Muslims are weird. They talk differently, they dress differently, they think differently. What is wrong with them, and why can’t they be more like everyone else?
I come from a secular family. My mother was a Hindu, and my father a Muslim. They fell in love, got married and gave birth to me, a Muslim. Or was I?
***THEORY 1: AMUSEMENT PARK
I always had a good imagination—and I loved to learn. I was into science, philosophy, extreme programming, and Douglas Adams. I was rational—if something didn’t make sense to me, I didn’t buy it. The concept of ‘blind faith’ was unacceptable to me, and so I found it difficult to accept religious teachings because they seemed to be so far fetched and such utter nonsense. As a very young kid, I formed the following theory to satisfy my questions:
Some ‘beings’ live forever. Having done everything there is to do, they are now bored. They create an amusement park. One of the ‘rides’ is called Earth. The ride starts when a person is born in our world, and when the person dies, they ‘wake up’ from the game. There is no objective; it is simply a means of entertainment.
This theory seemed to explain everything, and answer all of life’s questions. Think about it. (It’s a lot like the Matrix theory, isn’t it? Well I thought of it before the movie.)
Now, chances are that it probably seems absurd to you, but can you ask yourself seriously, why is that? Why is it so hard to believe that this is the truth? There is no way to prove that the theory is incorrect. However absurd it sounds, it is perfectly viable that this is in fact the true meaning of this life. Seriously, think about it.
The reason why you are unlikely to ‘buy it’ is in part that there is no evidence to back it up. Even though there is nothing to disprove it, neither is there any proof in support of it. It answers all the questions my fourth grade mind could come up with about this life—but that isn’t sufficient proof that the theory is correct. And that’s exactly the problem I had with religion.
***THEORY 2: SHUT DOWN
As I grew, my fascination with technology, computers in particular, also grew. I noticed a similarity in computers and humans. To draw an analogy, human minds are like computer processors: our long term/short term memories are like a hard disk/RAM; our nervous system is like a motherboard; our eyes like cameras; our ears like a microphone; our mouth like a speaker; our body like a monitor/screen. Of course there are also so many differences, but let’s just put those aside for now. A seventh grade kid thinking about this, it suddenly hit me: I knew the ultimate answer. I knew what happens when a human dies. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Exactly the same way that nothing happens when a computer is shut down. The brain stops processing, the memory stops recording. The hardware shuts down. What does a computer ‘feel’ or ‘experience’ after it’s been shut down? Absolutely nothing at all. If a computer is switched off, absolutely nothing is happening inside it. And when we die, absolutely nothing will be happening in our minds. They will be blank. We will not exist.
This is a very difficult concept to grasp, but given that I came up with the computer analogy, I thought about it often enough to truly believe it as the truth. And it scared me. I was depressed for a long while because it’s scary to know that there’s nothing out there after this life. That when we die, that is it. It is a really scary reality to live in, and it ate at me until I learnt to accept it. When we die, it would be similar to a computer shutting down. The concept of ‘experiencing’ anything would no longer apply to us. We would be ‘blank’. There would be no ‘we’. Simple. Deal with it.
***THEORY 3: CLOUD COMPUTING
Around the time I was obsessed with this theory, I was exposed to the idea of telepathy. Mothers having strong intuitions about their children—crazy, long distance emotional connections that couldn’t be explained by science. There was so much I didn’t understand. So much science didn’t understand; so much of the ‘occult’, the crazy. The power of prayer, which so many swear by. Miracles. God.
What if God existed? I was open to the idea. I recognized that the concept of God was too vaguely defined for anyone to argue either in favour of, or against. So I proposed a concept of God that seemed possible to me. I have already established the similarity between humans and computers. Now, imagine that we are connected to one another (over some radio frequency perhaps). What if all our minds are networked at a subconscious level? That would explain telepathy. And that would provide an answer to why ‘Prayer’ is effective, what ‘God’ is, and so on. They say that a large chunk of our brain belongs to the ‘subconscious’ mind—that we can’t consciously use it. This part could be what processes/runs/maintains this ‘Cloud’ network. There are so many humans, imagine that all our subconscious minds are inter-connected, and work with each other to accomplish miracles, or watch over the human race, or do whatever else God is supposed to be responsible for. Distributed computing.
Miracles, shared supernatural experiences, gut feelings, ‘tapping into our subconscious’, getting a bad ‘vibe’ from someone, or someplace… all sorts of crazy phenomenon seem to be explained easily if our minds are able to tap into this network of shared experiences. This even makes sense from an evolutionary point of view.
***NO MORE THEORY
So I was curious. I was wildly imaginative. And I was an idealist—set on a path to figure out the meaning of this life, the universe and everything. And then I fell in love. And being the idealist that I was, I fell crazy, deeply in love. And I fell in love with someone who took full advantage of my naivety, my idealist innocence. And she reduced me to a shadow of myself—she played me, and blind in love, I didn’t even notice. And I hurt and I suffered and after that ended I was depressed. My ideal vision of the world was shattered and my perfectionist self couldn’t accept my imperfect past. I lost my self-confidence. I was such a mess, such an emotional wreck. And I didn’t want a theory to explain life—I didn’t want to live—I was tempted by the thought of ending it all. And I prayed to the God I hoped existed but didn’t believe in. I prayed: ‘God, if You exist, prove to me that You do. Make me believe in You.’
I wanted my miracle, and I wanted to have faith so badly but I didn’t. Blind faith just seemed so wrong. If God existed, He couldn’t possibly want us to just believe that without proof. If there was no proof, we could end up believing in anything in the name of faith. He would surely give us some way to prove, at least to ourselves, that He is there, watching over us. He had to give me proof. And then I laughed at myself for my own folly in asking a God I didn’t even believe in to help me. Man, I am such a mess, I thought to myself.
So I did what I do—I bundled up all those emotions and stuck them in a part of my mind that I shut off completely. I ignored the feelings—suffocated them rather, and on the surface I was normal. But I wasn’t normal. I felt distant from the world, like my feelings and emotions weren’t really there. Like I felt with my mind instead of my heart, like I was making a conscious decision to smile, or cry, or laugh, or be quiet. I felt like I didn’t truly ‘feel’ and instead I ‘allowed’ myself to enact the emotions I thought were appropriate for any situation. And that became normal.
All my life, I’ve never pretended to be a good Muslim. Except to my father (in front of whom I’d pray, but only to keep him happy), and except in Ramadan. I would fast during Ramadan every year—not pray, but fast—despite the harshest conditions, I’d fast for all 30 days. I thought of it more as a way of disciplining myself, and it made me feel special. I didn’t believe in God, I just did it because it was cool.
But nonetheless, I think I was a good person—I followed my conscience. I always tried to be honest, helpful, patient, kind. I helped people at my own expense, didn’t drink alcohol (never got into the habit as a boy, and wasn’t tempted after that), wasn’t into women (courtesy of the heartbreak, I suspect), and I prided myself in my honour. I knew that the one thing I had faith in was my inner goodness, that I would rather be honest/correct at the expense of ease, than compromise my conscience. And I never followed the flock—again, unless something made sense to me, I didn’t do it—so when my friends slept around, partied crazily, puked all over themselves (and me on occasion), and ‘had fun’, I was never tempted by it all. I’d accompany them for the sake of the friendship, and I never judged them or thought of myself above them—I just figured that that life wasn’t for me. And so I never partook in the Crazy.
It’s not that I didn’t have fun. I loved to read. I loved adventure sports, the outdoors: camping/hiking/beachside barbecues. I loved DIY; I enjoyed a wide variety of music; I really loved programming, carpentry, electronics, mechanics, ‘making stuff’, and, later, I loved talking and listening, having conversations (initially I was quite reserved).
And I was normal. But all the while I always had the nagging feeling that I wasn’t. It’s like a wound heals and you can’t feel the pain anymore but you know that it’s not because the pain has gone, but because you’ve gotten used to it. And even though you can’t tell that it hurts, you know it doesn’t feel right. It’s like you walk into a stale, musty room and soon you can’t smell the mustiness, but you don’t feel fresh either. You get it, right?
Given the person I was, I avoided the company of Muslims. I didn’t like how they expected me to conform, go out of my way to do things which I didn’t enjoy doing (such as pray). I didn’t like how they talked funny by adding ‘if God wills it’, or ‘Praise be to God’ at seemingly random places in any conversation. I didn’t get why they were so insensitive to other religions. I told myself: as a Muslim, I wouldn’t want to hear other’s preach their religion to me. Why would I, as a Muslim, do to others what I know I wouldn’t want them to do to me? And I felt like an outsider. I didn’t fit in with other Muslims—even if I wanted to conform, I didn’t know the rules. I didn’t know when to say Alhamdulillah (all praise and thanks be to God), or SubhanAllah (glory be to God), or Insha’Allah (if God wills it. Muslims say this after any hopeful/future event, as a reminder that nothing happens without the permission of God).
And most Muslims I met didn’t know the rules of the society I belonged to. And I didn’t know why they did what they did—I just figured it was tradition, or a closed-minded minority community’s way of safeguarding themselves from change by alienating themselves with this strange talk and behaviour. And most of all, I found Muslims intellectually un-stimulating. Boring. They had nothing interesting to say. No Muslim I knew excelled at anything—they were all mediocre and satisfied that way. They were into politics and current affairs perhaps (which I wasn’t into), but never into science, technology, philosophy, music, movies or anything I found interesting. If they were into those things, then they never made it obvious that they were Muslims. And I never thought of them as Muslims—they didn’t pray, and they didn’t abstain from drinking alcohol or eating pork. And the few Muslims who did seem intelligent usually turned out to be religious nuts.
And so I remained that way, unsatisfied, but at a status quo. Telling myself this was the best it would get, that I was a good person, and that was all that mattered. I excelled in my field, I had a clear conscience, I was decent looking and healthy, and had enough money to live more than comfortably, and so I should be satisfied. And given how I was already so used to ‘pretending/enacting’ emotions, I faked satisfaction. Even to the extent that I believed I was satisfied, although I wasn’t.
***A NEW START
And so I was living this life—‘satisfied’ where I was, believing that when I die, there would no longer be a ‘me’—and I was no longer scared by the thought because I really did want it all to end. And I went through school, college, got a job—and I’d just try on occasion to pray every now and then just for the heck of it. Just to have the identity of a Muslim I guess.
In today’s day and age, when society ridicules Islam and people say horrible things about Muslims, I just thought it would be ‘weak’ of me to alienate myself from Islam. So I’d try and be a Muslim, try and pray, just because I felt it was wrong to ditch the weaker side. Not that it made a difference—I wasn’t doing anything, just satisfying my own need to not feel guilty.
And so it was that I was hanging out one day with a bunch of close friends from the same university (who happened to be Muslims), and we went to meet a visiting friend who was now pursuing further education abroad. He was a nice guy—friendly, fun, happy, down to earth. I didn’t know him too well, but I respected the person he was. And when we went to meet him, he told us he was planning to leave Islam and become an atheist. And he had changed—he seemed somewhat depressed, he wasn’t as strong a personality as I remembered him to be. And my Muslim friends started working on ‘increasing his faith’ and encouraging him to not do something so drastic. But to no avail. He was open to listening to arguments in favour of Islam, but none of the arguments made sense to him—he had the same problem I did with blind faith. When turned to for my opinion, I said something along the lines of:
The concept of God is too vaguely defined to argue either in favour of, or against. In case there is in fact a God, He’d be pissed if you didn’t believe in Him. And if there is no such ‘intelligence’, then believing can’t really do you any harm. If anything, it’ll give you something to have faith in, or anchor yourself to. There’s really no point in going the atheist route—just hang in there, and hope that there is a God.
He pursued this line of thought but of course there was a catch in the argument, something I had been struggling to answer, but couldn’t. And he asked: “How can one have faith in ‘something vague’? One doesn’t really have faith in a ‘vague concept’. By this logic, one could be asked to have faith in anything at all.”
At this point, a bemused friend told me that I was wrong. That Islam was not a religion that encouraged ‘blind faith’, and that Islam actually had proof that God exists. And I laughed to myself but kept quiet. My friend was adamant though—he insisted that if anyone at all read the Qur’an, with the intention of learning from it, with the intention of reading what God had to say to humanity and learn from it with a pure heart, then that person would be convinced that there is in fact a God. He spoke of miracles that could not be explained by science, and he spoke with such conviction that I was convinced he was another religious nut. But then he said that the Qur’an itself encourages people to challenge it, find flaws in it, and that he openly challenged anyone at that table to read the Qur’an with the intent to learn from it, to read It with an open heart, and that the person would be left convinced of the existence of God. And I thought I’d give it a shot—what did I have to lose?
So I did what any kid my age would do—I downloaded an eBook of the Qur’an, with the English translation, and I started reading it. I got past the first few pages the first time, and I fell asleep. I tried again the second day, and, man, it was so difficult to read. I didn’t get the references, the strange language, the hidden meanings—it was way too difficult. Whatever was I thinking? And yet, I wasn’t about to give up so easily. I had just been told that Islam encourages intellectual study of religion, that we are told—rather, we are instructed by God Himself—to challenge and question the Qur’an, and that God Himself says that we are not to believe in Him blindly. Now this was a God that I could hope to believe in. This was a God who would satisfy my intellectual curiosity, would prove to me that He exists. And I decided to give this whole ‘Muslim’ thing another shot. After all, what did I have to lose?
And I saw video after video on YouTube, read article after article about Islam and the Qur’an, and the more I read/learnt, the more answers I got to the doubts/questions I had about Islam, and all the same, the more new doubts/questions popped up in my mind. And so began my journey to learn about this religion.
And then it was Ramadan. And I was fasting all 30 fasts, and this time I decided I’d pray as well. And in order to pray, I went to a mosque where the Imam (preacher) did the khutba (sermon) in English. And after the first few days, I was so moved by what I heard. The message of Islam that I heard was so beautiful. I felt so at peace while praying. I don’t know what happened to me at that point, but it felt like a switch flipped in my brain—my point of view changed so dramatically that everywhere I looked, I saw signs of miracles. I saw God everywhere I looked. And over the course of that Ramadan, I became a whole other person. I felt so connected to God, the Creator and Lord of this Universe. I felt so at peace and I felt such a deep sense of tranquility that it was the first time in ages that I actually ‘felt’ something truly from the depths of my heart. It was like a sense of calm and peace filled every bit of my being, like I was so satisfied where I was, like everything in the world was so insignificant. And I wept and I cried and I was so ashamed of all my sins, all my doubts, and I was so grateful to God for making me believe in Him.
***SATISFYING THE INTELLECT
But I was weak, a human after all—I knew of God’s existence, but I was so weak. I knew I had to pray all five times a day—I knew it was important because God suhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He), the Creator of this Universe, had told all Muslims they had to pray. And I tried to, but I’d miss prayer—I’d be sleeping perhaps—and then the guilt of missing my prayers would eat at me, and I’d be too guilty to pray for days after that. And I’d do shameless things, just do everything wrong because I felt like I didn’t deserve to be forgiven. I felt like I had sinned so much that this would only be another few drops in my ocean of sin.
And then despite having felt the miracle of God’s forgiveness—the peace and tranquility that came with it, I started questioning it all. I challenged my belief in what I had experienced. I told myself that even though my heart still believed, my mind did not. And that’s when I randomly stumbled upon an essay by Dr. Gary Miller—and that essay changed everything for me.
Who is Dr. Miller? Dr. Miller was a Canadian Mathematician and Christian missionary. He decided to do the world a favour and rid the world of Islam by accepting the Qur’an’s challenge to find flaws in it (the Qur’an clearly challenges non-believers in many places to find flaws in it, and to come up with another book like it). He studied the Qur’an for years, and at the end of his studies, he was so convinced that the Qur’an was in fact authored by God himself, that he converted to Islam. Being the logical and intellectually grounded person that I was, this Mathematician’s work made so much sense to me that I was convinced at an intellectual level of that which my heart already believed in.
And once more, I asked God for His forgiveness, and now I committed myself a hundred percent to becoming a good Muslim. But I have lost that sense of tranquility and peace. Even today I strive to be a better Muslim in the hope that someday God will forgive me of my many sins insha’Allah (if God wills it).
I will not list the proofs and arguments here—I’m no scholar and I’m not capable of answering any questions. I read somewhere that there are two types of knowledge: knowledge of the heart and knowledge of the mind. Knowledge of the heart is useful to those trying to become better Muslims, and knowledge of the mind is useful to those fighting intellectual battles for Islam. Alhamdulillah my heart and mind are convinced and believe in what Islam teaches. But I don’t have enough knowledge of the mind to even think of arguing this out with anyone. Insha’Allah some day I’ll have learnt/read the Qur’an, and learnt/read other scriptures, and God might bless me with the knowledge to show others what I see so clearly now.
I highly encourage everyone to read this essay by Dr. Gary Miller—but unless one does so with an open mind and heart, it’s impossible to find any proof convincing enough. Unless one is open to the idea of miracles, miracles cease to exist. One only accepts what one is willing to—even if one is presented with the most convincing of arguments, one can always say, “That isn’t right, these people must be lying.” Islam argues: don’t stop at “That isn’t right.” Do some research, argue the proof intellectually and you won’t be able to. So if you’re willing to go through that, or if you’re willing to read the essay with an open mind, I say go for it.
Islam is a journey. It is a journey to serve the Lord and Creator of this Universe, and in so doing, to improve ourselves, to live more satisfying lives, to protect ourselves from what is wrong and evil. And it isn’t easy to begin with. Until one has truly and completely submitted to God’s will, Islam is a difficult religion to follow—and it remains so until one gives in completely to it. There is no easy 50/50 path—and this scares away people. There are so many rules and regulations, so many things that we are afraid to start because we are afraid to make mistakes.
But God says so many times in the Qur’an that He is Merciful and Forgiving—and I believe that if one strives to be a better Muslim, even if one takes slow steps, one at a time, it becomes so much easier as time goes by. As with anything else in this world, habits are difficult to break, but if you have faith and strive to do what you know is right, He makes things easier.
I started praying once a day everyday for the first week, then twice, then thrice… And before I knew it, I was praying 5 times a day everyday Alhamdulillah. If I’d missed a prayer, I’d say the next one anyway even if I didn’t make up for the prayer I missed. Then I started covering for the ones I had missed as well. I started trying to learn the Qur’an. I didn’t know any Surahs (chapters) except al-Fatiha (the first chapter of the Qur’an) and Ikhlas (a short chapter). And I started learning them one by one, slow and steady. I started reading about Islam, about the teachings of Islam, only with the intent of being a better person and a better Muslim. And it’s a slow journey but it leaves you so satisfied. I pray that insha’Allah God makes this journey easier for all of us.
***KILL ALL KAFIRS (Non-Believers)?
Most of my life, almost all my friends have been non-Muslims. Most of my friends are non-Muslims today. I love a lot of them, I’m very close to a lot of them, and I respect and care for and would do a lot for a lot of them. I respect them because they have their own faith and their own beliefs and they stand up for them. I don’t go telling them they are wrong and they are cursed—and they respect me for that. All I do now that is different from earlier is that I practice my religion as best I can. I don’t hide it from them because I am not ashamed of it. I don’t look down upon them or their religion, and I’d happily listen to their beliefs/faith if they talked about it. But I am firm in what I believe. If I have doubts or questions, I ask God for guidance and a little research goes a long way in answering most questions.
If I had been born a non-Muslim, I’d have hated it if Muslims were to preach/look down upon me. I’d hate them, and I’d hate Islam. And I don’t blame the non-Muslims of today for hating Islam as much as a lot of them do. Muslims today don’t follow Islam—they follow their own versions of the religion. They make compromises where the compromises are easy to follow, and they only fool themselves into thinking that what they are doing is correct. Islam encourages respecting other religions. I may be wrong in this in which case I ask for God’s forgiveness, but I firmly believe that it is wrong for me to bash other religions, and look down upon them. Most Muslims today don’t follow Islam to the fullest—they follow Islam to the bare minimum. One of the most important things in Islam is to learn about religion. Iqra (read)—the first word revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him). It is important for Muslims to read, to learn about Islam and its teachings. It is important to thirst for knowledge as a way to get closer to God and our religion. But do we do that at all? We do not—and yet we are surprised when non-Muslims hate Islam. They don’t hate Islam—they hate Muslims. And I don’t blame them too much because if I was in their shoes I might hate some of the things some Muslims do and say as well.
So does Islam say, ‘Kill all Kafirs’? Does Islam say, ‘Force all non-believers to convert’? No, it doesn’t. It says, ‘Spread the message.’ And in today’s day and age, how else can we spread the message of the Lord and Creator of the Universe except to practice the message ourselves in our daily lives?
I pray that God has mercy on all of Us, and guides us to whatever the right path is. I pray that this article encourages people to have an open heart, an open mind, and encourages you to start an intellectual journey to learn more about religion. In today’s day, religion is more of a fashion accessory that has gone out of style. People ‘try’ different religions, change from one to the next out of curiosity, and when they are disappointed, they feel that all religions suck, that there is no God. There is such a culture of partying and ‘living it up’ that one forgets the bigger picture. Unless one believes that there is something after one dies, one cannot argue against the logic that ‘life is short, live it up.’
I’m trying to learn Arabic and trying to learn about Islam and the Qur’an—again, slow and steady—so may God forgive me for not ‘talking like a Muslim’, and forgive me for anything I wrote here which was against His message. I hope I didn’t offend anyone—this article was just a means for me to share my own journey to Islam, and to faith. And it has been a most enriching one. Every day is a struggle so it isn’t easy, but at the end of every day, there is a sense of peace the likes of which I haven’t experienced in as long as I can remember.
It’s like when I’d go hiking for days, trying to climb a mountain. Every small hillock we crossed felt like such an achievement. The path was difficult, and I was a fat, unhealthy kid—and I struggled—and when I reached the top of the hill, I was filled with such a sense of accomplishment, such peace. And when we reached our destination—the top of that tall mountain, and looked back down from there, that sense of peace was amplified so many times—it was such a sense of awe at my own ability, such a sense of accomplishment. The sweetness in victory (over one’s desires in this case) is only as sweet as one’s struggle to get there. And if the satisfaction at the end of every day is so sweet, then I can only imagine how much sweeter it will be at the end of it all.
May God forgive my many mistakes in this article, and help me to improve. And if I have offended any of you, may you forgive me for it. Whatever your religion is, I may not agree with it, but I respect you nonetheless. Whether you’re a Muslim or a non-Muslim, I ask that you think twice before insulting or looking down upon any religion because when we act out of spite or anger or hate, we only cause others to react badly and perhaps insult our own religions. And then the horrible cycle continues.
May God guide everyone trying to improve themselves in their understanding of His message, and may He bless everyone who helps us in this journey.