wasn’t there. History never lies, and analogies can never win logic. Deep down inside, the answer was simple and direct, everything pointed to it.
I could no longer hypocritically say I was Catholic, because I was essentially rejecting the basis that made Christianity/Catholicism different from Islam, and that was believing in Jesus as God. Yet I was afraid to declare it openly, because my family and relatives were all staunch Catholics, renouncing my faith would cause nothing but chaos. And at that point of time, I had no other religion to turn to, as I did not know enough of Islam to be convinced of it as well. So for a period, I became a closet monotheist (belief in One God). I still went to Church, but for once I began listening to what I was reciting. And I took my own stand in stopping myself from reciting the things that I could not bring myself to believe, which was anything other than declaring and worshipping God as One God. Not Jesus, not Holy Spirit, but God alone. And my unwavering belief in this One God brought me through this period of uncertainty in my life, Alhamdulillah.
How Could You Abandon Jesus?
Then came the “how could you abandon Jesus!” self-imposed battle. Frankly abandoning Jesus was the last thing that I could even imagine myself doing. I believed that even as I saw Jesus as another of God’s servants and not God, I still would be following Jesus’s ways and not become a follower of anyone else.
I even looked at a sect within Christianity (Jehovah’s witnesses) which was essentially a restoration of the original Christian beliefs before the implementation of the Trinity doctrine. But deep down I knew it wouldn’t work for me, because just as I needed to satisfy my need for understanding before faith, I also needed the continuing development of the faith that would come after. I was looking for structure.
Then I remember one day when I was at Orchard with S and his friend and we went to Masjid Al-Falah for them to do their prayers, I was sitting outside and as I waited, I started reading the posters placed outside the mosque. One of them wrote of who Jesus was to Muslims (Frankly I don’t know why I don’t ask S these kind of questions, would have been easier, right? But somehow getting my answers from so many other sources give my journey so much more meaning, and is truly a sign of God’s intervention in my life, Alhamdullilah.) And the poster spoke of how Jesus was as important and as loved as Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w) as one of God’s messengers. Can’t exactly remember the contents of the poster now but I knew it was one of the most important messages to me to wake me up from my misconceptions about Islam and start to find out more.
Starting from Scratch… and Isolation
I was starting from scratch, I didn’t know where to start, and like many other people, my idea of what Islam was came from vague impressions formed by 9/11, the Iraq war, really everything about violence. I didn’t understand why women wore the hijabs or the niqabs (where only the eyes could be seen), I even thought Islam made women inferior to men. Looking back now I am astounded at how much negativity and misinformation one can get just by being uninterested in the subject. I guess this was also one of the reasons why I was reluctant to even put a toe towards the path of Islam (though it felt so right).
But eventually I did put that toe in. I read the Quran again (just the translated version for now, until I learn my Arabic insyaAllah). I saw Adam, Nuh (Noah), Musa (Moses). I saw Maryam (Mary). And I saw my beloved Isa (Jesus). I read the beautiful Christmas story that I had grown up with, it was there. Every single story that had grown up with me as a child was also in the Quran. Where was the violence? Where was the oppression of women? There was none. In fact, it was all the opposite. I’d very much want to talk about all this, but my post is becoming the length of two essays so I’ll just try to cut the story short.
There were so many things that was going on during this period of discovery of Islam. Looking back now, everything seemed like a perfectly planned out syllabus, directed by God. When I had doubts or questions I didn’t realise I had, I found answers from the places I’d least expect. When I needed comfort, I came across beautiful poems from Rumi. When I felt terribly alone, I found friendship and support pouring in from existing friends, even strangers.
Yet I wasn’t handling it very well on the side of my parents, because there was not just one but two issues we had to deal with, and that was with regards to my discovery about Islam, and the other was about S. When I finally broke the news to them, there were nights, weeks and months of crying, heated arguments, weary faces. Eventually I dreaded going home, and when I did, my door became a shield. I hadn’t been the best daughter, but this totally took the cake. Yet I did not know how else to react because… no one would understand, unless they too went through it. To others, I’d just seem like I converted just for S’s sake, because well, being so passionately involved in finding God simply isn’t something most people would do, unless they were really pious to begin with (and I wasn’t). Even explaining myself to my closest friends, I still felt judged. And so I decided to withdraw behind my wall of isolation.
Then I joined Darul Arqam, where I met people who, like me, were sincerely searching and deepening their faith. Everyone there knew that it didn’t matter the story of who brought us there because it was the path to the Truth, and there was no reason to judge God’s way of bringing us to it. Through listening to the stories of the other converts, some who converted on their own, my wall dissolved, bit by bit.
God sent me a miracle through one of my aunts, whom I had previously feared of telling my story because she had a strong story of her journey to God in her Catholic faith, and was a counsellor and social worker in her working days. Yet God knew I needed someone close to both me and my parents, and I was positively shocked at her responses as I told her my story. She never judged, she understood, and even as I still withdrew into my shell, she made me see that I was never alone, and that there would always be love from everyone close to me. And most of all, it didn’t matter whether my religion was Catholic, Christian, Judaism or Islam, the most important was that I had found God through it.
(To my parents: I have brought you much pain throughout the past year, and I cannot say how sorry I am for the times I have acted distant and aloof. Please do not judge Islam based on my actions, and I thank you from the greatest depth of my heart for the magnitude of understanding and acceptance of my choice of path in life. I will always be there for you as your daughter, and I pray to our God, the God we both know, for you.)
People have told me that the search for God should take a few years, but frankly, can you even put a time frame to such a thing? Becoming a muslim is simple. One just has to declare their belief that there is no other God but God alone, and that Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w) is His Messenger. And believing in Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w) as God’s messenger was also recognizing all the other Messengers who came before him, and that God had been sending them throughout all of history to spread His Word and save us. That to me, was ultimately the most amazing and indicative proof of God’s love for mankind.
There was no big revelation, or dreaming of a bright light, or a deep voice telling me to just do it. It was simple, I just knew I had to say out what was in my heart. I remember when I said it, the azan (call to prayer) was sounding in the background. It was pure coincidence, but I felt it was God’s way of welcoming me to the start of my journey with Him.
This is the Start.
Is it not amazing that God, our Maker, knows us so well that his ways of communicating is so different and unique to each of us? And who are we to judge on the path he has chosen to lead us to?
My journey with God will forever be indicated by my Muslim name, Meryem, after Mary the mother of Jesus. It is meaningful to me because it is the link that harmonizes the teachings of Islam and Christianity, and likewise, I have never abandoned Jesus in reverting to Islam.
There will always be more challenges along the way, and I know I am definitely not a perfect example of a Muslim, but I pray my journey with Him will never stop, and my iman (faith) will grow over time insyaAllah. Just as God brought people to me to guide me to the Truth, I hope that I too can guide others to the Truth, and not limit themselves to the labels of religion.
And as Angel Jibraeel (Gabriel) said to the Prophet,
“Read! Read in the Name of God who created thee…”
likewise, I implore you to read. Because eventually, there is nothing to lose. There is all to gain.
Alhamdulillah! Praise be to God.