Reluctant to become a Muslim - the "do's" & "don'ts"

Q566 :I am a Christian who practices her religion at home and maintains good conduct, although I rarely go to church. I believe in the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ and that he was a true messenger of God, but I do not believe that he was son of God. I understand that Muslims too believe in Jesus Christ, but they also believe that Muhammad was the last messenger of God. I may begin to share their faith, not for any worldly gains or for the purpose of marriage, but for my own salvation. Indeed, I have no intention to get married; I wish to continue to serve my parents, as I am their only daughter. However, I understand that if I become a Muslim, I shall be bound by many "do's" and "don'ts". I fear that I may not be able to fulfil that, and thus commit more sins, which will run counter to my whole purpose. I will have to take a new name and I do not know how I shall react to my new identity at this stage of my life. Above all, I fear that the effect on my parents may be very negative, as they may be unable to withstand the tauntings of my relatives or other people in general. I shall be grateful for your advice as to what my course of action should be. Can I remain a Muslim at heart, without observing the ritual prayers or fasting.

A566 : It seems to me that you have not learned enough about Islam to help you make up your mind whether you wish to adopt it as your faith. Your approach so far seems to be a rather emotional one. You see certain areas which are common to your own faith, as distinguished from mainstream Christianity, and the Muslim faith, particularly as it relates to the position of Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be on him). However, your desire to be on the correct lines is genuine. Therefore, it is important for you to learn more about the Islamic faith before you make up your mind whether you wish to adopt it or not. I cannot give you in this column more than hints which you may wish to pursue in order to help you determine your next step. Before we speak about Jesus Christ and Muhammad (peace be upon them) as messengers of Allah and prophets, there is a principle of Islamic faith which must be very clear in our minds. What Islam requires of its followers is to submit themselves wholly to Allah. That submission is reflected in our actions, as well as in their beliefs, thoughts and ideas. Islam is based on the principle of the Oneness of Allah. That is what you actually say when you make your declaration which brings you in the fold of Islam. You say: "I bear witness that there is no deity save Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger." The first part of this declaration places the strongest emphasis on the Oneness of Allah. Godhead means authority. In relation to Allah, that authority is total, all embracing. In every sphere of life, in every affair, in every case and situation, Allah's authority is supreme. He does not only determine when we are born and the time of our death, but also decides how we should conduct our lives. He has given us a message and a complete way of life for us to implement. What that means is that He has total authority to legislate to us in all matters and in all spheres. The prophet conveys to us Allah's message and we accept it without hesitation. This acceptance, coupled by the determination to do what Allah has bidden us, no matter how difficult it may appear at times or how costly it is, is a manifestation of our submission to Allah. This is indeed the very meaning of the term "Islam". In Arabic, it means "to surrender". We surrender ourselves to Allah, in the sense that we determine to do His biddings in all situations and in all affairs. If we make the declaration that we believe in the Oneness of Allah, but have no intention of following his orders, our declaration is without value. Therefore, if one wants to be a Muslim, one should know what being a Muslim entails. That is the least expected from a person intelligent enough to decide what faith to follow on the basis of his or her choice. You seem to be worried about the requirements of the Islamic faith. What you have to remember is that Islam is a complete way of life. It provides us with guidance in every aspect of life. It does not make a lengthy list of duties and prohibitions just for the sake of giving orders. Nor is there any arbitrary prohibition of duty. Everything that Islam requires of its followers to do or to abstain from has a reason behind it. In their real total sum, Islamic duties work for the benefit of man and help establish human life on a very happy basis. If we look carefully at the duties and prohibitions a Muslim is required to observe, we find that they fall into three main divisions. Some of them relate to basic beliefs, such as the duty of worshipping Allah alone, and the prohibition of associating any partner with Him. We can also include in these the acts of worship; such as prayers, fasting, etc. These are meant to enhance the good character of a person. When we think of prayer and how it provides a real and continuous relationship with Allah, we are bound to recognize that it sharpens a Muslim's sense of what is appropriate and what is not. The Prophet says: "A faith which does not require its followers to pray is devoid of goodness." Fasting moulds the character of a Muslim to be able to with-stand any sacrifice which he may be called upon to render. Other duties and prohibitions of Islam relate either to moral values or to day-to-day transactions between people. They ensure that a Muslim does not take advantage of others or usurp their right or property. Together, they provide safeguards which ensure that every one of us receives what is due to him or her. Allah does not benefit by restricting our movements or our actions. The benefit of Islamic duties and prohibitions is reaped by us. Allah tells us that if every single one of us was as pious and God-fearing as the most righteous amongst us, we will not increase His kingdom in any way, nor will we decrease it in any way if every single one of us was as wicked and disobedient as the most evil person that has ever lived. Islamic duties and prohibitions are not difficult to observe. There is nothing in them which is included arbitrarily. They all serve a common purpose of making human life easy, happy and fair. No Muslim has ever complained that to observe his Islamic duties is difficult. It is true that every one of us may at times yield to temptations to violate Islamic teachings, but we can always repent and pray to Allah for forgiveness. He is the most merciful, the most forgiving. He finds no pleasure in punishing us for our mistakes. Indeed, he loves that we repent and declare our regret for having committed a sin. When we do that, He forgives us. When we declare that we believe in Him, we must always try as hard as we can to observe His teachings. When we make an error, as we all do, we try to rectify it. Furthermore, we know that our observance of what He requires of us will ensure for us great reward. The total sum of that reward is admittance into heaven. Furthermore, what we are required to do is to try to be as obedient to Allah as we can. If something is prohibited, we should refrain from doing it. When we are required to do something, we will do it to the best of our ability. If we have that approach, we can easily earn Allah's pleasure. Many new Muslims prefer to have Islamic names. This is, however, not always required. The Prophet changed the names of some of his companions, because their names had a bad meaning. The overwhelming majority retained their names. I do not see any reason for you to change your name. As for the effect on your parents on your becoming a Muslim, I feel that you should handle this in a careful way. You may start by speaking to them about Islam, in order to dispel any lingering prejudices they may have about it. The problem may be no more than being not fully aware of what sort of faith Islam is. If you are able to persuade them that Islam is totally unlike the distorted picture Western culture paints of it, they may have no objection to your becoming a Muslim. As for the tauntings of other people, I am afraid that you may be exaggerating these. Anyway, you should balance the pros and cons of any major step you wish to take. As far as becoming a Muslim at heart, without revealing the fact or practicing Islam, I am afraid this is not acceptable. Many people asked the Prophet to allow them a relaxation of certain duties, but he told them that that was not up to him. Islamic duties are imposed by Allah, and He alone can forgive anyone who is lax in fulfilling them. You may choose not to publicize the fact that you have become a Muslim, but you cannot just overlook your Islamic duties.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )