Coming to Islam Despite Muslims. Czechoslovakia
I spent the first twenty-two years of my life in communist Czechoslovakia. I used to be an atheist for most of my life, truly convinced that God did not exist. An important reason for my rejection of God's possible existence was the irrational nature of Christianity's concept of God as Trinity.
I still vividly remember my grandmother, telling me stories about God when I was a child, and about Jesus and His mother Mary, and how illogical these stories seemed to me even then (“Well, Grandma, if God is One, how can He be three at the same time?”, “And Grandma, if Mary was His mother, who was God before He was born?”...etc.). I remember how mercilessly I teased my poor grandma, and how she could never provide a satisfactory answer.
I also remember well how amused I was, in my mid-twenties and a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, and how heartily I laughed when I found out that one of my colleagues believed in God and prayed regularly, and how incredulous I was that anyone intelligent enough to be studying for a Master's Degree in Business could be at the same time dumb enough to believe in God and the Hereafter.
It was only in my thirties, when, through my interest in science, all-of-a-sudden it dawned on me that even a brick wall cannot happen by accident. So, if all of the natural laws in the universe fit together so amazingly precisely, it cannot be a product of chance but it must have been created by God. And God must be only ONE.
I went from certainty that there isn't, and cannot be, God, to certainty that there must be God in what seems like an instant, without any period of uncertainty in-between.
I now knew that there is God, and I knew that He is One. And I was sure that all religions had it wrong. I already knew this about Christianity, and my impression of Judaism was that it says that God is only for Jews and that it teaches other things not compatible with an All-Knowing God. From what little I knew about Islam (from the newspapers, of course), I did not think that it had much in common with faith in God and submission to His will either. My bad impression was only re-enforced when I encountered my first Muslims.
These were Lebanese and Syrian traders in Ivory Coast and Liberia, whom I met in the course of my business trips to West Africa. From what I could see, they were not very honest, they drank alcohol, they did not pray and they treated the Africans as slaves. When I suggested that all of this was inconsistent with God’s commandments, they agreed but said this did not worry them. They told me that this was the advantage of Islam over other religions, because “In Islam, one can have a good time and sin as much as one pleases, and then, when he is too old for sin, he only needs to make a Hajj to Makkah, and all of his sins will be washed away.” I thought “What a bunch of baloney, and the further from this religion, the better!”
So, for a while, I was convinced that I had my own, private religion, just me and my faith in God and submission to His will, until I got into a discussion of our mutual religious beliefs with a Lebanese student, who was visiting his relatives in Ivory Coast. He was surprised that I had not read the Quran, and suggested that I definitely read it. He was convinced that I would like it, and told me that I would find in there a lot of what I was telling him about my beliefs. When I asked him about some of the other “Muslims,” he told me not to judge Islam by these people, because they were ignorant
I was quite impressed by him and bought shortly an English translation of the Quran (by N.J. Dawood, which in fact isn't the best). I must confess that it sat unopened on my bookshelf for about 3 years. I think my reluctance to read it stemmed from my several attempts to read the Bible cover-to-cover, which were never successful, because I found too many contradictions and much of the material too dry. I thought the Quran would probably be much the same. But then, out of curiosity, I started reading it one day. By the time I reached about a third, I was very impressed and commented to my wife about how smart Muhammad must have been. It was all so very logical, with no contradictions. After that, I came suddenly across some scientific facts which took my breath away. I knew for sure that these were only discovered during the 20th century. As Muhammad could not have known them, he must have been a prophet and a messenger, as it was instantly clear to me that the Quran could only come from God.
This was about 17-18 years ago and I never looked back. My family and friends could not believe at first that I was serious and, for a long time, they thought that this was some sort of a put-on or a practical joke. Even now, when they have gotten used to it and know that I am serious, they still can't understand why I chose Islam and I still get asked, from time to time “Can't I see how they are terrorists who kill innocent people? Can't I see how badly they treat women? Can't I see how they would like the whole world to go back in the Middle Ages? And if I already wish to believe in God, OK, why not, but then why do I have to believe in their Allah? Why not believe in our God instead? Why?”
To my children (23, 14, 12, 10) Islam comes naturally. However, my wife of 27 years, who believes in one God, rejects the concept of Trinity and of the divinity of Christ, and who rejects any intercessors between God and the human, nevertheless forcefully disagrees if I tell her that her beliefs are Islamic. In her mind, she cannot divorce Islam, as defined by God in the Quran, from the "Islam" as "practiced" by the majority of "Muslims" around the world. She has met many of my Muslim friends and considers them nice people, but does not consider them representative but rather the exceptions to the rule.
The sad part about many of today’s Muslims is that, rather than being supporters of God and rejecting anything and anybody who contravenes God's commandments, even if the perpetrator claims to be a Muslim, many are supporters of anyone and anything claiming to be "Islamic" and feel they have to rally around him, even if what the concerned practices is in direct contravention of what God has commended. So they fear people instead of God, and compromise God's commandments to be with such people, forgetting that they won't be of any help to each other on the Day of Judgment, or in the Hereafter.
I left Czechoslovakia for the West in 1968, just after the Russian occupation crushed the "Prague Spring." By bribing a passport official with a valuable stamp collection, I was able to get my parents and brother to Switzerland about 3 months later, just a short while before the Czech government cancelled all permissions for private travel to the West. In 1969 I was granted financial assistance by the University of Minnesota and spent the following 5 years studying in the States.
My father died in Switzerland in 1972, and I don't know if he ever found his way to God or not. He used to be a convinced atheist before, but in his last years he apparently started wondering about whether God is or not. According to my mother's recollection, he did find his way. My brother, who was 17 at the time of my father's death, is unsure. He says that during my father's last days, a Christian priest used to come visit him in the hospital and they discussed religion a lot. But my father was a logical person and he could not accept the idea of the Trinity. I don't know if he ever made the mental leap to discover that God is not as the Christians describe Him. It is possible that he still may have rejected God in the end, because the Christian God was the only concept of God he was familiar with, and could not accept.
My brother nearly laughed his head off when he saw me reading the Quran at first, and when I told him that I came to believe in God. Now both he and his wife, also a former atheist, say they believe in God, but they still haven't read the Quran that I gave them several years ago, and they still look at "Islam" askance. They both say that what they see of "Muslims" turns them off - they see many as hypocrites who do not respect God's commandments and many others as opposed to any intellectual discussion, and unfortunately they judge the whole Islam by this.
My mother (also a former atheist) has found her way to God some years back, but also has not read the Quran yet, for similar reasons as my brother and his wife.
I continue to pray for them, for God to show them His straight path and guide them to it.