After many years, I am finally sharing some of my story of why I think it took me so long to leave Islam and become a Christian. So, what took me so long to declare myself a Christian? Of course, there were my own intrinsic weaknesses and faults, but I would be hiding the truth from you if I didn’t acknowledge that one major factor in keeping me away from living the truth was Christians.
I lived in the buckle of the Bible belt and was surrounded by congenital Christians—people who read their Bible, faithfully attended church, and knew by heart the words of more than ten hymns. It was these same Christians who baffled me because they told me that God was love; that Jesus called them to love all people, including their enemies; and yet I just didn’t seem to see the love.
What I experienced in my life on the buckle was hateful words directed toward gays, liberals, Catholics, and the list just seem to grow.
Jay Tamboli Creative Commons
I also experienced being on that list and was the recipient on more than one occasion of those hateful words. It just didn’t add up.
What did add up was that I knew that I didn’t want to have anything to do with those Christians.
The problem was that they were unavoidable. In life on the belt buckle, they surrounded me- just about everywhere. As soon as they heard that I was a Muslim, out came the Bibles that were used as a weapon against me, my beliefs, and the ones I loved. When that tactic didn’t work, I was either labelled as deceived by Satan or just ignored, cut out of their lives. The latter was the most common occurrence.
The wild reality was that inwardly I loved Jesus and had come to believe that He was not only the Lord and Savior, but He was my Lord and Savior. I just couldn’t stand being around Christians.
I was baffled when Christians told me that they loved me, but they wanted me to change because I was unacceptable to them the way I believed and practiced my faith. They said that they loved me, but they called the founder of my faith a pedophile and said that they couldn’t understand how anyone could fall for that set of lies and set of deceptions.
So I remained a closeted Christian until I met two wonderful Christians who didn’t try to convert me, make me into a project or object of a tactic or strategy, didn’t criticize my faith, didn’t label Muhammad as a war mongering pedophile who oppressed women, refrained from saying that Islam is the cause of backwardness in the Muslim populated world, never said that only an idiot could believe Islam.
These two Christians did radically Christian things like invite me to dinner, went to my mosque and politely asked questions about things they didn’t understand, listened to my religious doubts and shared some of their own, invited me to a Christmas celebration but didn’t force me to sing Christmas carols, discussed overlapping intellectual interests, didn’t try to slip me a pulled pork sandwich calling it the other white meat, laughed at movies we attended together….they prayed for me and let me pray for them.
These were nice men who helped me heal from my previous experiences with Christians. They didn’t just talk about love; they lived it. They didn’t just say that God loves me; they showed it. They showed the truth more than told me about it.
Through their love I dared to call myself a Christian. Through God’s love shown through these wonderful men, I allowed myself to let my outside match the reality of my inside and embrace some measure of peace and joy in my life.
I think my history contributes to my current grief when I hear what Christians often say about Muslims and Islam. I hear Franklin Graham declare that the United States should not permit Muslims to immigrate to this country and that the presence of a mosque in a Florida airport is an abomination. I shake my head and relive those days when I was surrounded by this kind of Christian and the feelings I had in those days come back. The prevailing feeling is sadness. Sadness is what I feel when I hear about Qur’an burning days, when another mosque is burned or a swastika is drawn on the front of a mosque along with the words, “Go home.” I am getting old now, and these things sadden me.
But you know, I am also more hopeful than I have ever been. I am hopeful when a young man from Texas says that he is going to give up the possibility of a good job in business making lots of money so he can live among Muslims because he loves them and when you love someone you want to be around them. That is beautiful! I am hopeful that the Zwemer Center can publish articles from diverse views with a common theme of love for Muslims because I knew all too well that just five years ago this would have been impossible.
So while I can’t hide that it was a particular kind of Christian who delayed my declaration that I was a Christian, and while those Christians are still out there in unfortunately large numbers, I am hopeful because slowly Christians are learning what it means to be a Christian and are daring to love and respect Muslims.
You can find them. It’s not that difficult. They will be the ones who are smiling and hanging out with Muslims, showing what love looks like.