The Importance of Islam in My Life: A Christian’s Embrace of Muhammad

I read the Qur’an for the first time shortly after September 11, 2001. Even before I started reading, I knew that I would not find anything in its contents that would justify what the terrorists had done. I knew this because I had spent a great deal of time studying world religions a few years previously, and during that time my studies led me to admire Islam’s message of humanity and to embrace the sage, compassionate teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. And so as I read the Qur’an, not only did I find verses that entirely forbid and prohibited the acts of the terrorists, I also discovered in its message an inspiring vision for how to live a purposeful and meaningful life. Indeed, reading the Qur’an only strengthened my admiration of Islam and my embrace of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

What I discovered in experiencing the beauty and ingenuity of the Qur’an offered me both inspiration and guidance for how to fulfill many beliefs that I cherish as vital to living an upstanding life: 1) to show compassion for the disadvantaged and underprivileged; 2) to give generously to the less fortunate; 3) to extend kindness towards kindred, neighbors, and strangers; 4) to appreciate others with differing beliefs; 5) to learn how to forgive those who have wronged us; 6) to work towards peace among people and nations; 7) to recognize the vitality of diversity; 8) to practice civility within and among communities; 9) to ensure justice for all people; 10) to strive for equality between men and women and among the many races; 11) to accept others regardless of background, belief, or faith; and 12) to seek knowledge, learning, and reason to improve our lives. (At the end of this essay, I have listed Surah and verse citations from the Qur’an for each of the enumerations above.)*

In addition, studying the life of the Prophet Muhammad and how he embraced people of all races and faiths further inspired me on how to fulfill a purposeful and meaningful life. His ministry of love, compassion, nonviolence, and acceptance of everyone enabled him to establish a community, the ummah, as a state that honored religious freedom, human rights, and protection of all citizens under just laws. These freedoms, rights, and protections, moreover, did not depend upon one’s class or race, but rather on the piety, civility, and humanity that everyone showed to others in the community. Through covenants, treaties, and his own words and deeds, Muhammad assured that Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others shared the same freedom and equality. With remarkably similar teachings to those of Jesus, Muhammad also taught the power of forgiveness, especially of enemies, because Muhammad understood, just as Jesus understood, how revenge and vendettas have no place in humanity. Indeed, Muhammad’s remarkable life inspired me with the example he set of devoting himself to teaching and leading his community on a path committed to kindness, compassion, and peace among all people.

After reading the Qur’an and studying the life of Muhammad, I felt that I could not remain silent whenever I encountered people voicing ignorance and intolerance about Muslims and Islam. Instead, I decided to speak up and attempt to educate people who claimed “Muslims hate America” or “Islam is a religion of violence” or “Muhammad is the anti-Christ.” Many who voiced such falsehoods often claimed their allegiance to Christianity. My initial reaction was to feel shame and embarrassment for these narrow-minded individuals, but then my indignation grew at their ignorance, which I realized was usually based on either their misinformation, their total lack of knowledge, or their assumption of seeing themselves as more righteous than others. After my emotions settled, I remembered how the Qur’an calls for us to restrain our anger, to practice patience, to trust in God, to spread words of good tidings, and to carry out good deeds (Qur’an 2:153, 14:23-26, 25:63). At that point, I sought to lend my knowledge about the truth of Islam with the hope that I may be able to open the hearts and expand the minds of people who did not know anything about Muslims and yet chose to pass harmful judgment against them.

I made clear to them that just as Christianity does not teach hate, Islam does not teach hate. I reminded them that those who harbor hatred of others under Christianity are not Christians, just as those who hate others under Islam are not Muslims. Those who hate and carry out violence against others cannot proclaim themselves Christians or Muslims because the teachings of our same loving, compassionate, and merciful God do not condone hatred and violence. Those who hate are following their own misguided radicalism and extremism; they are not acting in the name of God. In addition, I pointed out to those who maligned Islam that here in America we do not blame Christians in collective fashion for the crimes of those few individuals who carry out acts of hate, terror, and violence under the name of Christianity. Still, I ran into difficulty with opening the hearts and expanding the minds of some people intent on blaming and condemning Islam for the hatred and violence of a few wanton criminals. For years I wanted to write something that both addressed these misconceptions about Islam and also shone light on the humanity and inspiration of Islam’s teachings, but in the immediate years after 9/11, I had no story to guide me in undertaking such an endeavor.

Allow me to go back to my youth. I have always been a reader and a writer. In fact, one of my mantras is to make my reading goals more important than my writing goals. With my daily commitment to reading, I strive to fulfill what my favorite writer Toni Morrison refers to as “dancing” with the mind of another writer when I commit to reading. Indeed, reading and studying are what first brought me to admire Islam and the Qur’an and to embrace the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. But I also dreamed of writing something someday as profound as my favorite book by Toni Morrison. You may be familiar with Morrison’s novel Beloved about a former enslaved woman dealing with the trauma and anguish of her past.

I dreamed of creating a story like Beloved that encompassed the pain, the suffering, and also the hope for freedom of every enslaved and persecuted person throughout America’s history. Morrison’s characters represented the struggle of all oppressed people to endure in their quest for liberty, racial equality, and a just society. I wanted someday to write something that confronted the wrongs of the past and gave voice to those who sacrificed and survived. I knew if I was ever fortunate enough to find a story that encapsulated such a grand vision, it had to address America’s greatest crime of human bondage and its greatest sin—what I call the disease of racism. I wondered if I would ever find a story and a character in which to undertake such an endeavor.

However, I had plenty of other stories in my mind that desired for me to tell them, and so I undertook each project with determination and perseverance. My first novel The Ramos Brothers Trust Castro and Kennedy was based loosely on the hardships of my father and uncle who were born in Cuba and immigrated in their childhood to the United States in 1959. My second novel The Sky Buries All Sorrow was based loosely on the experiences of my grandfather, a World War II veteran who survived Pearl Harbor. My third book Empire of the Mind was a collection of my selected poems. And my fourth book The Destruction of Silence was another novel, its story about a young Native American man on a journey to overcome abuse and addiction and to discover secrets to his family’s history.

Yet even after I wrote those four books between 2001-2016, the story lingering most in my mind focused on American slavery and the disease of racism and bigotry that continues to plague our country. Then in 2017, I started reading the Qur’an again and I asked myself, “When did the first Muslims arrive in America?” The minute I began researching, I discovered how Muslims have always been a vital part of America’s history because many of them had been enslaved. I immediately knew I had to write about this largely untold and marginalized aspect of American history. After a year of researching, I saw a story emerge with a main character named Isa Muhammad Rahman. Over the next three years, Isa’s voice spoke to me as a narrator while I chronicled his journey in my novel Prayers from the Far Quarter.

Allow me to share with you a brief summary of Prayers from the Far Quarter. Isa’s journey begins in 1850 from the Bornu kingdom of sub-Saharan Africa. From his capture in his homeland, to his sojourn in Victorian England, to his enslavement on a cotton plantation in the antebellum South, to his work with the American Anti-Slavery Society in the North, and finally through his sacrifices as a Union soldier, Isa relies on the guidance of Islam to strengthen his humanity as he struggles for survival and freedom. During his efforts to gain inclusion for himself and his family as American citizens, Isa’s journey affords him remarkable opportunities to share Islam’s message of accepting people of all races and faiths. His quest for equality and a just society leads his life on a path where he meets and works alongside figures as majestic and revered as Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman.

With Isa’s voice guiding me, my novel Prayers from the Far Quarter took its course, and as I wrote Isa’s story, my love of Islam grew stronger. Indeed, writing the book became a life-changing experience for me, and so I’d like to share with you why Islam is important in my life and why I embrace the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad with the same love and admiration I have for Jesus, peace be upon them.

Islam is important in my life because it inspires me to understand how God’s love and caring for humankind compelled Him to deliver a final message through Gabriel to Muhammad so that Muhammad could teach and guide us back to following the earlier teachings of the all the prophets from Adam to Moses to Noah to Abraham to Isaac to Ishmael to Mary to Joseph and, of course, to Jesus (Qur’an 2:87, 2:136, 16:43-44, 33:7).

Islam is important in my life because it reminds me how we are all children of Abraham and how Allah is our supreme Semitic God—the All-Loving, All-Powerful, All-Compassionate, All-Merciful God of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims—which makes us all a kindred community to one another, just like the original Muslim community, the ummah, which Muhammad established in the 7th Century where everyone was accepted and protected as equal (Qur’an 2:62, 2:163-164, 5:69, 42:13).

Islam is important in my life because it embraces Jesus as the Messiah, it recognizes Jesus’s ability to carry out miracles, and it sees Jesus as a prophet showing us the way to a righteous life. And it is Muhammad who reminded us of how we should embrace the teachings of Jesus, whose ministry of love, peace, nonviolence, forgiveness, and compassion among all people reflects Muhammad’s own teachings (Qur’an 2:253, 3:45-49, 4:171, 5:75).

Islam is important in my life because it accepts the Torah and the Gospels and confirms and seals their divinity as a single narrative from God that is finalized in the recitation of the Qur’an, which Muhammad shared with us (Qur’an 3:3-4, 5:45-48, 6:92, 10:37, 12:111).

Islam is important in my life because the Qur’an acknowledges differences among religions and says that God intended these differences so that we would have to learn from each other and live as many nations in peace and understanding (Qur’an 5:45-48, 60:7-8).

Islam is important in my life because of its inclusiveness of all faiths and races and because its recognition of diversity becomes more profound when studying the life of the Prophet Muhammad, whose compassion and acceptance of all people place him among the world’s first antiracists and make him one of the world’s greatest teachers and leaders (Qur’an 2:62, 35:28).

Islam is important in my life because as someone who grew up as a Christian and as someone who follows the teachings of Jesus, I have also found great guidance and inspiration in the Qur’an and the Hadith, the historical record preserving the words and deeds of the remarkable life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (Qur’an 33:45-46, 53:5, 61:6).

And so I share with you my novel Prayers from the Far Quarter, a project that would not have been possible without the inspiration of Islam to guide me. Indeed, the novel echoes with my love and admiration for Islam and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. And it is through the story of my character Isa Muhammad Rahman that my novel honors the sacrifices and contributions of Muslims throughout America’s struggle to make our country a place where we all belong. And ultimately it is through Isa’s voice that the novel resonates with the great message of peace and compassion at the heart of Islam.

*As enumerated from paragraph two, Surah and verse citations from the Qur’an:
1) 2:177, 2:277, 90:12-16
2) 2:177, 2:195, 2:215, 2:262, 2:270-271, 2:277, 3:92, 30:38-41, 57:7
3) 2:82-83, 4:36-37, 17:26
4) 2:62, 2:256, 60:7-8
5) 3:132-135, 41:34, 42:37-42
6) 5:32, 5:45-48, 6:87, 23:44-52, 42:13, 49:9-11
7) 30:21-22, 35:28
8) 3:104, 3:159, 16:125-127, 21:92, 23:44-52
9) 2:228, 3:104, 5:8, 5:45-48, 16:90, 17:33, 31:17-18, 42:15, 57:25
10) 2:228, 4:1, 4:7-8, 7:189, 15:26-31, 30:21-22, 39:6, 60:7-8
11) 2:87, 2:256, 3:3-4, 5:69, 10:37, 12:111
12) 8:22, 16:125-127, 20:114

Roger 8-)
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Published on August 10, 2020 14:30 Tags: christianity, christians, islam, jesus, muhammad, muslims, quran
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message 1: by Matthew (new)

Matthew William You really bring a light to Islam that is glaringly absent from our mainstream media and literature. Thanks for sharing something that is so eye opening and invites one to rethink their own misconceptions.

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