I forgot to mention a rather important event that pushed me towards conversion.
It began in the months before I signed a contract to work in Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal Hospital and Research Center. As I was preparing to leave, early in 1986, my mother took me to her evangelical Christian church to meet a Lebanese Christian priest. I was supposed to make his acquaintance so that I could learn firsthand, from an Arab, the differences between Islam and Christianity, with the superiority of Christianity assumed.
A dark-haired, dark-eyed man with an easy smile and quiet demeanor, he welcomed us. The visit did not last long, as I had no questions for him, but I scanned his bookshelf, and was impressed to see copies of the Qur’an in Arabic and English, along with other texts with both Islamic and Christian titles. I decided I would ask this man questions if I needed a Christian approach. I took his mailing address.
Months later, or maybe the next year, as I’d resettled in Riyadh and was studying Islam and considering conversion, I learned about the Council of Nicaea, which occurred in 325 AD and chose trinitarian Christianity as official, banning the unitarian Christianity at odds with it. I also learned that Jesus never called himself God, nor taught the Trinity as it is taught today. Additionally, I learned that the major religious seasons, as well as virgin birth story, were derived from a previous mythology.
Since I learned all of this from an Islamic perspective, I decided to write to the Lebanese priest at my mother’s church, and ask him specifically about these points, whether any of it were true. I wrote. I waited.
Several months passed. I thought he hadn’t received my letter, but finally I received his response. It was a short, half-page letter, acknowledging that I had, “done my homework,” and wishing me success in whatever path I chose.
Stunned, I read the letter repeatedly. This was not the letter I’d expected from a Lebanese Christian priest active in an evangelical church. I had been ready to accept whatever proof he could offer in support of Christianity. Though I liked Islam, I liked Christianity, too, and felt comfortable in it.
Rather than being reassured, I was shaken by the probability that what I had been taught from childhood as inviolable truth was not so true after all. That letter opened the gates of conversion unexpectedly wide.
I felt as though I had been catapulted into into a vast emotional desert (corresponding to the actual desert of Saudi Arabia), with a three hundred sixty degree circle of possibility. The tether of Christianity had been severed. “I guess I’m going to become a Muslim,” I thought. How could I continue believing in Christianity after learning that much of its doctrine had been manipulated, even invented, by men? The tension of the opposites took hold and caused me great pain for while, until I learned to hold it.
I went on to study, pray, write and ponder Islam, and how I could live as a Muslim.
The priest’s letter was an important building block of my conversion story. I’m surprised I forgot about it while writing my first post, but I probably forgot it because its shock was not pleasant, and set me on an uncomfortable course. Conversion is not always easy, not always natural, not always even appropriate. Only from the perspective of thirty years can I say it was ultimately the right path for me.