When I first accepted Islam I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. I didn't realize that it entailed many prayers, five times a day. I didn't realize that I need to fast the month of Ramadan. I was basically naïve and ignorant.
At the same time I really didn't care what I had to do, because I wanted to become like the people that I had met. I wanted the generosity, the humility, and the charisma.
I grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in New York. My family was Jewish, more Zionistic-oriented than actually Jewish by faith. I grew up in a vacuum basically. I grew up without any religious teachings, instructions or foundations.
|The only form of religion that I didn't encounter until I was working on my PhD at New York university in the middle 1970s, was Islam|
As a result of that, by the time I reached my late teens I felt like I wanted something more out of life than just pursuing a materialistic lifestyle; more than just attempting to purchase a two car garage and television set, etc. So when I went to university, I stumbled into relationships with various philosophers and teachers of religion. I spent time with Dalai Lamas, Buddhists, Hindus, Campus Crusade for Christ members and Jewish Rabies. The only form of religion that I didn't encounter until I was working on my PhD at New York university in the middle 1970s, was Islam.
At first I thought Islam might be some sort of punishment, because it has certain rules and regulations that I didn't feel that I wanted to accept. I have never been a lover of pork, so giving up the eating of pig meat didn't affect me whatsoever. Giving up the drinking of alcohol didn't upset me at all, because I didn't particularly care for the taste of alcohol. I don't understand how anyone can say honestly that they like the taste of alcohol. I find that strange.
There is really not that much about Islam which contains a person in terms of getting on with life. There's the praying, the fasting and giving up 2.5 percent of one’s excess wealth each year, which doesn't count much when one has a limited income.
In Islam, there is no hierarchy. There's no priesthood. There's no intermediary between man and God. Allah or God refers to Himself, He says "Call me Allah or call me al-Rahman". Al-Rahman in Arabic means the Merciful. Throughout the Quran, God is always presented as forgiving. We as Muslims are told that each time we do ablutions before each prayer, we are removing all of our wrong actions. Islam is a very merciful religion, and technically it's the same as Judaism and Christianity.
One Christian came to me at one of my classes and asked me why I did not worship Jesus. And I said to him “If I'm going to worship a man I would worship Adam, because he had neither father nor mother, and he is recognized as a man as Jesus was, so why do you not worship Adam?”. We as Muslims revere Jesus as a Muslim. The word Muslim means in English one who submits to God. Islam means submission to God. What did Jesus do other than that?
While I was living in England, I attended the Jum`ah (Friday) prayer one day. For some strange reason I had a coughing fit and I couldn't stop myself from coughing. So I stepped outside the mosque to get a drink of water to help myself. When I stepped outside there was a young man there who seemed lost. He was an English man who was interested in Islam, but he felt inhibited in entering the mosque itself. He didn't know the proper procedure to make contact with Muslims.
As a result of my stepping out there, he found somebody to speak to. Miraculously I stopped coughing, and I spoke with him for about half an hour. I showed him how to make wudu (ablutions) and we went to the mosque together and prayed together. I showed him how to pray and he joined the group. Later on, he accepted Islam. I don't attribute that to me. But it was God perhaps working through me.
What Islam demands of me is very little. Praying now has become like brushing my teeth. It's just something I do naturally and normally. Fasting is something that I look forward to each year because other than the physical enjoyment that I get from fasting in terms of feeling better, feeling lighter and losing weight around my midsection while I’m at that age!
Spiritually I felt good each evening that I really accomplished something, and taking into account when you are involved with a community of other Muslims and you are all doing it together, it's a wonderful shared experience and one does feel blessed.