Why I Accepted Islam

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured Topics: Converts, Islam Views: 9988

Michael Wolfe at Al-Ka'ba

After twenty-five years as a writer in America, I wanted something to soften my cynicism. I was searching for new terms by which to see. 

The way one is raised establishes certain needs in this department. 

From a pluralist background, I naturally placed great stress on the matters of racism and freedom. Then, in my early twenties, I had gone to live in Africa for three years. During this time, which was formative for me, I rubbed shoulders with blacks of many different tribes, with Arabs, Berbers, and even Europeans, who were Muslims. By and large these people did not share the Western obsession with race as a social category. In our encounters, being oddly colored, rarely mattered. I was welcomed first and judged on merit later. By contrast, Europeans and Americans, including many who are free of racist notions, automatically class people racially. Muslims classified people by their faith and their actions. I found this transcendent and refreshing. Malcolm X saw his nation's salvation in it. "America needs to understand Islam," he wrote, "because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem."

I was looking for an escape route, too, from the isolating terms of a materialistic culture. I wanted access to a spiritual dimension, but the conventional paths I had known as a boy were closed. My father had been a Jew; my mother Christian. Because of my mongrel background, I had a foot in two religious camps. Both faiths were undoubtedly profound. Yet the one that emphasizes a chosen people I found insupportable; while the other, based in a mystery, repelled me. A century before, my maternal great-great-grandmother's name had been set in stained glass at the high street Church of Christ in Hamilton, Ohio.

By the time I was twenty, this meant nothing to me.

These were the terms my early life provided. The more I thought about it now, the more I returned to my experiences in Muslim Africa. After two return trips to Morocco, in 1981 and 1985, I came to feel that Africa, the continent, had little to do with the balanced life I found there. It was not, that is, a continent I was after, nor an institution, either. I was looking for a framework I could live with, a vocabulary of spiritual concepts applicable to the life I was living now. I did not want to "trade in" my culture. I wanted access to new meanings.

After a mid-Atlantic dinner I went to wash up in the bathroom. During my absence a quorum of Hasidim lined up to pray outside the door. By the time I had finished, they were too immersed to notice me. Emerging from the bathroom, I could barely work the handle. Stepping into the aisle was out of the question.

I could only stand with my head thrust into the hallway, staring at the congregation's backs. Holding palm-size prayer books, they cut an impressive figure, tapping the texts on their breastbones as they divined. Little by little the movements grew erratic, like a mild, bobbing form of rock and roll. I watched from the bathroom door until they were finished, then slipped back down the aisle to my seat.

We landed together later that night in Brussels. Re-boarding, I found a discarded Yiddish newspaper on a food tray. When the plane took off for Morocco, they were gone.

I do not mean to imply here that my life during this period conformed to any grand design. In the beginning, around 1981, I was driven by curiosity and an appetite for travel. My favorite place to go, when I had the money, was Morocco. When I could not travel, there were books.

This fascination brought me into contact with a handful of writers driven to the exotic, authors capable of sentences like this, by Freya Stark:

"The perpetual charm of Arabia is that the traveler finds his level there simply as a human being; the people's directness, deadly to the sentimental or the pedantic, like the less complicated virtues; and the pleasantness of being liked for oneself might, I think, be added to the five reasons for travel given me by Sayyid Abdulla, the watchmaker; "to leave one's troubles behind one; to earn a living; to acquire learning; to practice good manners; and to meet honorable men".

I could not have drawn up a list of demands, but I had a fair idea of what I was after. The religion I wanted should be to metaphysics as metaphysics is to science. It would not be confined by a narrow rationalism or traffic in mystery to please its priests. There would be no priests, no separation between nature and things sacred. There would be no war with the flesh, if I could help it. Sex would be natural, not the seat of a curse upon the species. Finally, I did want a ritual component, daily routine to sharpen the senses and discipline my mind. Above all, I wanted clarity and freedom. I did not want to trade away reason simply to be saddled with a dogma.

The more I learned about Islam, the more it appeared to conform to what I was after.

Most of the educated Westerners I knew around this time regarded any strong religious climate with suspicion. They classified religion as political manipulation, or they dismissed it as a medieval concept, projecting upon it notions from their European past.

It was not hard to find a source for their opinions. A thousand years of Western history had left us plenty of fine reasons to regret a path that led through so much ignorance and slaughter. From the Children's Crusade and the Inquisition to the transmogrified faiths of nazism and communism during our century, whole countries have been exhausted by belief. Nietzsche's fear, that the modern nation-state would become a substitute religion, has proved tragically accurate. Our century, it seemed to me, was ending in an age beyond belief, which believers inhabited as much as agnostics.

Regardless of church affiliation, secular humanism is the air westerners breathe, the lens we gaze through. Like any world view, this outlook is pervasive and transparent. It forms the basis of our broad identification with democracy and with the pursuit of freedom in all its countless and beguiling forms. Immersed in our shared preoccupations, one may easily forget that other ways of life exist on the same planet.

At the time of my trip, for instance, 650 million Muslims with a majority representation in forty-four countries adhered to the formal teachings of Islam. In addition, about 400 million more were living as minorities in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Assisted by postcolonial economics, Islam has become in a matter of thirty years a major faith in Western Europe. Of the world's great religions, Islam alone was adding to its fold.

My politicized friends were dismayed by my new interest. They all but universally confused Islam with the machinations of half a dozen middle eastern tyrants. The books they read, the new broadcasts they viewed depicted the faith as a set of political functions. Almost nothing was said of its spiritual practice. I liked to quote Mae West to them:

"Anytime you take religion for a joke, the laugh's on you."

Historically, a Muslim sees Islam as the final, matured expression of an original religion reaching back to Adam. It is as resolutely monotheistic as Judaism, whose major Prophets Islam reveres as links in a progressive chain, culminating in Jesus and Muhammad (s), may God praise them. Essentially a message of renewal, Islam has done its part on the world stage to return the forgotten taste of life's lost sweetness to millions of people. Its book, the Quran, caused Goethe to remark, "You see, this teaching never fails; with all our systems, we cannot go, and generally speaking no man can go, further.

Traditional Islam is expressed through the practice of five pillars. 

Declaring one's faith, prayer, charity, and fasting are activities pursued repeatedly throughout one's life. Conditions permitting, each Muslim is additionally charged with undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime. The Arabic term for this fifth rite is Hajj. 

Scholars relate the word to the concept of 'qasd', "aspiration," and to the notion of men and women as travelers on earth. In Western religions, pilgrimage is a vestigial tradition, a quaint, folkloric concept commonly reduced to metaphor. Among Muslims, on the other hand, the Hajj embodies a vital experience for millions of new pilgrims every year. In spite of the modern content of their lives, it remains an act of obedience, a profession of belief, and the visible expression of a spiritual community. For a majority of Muslims the Hajj is an ultimate goal, the trip of a lifetime.

As a convert, I felt obliged to go to Makkah. As an addict to travel I could not imagine a more compelling goal.

The annual, month-long fast of Ramadan precedes the Hajj by about one hundred days. These two rites form a period of intensified awareness in Muslim society. I wanted to put this period to use. I had read about Islam; I [attended] a Mosque near my home in California; I had started a practice. Now I hoped to deepen what I was learning by submerging myself in a religion where Islam infuses every aspect of existence.

I planned to begin in Morocco, because I knew that country well and because it followed traditional Islam and was fairly stable. The last place I wanted to start was in a backwater full of uproarious sectarians. I wanted to paddle the mainstream, the broad, calm water.

Source: Muslim Observer - Michael Wolfe

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  6 Comments   Comment

  1. Alan from USA

    Mashaa Allah, great article. I thought though that the article is not complete. Did I miss something? I mean at the end when the author is talking about planning his Hajj trip, seems like the story is cut short.

    At any rate, the story of the author to Islam is great and reflects on many of the new reverts to Islam experience.

    May Allah (sw) keep us on his straight path, guide all humanity to the beautiful religion of Islam and help this world achieve peace through the teachings of Islam. Ameen.

  2. KHAN from US

    One God and Prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of god

    Quran 22:78 '...it is the religion of your father Abraham. It is He who has named you

    Muslims, both before & in this (Revelation). ...

    Genesis 15:6 'Then Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD regarded that faith to be his

    approval of Abram.

    John 8:39: Jesus said 'for if you are the children of Abraham, you would follow his


    Quran Al Saffat (37:35) '...There is no deity (god) but Allah (GOD) ..."

    1Corinthians 8:4 "there is no god but one"

    Deuteronomy 5:7 'You shall have no other gods before me.

    Quran (47:19)] "...Know, therefore, that there is no god but God/Allah..."

    Deuteronomy 6:4 (Shema) 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One'.

    Mark12: 29 'The most important commandment is this: Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is

    one Lord.'

    Haggai 2:7: Muhammad's name appeared under the Hebrew word Mahmad ( ). Ben Yehuda's

    Hebrew-English Dictionary defines "it " as praised one, lovely, coveted one & precious one.

    Deuteronomy 18:15 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from

    among your own brothers. You must listen to him."

    John 15:26 "When Paraklit comes - the Spirit of truth - who comes from the Father, He will

    testify about me.

    John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will

    not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to

    you the things that are to come. "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will

    disclose it to you.

  3. Babandi A. Gumel from U.K

    Allah gives guidance to whomsoever He likes and nobody can force it on anybody whenever He wants and to whoever He wants He gives such guidance to him or her at the right time which is the time of His choice.The decision is left on Him and He alone He is the Creator the Evolver the Guide.He is the Khaliq the Creator and every one and everything apart from Allah is called Makhluq the creation however great it may look or seemed to be or however fascinating or charming it may affair to us it can neither benefit you or harms you without His permission.That's Allah the Greatest None is comparable to Him in whole the Heavens and Earth He begets not nor was He begotten laisa ka mislihi shai'un.So we should continue to ask for guidance from Him as He guided brother Michael Wolfe whose father was a Jew and Mother Christian and Allah has given him hidayah by making him a Muslim.Allahu Akbar.That is Allah who gives life to the dead as He revives the dead earth after bringing rain from the sky.This is called hidayah is not in the hands of anybody even the Prophets including Prophet Muhammad Jesus or Moses Abraham all Peace Be Upon them collectively could not give hidayah to whomsoever they liked or they wished to have such guidance.

  4. tom from u.s.a.

    I too have found in Islam what i have looked for my whole life. Though i am new and learning everyday the peace i have found is something i can not describe. Allah really does work in Mysterious ways. Salaam to all !

  5. Hajjah Alaisa Mukasa from Uganda

    Alhamdulillah! Lailaha Ilallah Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar walillahilhamdu.

    May Allah continue to guide you and all of us and keep us among those on whom He has bestowed His Favors. AMEEN

    Assalaam aleikum.

  6. KC James from USA

    Salaam, very good article. I totally understand the author. What drew me to Islam was: The Christian 10 Commandments, the very first, clearly states: I am the Lord, thy God, thou shalt not have any other gods besides me, yet many worship Jesus and even Mary and numerous Saints and pray to them instead of the Creator. And also for their moral code. In this promiscuous society it is a safe haven!