This is the First Chapter of my book “Searching for God, and Finding Allah”.
SEARCHING FOR GOD AND FINDING ALLAH: The Spirtual Journey Of A Convert To Islam
1. About Me
2. A Succession of Prophets
3. A Sign From God
4. Followers of Jesus
5. Followers of Jesus, Followers of Muhammad
6. The Truth of Islam
7. This Is What Allah Says About The Qur’an
8. A Logical Religion
9. A Logical Reason Why We Cannot See God
10. Our Spiritual Needs and Allah’s Solution
11. You Decide What Happens Next
1. ABOUT ME: HOW I BECAME A MUSLIM
I began writing this chapter because I was always telling the same stories to people in Indonesia who were curious about why I became a Muslim. Whenever I complained about repeating myself to each new person, my friends jokingly said that I should write a book. At the same time, whenever my students asked what job I would like to do if I was not an English teacher, then I always answered that I would like to be a writer because I have enjoyed writing and reading.
Everyone I meet in Indonesia always wants to know the same thing: how did I become a Muslim? I have been living here continuously since 1995, and so I have most of my conversations here, mostly in Indonesian language, but occasionally in English with foreigners. I then get further questions about how I learned to speak Indonesian so well and how I came to live in Indonesia.
There are many problems in Indonesia, just like in all other developing countries, and some Indonesians seem confused when they meet me because they cannot understand how I could choose to become a Muslim and then also choose to live here. Some Indonesians said they had spent many years trying to get out of Indonesia so that they could live in a western country with a high standard of living. So, why would I choose to leave a comfortable life there and live in Jakarta?
The reason is simple. Other Muslims have often commented that my way of understanding and explaining Islam is very different to anything they have ever heard before. They were born into Islam, whereas I spent 5 years examining the teachings of Islam in order to make sure that it was correct. They just accepted what they were told by their parents, whereas I questioned absolutely everything, continuous analysing Islam with logic, and always asking "Why?" However, many Indonesian Muslims honestly admit that they only pray because their parents told them to do it, and so they believe Islam is correct, but they never spent much time analysing what they were doing or why. They just did it. So, that difference in our approaches to Islam made my understanding of Islam seem very unique to them.
That experience made me feel that perhaps I had something important to do in Indonesia. I could speak the language well, was able to communicate my ideas, and my explanation about Islam seemed to have a strong impact on many people who were born as Muslims. For example, a Muslim who had not prayed for 30 years would suddenly start praying again after one conversation with me. So I decided that I should stay here, and try to develop the existing Muslim community rather than seeking a comfortable life for myself in a developed country.
In this chapter, I will explain how I went through the process of becoming a Muslim. However, this is only for the benefit of people who are curious about my background, and after this chapter, the rest of the book is not about me but about how I analysed Islam and Christianity and came to the conclusion that Christianity had to be rejected and Islam had to be accepted. In this book, I would like to explain why I consider Christianity unacceptable from a logical perspective and how I have learned that Islam appears to be a fundamentally logical religion that should appeal to an open mind that uses logic and natural human intelligence to consider the possibility that Islam is correct.
1.1. In The Beginning…
I was born in Nelson, a small city in the South Island of New Zealand (near Australia). As I was a child I did not always feel comfortable in New Zealand. My father was born in Myanmar (Burma), but my family was Catholic and my mother, who was born in New Zealand, had white skin and so I was mixed race. I thought I was "ordinary" but I remember people would often ask me where I was from. My brother and sister had blue eyes, but with my darker eyes and darker hair, I looked more different. I was not really a white person, but I was not Asian either. Perhaps because I was thinking about that, I also wanted to learn more about the whole world, about different countries, cultures and religions, and maybe that was because I did not feel like I belonged in any particular place.
As I got older, I wanted to learn about serious topics: the pyramids, dinosaurs, ancient civilizations, global politics, wars, religion, the stars and the universe. I remember staring at the stars in the sky and thinking about where they all came from. I was only about 10 or 11 years old and I wanted to know everything. At that time, I was the only child in my class who was interested in dinosaurs. I could not understand why no one else cared. Dinosaurs were cool! I wanted to know why they had disappeared and I was generally very curious about anything that was mysterious and unknown.
Like most kids, my parents made me learn about Christianity in Sunday School, but not for very long. I had to learn all of the standard Bible stories about Abraham, Moses, Noah and Jesus. It always seemed strange to me that Noah could get so many animals into one boat. (All the animals in the whole world?). A lot of things in Christianity were confusing to me, but the story about Noah was not the biggest problem.
I learned that there was a Trinity; that God was also Jesus and also the Holy Spirit. They were separate, but they were also one. Three, but one. They were all God, the three of them, but there was only one God. God became a man (Jesus) and that man was the Son of God, and also God. That man died, but God cannot die. But that man is God. He died. But God cannot die. But he is God. So, he died, even though he cannot die. He is both immortal and mortal at the same time. I found that quite confusing.
I also had trouble when thinking about the role of a Catholic Priest in forgiving someone for his or her sins without discussing it with God. What if the priest got it wrong and my sins were not erased? Could I get some written proof from God that my sins had been forgiven? What if I met God on Judgment Day and found out that the priest had made a mistake and that all of my sins still existed? If I protested and pointed to the priest who had convinced me that all of my sins were forgiven, then all God would have to say to end the discussion would be “Who told you to believe him?” Who would be able to save me if the priest was wrong and my sins were still counted by God?
I began to think about how I could get clear answers to all of the religious questions that were bothering me. Finally, I decided that I would have to speak directly to God. Only He could answer all of my questions. So, I prayed to him and I asked Him to appear in my bedroom so that I could see Him with my own eyes. But, of course, nothing happened and He did not appear. So, I decided that the reason He did not appear was that He did not really exist, and so there was only one course of action left for me: I had to declare myself an atheist and not believe in any gods at all.
I continued passing through various grades at school and did not make a big deal of the fact that I did not believe in God. If anyone ever asked what religion I was, I just said Catholic so that I did not have to explain being an atheist. During the rest of primary school, junior high school and high school, I did not spend much time studying Christianity, or any other religions. I was certain that studying religion was just a waste of time because God was not real. After I finished high school, my parents decided to move to Brisbane, Australia, so I decided to go with them.
1.2. Learning About Islam
In Brisbane, I suddenly wanted to study psychology at university, but I could not get into that faculty. As an alternative, I was offered a place in the Faculty of Asian and International Studies. I was told that I could enter Asian Studies for 1 year, improve my grades, and then reapply to study psychology. That sounded like a good plan and so I decided to do that.
In the first year of Asian Studies, I chose Indonesian language and was soon getting high scores in my class. When scholarships for 3 students to study in Indonesia became available, I did not apply because I planned to transfer to psychology at the end of my first year. Three students were selected, but then one of them suddenly had to withdraw, leaving one position open again. One of my lecturers asked why I did not apply the first time. After I explained my intentions to leave the faculty, he encouraged me to continue with Asians Studies and Indonesian language as I was obviously doing well. Based on his advice, I decided to stay in my faculty, and I also decided to apply for the scholarship to Indonesia. I won the scholarship and would go to Indonesia the following year, in 1991. Now I became more focused on my studies because my goal was different.
One day the Indonesian Club on campus held a barbecue and invited all of the Australian students who were learning Indonesian as well as all of the Indonesian students who were studying there. An Indonesian man started chatting with me, and he suddenly asked me if I had learned anything about Islam. I told him that, of course, we had to learn the basics of all major religions in Asia in one of our courses.
Then he really shocked me. He said: “Do you know that in Islam only God can forgive you for your sins? There are no priests that can forgive you!” I did not know what to say. I still remember sitting there like a statue with a hotdog half way into my mouth. I just froze. Time seemed to stand still for several seconds. Then I suddenly realized that he had given me one logical answer that I had been looking for during the previous ten years. In Islam, only God could forgive you for your sins. That was logical. Was it possible that there really was one religion based on logic? Was it possible that Islam contained teachings that I could analyse critically without getting confused? Was it possible that Islam could give me real answers to my questions about religion? Was it possible that one of the religions in this world that I had rejected actually contained Absolute Truth? Could that really be possible?
This was the spark that got me started. I began to read books about Islam and started looking for Indonesian Muslims to talk with. Slowly, I started to build up more and more knowledge about Islam by asking questions, thinking, reading and then asking some more. My clear goal was to find out if it was possible that Islam was logical or not.
In 1991, I left for Indonesia to start my scholarship. I was sent to a private Catholic university in Jakarta. While I was studying there for 6 months, all of my friends were Muslims. I watched them doing salat (the 5 daily prayers) and began to ask questions about their religion. I wanted to know what they were doing, why, and what they believed as Muslims.
When I returned to Brisbane after 6 months, I had become a much more fluent Indonesian speaker. Because of that, I spent more and more time with Indonesian Muslims. I was not actively studying Islam on a regular basis, but I was already interested. Whenever we had to write an essay at university, I looked for a topic that was somehow related to Islam. Usually there was one in a list of several topics. In order to write my essay, I would have to read dozens of books and articles about some aspect of Islam in Indonesia. The more I read, the more I was able to think deeply about Islam.
Even though I could see that there were many positive aspects to Islam, I was still secretly looking for an obvious flaw. I was sure that sooner or later I would find something to convince me that Islam was not a correct and logical religion. I was sure that there had to be something wrong with the basic teachings of Islam and I was determined to find out what it was.
When I finished my Bachelor of Arts degree, I studied for an extra year to get a Graduate Diploma of Education which made me a foreign language and history teacher. Then I found out about another scholarship for one person to spend a whole year in Indonesia. I applied and won that scholarship, and then spent 1995 at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. Once again, I spent my time in Indonesia with Muslims and paid attention to their behaviour.
In February of 1995, I was sitting on the floor late at night, watching Salat Tarawih on television, live from Mecca. (Tarawih prayers are optional prayers performed at night during the fasting month of Ramadan, and can go on for 2 hours). I listened to the commentators speaking Indonesian. That year, there were approximately 3 million people in the mosque and surrounding areas (which included the outdoor courtyard, the nearby streets, and even some hotel lobbies). They were all doing salat (prayers) together. Three million people, all doing the same prayer, facing the same direction, following the same leader, praying in the same language, with the same words, at the same time, and praying to the same God. I began to think, “Where is there anything like this in a western country?” Only about one hundred thousand people would fit into a stadium to watch football match. But now I was looking at three million people in and around one building, doing the same thing, at the exact same time, and all moving in unison. It was truly amazing. Until now, I still have not found anything similar in the western world.
I began to wonder about how many people could gather in one building to hear the Pope speak. I wondered if all of them would be able to understand what he was saying because there is no unifying language for Christians from different countries. There was no comparison in Christianity with what I was watching on television from Mecca.
1.3. Becoming A Muslim
For one year while I was living in Jakarta, I continued to learn slowly about Islam, not in a formal or serious way, but just by paying attention to what I saw around me. When Islamic clerics gave short speeches on television, I would listen. I thought about what they were saying. There was nothing significant that I could find fault with and by the end of 1995 I was finding it harder and harder to refuse what I had learned. I kept searching for a logical flaw in the basic teachings of Islam but I simply could not find one. Islam was too clear, too logical and appeared to be based on common sense and general intelligence.
I could not keep denying what I had learned about Islam and so finally, I felt like I had no choice: I had to become a Muslim. But that made me think about my future. My time at the University of Indonesia was almost over. I would have to go back to Australia and work there. Could I learn about Islam if I lived there? Would I be able to find a teacher? Would I find somewhere to pray? How many mosques were there in Brisbane? How would I cope with being a Muslim by myself? The more I thought about it the more it seemed that staying in Indonesia was a better choice, so that I could be surrounded by Muslims. So I decided to become a Muslim and live in Indonesia for a while so that I could learn about Islam more easily.
In February 1996, I said syahadat (the Muslim declaration of faith) and formally became a Muslim. My family probably thought that I had gone crazy but they accepted my decision and did not make any negative comments in front of me. I was still welcome in my family, and that was very different from the numerous stories I had heard in Indonesia about Christians who converted to Islam, and were then beaten up, thrown out of their houses and disowned by their own families.
Even though my family was still friendly towards me, and I could have easily moved back to Australia, I still felt more feel comfortable living amongst other Muslims and having the opportunity to study with my teachers every week. So, I decided to stay in Indonesia and I have been living and working here from 1995 until now. I have thought about moving to other countries several times, but every time I decide to leave, something always happens to make me change my mind, and I end up staying here.
1.4. What is the Purpose of this Book?
Perhaps the best explanation for why I felt compelled to write this book is that I wanted to explain some elements of Christianity and Islam that I have spent many years analysing and trying to comprehend and I hope that information will be useful for different groups of people. When I was a boy, I gave up on Christianity because I found it too illogical, and I could not find any books that presented an alternative religion with logical teachings as a fundamental basis of the religion. Because of that, I gave up on all religions and gave up on Almighty God as well. I have met numerous adults in the same situation and it is obvious that they have already been though, or are still going through, the same process. So, I wrote this book to try to help them find the answers that they have spent their lives looking for because I believe that satisfactory answers can be found within Islam.
I hope this book will be useful for various groups of people. First, for people who were born as Muslims, and do not know much about Christianity. Some Muslims find it hard to explain why Christian teachings are rejected in Islam, so I would like to make it clear. Second, for Muslims who are not devout and may be considering converting to Christianity. Hopefully the explanations provided here will make it clear why they should study Islam more deeply, rather than look for another religion. Third, for ex-Christians who are thinking about converting to Islam but are still unsure about the similarities and differences. Fourth, for ex-Christians who have left the church, do not follow any religion but still want a relationship with Almighty God. Those people probably do not know that Muslims accept Islam as the continuation of Christianity and Judaism, and that Muhammad SAW is simply the replacement for Jesus as the next and final Messenger of God.
I have met some Muslims who are uncertain of their religion and this was usually the result of a poor religious education in their childhood. Some of them might only pray whenever they feel like it (even though it is compulsory for all Muslims to pray five times a day), some might not pray at all, some might essentially feel like atheists or agnostics but will still call themselves Muslims for social reasons, and some of them might have become interested in Christianity. For all of these people, I think that the underlying cause is essentially the same: they do not really understand Islam as it was not explained to them very well, or their parents were not devout, and so they never had a strong understanding of Islam.
Whenever I meet Muslims like those, it is obvious that they do not understand much about Islam or Christianity and so they are usually interested in my analysis of both religions. I hope that after reading this book those Muslims will feel more confident in remaining with Islam, and will begin to seek more in-depth knowledge from other sources.
I hope that ex-Christians who have left the Church but still believe in God will find ideas here that will encourage them to investigate Islam with an open mind. Once they have learned more about Islam, and understand that Islam as an updated version of the same religion that was given to Jesus, Moses, Abraham (and all of the other prophets of God) then I hope that they will be in a better position to understand how Islam relates to Almighty God. If an ex-Christian reads this book and becomes more interested in Islam, then I hope that he or she will follow up on that by reading more widely from other books which explain Islam in detail. Because the basic teachings of Islam are widely available from other sources, I have not included a lot of that information in this book.
One thing I would like to make very clear is that this book was not written with the intention of insulting Christians or Christianity. Although Christians will not like what I have said about their religion, I have tried to give thoughtful academic arguments and not emotional ones. As a Muslim, I believe that there is nothing to be gained from insulting other people’s religion, and Almighty God also tells Muslims not to insult others via this verse in the Qur'an:
108. And insult not those whom they (disbelievers) worship besides Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge. Thus We have made fair-seeming to each people its own doings; then to their Lord is their return and He shall then inform them of all that they used to do.
(QS. Al-An’am 6:108)
Please note that it is not my intention to explain absolutely everything about Christianity or Islam. During many years of reading and research, I have thought a lot about how to explain the differences between the two religions to an ordinary person and so I have collected some elements that I think will be useful for people who are trying to understand both religions in a logical way. Because my intention was to focus only on the two religions, and make it clear why Muslims do not accept Christianity, there were certain topics that I decided not to discuss at all (to avoid making the book even longer). For example, there is no chapter where I try to explain the existence of God and I just assume that the reader is already familiar with basic monotheistic concepts such as the existence of Almighty God, Prophets, holy books, angels, Heaven, Hell, the afterlife and so on.
1.5. All Human Beings Can Be Good Or Bad
After being a Muslim for many years, I can honestly say that it has been an interesting experience with many good and bad points. I have seen wonderful human beings who behave in a noble way, because they are Muslims, as well as Muslims who do not care if their negative behaviour is against the teachings of Islam. I have seen Muslims who are kind, caring, honest, sincere, generous and loving, as well as Muslims who are the exact opposite (very unpleasant people). We will find that this is true in every religion because human beings can choose to behave in any way they like, regardless of their religion. But in the case of Islam, the modern media seems to make it hard for non-Muslims to see anything except hatred, death, and destruction when Muslims and Islam are presented to the public. Of course, there are Muslims who carry out acts of violence, but violence is not exclusive to Muslims, and the kindness of good Muslims usually does not become a news story because no one dies and nothing explodes! So, Muslims who appear in the news because of negative acts do not represent the majority of Muslims who lead an ordinary peaceful life, go to school, work, get married, raise their children and worship God in the way they believe is correct.
However, if Muslims were to think themselves as “salespeople” and the product that they are “selling” is “Islam” then it becomes obvious that many people are not interested in "buying" what Muslims are “selling”. In other words, many Muslims are not very good at “marketing Islam” so that it can be easily accepted by others. If a westerner wants to debate with me about the truth of Islam then he only has to point out the numerous problems in Indonesia (such as corruption) and say, “Doesn’t this prove that your religion is no good?” Of course, what he is pointing at is human behaviour and not part of Islam, but convincing him of that is quite difficult, because his next question will be "If that behaviour is forbidden in your religion then why is it so common?"
The answer is that no matter what God tells us to do, many human beings will not obey Him. The best example is the Prophet Adam, who was only forbidden to do one thing: eat the forbidden fruit. So guess what Adam did? Yes, that is correct! With only one rule to break, Adam, a prophet of Almighty God, managed to disobey! We are no different to Adam. But many people in this modern era will quickly judge Islam based on the behaviour of its followers, and so it is easy for "Islam" to get a bad reputation, as many Muslims behave badly. As do many Christians and Buddhists, and Hindus, and followers of every other religion as well.
Therefore, I see that as Muslims, we have an obligation to explain Islam in the best way possible to others who want to understand it, and the easiest way for us to do that is to demonstrate Islam through our own behaviour. If we can do that, then people may begin to think more favourably about Islam because they will see the correctness of Islam portrayed through our own actions. In addition to that, we need to explain very clearly why we believe in Islam and explain what Islam teaches about other religions, especially Christianity, as it is the closest monotheistic religion to Islam. In order to do that, Muslims must understand the problems with Christianity from an Islamic perspective so that they can have a constructive discussion about both religions. If we succeed in “marketing Islam" in this way, then Islam may end up with fewer enemies and a lot more friends.
In the following chapters I will try to clearly explain what Muslims understand about Christianity and then explain why Muslims consider Islam to be the only correct religion available from Almighty God. I hope you find the journey enlightening! Let us begin.