Q. I’m simply curious as to why a Greek would choose a religion that is so antithetical to his or her own culture. Beyond that, there are more general questions about Islam and its treatment of non-believers that I, as a non-believer, would like answered. Perhaps you can help.
A. Thank you for asking about our religion and coming forth with your question. I will answer the question based on my own experience as a Greek convert. I know this is a really long post, but please bear with me.
(Special note to the questioner: Before we start, I have a special request, actually two. First, I need you to forget about your culture for just a few minutes and think openmindely and objectively. Second, I would like you to make a prayer. I know you wouldn’t normally agree to this since you are an agnostic, but please, just try it. It’s not going to hurt. Turn to the one who created the heavens and the earth (whoever you think that is and even if it’s ‘unknown’) and say, ‘The one who created the heavens and the earth, if you have the power, strength and knowledge to create these, then you surely have the power to show me the truth. If you are out there, guide me to the truth, whatever that may be’ I know this might sound insane to you, but please trust me on this one. )
I’m serious, just try it.
For me, it all started when I was very young (about 7 years old, actually!) when I first started to contemplate on what the purpose of life is. I’ve never really understood it but growing up, it would sometimes become a burning question that I did not have an answer to. Without an answer, I would then often drift into “go with the flow” mode, where the purpose of life is the ol’ get a good education, get a good paying job, get married, by a house and a nice car…. and then, well, die.
I first met Muslims in my university classes. Before that, they were always around me but I just never noticed. I honestly naively thought that the entire world was full of Christians only! Can you believe it? I thought it was a really strange thing that anyone would believe in some wierd god, oppress their women and speak some wierd language but I was still respectful to them because I felt sorry for them.
Later our discussions transformed into full-fledge debates at the student cafeteria. I was their staunch opponent. I started becoming more and more practising as a Greek Orthodox and going back to the church, perhaps because I felt that I had to defend my religion – everything that I was raised with.
Without that much knowledge about Islam, it was harder to convince them that they were dead wrong, so when no one was looking, I would sneak into the library and try to find some books about Islam. What I found were some books that looked like they were published 1000 years ago – they were so ancient, it seemed! So, then I started to search online as well. I needed some substantial evidence to prove that they were wrong.
Then everything changed. I made a prayer that God show me the truth. I wanted to know and I was so sincere in that prayer.
I was absolutely sure that the truth would be Christianity and that the Muslims will soon find out but God had another plan for me.
When no one was looking, I started to step back from my preconceived notions and started to think objectively for the first time in my life. Why are Muslims so strict about not associating Jesus (peace be upon him) as God? Don’t they know that we need Jesus to be a salvation for our sins?
I went to visit our local priest and asked him a lot of questions, especially about the trinity. I finally had the guts to nonchalantly bring up the word ‘Islam’ (for all those Greeks out there, you know how hard that would be!) but as soon as I uttered that word, his eyes immediately bulged out of his head and he strongly suggested that I stay away from those bad people. However, the problem was that he didn’t answer my questions with proper answers. It was all a big run-around.
That just left me on my own to find out. Slowly, with more and more research and evidence, my heart was realizing the truth of one God without partners but my mind was opposing it with all its might. I just couldn’t even dream of leaving everything known to me – my religion, my culture, my family, my rituals and celebrations- behind.
Then it happened in my bedroom. I was finishing up some more reading on the subject and contemplating heavily if Jesus is really God or not. All of a sudden, within a few seconds, I felt something go through me very quickly, as if it was some fresh air or spirit washing out my heart and then BOOM (!), automatically, I felt this massive, I mean massive, sense of tranquility and almost said outoud, ‘Jesus is not God!’.
Then immediately after that, I thought, ‘How in the world am I going to tell my parents that I am Muslim?’
I know what I am writing is going to be extremely difficult for some to believe. No, I was not possessed by some devil or spirit. Actually, I found when speaking to other converts that some of them related the same thing to me (before I even mentioned my story to them). Now, after knowing more about Islam, I do believe that it was God answering my initial prayer and it was, perhaps, an angel, under the instruction of God, who cleansed my soul of the prior disbelief.
So, this is a super long post – sorry for that- so to conclude, I would like to answer your question, why would a Greek choose a religion so antithetical to his or her own culture? Well, for a few reasons.
First, it wasn’t my intention to do so. In fact, it was the complete opposite but in my search for the truth, I found that it was that God is one without any partners. I later found the answer to my question of what the purpose of life is explicitly mentioned beautifully in the Qur’an.
Second, after seeing all this truth, my priorties in life changed drastically. I no longer was going with the flow for worldly success only. I now had (and have) a primary goal of reaching paradise so whatever I can do to take me there, I will do. If that is to leave some of my cultural aspects that contradict worshipping one God without associating partners, then I will do so.
Third, becoming a Muslim does not mean I forfeit my culture. In fact, Islam embraces diversity of all cultures. For example, I have lots of friends who are Pakistani, Somalian, Arab, Greek, Bosnian, Canadian, British, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Spanish, etc who are Muslim. Islam embraces culture and actually Islamic law is very dynamic in the sense that it changes with the people, culture, customs, generations, technology etc.
This is why we say we are Greek Muslim. I hope that I have answered your question fully and that it has given you greater understanding of us. I pray that the creator of the heavens and the earth show you the truth.
I hope that we can create a discussion based on sincerity, honesty and respect. I look forward to receiving your top 3-5 questions about the other aspects of Islam you have.