Dr. Jerald F. Dirks

Dr. Jerald F. Dirks

 A
Christian Minister’s Conversion to Islam

Childhood and Education



“There is some irony in the fact
that the supposedly best, brightest, and most idealistic of
ministers-to-be are selected for the very best of seminary
education, e.g. that offered at that time at the Harvard
Divinity School. The irony is that, given such an education, the
seminarian is exposed to … much … historical truth. .. As
such, it is no real wonder that almost a majority of such
seminary graduates leave seminary, not to “fill pulpits”, where
they would be asked to preach that which they know is not true,
but to enter the various counseling professions. Such was also
the case for me, as I went on to earn a master’s and doctorate
in clinical psychology.”


Dr. Dirks is a former minister (deacon) of the United Methodist
Church
. He holds a Master’s degree in Divinity from Harvard
University
and a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of
Denver
. Author of “The Cross and the Crescent: An Interfaith
Dialogue between Christianity and Islam”
(2001), and “Abraham:
The Friend of God”
(2002). He has published over 60 articles in the
field of clinical psychology, and over 150 articles on Arabian horses.

© 2002 (Abu Yahya) Jerald F. Dirks, M. Div, Psy. D. Reproduced below
with his permission and segmented into six sections without any
alternation or editing in the text content.

One of my earliest childhood memories is
of hearing the church bell toll for Sunday morning worship in the small,
rural town in which I was raised. The Methodist Church was an
old, wooden structure with a bell tower, two children’s Sunday School
classrooms cubbyholed behind folding, wooden doors to separate it from
the sanctuary, and a choir loft that housed the Sunday school classrooms
for the older children. It stood less than two blocks from my home. As
the bell rang, we would come together as a family, and make our weekly
pilgrimage to the church.

In that rural setting from the 1950s, the three churches in the town of
about 500 were the center of community life. The local Methodist Church,
to which my family belonged, sponsored ice cream socials with
hand-cranked, homemade ice cream, chicken potpie dinners, and corn
roasts. My family and I were always involved in all three, but each came
only once a year. In addition, there was a two-week community Bible
school every June, and I was a regular attendee through my eighth grade
year in school. However, Sunday morning worship and Sunday school were
weekly events, and I strove to keep extending my collection of perfect
attendance pins and of awards for memorizing Bible verses.

By my junior high school days, the local Methodist Church had closed,
and we were attending the Methodist Church in the neighboring

town, which
was only slightly larger than the town in which I lived. There,
my thoughts first began to focus on the ministry as a personal
calling. I became active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship, and
eventually served as both a district and a conference officer. I
also became the regular “preacher” during the annual Youth
Sunday service.

My preaching began to draw community-wide attention, and before long I
was occasionally filling pulpits at other churches, at a nursing home,
and at various church-affiliated youth and ladies groups, where I
typically set attendance records.

By age 17, when I began my freshman year at Harvard College,
my decision to enter the ministry had solidified. During my freshman
year, I enrolled in a two-semester course in comparative religion, which
was taught by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, whose specific area of
expertise was Islam. During that course, I gave far less attention to
Islam
, than I did to other religions, such as Hinduism and
Buddhism
, as the latter two seemed so much more esoteric and strange
to me. In contrast, Islam appeared to be somewhat similar to my own
Christianity
. As such, I didn’t concentrate on it as much as I
probably should have, although I can remember writing a term paper for
the course on the concept of revelation in the Qur’an. Nonetheless, as
the course was one of rigorous academic standards and demands, I did
acquire a small library of about a half dozen books on Islam, all of
which were written by non-Muslims, and all of which were to serve me in
good stead 25 years later. I also acquired two different English
translations of the meaning of the Qur’an, which I read at the time.

That spring, Harvard named me a Hollis Scholar, signifying that I
was one of the top pre-theology students in the college. The summer
between my freshman and sophomore years at Harvard, I worked as a youth
minister at a fairly large United Methodist Church. The following
summer, I obtained my License to Preach from the United Methodist
Church. Upon graduating from Harvard College in 1971, I enrolled at the
Harvard Divinity School, and there obtained my Master of
Divinity
degree in 1974, having been previously ordained into the
Deaconate of the United Methodist Church
in 1972, and having
previously received a Stewart Scholarship from the United
Methodist Church as a supplement to my Harvard Divinity School
scholarships. During my seminary education, I also completed a two-year
externship program as a hospital chaplain at Peter Bent Brigham
Hospital
in Boston. Following graduation from Harvard
Divinity School, I spent the summer as the minister of two United
Methodist churches in rural Kansas, where attendance soared to
heights not seen in those churches for several years.

A
Christian Minister’s Conversion to Islam

Struggle for Personal Integrity



“I became increasingly concerned
about the loss of religiousness in American society at large.
Religiousness is a living, breathing spirituality and morality
within individuals, and should not be confused with religiosity,
which is concerned with the rites, rituals, and formalized
creeds of some organized entity, e.g. the church. American
culture increasingly appeared to have lost its moral and
religious compass … [It] was becoming a morally bankrupt
institution, and I was feeling quite alone in my personal
religious vigil.”

Seen from the outside, I
was a very promising young minister, who had received an excellent
education, drew large crowds to the Sunday morning worship service, and
had been successful at every stop along the ministerial path. However,
seen from the inside, I was fighting a constant war to maintain my
personal integrity in the face of my ministerial responsibilities. This
war was far removed from the ones presumably fought by some later
televangelists in unsuccessfully trying to maintain personal sexual
morality. Likewise, it was a far different war than those fought by the
headline-grabbing pedophilic priests of the current moment. However, my
struggle to maintain personal integrity may be the most common one
encountered by the better-educated members of the ministry.

There is some irony in the fact that the supposedly best, brightest, and
most idealistic of ministers-to-be are selected for the very best of
seminary education, e.g. that offered at that time at the Harvard
Divinity School. The irony is that, given such an education, the
seminarian is exposed to as much of the actual historical truth as is
known about: 1) the formation of the early, “mainstream” church, and how
it was shaped by geopolitical considerations; 2) the “original” reading
of various Biblical texts, many of which are in sharp contrast to what
most Christians read when they pick up their Bible, although gradually
some of this information is being incorporated into newer and better
translations; 3) the evolution of such concepts as a triune godhead and
the “sonship” of Jesus, peace be upon him; 4) the non-religious
considerations that underlie many Christian creeds and doctrines; 5) the
existence of those early churches and Christian movements which never
accepted the concept of a triune godhead, and which never accepted the
concept of the divinity of Jesus, peace be upon him; and 6) etc. (Some
of these fruits of my seminary education are recounted in more detail in
my recent book, The Cross and the Crescent: An
Interfaith Dialogue between Christianity and Islam
, Amana
Publications, 2001.)

As such, it is no real wonder that almost a majority of such seminary
graduates leave seminary, not to “fill pulpits”, where they would be
asked to preach that which they know is not true, but to enter the
various counseling professions. Such was also the case for me, as I went
on to earn a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology. I continued
to call myself a Christian, because that was a needed bit of
self-identity, and because I was, after all, an ordained minister, even
though my full time job was as a mental health professional. However, my
seminary education had taken care of any belief I might have had
regarding a triune godhead or the divinity of Jesus, peace be upon him.
(Polls regularly reveal that ministers are less likely to believe these
and other dogmas of the church than are the laity they serve, with
ministers more likely to understand such terms as “son of God”
metaphorically, while their parishioners understand it literally.) I
thus became a “Christmas and Easter Christian”, attending church very
sporadically, and then gritting my teeth and biting my tongue as I
listened to sermons espousing that which I knew was not the case.

None of the above should be taken to imply that I was any less religious
or spiritually oriented than I had once been. I prayed regularly, my
belief in a supreme deity remained solid and secure, and I conducted my
personal life in line with the ethics I had once been taught in church
and Sunday school. I simply knew better than to buy into the man-made
dogmas and articles of faith of the organized church, which were so
heavily laden with the pagan influences, polytheistic notions, and
geo-political considerations of a bygone era.

As the years passed by, I became increasingly concerned about the loss
of religiousness in American society at large. Religiousness is a
living, breathing spirituality and morality within individuals, and
should not be confused with religiosity, which is concerned with the
rites, rituals, and formalized creeds of some organized entity, e.g. the
church. American culture increasingly appeared to have lost its moral
and religious compass. Two out of every three marriages ended in
divorce; violence was becoming an increasingly inherent part of our
schools and our roads; self-responsibility was on the wane;
self-discipline was being submerged by a “if it feels good, do it”
morality; various Christian leaders and institutions were being swamped
by sexual and financial scandals; and emotions justified behavior,
however odious it might be. American culture was becoming a morally
bankrupt institution, and I was feeling quite alone in my personal
religious vigil.

A
Christian Minister’s Conversion to Islam

Weaving Different Threads into A Single Strand



“My personal values and sense of
morality were much more in keeping with my Muslim friends than
with the “Christian” society around me. … my nostalgic
yearning for the type of community in which I had been raised
was finding gratification in the Muslim community. American
society might be morally bankrupt, but that did not appear to be
the case for that part of the Muslim community with which I had
had contact. Marriages were stable, spouses were committed to
each other, and honesty, integrity, self-responsibility, and
family values were emphasized. My wife and I had attempted to
live our lives that same way, but for several years I had felt
that we were doing so in the context of a moral vacuum. The
Muslim community appeared to be different.”

It was at this juncture
that I began to come into contact with the local Muslim community. For
some years before, my wife and I had been actively involved in doing
research on the history of the Arabian horse. Eventually, in order to
secure translations of various Arabic documents, this research brought
us into contact with Arab Americans who happened to be Muslims. Our
first such contact was with Jamal in the summer of 1991.

After an initial telephone conversation, Jamal visited our home, and
offered to do some translations for us, and to help guide us through the
history of the Arabian horse in the Middle East. Before Jamal left that
afternoon, he asked if he might: use our bathroom to wash before saying
his scheduled prayers; and borrow a piece of newspaper to use as a
prayer rug, so he could say his scheduled prayers before leaving our
house. We, of course, obliged, but wondered if there was something more
appropriate that we could give him to use than a newspaper. Without our
ever realizing it at the time, Jamal was practicing a very beautiful
form of Dawa (preaching or exhortation). He made no comment about the
fact that we were not Muslims, and he didn’t preach anything to us about
his religious beliefs. He “merely” presented us with his example, an
example that spoke volumes, if one were willing to be receptive to the
lesson.

Over the next 16 months, contact with Jamal slowly increased in
frequency, until it was occurring on a biweekly to weekly basis. During
these visits, Jamal never preached to me about Islam, never questioned
me about my own religious beliefs or convictions, and never verbally
suggested that I become a Muslim. However, I was beginning to learn a
lot. First, there was the constant behavioral example of Jamal observing
his scheduled prayers. Second, there was the behavioral example of how
Jamal conducted his daily life in a highly moral and ethical manner,
both in his business world and in his social world. Third, there was the
behavioral example of how Jamal interacted with his two children. For my
wife, Jamal’s wife provided a similar example. Fourth, always within the
framework of helping me to understand Arabian horse history in the
Middle East, Jamal began to share with me: 1) stories from Arab and
Islamic history; 2) sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him;
and 3) Qur’anic verses and their contextual meaning. In point of fact,
our every visit now included at least a 30 minute conversation centered
on some aspect of Islam, but always presented in terms of helping me
intellectually understand the Islamic context of Arabian horse history.
I was never told “this is the way things are”, I was merely told “this
is what Muslims typically believe”. Since I wasn’t being “preached to”,
and since Jamal never inquired as to my own beliefs, I didn’t need to
bother attempting to justify my own position. It was all handled as an
intellectual exercise, not as proselytizing.

Gradually, Jamal began to introduce us to other Arab families in the
local Muslim community. There was Wa’el and his family, Khalid
and his family, and a few others. Consistently, I observed individuals
and families who were living their lives on a much higher ethical plane
than the American society in which we were all embedded. Maybe there was
something to the practice of Islam that I had missed during my
collegiate and seminary days.

By December, 1992, I was beginning to ask myself some serious questions
about where I was and what I was doing. These questions were prompted by
the following considerations. 1) Over the course of the prior 16 months,
our social life had become increasingly centered on the Arab component
of the local Muslim community. By December, probably 75% of our social
life was being spent with Arab Muslims. 2) By virtue of my seminary
training and education, I knew how badly the Bible had been corrupted
(and often knew exactly when, where, and why), I had no belief in any
triune godhead, and I had no belief in anything more than a metaphorical
“sonship” of Jesus, peace be upon him. In short, while I certainly
believed in God, I was as strict a monotheist as my Muslim friends. 3)
My personal values and sense of morality were much more in keeping with
my Muslim friends than with the “Christian” society around me. After
all, I had the non-confrontational examples of Jamal, Khalid, and Wa’el
as illustrations. In short, my nostalgic yearning for the type of
community in which I had been raised was finding gratification in the
Muslim community. American society might be morally bankrupt, but that
did not appear to be the case for that part of the Muslim community with
which I had had contact. Marriages were stable, spouses were committed
to each other, and honesty, integrity, self-responsibility, and family
values were emphasized. My wife and I had attempted to live our lives
that same way, but for several years I had felt that we were doing so in
the context of a moral vacuum. The Muslim community appeared to be
different.

The different threads were being woven together into a single strand.
Arabian horses, my childhood upbringing, my foray into the Christian
ministry and my seminary education, my nostalgic yearnings for a moral
society, and my contact with the Muslim community were becoming
intricately intertwined. My self-questioning came to a head when I
finally got around to asking myself exactly what separated me from the
beliefs of my Muslim friends. I suppose that I could have raised that
question with Jamal or with Khalid, but I wasn’t ready to take that
step. I had never discussed my own religious beliefs with them, and I
didn’t think that I wanted to introduce that topic of conversation into
our friendship. As such, I began to pull off the bookshelf all the books
on Islam that I had acquired in my collegiate and seminary days. However
far my own beliefs were from the traditional position of the church, and
however seldom I actually attended church, I still identified myself as
being a Christian, and so I turned to the works of Western scholars.
That month of December, I read half a dozen or so books on Islam by
Western scholars, including one biography of the Prophet Muhammad, peace
be upon him. Further, I began to read two different English translations
of the meaning of the Qur’an. I never spoke to my Muslim friends about
this personal quest of self-discovery. I never mentioned what types of
books I was reading, nor ever spoke about why I was reading these books.
However, occasionally I would run a very circumscribed question past one
of them.

While I never spoke to my Muslim friends about those books, my wife and
I had numerous conversations about what I was reading. By the last week
of December of 1992, I was forced to admit to myself, that I could find
no area of substantial disagreement between my own religious beliefs and
the general tenets of Islam. While I was ready to acknowledge that
Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a prophet of (one who spoke for or
under the inspiration of) God, and while I had absolutely no difficulty
affirming that there was no god besides God/Allah, glorified and exalted
is He, I was still hesitating to make any decision. I could readily
admit to myself that I had far more in common with Islamic beliefs as I
then understood them, than I did with the traditional Christianity of
the organized church. I knew only too well that I could easily confirm
from my seminary training and education most of what the Qur’an had to
say about Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus, peace be upon him.
Nonetheless, I hesitated. Further, I rationalized my hesitation by
maintaining to myself that I really didn’t know the nitty-gritty details
of Islam, and that my areas of agreement were confined to general
concepts. As such, I continued to read, and then to re-read.

A
Christian Minister’s Conversion to Islam

The Comfort of the Old and Familiar Identity



“One’s sense of identity, of who
one is, is a powerful affirmation of one’s own position in the
cosmos … Changing one’s basic sense of identity is a most
difficult task. One’s psyche tends to cling to the old and
familiar, which seem more psychologically comfortable and secure
than the new and unfamiliar. On a professional basis, I had the
above knowledge, and used it on a daily basis. However,
ironically enough, I was not yet ready to apply it to myself,
and to the issue of my own hesitation surrounding my religious
identity. For 43 years, my religious identity had been neatly
labeled as “Christian”, however many qualifications I might have
added to that term over the years. Giving up that label of
personal identity was no easy task. It was part and parcel of
how I defined my very being.”

One’s sense of identity,
of who one is, is a powerful affirmation of one’s own position in the
cosmos. In my professional practice, I had occasionally been called upon
to treat certain addictive disorders, ranging from smoking, to
alcoholism, to drug abuse. As a clinician, I knew that the basic
physical addiction had to be overcome to create the initial abstinence.
That was the easy part of treatment. As Mark Twain once said: “Quitting
smoking is easy; I’ve done it hundreds of times”. However, I also knew
that the key to maintaining that abstinence over an extended time period
was overcoming the client’s psychological addiction, which was heavily
grounded in the client’s basic sense of identity, i.e. the client
identified to himself that he was “a smoker”, or that he was “a
drinker”, etc. The addictive behavior had become part and parcel of the
client’s basic sense of identity, of the client’s basic sense of self.
Changing this sense of identity was crucial to the maintenance of the
psychotherapeutic “cure”. This was the difficult part of treatment.
Changing one’s basic sense of identity is a most difficult task. One’s
psyche tends to cling to the old and familiar, which seem more
psychologically comfortable and secure than the new and unfamiliar.

On a professional basis, I had the above knowledge, and used it on a
daily basis. However, ironically enough, I was not yet ready to apply it
to myself, and to the issue of my own hesitation surrounding my
religious identity. For 43 years, my religious identity had been neatly
labeled as “Christian”, however many qualifications I might have added
to that term over the years. Giving up that label of personal identity
was no easy task. It was part and parcel of how I defined my very being.
Given the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that my hesitation served
the purpose of insuring that I could keep my familiar religious identity
of being a Christian, although a Christian who believed like a Muslim
believed.

It was now the very end of December, and my wife and I were filling out
our application forms for U.S. passports, so that a proposed Middle
Eastern journey could become a reality. One of the questions had to do
with religious affiliation. I didn’t even think about it, and
automatically fell back on the old and familiar, as I penned in
“Christian”. It was easy, it was familiar, and it was comfortable.

However, that comfort was momentarily disrupted when my wife asked me
how I had answered the question on religious identity on the application
form. I immediately replied, “Christian”, and chuckled audibly. Now, one
of Freud’s contributions to the understanding of the human psyche
was his realization that laughter is often a release of psychological
tension. However wrong Freud may have been in many aspects of his theory
of psychosexual development, his insights into laughter were quite on
target. I had laughed! What was this psychological tension that I had
need to release through the medium of laughter?

I then hurriedly went on to offer my wife a brief affirmation that I was
a Christian, not a Muslim. In response to which, she politely informed
me that she was merely asking whether I had written “Christian”, or
“Protestant”, or “Methodist”. On a professional basis, I knew that a
person does not defend himself against an accusation that hasn’t been
made. (If, in the course of a session of psychotherapy, my client
blurted out, “I’m not angry about that”, and I hadn’t even broached the
topic of anger, it was clear that my client was feeling the need to
defend himself against a charge that his own unconscious was making. In
short, he really was angry, but he wasn’t ready to admit it or to deal
with it.) If my wife hadn’t made the accusation, i.e. “you are a
Muslim”, then the accusation had to have come from my own unconscious,
as I was the only other person present. I was aware of this, but still I
hesitated. The religious label that had been stuck to my sense of
identity for 43 years was not going to come off easily.

About a month had gone by since my wife’s question to me. It was now
late in January of 1993. I had set aside all the books on Islam by the
Western scholars, as I had read them all thoroughly. The two English
translations of the meaning of the Qur’an were back on the bookshelf,
and I was busy reading yet a third English translation of the meaning of
the Qur’an. Maybe in this translation I would find some sudden
justification for …

I was taking my lunch hour from my private practice at a local Arab
restaurant that I had started to frequent. I entered as usual, seated
myself at a small table, and opened my third English translation of the
meaning of the Qur’an to where I had left off in my reading. I figured I
might as well get some reading done over my lunch hour. Moments later, I
became aware that Mahmoud was at my shoulder, and waiting to take
my order. He glanced at what I was reading, but said nothing about it.
My order taken, I returned to the solitude of my reading.

A few minutes later, Mahmoud’s wife, Iman, an American Muslim,
who wore the Hijab (scarf) and modest dress that I had come to associate
with female Muslims, brought me my order. She commented that I was
reading the Qur’an, and politely asked if I were a Muslim. The word was
out of my mouth before it could be modified by any social etiquette or
politeness: “No!” That single word was said forcefully, and with more
than a hint of irritability. With that, Iman politely retired from my
table.

What was happening to me? I had behaved rudely and somewhat
aggressively. What had this woman done to deserve such behavior from me?
This wasn’t like me. Given my childhood upbringing, I still used “sir”
and “ma’am” when addressing clerks and cashiers who were waiting on me
in stores. I could pretend to ignore my own laughter as a release of
tension, but I couldn’t begin to ignore this sort of unconscionable
behavior from myself. My reading was set aside, and I mentally stewed
over this turn of events throughout my meal. The more I stewed, the
guiltier I felt about my behavior. I knew that when Iman brought me my
check at the end of the meal, I was going to need to make some amends.
If for no other reason, simple politeness demanded it. Furthermore, I
was really quite disturbed about how resistant I had been to her
innocuous question. What was going on in me that I responded with that
much force to such a simple and straightforward question? Why did that
one, simple question lead to such atypical behavior on my part?

Later, when Iman came with my check, I attempted a round-about apology
by saying: “I’m afraid I was a little abrupt in
answering your question before. If you were asking me whether I believe
that there is only one God, then my answer is yes. If you were asking me
whether I believe that Muhammad was one of the prophets of that one God,
then my answer is yes.”
She very nicely and very supportively
said: “That’s okay; it takes some people a little
longer than others.”

Perhaps, the readers of this will be kind enough to note the
psychological games I was playing with myself without chuckling too hard
at my mental gymnastics and behavior. I well knew that in my own way,
using my own words, I had just said the Shahadah, the Islamic
testimonial of faith, i.e. “I testify that there is no god but Allah,
and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”. However, having
said that, and having recognized what I said, I could still cling to my
old and familiar label of religious identity. After all, I hadn’t said I
was a Muslim. I was simply a Christian, albeit an atypical Christian,
who was willing to say that there was one God, not a triune godhead, and
who was willing to say that Muhammad was one of the prophets inspired by
that one God. If a Muslim wanted to accept me as being a Muslim that was
his or her business, and his or her label of religious identity.
However, it was not mine. I thought I had found my way out of my crisis
of religious identity. I was a Christian, who would carefully explain
that I agreed with, and was willing to testify to, the Islamic
testimonial of faith. Having made my tortured explanation, and having
parsed the English language to within an inch of its life, others could
hang whatever label on me they wished. It was their label, and not mine.

A
Christian Minister’s Conversion to Islam

Playing Intellectual Word Games



“I was a Christian, or so I said.
After all, I had been born into a Christian family, had been
given a Christian upbringing, had attended church and Sunday
school every Sunday as a child, had graduated from a prestigious
seminary, and was an ordained minister in a large Protestant
denomination. However, I was also a Christian: who didn’t
believe in a triune godhead or in the divinity of Jesus, peace
be upon him; who knew quite well how the Bible had been
corrupted; who had said the Islamic testimony of faith in my own
carefully parsed words … If asked if I were a Muslim, I could
and did do a five-minute monologue detailing the above, and
basically leaving the question unanswered. I was playing
intellectual word games, and succeeding at them quite nicely.”

It was now March of 1993,
and my wife and I were enjoying a five-week vacation in the Middle East.
It was also the Islamic month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from
day break until sunset. Because we were so often staying with or being
escorted around by family members of our Muslim friends back in the
States, my wife and I had decided that we also would fast, if for no
other reason than common courtesy. During this time, I had also started
to perform the five daily prayers of Islam with my newfound, Middle
Eastern, Muslim friends. After all, there was nothing in those prayers
with which I could disagree.

I was a Christian, or so I said. After all, I had been born into a
Christian family, had been given a Christian upbringing, had attended
church and Sunday school every Sunday as a child, had graduated from a
prestigious seminary, and was an ordained minister in a large Protestant
denomination. However, I was also a Christian: who didn’t believe in a
triune godhead or in the divinity of Jesus, peace be upon him; who knew
quite well how the Bible had been corrupted; who had said the Islamic
testimony of faith in my own carefully parsed words; who had fasted
during Ramadan; who was saying Islamic prayers five times a day; and who
was deeply impressed by the behavioral examples I had witnessed in the
Muslim community, both in America and in the Middle East. (Time and
space do not permit me the luxury of documenting in detail all of the
examples of personal morality and ethics I encountered in the Middle
East.) If asked if I were a Muslim, I could and did do a five-minute
monologue detailing the above, and basically leaving the question
unanswered. I was playing intellectual word games, and succeeding at
them quite nicely.

It was now late in our Middle Eastern trip. An elderly friend who spoke
no English and I were walking down a winding, little road, somewhere in
one of the economically disadvantaged areas of greater ‘Amman, Jordan.
As we walked, an elderly man approached us from the opposite direction,
said, “Salam ‘Alaykum”, i.e., “peace be
upon you”, and offered to shake hands. We were the only three people
there. I didn’t speak Arabic, and neither my friend nor the stranger
spoke English. Looking at me, the stranger asked,
“Muslim?”

At that precise moment in time, I was fully and completely trapped.
There were no intellectual word games to be played, because I could only
communicate in English, and they could only communicate in Arabic. There
was no translator present to bail me out of this situation, and to allow
me to hide behind my carefully prepared English monologue. I couldn’t
pretend I didn’t understand the question, because it was all too obvious
that I had. My choices were suddenly, unpredictably, and inexplicably
reduced to just two: I could say “N’am”,
i.e., “yes”; or I could say “La”, i.e.,
“no”. The choice was mine, and I had no other. I had to choose, and I
had to choose now; it was just that simple. Praise be to Allah, I
answered, “N’am”.

With saying that one word, all the intellectual word games were now
behind me. With the intellectual word games behind me, the psychological
games regarding my religious identity were also behind me. I wasn’t some
strange, atypical Christian. I was a Muslim. Praise be to Allah, my wife
of 33 years also became a Muslim about that same time.

A
Christian Minister’s Conversion to Islam

Paying A Small Price for A Good Return



“For those contemplating the
acceptance of Islam and the surrendering of oneself to
Allah—glorified and exalted is He, there may well be sacrifices
along the way. Many of these sacrifices are easily predicted,
while others may be rather surprising and unexpected. There is
no denying the existence of these sacrifices, and I don’t intend
to sugar coat that pill for you. Nonetheless, don’t be overly
troubled by these sacrifices. In the final analysis, these
sacrifices are less important than you presently think. Allah
willing, you will find these sacrifices a very cheap coin to pay
for the “goods” you are purchasing.”

Not too many months after
our return to America from the Middle East, a neighbor invited us over
to his house, saying that he wanted to talk with us about our conversion
to Islam. He was a retired Methodist minister, with whom I had had
several conversations in the past. Although we had occasionally talked
superficially about such issues as the artificial construction of the
Bible from various, earlier, independent sources, we had never had any
in-depth conversation about religion. I knew only that he appeared to
have acquired a solid seminary education, and that he sang in the local
church choir every Sunday.

My initial reaction was, “Oh, oh, here it comes”.
Nonetheless, it is a Muslim’s duty to be a good neighbor, and it is a
Muslim’s duty to be willing to discuss Islam with others. As such, I
accepted the invitation for the following evening, and spent most of the
waking part of the next 24 hours contemplating how best to approach this
gentleman in his requested topic of conversation. The appointed time
came, and we drove over to our neighbor’s. After a few moments of small
talk, he finally asked why I had decided to become a Muslim. I had
waited for this question, and had my answer carefully prepared.
“As you know with your seminary education, there
were a lot of non-religious considerations which led up to and shaped
the decisions of the Council of Nicaea.”
He immediately
cut me off with a simple statement: “You finally
couldn’t stomach the polytheism anymore, could you?”
He knew
exactly why I was a Muslim, and he didn’t disagree with my decision! For
himself, at his age and at his place in life, he was electing to be “an
atypical Christian”. Allah willing, he has by now completed his journey
from cross to crescent.

There are sacrifices to be made in being a Muslim in America. For that
matter, there are sacrifices to be made in being a Muslim anywhere.
However, those sacrifices may be more acutely felt in America,
especially among American converts. Some of those sacrifices are very
predictable, and include altered dress and abstinence from alcohol,
pork, and the taking of interest on one’s money. Some of those
sacrifices are less predictable. For example, one Christian family, with
whom we were close friends, informed us that they could no longer
associate with us, as they could not associate with anyone “who does not
take Jesus Christ as his personal savior”. In addition, quite a few of
my professional colleagues altered their manner of relating to me.
Whether it was coincidence or not, my professional referral base
dwindled, and there was almost a 30% drop in income as a result. Some of
these less predictable sacrifices were hard to accept, although the
sacrifices were a small price to pay for what was received in return.

For those contemplating the acceptance of Islam and the surrendering of
oneself to Allah—glorified and exalted is He, there may well be
sacrifices along the way. Many of these sacrifices are easily predicted,
while others may be rather surprising and unexpected. There is no
denying the existence of these sacrifices, and I don’t intend to sugar
coat that pill for you. Nonetheless, don’t be overly troubled by these
sacrifices. In the final analysis, these sacrifices are less important
than you presently think. Allah willing, you will find these sacrifices
a very cheap coin to pay for the “goods” you are purchasing.

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