A Christian Converts to a Muslim
Based upon an Interview conducted December 2001 - Eternity Magazine Issue 1 - Volume 3
The reason for this interview is to try and help people understand the faith of a Muslim.... an important issue in view of the current world crisis. (When this article was written we had the problems of the Taliban, now of course we also have ISIS. The name of the terror group may be different but everything else is still very relevant).
For a balanced and educated view we decided it was best to speak to someone who has not only converted from being a Christian but also studied religion in great depth and actually became a lecturer of religious studies at university where I myself studied a degree on the subject.
"Although it's unusual for people to convert, the British Muslim Association which is based in Leeds believes there are over 6,000 converts in Britain." (2001)
According to the Daily Mail this figure increased to over 100,000 in 2011, although The Guardian reported that around 5,000 British people convert to Islam every year so there is a slight discrepancy on the numbers but we do know from the 2011 United Kingdom Census that the UK Muslim population was 2,786,635, 4.4% of the total population and the second largest religion after Christianity.
When you conduct further research you realise that Muslims occupy 204 different countries across the world and when you consider there are 244, that's no small number. This is a phenomenon that began around 600 years after Christ so it's not something that has sprung up overnight.... it is actually the fastest growing religion in the world.
The reasons for its popularity are easy to see: it is a supremely elegant religion. It demands that we exercise our reason; the basic tenets can be grasped simply by anyone; it avoids needless paradox and mystery; and it is responsible of one of the truly great civilizations of the world" states Ian Markham in 'A World Religions Reader'
A survey in 1997 estimated that there were 31 million Muslims in Europe and worldwide a staggering 1 billion, 147 million. That's around 20% of the world population. As Christians count for 33% Muslims are not far behind, the next largest religion thereafter would be Hindus with just under 13% and also at 13% we have people who are not religious. Interestingly though, only 2.5% of the worlds population are Atheists.
However in 2010 Islam had increased its following to 1.6 billion (23%) and its predicted that as the worlds population increases from 6.9 billion to 9.3 billion by the middle of this century, Islam will grow by 73% while Christianity will only grow by 35%, resulting in 2.8 billions Muslims and 2.9 billion Christians worldwide, closing the gap considerably. One factor with the change is fertility rates, Buddhists have the lowest fertility rate and is part of the reason why they are to be one of the worlds only major religions that's projected not to grow over the next four decades. Another group according to the Pew Research Center that will be shrinking are those who are atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with a religion.
The person we spoke to back in 2001, who wished to remain anonymous, was brought up a Christian, he converted to Islam around 10 years before we spoke to him. After going through a family crisis he began reading about a number of different religions....
"I could understand Jesus as a Rabbi and as a Jew, but not as the son of God. It was an easy transition, still believing in the one God, still believing in the same God as Christians and the same God as Judaism as well. The reason Judaism doesn't attract, its never attracted me, I don't understand it. Its very nationalistic and often appears very inclusive."
So, did people within the religion accept you with open arms or were they dubious about your intentions?
"Oh, they accept you with open arms to begin with, it's only a little while later the practicality hit them of having somebody within their midst that was not from their culture and who did not speak their language. If you don't speak Asian in the Mosque you're basically lost and you're excluded from a lot of the social and also administrative affairs because it's all conducted in a foreign language. But in principle yeah, the idea of converts... at least because it reinforces your faith position if somebody converts to your faith."
So have you taken it upon yourself to learn the language?
"No, I haven't, I think the answer if the other way around.... I am an academic and my knowledge of Islam tells me that Islam always adapts to the countries that it went to, so I think it's a question of Islam adapting to the British situation, rather than people in Britain adapting to Islam. That's why you have codes of law because Islam moved out of Arabia and into Africa, into India, ultimately into Europe and it absorbs cultures or doesn't absorb them, it made allowances for them and the needs of the particular countries and communities. So it's the people who call themselves Muslims who needs to adjust..."
So what type of sacrifices, if any, have you had to make to become a Muslim and do you live a Muslim life in accordance with the Quran?
"Sacrifices... yes, one is conscious diet, one is conscious of regulations about alcohol, however, again this is an an academic, the dietary laws were introduced to meet the specific needs of the specific time, in a society that doesn't have refrigeration, that doesn't have hygiene it is not wise to eat meat, some animals themselves carnivorous, a pig might eat dead meat and may pick up disease. But in the modern farming techniques, OK, generally meat is safe to eat, you've had the BSE crisis, but even an army wouldn't have prevented that. As I have rationalised and intellectualised, I can find answers to say that some of those sacrifices are not justified in our society and certainly, there is a passage in the Quran that's often overlooked.... 'permitted to use is the meat of the Jews and Christians, what is not permitted to use us food that's been offered to any other deity' ...so I say to my Muslim friends, if a Christian comes along and offers you a steak sandwich and a Hindu comes along and offers you some vegetarian curry and some nuts, which will you eat? And they say the vegetarian curry and nuts... and I say... 'But how do you know there weren't offered up in front of a deity before they were given to you?' So using those words of the Qur'an I'm not as observant now with the meat rules as I was ten years ago"
Are there other Muslims that feel the same way as yourself in this respect?
"It is a view that I have voiced and discussed with other Muslims but most people would never admit to breaking these laws. I've not come across anyone who would actually agree with me, but ultimately its' a question between me and my conscience"
It is clear that people can interpret the Quran differently and perhaps this has been one of the main problems over the years, the different interpretations that different groups may have. We will come back to this point later but before moving on I wanted to look at important points in the respect of the way of life of a Muslim. From what I know about Christianity and Islam there are a lot of similarities between the two?
"I would add that there are a lot of similarities between Christianity, Islam and Judaism, in fact they're all often classified together as the Abrahamic faith, they all trace their roots back to Abraham."
So what stands out in the Quran as more appealing or was it simply that Jesus as the son of God was something you could not agree with?
"The status of Jesus would be the only difference. You do not have to believe in 'God having a son' to be a Muslim, you do not have to believe in 'God having a son' to be a Jew, you have to believe that one day there will be a Messiah, but most Jews are still looking for the Messiah. So that is the issue, apart from that there is very little difference. Dietary laws for example in Judaism as laid down in the Leviticus, it's exactly the same in the Quran. Theologically I would say if God is all powerful and if God can do anything, then why did God need a son... he sent his son to redeem people for their sins. He didn't have to do that... If God is all loving, all forgiving, he can just say "I know you did this, did that, I forgive you, now why go through this whole rigmarole."
But Jesus as the Son of God, exposed God in a different light to many millions, over the centuries, billions of people. Some would say that Mohammad was really just picking up on the back of Christianity. It was only 600 years later...
"In some ways he did. He picked up on the back of Christianity and on the back of Judaism... I wouldn't deny that."
So, if there had been no Christianity, then the basis of Islam may not have ever been as it is today?
"I would argue that if there had been no Christianity there could still have been Islam because they would have just picked up on Judaism. If you took Christianity out of the equation and you do a strict comparison between Judaism and Islam, the only different between the two, is the concept of Jews being chosen people. All the regulations about fasting, diet, social conditions, even the separation of men and women, dress codes, it's almost identical. An Orthodox Jewish women will never show her hair in public, a lot of them wear a wig. Even if Christianity hadn't come into existence I'd say there was a very good chance that Islam might have done. Islam arose in a particular set of social conditions when the Persian empire to the East and the Roman Empire to the North were collapsing, there was a power vacuum. Something had to fill that gap. It also came about when the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsulas, now called Saudi Arabia, were moving from a nomadic existence into a settled existence. New religions always came about at a time of social change. I'd say it was the social change that was going on and the political change, which is probably more important, Christianity came about when there was a social change, when Palestine (Israel) was under Roman occupation, when they were uprising against the Roman occupation, civil unrest"
Do you not see though the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as majorly symbolic?
"The crucifixion of Jesus I can accept as an historical fact. The story of his resurrection I see as a myth. I'm not sure that Jesus was necessarily the peaceful teacher that many claim he was, I suspect that he may well have been a revolutionary, if you came to me and talked about Jesus as an Orthodox Jew who was questioning some of the things that were going on with the priest caste within Judaism... if you came to me to talk about Jesus as a social reformer and as a possible revolutionary, yeah, then I can accept that, I think there's lots of evidence. A lot of the evidence has been subdued or glossed over. There was a documentary a few years ago which talked about the Gospel that wasn't written and the fact that Jesus had a brother called James and at some point after the death of Jesus there was a power struggle among followers of Jesus as to whose interpretation of the life of Jesus was going to be recognised, the version put up by his brother James, or the version put up by Paul who was himself a Roman citizen and the version by Paul won out. The suggestion is that, Jesus' life stories narrated by James would have been very different. The story that we have, remember it's been edited, it's gone through councils of priests, it's been heavily influenced by Paul and the teachings of Paul, how authentic is it?"
How is there any way of proving otherwise?
"There isn't.... obviously it comes down to the question of faith. Some people believe, I can't not believe in Jesus as the son of God. That's my belief. The evidence to me would suggest otherwise"
Some people would say that everyone is the child of God...
"Oh yeah, I accept that"
And that the term used for Jesus was simply used because he was considered to be closer to God than the average person who was around at the time....
"But then how do you relate that to this Christian idea that you've got to be saved into everlasting life? If everyone is a child of God then everybody will be saved and reunited with God. You don't need a Messiah, you don't need a crucifixion. So you can see where I stand. There are other ways of looking at the same evidence and I can only tell you that having been brought up to look at it in one way, I got to a point in my life where I could not continue to accept that viewpoint. It's arguable that I may not even want to follow the Muslim viewpoint later in life but the more I see of the religion the more I accept God as a creator, but the way you actually put that into practice in your life - I'm more and more coming to the view that it's cultural, it's what you're brought up to do, and what you've been brought up to believe. And ultimately the bottom line is your own relationship to the creator, it doesn't really matter whether your a Muslim, Jew, Christian or Buddhist."
Well, it doesn't matter - as long as you live you live right...
"Yeah.. right.. in the way that you understand it.. and what's right may also depend on the circumstances you see yourself in, whose to say that somebody who goes out and steals is a criminal, if their social conditions are such that they cannot survive any other way, they've still got to protect their life because their life was a gift from God, perhaps stealing that loaf of bread or that three hundred quid or whatever, is their only way to survive and protect that gift from God, their life."
We've mentioned the interpretation of the Quran before, is it as basic as some Muslims saying you can drink alcohol and others saying you can't?
"I've not come across anyone saying you can... but, some Muslims might say that there is a verse in the Quran which says you can drink alcohol for medicinal purposes, if it saves your life. At what point something is medicinal or not is open to question. A person who has a heart complaint and is advised to take a dram of whisky everyday, or a glass of red wine a day, then i would say they're a liberal thinking person and I don't see any problem with that. The Quran says that you must not go to the Mosque with alcohol on your breath, nor must you drink, nor can you drink alcohol to excess that you lose your reason and basically ill treat your family"
So, that would lead you to believe that a glass of wine in the evening is not a problem then?
"Particularly not if it's for the goodness of your health, and we all know that most doctors would agree, that food with plenty of garlic in it and a glass of red wine a day is good for your circulation"
So there is to an extent Muslims interpreting things in the Quran differently?
"There are... mainly because most of the people who interpret the Quran are still only clerics and the learned people. That's one of the problems with the Quran, that it is still mainly talked and recited in Arabic and the masses do not have access to an understanding of the text, it is put to them through the clerics, just as the Bible at one time was filtered to the masses through clerics, through the priest caste and of course the people who control the text, control the religion and ultimately control the people. That's the danger of translating a religious text, that was the danger of translating the Bible into the vernacular"
So what do the majority of Muslims think about the Taliban?
"You've got to remember that a lot of Muslims are from cultures that are very rural, very tribal and very patriarchal. Some of the attitudes that the Taliban have towards women and social control of women is also very patriarchal, tribal and yeah, a lot of Muslims can relate to that, particularly the rural Pakistani Muslims"
But if you look back in Mohammad's time, he had a wife, she even had her own business...
"He gave freedom to women, yes, but after his death patriarchy reared its ugly head"
But if Muslims are supposed to be living their lives in accordance with Mohammad's, why aren't they doing as he did?
"Well, that's one of my arguments."
And with the women covering themselves, I thought that all stemmed from when some women were raped, is it not just a tradition that has been taken too far?
"There's a book called 'The Creation of Patriarchy' by Jay De Learner, it looks at Babylonian culture and it's written by an anthropologist who has studied some Babylonian scrolls or tablets, there was enough evidence to suggest that in the time of Mohammad the social codes that were going around in that part of the world stemmed from Babylonian culture and in that culture free women went out with their heads covered and slave women did not have their heads covered. And it seems as if in the early days of Islam because the first converts to Islam were from the poorer parts, the slaves, the women went out without head covering, and as you say, I'm not sure they were raped but they were molested... there were certainly abused and taunted and so the prophet told them to cover their heads, to show that they are free women and not slaves. And it originates from that, the messages in the Quran are very controversial in that they are open to all sorts of interpretations. There are verses that say 'all wives of the prophet, cover your heads when you go out of doors for you are not like other women'."
But if we go back to the things mentioned earlier, where you were saying that Islam adapts to its surroundings and the way of life?
"But that's precisely what happened with Islam, in that it's adapted to the patriarchal, tribal cultures of what we now call Pakistan, one of the Northern Indian sub continent, I mean, Islam went that way, so it interpreted the Quran in a way to support those existing cultures. I know Pakistani women follow particular Islamic codes who would not shake hands with me, they don't shake hands with men.... but a North African Muslim women would have no compunction, a women from Sudan would shake hands without even thinking, it's the legal codes. This thing about the movement of Islam inside a culture, that's there to give patriarchy the opportunity. So there is a principle in Islamic law that the status quo is correct unless it is expressly forbidden in the Quran. So if you are moving to a culture which is highly patriarchal and where women are socially excluded, does it say in the Quran that specifically is wrong, no it doesn't say specifically... we can think of examples which suggest it's wrong, it doesn't say specifically. Therefore status quo rules OK. The consensus of the community is greater than the consensus of scholars, there is a principle in Islamic law."
<Since this interview was published in 2001 Bin Laden (founder of al-Qaeda, the organisation that claimed responsibility for the September 11th attacks on the United States, along with numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets) has been killed by US Navy Seals during an attack on his compound in Pakistan - May 2nd 2011. At the time of writing this original article he was still at large. Although some of the questions raised have been edited as they are no longer relevant, many of the points raised in the remainder of this interview do remain relevant to the situation we face in the world today so it has been decided not to edit all of the interview but ask readers to appreciate the context at the time of the original editorial>
To me the words 'Holy' and War' just shouldn't be seen together, in my view...
"Oh, I'd agree with you.. it was only linked together in the crusades, prior to that if you were a solider and you were in battle you had to go to church and be shriven of your sins after the battle. So yeah, it was only with the crusades that the concept of 'Holy' and 'Righteous' war came into being."
So you would agree that religion should be totally against war and totally against the murder of another human being? But the Taliban say this is a 'Holy War' - that statement would lead you to believe that in their view God believes it is right to kill another person. Is that the view of all Muslims and where in the Quran does it justify such a statement?
"War is justified in case of defence but in no other case. So, if America attacks Afghanistan, then the Taliban have for the right to defend themselves."
And call it a Holy War?
"I wouldn't call it a Holy War, I would say that they've go the right, the human right, to defend themselves."
So you, as a Muslim, would agree with what the West have quite clearly said, this isn't a war against Islam?
"I don't think it is a war against Islam, its a war against Afghanistan., but it's a war where I don't see that there are any aims which can actually be fulfilled. When they went into Iraq, they had a clear set of aims, that was to get the Iraq's out of Kuwait and the was a clear plan of activity and it was achieved. There's a debate as it whether it should gave gone on to remove Saddam Hussein."
I'm pleased that as a Muslim you have said this isn't an Holy War, but I read an article in the Sunday Times, a Muslim in London, Abu Qu'atada, who you may or may not know of, who stated as saying 'I've absolutely no connection or relation with Osama bin Laden, never met him', but he went on to say 'he is a Muslim and he seeks to liberate Islam from the enemies of the Muslim nation... as I am a Muslim there is no other choice but to support him, we have an obligation to support him.'
"I would say if Bin Laden really wanted to free himself from his enemies, and he's always alleged to have wanted to be free the Palestinians from Israel control, then his war should have been with Israel, not going and bombing buildings in America, so... the logic is wrong"
There were two British Muslims in the media who said they were going to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban, one was quoted as saying...'I think bin Laden is an inspiration for Muslims, he is a man of a high class family who was sleeping in a cave and has given all his worldly goods to Islam, I have not seen anything he says, that contradicts Islam'. You can see why Muslims may think of Bin Laden as something of a martyr with what hes doing, living in a cave when he's worth millions... do you think what he says contradicts Islam?
"A lot of what Bin Laden says contradicts Islam"...
"...these acts of terrorism are contradictory to Islamic ideas, to Muslims, ideas of war are where you fight with your enemy, not with innocent people."
"But what these British Muslims are showing is that there is frustration. Bin Laden has used the idea that he's fighting for Palestine and the Palestinians, and there are a lot of Muslims who feel, and I'd include myself in this, who feel what is going on in Israel, has gone on in Israel, is unjust to the Palestinians and America, by supporting Israel so adversely, for such a long period of time, has canived in that oppression of Palestinians and I think it is that symbol that Bin Laden is utilising and mobilising very strongly about and that's why these people are prepared to fight for it"
So they have got a big problem with America and Bin Laden is really capitalising on it...
"Yeah, America could have pulled the plug on the Israeli economy a long time ago, but they won't because every President is frighted of the Jewish vote"
This guy went on to say 'I would consider myself a hypocrite if I lived in Britain whilst it was waging war on Afghanistan without doing anything about it' What would you say to other Muslims who may be thinking the same?
"Put pressure on your MP's. This is a democratic country. We do have power in this country to demonstrate and put pressure on the Government and if enough people who thought that the war on Afghanistan was unjust, and I think its unjust, then the answer is to emphasis the word 'peacefully' and write petitions and to mobilise your MP. We do have a system, it's not perfect by any means, but if enough people feel strongly enough about something then things can be changed"
Finally something quite disturbing was said... 'the attack on the Pentagon was absolutely excellent, it was a military installation and therefore a legitimate target according to Islam, he did say he was less sure about the World Trade Center. How can any target be legitimate if it will result in death? I was under the impression that Islam was a religion of peace?
"Absolutely, Islam is a religion of peace. This was a more a case of letting off a grievance rather than defending yourself and its not justified in Islam."
Eternity Magazine are now attempting to contact the person who was interviewed for this feature to see if his religious views have changed over the last 15 years since the interview was conducted. If you have any views plus do leave your comments below, if you have changed religion from Christianity to Islam or indeed the other way around, we would love to hear from you.
The main point of this article is to try and show that Muslims and Islam do not agree with war or terrorism, it is totally against their religion to do so!