A Jew’s journey to Islam

Updated 02 September 2016
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A Jew’s journey to Islam

Through his first meeting with a Muslim and then numerous chats about religion, Michael David Shapiro sifts through the beliefs of various religions until he ends up accepting Islam. Here is his story.

I am ethnically a Russian Jew. My quest began when I was 19 years old.
My belief in God was uncertain. My goals in life were to be a rock star. I was living in my Pasadena apartment and working as a secretary.
One night I was walking to the kitchen, and encountered a dark fellow. I remembered asking him: “Can I keep this vodka in the fridge tonight?” We shook hands and went to sleep. After that point, my life changed drastically…
This dark fellow, a Muslim, was the first Muslim I had ever met. Extremely curious, I conversed with him about his faith. What’s this stuff I hear about praying 5 times a day? And about holy war?
Our talks were accompanied by our Christian roommate, Wade. Together, we created “The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim dialogue sessions.” In it, we discovered many differences, and many commonalities.
My interest had then shifted from sex, drugs and parties to a massive search for the truth. A search for God.
In my quest for the truth, I asked myself: “OK let’s start simple, how many God’s do I think are out there?” I figured only one; knowing that a divided God is weaker than One God; figuring that if one God didn’t agree with the other, there might be arguments and feuds.
Once I opened up my mind to the possibility of the existence of God, I analyzed both atheist and theist beliefs. The thing that directed me to the latter was the quote “Every design has a designer.” With that in mind, eventually I woke up with certainty that God exists. I can’t explain why, I just felt it somehow.
This newfound excitement was accompanied by a sense of responsibility to follow the Creator. The world of religion was my next frontier.
Then I asked myself, “Where do I start?” There are literally thousands of them. I need a way to narrow them down to a just a few. How do I accomplish such a task? “Find the ones that are monotheistic” entered my mind. “Hey that makes sense, since I believe in only One God.”
Well since I’m a Jew, I started with Judaism. One God, some prophets, 10 commandments, Torah, Jewish souls…uh, what: “Jewish souls?”
While doing research this idea was brought to my attention. The story goes, “if a person is born Jewish, then they have a Jewish soul, and they must follow Judaism.” Hold on a sec…that’s discrimination, isn’t it? That’s not universal.
I thought all men are created equal? So, because one is born into a religion that means by the decree of God he must remain in it… even if the person believes it to be false? Hmm…I don’t agree with that.
Another thing really bothered me…there is no strict concept of hell in Judaism…then why be good? Why not sin? If I don’t have fear of strict punishment, then why should I be moral?
Moving on, I discovered Christianity. OK, one God, a father, a son, and a holy ghost… So how can you say you believe in only one God?
Next major doctrine: Jesus died for our sins and he did this because we all are polluted with “Original Sin.”
OK then, so are you saying that we are all born as sinners? And to sin is to do something wrong right? Then you’re telling me that a one-year-old baby is guilty of sin or doing something wrong? OK that’s strange, so based on the actions of one man, all of mankind must suffer? What’s the moral of that story? Punish the whole group if one deviates? Why would God create such a rule? That’s just not in agreement with my logic.
OK, what’s the next religion?
Islam. Islam means submission. The main beliefs are as follows: One God, worship God five times a day, give 2.5% annual charity, fast during Ramadan and finally journey to Makkah for Haj if you are able financially. OK, nothing hard to understand so far.
There’s nothing that conflicts with my logic here. The Qur’an is a book with all of these interesting miracles and timeless wisdom. Many scientific facts only discovered recently where proclaimed 1,400 years ago in this book.
OK, Islam had passed my initial religious prerequisites. But I wanted to ask some deep questions about it. Is this religion universal? Yes, anyone can understand these basic beliefs…no analogy or equation are needed. Does it agree with science? Yes, dozens of verses in the Qur’an agree with modern science and technology.
As I sifted through the countless logical facts that I read through and researched, one thing took my attention the most. “Islam”— the name of this religion is written many times in this Qur’an.
However, recalling my prior studies, I didn’t remember once seeing the word “Judaism” in the Old Testament or “Christianity” in the New Testament. Why couldn’t I find the very name of the religions in those two books? Because, there is no name in these books!
So who is Juda? Or Judah, rather. He was the tribe leader of the Hebrews when God revealed his message to mankind. So this religion was named after…a person. OK let’s look at who Christ is. He was the person who delivered the message of God to the Jews. So this religion was named after…a person.
Moreover, shouldn’t the name be given to us from God Almighty? Yes, my point exactly. The names “Christianity” and “Judaism” were not written in the Holy Scriptures.
At that point, both Christianity and Judaism lost their credibility as pure, logical, and complete religions, at least from my perspective. Islam is the only of these religions to include the name of the religion in its scriptures. This is so huge for me.
I realized I would follow Islam at that point. I then became a Muslim. I knew the truth. I was out of the darkness. I came into the light…


The beauty of prayer in Islam

Updated 23 September 2016
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The beauty of prayer in Islam

GOING deeper into our spiritual state during prayers (salah) requires that we have a presence of heart and are mindful of the words being said during the prayers.
Our prayer will feel shorter, yet when we look at how much time we actually spent, we will think, “Did I just spend 10 minutes?” or even 15 and 20 minutes.
A person who began applying this said he wished the prayer would never end.
A feeling that Ibn Al-Qayyim describes as “what the competitors compete for… it is nourishment for the soul and the delight of the eyes,” and he also said, “If this feeling leaves the heart, it is as though it is a body with no soul.”

The love of Allah
Some people’s relationship with Allah is limited to following orders and leaving prohibitions, so that one does not enter hell. Of course, we must follow orders and leave prohibitions, but it needs to be done out of more than fear and hope; it should also be done out of love for Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an: “… Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him.” (Qur’an, 5:54)
We often find that when a lover meets the beloved, hearts are stirred and there is warmth in that meeting. Yet when we meet Allah, there is not even an ounce of this same feeling. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And (yet) among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Qur’an, 2:165)
And those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. There should be a feeling of longing, and when we raise our hands to start the prayer, warmth and love should fill our hearts because we are now meeting with Allah. A dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I ask You for the longing to meet You” (An-Nisa’i, Al-Hakim)
Ibn Al-Qayyim says in his book Tareeq Al-Hijratain that Allah loves His Messengers and His believing servants, and they love Him and nothing is more beloved to them than Him. The love of one’s parents has a certain type of sweetness, as does the love of one’s children, but the love of Allah far supersedes any of that. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Any person who combines these three qualities will experience the sweetness of faith: 1) that God and His messenger are dearer to him than anything else; 2) that his love of others is purely for God’s sake; and 3) that he hates to relapse into disbelief as much as he hates to be thrown in the fire.” (Bukhari)
Thus, the first thing he mentioned was: “… that God and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else…”
Ibn Al-Qayyim says: “Since ‘there is nothing like unto Him’ (Qur’an, 42:11), there is nothing like experiencing love for Him.”
If you feel this love for Him, it will be a feeling so intense, so sweet, that you would wish the prayer would never ever end.
Do you truly want to feel this love? Then ask yourself: ‘why do you or should you love Allah?’
Know that you love people for one (or all, in varying degrees) of three reasons: For their beauty, because of their exalted character or/and because they have done good to you. And know that Allah combines all of these three to the utmost degree.

All-embracing beauty
We’ve all been touched by beauty. It is almost fitrah (natural disposition) to love what is beautiful. Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said about the Prophet, peace be upon him, that it was “as if the sun is shining from his face.” Jabir (may God be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful, and radiant than the full moon” (Tirmidhi)
Allah made all His Prophets have a certain beauty so that people would have a natural inclination toward them.
And beauty is more than what is in the face, because beauty is in all of creation and somehow has the ability to take our breath away and give us peace simultaneously. The glimmer of the crescent moon on a calm night, the intensity of a waterfall as the water drops for thousands of feet, the sunset by the sea … certain scenes of natural unspoiled beauty stirs something in us. As Allah is the One Who made it beautiful, so what of Allah’s beauty?
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
This fitrah for loving what is beautiful is because Allah is beautiful. One of His Names is Al-Jameel (the Most Beautiful). Ibn Al-Qayyim states that the beauty of Allah is something that a person cannot imagine and only He knows it. There is nothing of it in creation save for glimpses.
Ibn Al-Qayyim says if all of creation were the most beautiful they could be (so let’s imagine, ever single human being looked as beautiful as Yusuf, peace be upon him, and the whole world was like Paradise), and all of them combined from the beginning of time until the Day of Judgment, they would not even be like a ray in comparison to the sun when compared to Allah. Allah’s beauty is so intense that we will not even be able to take it in this life. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Musa’s (peace be upon him) request: “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (Allah) said: ‘You will not see Me but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious.” (Qur’an, 7:143)
Even the mountain could not bear the beauty of Allah and crumbled, and when Musa, peace be upon him, saw this (he did not even see Allah), he fell unconscious. This is why on the Day of Judgment it is Allah’s light that will shine on everything. We talk about breathtaking beauty, but we have yet to experience Allah’s beauty. While things in this world can be beautiful or majestic or if they combine both they are finite, true majesty and beauty are for Allah: “And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (Qur’an, 55:27)
Keeping all of this in mind, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Allah directs His Face toward the face of His servant who is praying, as long as he does not turn away” (Tirmidhi).
Remember this in your prayer, and ask Allah to allow you the joy of seeing Him in Paradise.