Dr. Jerald F. Dirks accepted Islam part 2
- Parent Category: Converting to Islam
- Written by Ammar
- Published: 01 September 2015
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While I never spoke to my Muslim friends about those hooks, my wife and I had numerous conversations about what I was reading. By the last week of December of 1992. Iwas forced to admit to myself, that I could find no area of substantial disagreement between my own religious beliefs and the general tenets of Islam. While I was ready to acknowledge that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a prophet of (one who spoke for or under the inspiration of God, and while I had absolutely no difficulty affirming that there Nvas no god besides God/Allah, glorified and exalted is He, I was still hesitating to make any decision. I could readily admit to myself that I had far more in common with Islamic beliefs as I then understood them, than I did with the traditional Christianity of the organized church. I knew only too well that Icould easily confirm from my seminary training and education most of what the Qur'an had to say about Christianity, the Bible. and Jesus, peace be upon him. Nonetheless, I hesitated. Further, I rationalized my hesitation by maintaining to myself that I really didn't know the nitty-grittydetails of Islam, and that my areas of agreement were confined to general concepts. As such. Icontinued to read, and then to re-read.
One's sense of identity, of who one is, is a powerful affirmation of one's own position in the cosmos. In my professional practice, I had occasionally been called upon to treat certain addictive disorders, ranging from smoking, to alcoholism, to drug abuse. As a clinician. I knew that the basic physical addiction had to be overcome to create the initial abstinence. That was the easy part of treatment. As Mark Twain once said: "Quitting smoking is easy; I've done it hundreds of times". However, I also knew that the key to maintaining that abstinence over an extended time period was overcoming the client's psychological addiction, which was heavily grounded in the client's basic sense of identity, i.e. the client identified to himself that he ‘vas "a smoker", or that he was "a drinker", etc. The addictive behavior had become part and parcel of the client's basic sense of identity, of the client's basic sense of self Changing this sense of identity was crucial to the maintenance of the psychotherapeutic "cure". This ‘vas the difficult part of treatment. Changing one's basic sense of identity is a most difficult task. One's psyche tends to cling to the old and familiar, which seem more psychologically comfortable and secure than the new and unfamiliar.
On a professional basis, Ihad the above knowledge, and used it on a daily basis. However, ironically enough, I was not yet ready to apply it to myself, and to the issue of my own hesitation surrounding my religious identity. For 43 years, my religious identity had been neatly labeled as "Christian", however many qualifications I might have added to that term over the years. Giving up that label of personal identity was no easy task. It was part and parcel of how I defined my very being. Given the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that my hesitation served the purpose of insuring that Icould keep my familiar religious identity of being a Christian, although a Christian who believed like a Muslim believed.
It was now the very end of December, and my wife and Iwere filling out our application forms for U.S. passports, so that a proposed Middle Eastern journey could become a reality. One of the questions had to do with religious affiliation. I didn't even think about it, and automatically fell back on the old and familiar, as Ipenned in "Christian". It was easy, it was familiar, and it was comfortable.
However, that comfort was momentarily disrupted when my wife asked me how I had answered the question on religious identity on the application form. I immediately replied, "Christian", and. chuckled audibly. Now, one of Freud's contributions to the understanding of the human psyche was hisrealization that laughter is often a release of psychological tension. However Nvrong Freud may have been in many aspects of his theory of psychosexual development, his insights into laughter were quite on target. I had laughed! What was this psychological tension that I had need to release through the medium of laughter?
I then hurriedly went on to offer my wife a brief affirmation that I was a Christian, not a Muslim. In response to which, she politely informed me that she was merely asking whether I had ‘vritten "Christian", or "Protestant", or "Methodist"_ On a professional basis. I knew that a person does not defend himself against an accusation that hasn't been made. (If, in the course of a session of psychotherapy, my client blurted out, "I'm not angry about that", and I hadn't even broached the topic of anger, it was clear that my client was feeling the need to defend himself against a charge that his own unconscious was making. In short. he really was angry, but he wasn't ready to admit it or to deal with it.) If my wife hadn't made the accusation. i.e. you are a Muslim", then the accusation had to have come from my own unconscious, as I was the only other person present_ I was aware of this, but still Ihesitated. The religious label that had been stuck to my sense of identity for 43 years was not going to come off easily.
About a month had gone by since my wivife's question to me. It was now late in January of 1993. had set aside all the books on Islam by the Western scholars, as I had read them all thoroughly. The two English translations of the meaning of the Qur'an were back on the bookshelf. and I was busy reading yet a third English translation of the meaning of the Qur'an. Maybe in this translation Iwould find some sudden justification for...
I was taking my lunch hour from my private practice at a local Arab restaurant that I had started to frequent. Ientered as usual, seated myself at a small table, and opened my third English translation of the meaning of the Qur'an to where Ihad left off in my reading. I figured I might as well get some reading done over my lunch hour. Moments later, I became aware that Mahmoud was at my shoulder, and waiting to take my order. He glanced at what I was reading., but said nothing about it. My order taken, I returned to the solitude of my reading.
A few minutes later, Mahmoud's wife, limn, an American Muslim, who Nvore the Hijab (scarf) and modest dress that I had come to associate with female Muslims. brought me my order. She commented that I was reading the Qur'an, and politely asked if Iwere a Muslim. The word was out of my mouth before it could be modified by any social etiquette or politeness: "No!" That single word ‘vas said forcefully, and with more than a hint ofirritability. With that, Brian politely retired from my table.
What was happening to me? I had behaved rudely and somewhat aggressively. What had this woman done to deserve such behavior from me? This wasn't like me. Given my childhood upbringing, Istill used "sir" and "ma'am" when addressing clerks and cashiers who were waiting on me in stores. Icould pretend to ignore my own laughter as a release of tension, butcouldn't begin to ignore this sort of unconscionable behavior from myself My reading was set aside, and I mentally stewed over this turn of events throughout my meal. The more i stewed, the guiltier I felt about my behavior. I knew that when liimn brought me my check at the end of the meal, Iwas going to need to make some amends. if for no other reason, simple politeness demanded it. Furthermore, I was really quite disturbed about how resistant Ihad been to her innocuous question. What was going on in me that Iresponded with that much force to such a simple and straightforward question'? Why did that one, simple question lead to such atypical behavior on my part?
Later, when Brian came with my check, I attempted a round-about apology by saying "I'm afraid I was a little abrupt in answering your question before. if you were asking me whether I believe that there is only one God, then my answer is yes. If you were asking me whether I believe that Muhammad was one of the prophets of that one God, then my answer is yes." She very nicely and very supportively said: "That's okay; it takes some people a little longer than others."
Perhaps, the readers of this will be kind enough to note the psychological games I was playing with myself without chuckling too hard at my mental gymnastics and behavior. well knew that in my own way, using my own words, I had just said the Shahadah. the Islamic testimonial of faith, i.e. "I testify that there is no god but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah". However, having said that, and having recognized ‘vhat I said, I could still cling to my old and familiar label of religious identity. After all, Ihadn't said I was a Muslim.
I was simply a Christian, albeit an atypical Christian, who was willing to say that there was one God, not a triune godhead, and who was willing to say that Muhammad was one of the prophets inspired by that one God. If a Muslim wanted to accept me as being, a Muslim that was his or her business, and his or her label of religious identity. However, it was not mine. I thought I had found my way out of my crisis of religious identity. Iwas a Christian, who would carefully explain that I agreed with, and Nvas willing to testify to, the Islamictestimonial of faith. Having made my tortured explanation, and having parsed the English language to within an inch of its life, others could hang whatever label on me they wished. It was their label, and not mine.
It was now March of 1993, and my wife and l v%.rere enjoying a five-week vacation in the Middle East. It was also the Islamic. month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from day break until sunset. Because we were so often staying with or being escorted around by family members of our Muslim friends back in the States, my wife and Ihad decided that we also would fast, if for no other reason than common courtesy. During, this time, Ihad also started to perform the five daily prayers of Islam with my newfound, Middle Eastern, Muslim friends. After all, there was nothing in those prayers with which I could disagree.
I was a Christian, or so [ said. After all, I had been born into a Christian family, had been given a Christian upbringing had attended church and Sunday school every Sunday as a child, had graduated from a prestigious seminary, and was an ordained minister in a large Protestant denomination. However. I was also a Christian: who didn't believe in a triune godhead or in the divinity of Jesus, peace be upon him; vvrho knew quite well how the Bible had been corrupted; who had said the Islamic testimony of faith in my own carefully parsed words; who had fasted during Ramadan; who was saying Islamic prayers five times a day; and who was deeply impressed by the behavioral examples Ihad witnessed in the Muslim community, both in America and in the Middle East. (Time and space do not permit me the luxuiy of documenting in detail all of the examples of personal morality and ethics Iencountered in. the Middle East.) If asked if Iwere a Muslim, I could and did do a five-minute monologue detailing the above, and basically leaving the question unanswered. I was playing intellectual ‘vord games, and succeeding at them quite nicely.
It was now late in our Middle Eastern trip. An elderly friend vk.rho spoke no English and I were walking down a winding, little road, somewhere in one of the economically disadvantaged areas of greater 'Amman. Jordan_ As vve walked, an elderly man approached us from the opposite direction, said, "Salam 'Alaykum", i.e_, "peace be upon you", and offered to shake hands. We were the only three people there. I didn't speak Arabic. and neither my friend nor the stranger spoke English. Looking at me, the stranger asked, "Muslim?"
At that precise moment in time, I was fully and completely trapped. Therewere no intellectual v%.rord games to be played, because I could onlycommunicate in English, and they could only communicate in Arabic. Therewas no translator present to bail me out of this situation, and to allow me to hide behind my carefully prepared English monologue. Icouldn't pretend I didn't understand the question, because it was all too obvious that I had. My choices were suddenly, unpredictably, and inexplicably reduced to just two: I could say "Warn", i.e., "yes"; or l could say "La", i.e., "no". The choice was mine, and I had no other. l had to choose, and Ihad to choose now; it was just that simple. Praise be to Allah, I answered, "N'arn".
With saying that one word, all the intellectual word games were now behind me. With the intellectual word games behind me, the psychological games regarding my religious identity were also behind me. I wasn't some strange, atypical Christian. I was a Muslim. Praise be to Allah, my wife of 33 years also became a Muslim about that same time.
Not too many months after our return to America from the Middle East, a neighbor invited us over to his house, saying that he wanted to talk with us about our conversion to 'slam. He was a retired Methodist minister, with ‘vhom I had had several conversations in the past. Although we had occasionally talked superficially about such issues as the artificial construction of the Bible from Niarious, earlier, independent sources, we had never had any in-depth conversation about religion. I knew only that he appeared to have acquired a solid seminary education, and that he sang in the local church choir every Sunday.
My initial reaction was, "Oh, oh, here it comes". Nonetheless, it is a Muslim's duty to be a good neighbor, and it is a Muslim's duty to be willing to discuss Islam with others. As such, I accepted the invitation for the following evening, and spent most of the waking part of the next 24 hours contemplating how best to approach this gentleman in his requested topic of conversation.
The appointed time came, and we drove over to our neighbor's. After a few moments of small talk, he finally asked why Ihad decided to become a Muslim. I had ‘vaited for this question, and had my answer carefully prepared. "As you know with your seminary education, there were a lot of non-religious considerations which led up to and shaped the decisions of the Council of Nicaea." He immediately cut me off with a simple statement: "You finally couldn't stomach the polytheism anymore, could you?" He knew exactly wiry I was a Muslim, and he didn't disagree with my decision! For himself, at his age and at his place in life, he was electing to be "an atypical Christian". Allah willing, he has by now completed his journey from cross to crescent.
There are sacrifices to be made in being a Muslim in America. For thatmatter, there are sacrifices to be made in being a Muslim anywhere.
However, those sacrifices may be more acutely felt in America, especially among American converts. Some of those sacrifices are very predictable, and include altered dress and abstinence from alcohol, pork, and the taking of interest on one's money. Some of those sacrifices are less predictable. For example, one Christian family, with whom we were close friends, informed us that they could no longer associate with us, as they could not associate with anyone "who does not take Jesus Christ as his personal savior". In addition, quite a few of my professional colleagues altered their manner of relating to me. Whether it was coincidence or not, my professional referral base dwindled, and there was almost a 30% drop in income as a result. Some of these less predictable sacrifices were hard to accept, although the sacrifices were a small price to pay for what was received in return.
For those contemplating the acceptance of Islam and the surrendering of oneself to Allah—glorified and exalted is He, there may well be sacrifices along the way. Many of these sacrifices are easily predicted, while others may be rather surprising and unexpected. There is no denying the existence of these sacrifices, and I don't intend to sugar coat that pill for you. Nonetheless, don't be overly troubled by these sacrifices. In the final analysis. these sacrifices are less important than you presently think. Allah willing, you will find these sacrifices a very cheap coin to pay for the •'goods" you are purchasing.