My name is Justin Peyton, and I am a 29-year-old African American convert to Islam, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up in a loving, two-parent, and middle-class household with three siblings.
Growing up, my family and I identified ourselves as Christians, but we were never members of a church, nor did we attend Sunday services or other activities. The extent of religious expression in our home was celebrating Christmas.
[…] If I had to identify one single event as the starting point for my journey to Islam, it would have to be the tragic events of 9/11. After months of seeing very unflattering media coverage about Islam and Muslims, it occurred to me that the negative portrait being painted did not coincide with the experiences I had with Muslim classmates, neighbors, and others, growing up in Philadelphia.
It also occurred to me that despite knowing Muslims, I had never actually bothered to take the time to learn about their faith.
So, with the open-mindedness instilled in me by my parents, I decided to research some facts about Islam in order to reconcile the apparent disparity between my personal experiences and media coverage.
[…] Spurred to learn more, I went to a local bookstore, purchased a copy of the Quran, and began to read. I could spend pages listing which information struck me most and why, but suffice it to say that everything that I read made intrinsic sense to me.
After a few more months I decided that reading and learning about Islam on my own was not enough, so I searched to find any nearby mosques.
I contacted the closest mosque, which was about 45 miles away, spoke to their president, and arranged a time to visit and discuss Islam with local Muslims.
On the appointed day, I showed up and spent a great deal of time talking to a very helpful brother. Unbeknownst to me, the information he shared permeated my heart.
During my second visit […] it dawned on me that I believed that Islam was the truth, so right then and there, I took my Testimony of Faith and spent the whole weekend at the mosque learning what was necessary for me to perform the ritual prayers on my own when I returned to school.
That community was wonderful and had I stayed in the vicinity, and I am sure that I would have received a lot of support adjusting to my life as a new Muslim. But that was not to be. Prior to the events of 9/11, I had developed an interest in the military, and continued discussions with local armed forces recruiters, concurrent with the exploration of Islam that would lead to my conversion. […] Looking back on that part of my life, I am grateful for the skills I gained and the experiences I had during the course of my service. But in retrospect, the timing between these two events was less than ideal.
Even after leaving training, I was located in an area of the U.S. With no Muslim community, which prevented me from developing my faith. It wasn't until some three years into my service that I met another practicing Muslim service member who would be able to teach me both about Islam and how to navigate military life as a Muslim. May God reward him for his efforts.
After completing my military service in the summer of 2007, I moved back to Philadelphia, became an active member of a local mosque, and was blessed with the ability to obtain a job at the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a non-profit civil rights and advocacy organization for Muslims.
The two years I spent as a part of the Philadelphia Muslim community, and an employee of CAIR-PA was a tremendous learning experience that really spurred my development and whetted my appetite for more.
And that leads me to where I am now, an Islamic chaplaincy student at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, pursuing its combined Masters of Arts in Islamic studies, Christian-Muslim relations and Graduate Certificate in Islamic chaplaincy.
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As a Doctor of Medicine, and a descendant of a French Catholic family, the very choice of my profession has given me a solid scientific culture that had prepared me very little for a mystic life. Not that I did not believe in God, but that the dogmas and rites of Christianity in general and of Catholicism in particular never permitted me to feel His presence. Thus my unitary sentiment for God forbade my accepting the dogma of the Trinity, and consequently of the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
Without yet knowing Islam, I was already believing in the first part of the Kalima, La ilah illa ‘Allah (There is no deity but Allah), and in these verses of the Quran:
“Say, ‘He is Allah, the One. Allah is the All-embracing. He neither begat, nor was begotten, nor has He any equal.’” (Quran 112:1-4)
So, it was first of all for metaphysical reasons that I adhered to Islam. Other reasons, too, prompted me to do that. For instance, my refusal to accept Catholic priests, who, more or less, claim to possess on behalf of God the power of forgiving the sins of men. Further, I could never admit the Catholic rite of Communion, by means of the host (or holy bread), representing the body of Jesus Christ, a rite which seems to me to belong to [totemic] practices of primitive peoples, where the body of the ancestral totem, the taboo of the living ones, had to be consumed after his death, in order better to assimilate his personality. Another point which moved me away from Christianity was the absolute silence which it maintains regarding bodily cleanliness, particularly before prayers, which has always seemed to me to be an outrage against God. For if He has given us a soul, He has also given us a body, which we have no right to neglect. The same silence could be observed, and this time mixed with hostility with regard to the physiological life of the human being, whereas on this point Islam seemed to me to be the only religion in accord with human nature.
The essential and definite element of my conversion to Islam was the Quran. I began to study it, before my conversion, with the critical spirit of a Western intellectual […]. There are certain verses of this book, the Quran, revealed more than thirteen centuries ago, which teach exactly the same notions as the most modern scientific researchers do. This definitely convinced me and converted me to the second part of the Kalima, ‘Muhammad Rasul ‘Allah’ (Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah).
I am very happy in my new faith, and proclaim once again:
“I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s servant and Messenger.”
By: Dr. Ali Selman Benoist
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I am ethnically a Russian Jew. My quest began when I was 19 years old. […] My belief in God was uncertain. […] One night I was walking to the kitchen and encountered a dark fellow. I remembered asking him: “Can I keep this vodka in the fridge tonight?” We shook hands and went to sleep. After that point, my life changed drastically…
This dark fellow, a Muslim, was the first Muslim I had ever met. Extremely curious, I conversed with him about his faith. What’s this stuff I hear about praying 5 times a day? […]
Our talks were accompanied by our Christian roommate, Wade. Together, we created “The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim dialogue sessions”. In it, we discovered many differences and many commonalities.
My interest had then shifted from sex, drugs, and parties, to a massive search for the truth. A search that I had to complete. A search for God. And a search for how to follow him.
In my quest for the truth, I asked myself: “Ok let’s start simple, how many God’s do I think are out there?” I figured only one; knowing that a divided God is weaker than One God; figuring that if one God didn’t agree with the other, there might be arguments and feuds. One God was my choice.
Once I opened up my mind to the possibility of the existence of God, I analyzed both atheist and theist beliefs. The thing that directed me to the latter was the quote “Every design has a designer”. With that in mind, eventually, I woke up with certainty that God exists. […]
The major religions I encountered that fell under the title of Monotheistic, where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Well since I’m a Jew, I started with Judaism. One God, some prophets, 10 commandments, Torah, Jewish souls…uh, what: “Jewish souls?” […]
So God makes Jewish souls, and Christian souls, and Muslim souls, and Hindu souls? I thought all men are created equal? So, because one is born into a religion that means by the decree of God he must remain in it… even if the person believes it to be false? Hmm…I don’t agree with that.
Another thing really bothered me…there is no strict concept of hell in Judaism…then why be good? Why not sin? If I don’t have fear of strict punishment, then why should I be moral?
Moving on, I discovered Christianity. Ok, one God, a father, a son, and a holy ghost…one more time: one God, a father, a son, and a holy ghost. Uhhh, please explain. How can all those things be one God? 1 + 1 + 1 = 3 right? So how can you say you believe in only one God?
[…] Ok then, so are you saying that we are all born as sinners? And to sin is to do something wrong right? Then you’re telling me that a one-year old baby is guilty of sin or doing something wrong? […]
Islam; Islam means submission. The main beliefs are as follows: One God, worship God five times a day, give 2.5% annual charity, fast during Ramadan (to be closer to God and appreciate life…among other reasons), and finally journey to Mecca for Hajj if you are able financially. Ok, nothing hard to understand so far.
There’s nothing that conflicts with my logic here. The Quran is a book with all of these interesting miracles and timeless wisdom. Many scientific facts only discovered recently where proclaimed 1400 years ago in this book.
Ok, Islam had passed my initial religious prerequisites. But I wanted to ask some deep questions about it. Is this religion universal? Yes, anyone can understand these basic beliefs…no analogy or equation is needed. Does it agree with science? Yes, dozens of verses in the Quran agree with modern science and technology.
[…] Naming is the very basis which humans identify with objects, both physical and non-physical. If religion is supposed to be practiced and spread to every person on earth, shouldn’t there be a NAME for it?
Moreover, shouldn’t the name be given to us from God Almighty? YES, my point exactly. The names “Christianity” and “Judaism” were not written in the Holy Scriptures. Humans named them, not God. […]
Islam is the ONLY of these religions to include the NAME of the religion in its scriptures. This is so huge for me.
I realized I would follow Islam at that point. I then became a Muslim. I knew the truth. I was out of the darkness. I came into the light…
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