Amazing tale of a devoted Christian

My parents tried to bring us up as Catholics but they never have taken worship seriously, so it never rubbed off. I am not very religious myself, but none of my family members really have any religion in their lives. My mother’s younger sister was a nun with the Carmelite sisters but she dumped the order in 1994 after probably thirty or so years with them (May Allah show her Islam). My mothers father converted to Catholicism when my mother was still quite young and he took religion quite seriously. He died before I was born so I don’t know what he was like. I guess this is why my mother respects religious people but she doesn’t do anything herself. Just before I accepted Islam she said to me that Islam is one of the worlds great religions. She also said to me to study Islam properly and stick to it. She advised me not to disappoint myself by accepting Islam, not living up to it and then dumping it later on. The most astonishing point she had to say was that if I ever became a Hindu that she would kill me, and I know she meant it!

I firstly need to state that I was not a Christian before accepting Islam. I still remember the day clearly when I was in grade five, I couldn’t have been much more than ten, that I rejected God. We used to have ritualized prayers to thank God for lunch and all the kids in the class were praying according to how they felt it should be done. Some placed their hands on their chests, others knelt, one of my friends held his arms outstretched above his head. Yet, everybody tried to say the same formula for the prayer. I don’t remember the prayer but I remember thinking to myself that I don’t believe in this, there is no God. So by the time I was ten I had rejected not only the Catholic Church, Jesus and everything Christian, but God also. God never was a serious thought in my head until I was nineteen, in my second year at university. Some converts to Islam have told me that they were spiritual people but I most certainly wasn’t. To me, God was a four letter word! Religion was the last topic I could tolerate. I hated the falseness of the church establishment. I remember that a year after I had rejected God we were asked by our teacher in religion class to draw what the church means to us. I drew the priest standing behind the altar drunk, telling the congregation that it wasn’t a bad drop at all. I know that these Christians were trying to worship God but they don’t have any guidelines to follow. When I was in grade one, we used to be full of awe in the church or cathedral. The atmosphere instilled fear into us, but as we grew up, it slowly wore off. The way that Christians, no matter what sect, present Jesus made me hate him, Allah forgive me. He was presented as a lamb, a weak man, even a hippy. We are expected to look up to Jesus for guidance as a leader but Christians destroy the true picture for a version that is wimpy! I found through Islam the real Jesus, as a leader of the believers and as a real man, a prophet to love as an example and to be proud to be a follower of.

Christianity made me hate the Christ, but it was Islam that made me love him. After we had our first Reconciliation, or confession, as it was once called, we used to go off to tell the priest what sins were done and ask God to forgive us. A child of ten is not going to know fully what is a sin and what isn’t, but since the priest is always telling us how sinful we all are then I had to quickly think of some made up sins to tell as lies to the priest and escape with a few Hail Marys! Isn’t it sad that we had to sin in order to admit our sins. There was not the slightest desire to actually repent to God, it was just fear of looking stupid in front of the priest, trying to avoid a flogging.
First Communion was performed but I don’t remember it and I remember going through the motions of Confirmation with much bewilderment and reluctance. I thought to myself, why do I have to do this when I don’t believe in it? When I was in grade nine after much argument and harsh words my parents dragged me off to town for Christmas Mass (we lived in a country town in New South Wales of 2500 people 22 kilometres from the next large town) and there was such a huge gathering at the church that people were standing outside. I sat on the grass and waited for the boring hour to end so I could go home and go swimming. In our grade twelve religion class, our principal was the teacher and for the whole year he only turned up to the class a handful of times! I remember the day towards the final high school exams when our class debated with him the existence of God! This was at a Catholic school! It’s not hard to see why God did not mean very much to me.

When I went to university in Melbourne I enrolled in a Chinese Business course. I really excelled in Chinese and in my first year I was awarded a scholarship to Beijing for three and a half months over the 1990-91 summer break. It was in China that I first really met Muslims. The university where we studied had over one thousand students from more than two hundred countries. In my class there was a Pakistani girl sitting in front of me, but religion was never spoken of. I really learned how to get drunk in China, something that my parents would even now be shocked to know. I would drink everyday. China was just plain fun and religion wasn’t further from my mind.

Towards the end of my stay in China I was able to go on a student trip. There were four destinations offered, Shanghai, Canton, the North East or the Mid West. I opted for the trip to Xian in the mid west since that was the only one I could afford. Little did I know that it would set me on a trip towards Islam. On the journey about half of the twenty or so students were Muslims. They included Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Syrians and one Sri-Lankan. While traveling we discussed religion with the Nepalese Hindus who were with us. The Arabs sternly and firmly announced that there is only one God. The Nepalese proudly boasted of millions of gods one for each person, individually granted to each child by the Hindu priest upon birth. I thought that the Hindu idea was totally ridiculous but I was still uninterested in God and religion.
I was, however, interested in languages so I asked the Syrians how they read Arabic since I had heard that Arabic is spelled without vowels. We found communication difficult since we all spoke Chinese together and communication broke down. The Sri-Lankan Muslim spoke English also and he explained to me from his Tamil-Arabic book the function of the fathah, kasrah and dhammah over the letters. He was also the only Muslim that I saw doing salat while traveling in China, though at the time I didn’t know what he was doing. I never knew his name. Later when we had arrived in Xian from Beijing we needed to transfer from the train to a coach and since I had two travel bags, I was having a little trouble. One of the Syrians looked like a big Italian Mafia boss from New York and since he was an Arab, I knew he had to be a dangerous terrorist. This dangerous man immediately came to my rescue and without me asking took my heavy bag and climbed up into the bus. I followed him and when he saw me, he simply said Qing zuo!, Please sit, slapping his hand on the seat next him. So how could I refuse? This was the beginning of one of the deepest friendships I ever had. We talked together all the way to the hotel and we couldn’t keep apart during the rest of the tour. The tour lasted about a week and on the last day of our tour around Xian our tour guide asked us if wed like to go to the Jamia mosque or the Forest of gravestones. Since half of the students were Muslims we opted for a visit to the mosque and the gravestones sounded dull. The mosque is about one thousand years old and looks rather like a Chinese temple except for all the Arabic calligraphic decorations. I saw one design on the wall and took a photo of the design. Years later while flicking through my photo album I looked at it carefully and realized that it was the kalimah, La ilaha illAllahu Muhammadur Rasulullah!

My stay in China ended two weeks later and I wept when I had to leave my Syrian friend behind. I had known him for only three weeks but I loved him more than any other person in the world. When we returned from the tour he would ask me to visit his dorm room and share warm milk with him, something I had never done before. He and the other students showed me the Islamic virtue of Ikram, generosity, without wanting anything in return. We never really discussed religion except that I found out that Muslims believed in Noah and his Ark. Oddly, when I asked him if as an Arab he hated Jews, he asked me why should I hate Jews? I also suggested that Jews and Muslims had similar religions, something which he firmly rejected, they seemed almost the same to me.
My love for my new friend led me to an insatiable curiosity with everything Arabic. Back home in Australia, I always talked about my Syrian friend and things Arabic which I think must have startled my friends and family. Months later my best friend handed me a book called The Life and Times of Muhammad by Pasha Glubb, a British orientalist who had been in the Jordanian Army. It is a terrible book, but at the time I reveled in the story of a man called Muhammad unfolding in front of my eyes like the images of a movie on a screen. By the time I had finished the book I fully believed that Muhammad really was a prophet.

My curiosity in Arab things led me to get books about the Arabic language, so I went to the Victorian State Library to find books. I found one old book that had the Fatihah on the first page with a transliteration and a translation. After reading the translation, I was so impressed by the prayer that I copied the whole thing into my notebook, Arabic and all! My curiosity also led me to my College library where I found a copy of the Qur’an. I didn't expect to find one, but the whole shelf must have had about fifty or so copies by various translators. I picked a small one that had photos of mosques from around the world. It turned out that this particular translation was by N.J. Dawood, an Iraqi Jew, who had mixed up the order of the surahs, so it’s not so dull to read. Even part of the text was missing due to bad printing! Despite all this, there was no way that I could put the book down. I read it in bed before sleeping, and the first thing I did after waking up was to read some more. I read it on the train to university and on the way home, even in class when the lecture became boring! I remember even taking it to classmates home when I stayed over the night. The main impression I got from the Qur’an was the gravity of the next life and particularly Hell. I remember while reading the translation saying to myself that I have to become a Muslim. So I had believed in Muhammad and I now believed in the Qur’an, the next step was God, the four letter word! I was walking with my parents to the shop one afternoon and I asked them if it was stupid to believe in God, to which they replied, not really, we do. That reassured me, but it also meant a challenge to my whole being and I found myself struggling with this new and almost foreign spirituality. I thought that to believe in God was fine but did I have to adopt Islam to do it? I then decided to read the Bible. It was so dull that I don't think that I got past Numbers or Kings. It just didn't have the power of the Qur’an. So I asked my mother to take me to a Latin Church service and I loved it. There was so much ritual and formalism in the Latin Mass and I was in ecstasy with the Latin. I understood nothing but I felt closer to God and that the few people there really wanted to worship God. It was in the city cathedral and I was just over awed. I remember visiting the cathedral with my girlfriend later on and having to hold back my tears from weeping. The interest wore off just as quickly as it started because it was just not quite right. There was still something missing.
Later my girlfriend's mother was to be the new principal at a Catholic primary school and the mass there was so wishy-washy and modern that I was almost physically sick. The service was in a hall with chairs arranged in a circle with the little kids under four years sitting in the center. They sang such childish and puerile songs that I was disgusted. That was not worshipping God, it was a sick joke! When I reflected on what church used to be like when I was a child it was at that point that I lost hope in Catholicism. I had learnt so much about Islam, Arabic and Muhammad that I felt I needed to ask Muslims more questions about Islam, but I didn't know any and it never occurred to me that there were mosques in the city. However, there was a Muslim girl from South Africa, in one of my classes who wore hijab so I knew I could ask her, but I was too shy. I assumed that all people were like me, (thank God they are not!) and that she would be offended to discuss her religion. Our class assignment had to be done in pairs and Allah arranged that she was to be my partner for the assignment. After the assignment I approached her one day in the college canteen and I coyly and quietly asked her if she would mind answering some of my questions about Islam. Her reply stunned me, Of course! What would you like to know? I was introduced to two other ladies at the college, one Australian and another Turkish, who also helped with my search. The Islamic society at the college played the movie The Message which I went to see, but unfortunately a storm caused a power failure and I did not see the end of it. I was weeping in the theatre. I was so impressed by the scene where the companions of Muhammad go out into Makkah to declare their faith. I had a dream the next day and when I woke up I had the words There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God on my lips, just like those companions. I rang up the South African girl to tell her about it. She introduced me to her father and brother and they helped a lot. Her brother-in-law is the son of a prominent Imam in Melbourne and they invited me to a youth gathering in the city on weeknights after the end of year exams were to be over. I couldn't wait and I begged them to let me go that very week.

When I went along the first time, I saw the men doing salat and I remember comparing it church and I then knew that salat is the correct way to worship God. Later a book was read aloud to the group. I do not remember the title or author, but I know that it was the reading of this book which clinched my belief in God. The passage being read meant roughly; ...for the non-believer there is no caring, loving, sustainer who protects and provides for him, helping throughout life... it was at that point that I felt as if my entire body had been shattered into each individual atom and scattered throughout the universe. I remember feeling so incredibly lonely and empty that I even felt my head tilt backwards from despair. The reader kept going, however, and I listened to him read; ...but for the believer there is a caring, loving, sustainer who protects and provides for him, helping at every moment... it was at this point that all those atoms in my body came flooding back together from across the universe and I became one again. I was convinced that Allah really exists! I knew then that I had to accept Islam.

My new Muslim friends at the youth group organized my conversion party for the following Friday but it never happened. Since my father had been given a transfer with the Air Force to Brisbane, a farewell party held by his friends meant that I couldn't make it. I also wanted to move with my parents and start a new life as a Muslim avoiding all the difficult questions my friends and associates were bound to ask. We moved to Brisbane the next week. Now in Brisbane I had no friends and no contacts, just my translation of the Qur’an which I read three times over and a few simple guidebooks on Islam. We spent a few weeks settling into the new house which was in the vicinity of the Holland Park Mosque (there were only four mosques then in Brisbane and they were all far apart) and I spent most of my time learning about Islam and trying to do salat. We went on a two week Christmas holiday to the beach and I did much of the same.

About one week before I accepted Islam a class friend from Melbourne came to visit me while on holidays in Brisbane. She asked me to go with her and her friends to a disco at the local high school. I only went since she had just come two thousand kilometres for a visit. I was rather bored there with the dancing and enjoyment, I never really liked that kind of thing. After an hour or so the fellow who was singing in the band to us all there not to forget the reason why we had gathered tonight and then has said, so lets do this next song for Jesus! And they promptly sang a foolish disco rap song about how Jesus has saved us! I felt ill. Later that same night I went home and got into the pool in the back yard and sank into the water so that only my nose and eyes were free and I stared up at the stars above me. I simply said to myself, God or whoever you are, help!

I was incredibly bored and desperate to talk to someone about my new faith, so I decided to just walk up to the mosque to meet some Muslims. I walked the twenty minutes to the mosque but Satan told me to forget it, so I did, and I went home. The inexorable attraction to the mosque led me right inside the next day, but unfortunately there was nobody there at about three p.m. When I was just about to leave, a Lebanese brother asked if he could help in any way, so I told him that I wanted to talk about Islam. He asked me to follow him and he then led me up the street to the mosque house where half a dozen young Muslim men were living. I was introduced to another Australian brother and my wish came true, at last someone to talk to about Islam! I didn't understand much of what we talked about but I knew that it was true and that was all that mattered. I accepted Islam with the Imam the next night, January 21, 1992 and I took the name Abdul Azim, servant of The Tremendous.
Since my acceptance of Islam I have lived in Pakistan for one year, where I also got married and thanks to God I now have two young sons, Aftab and Muhammad.