I was born and raised a Roman Catholic in an Italian parish.
My father is German. My mother was Italian, and her parents came from Italy.
My father’s ancestors came from Germany. I have a brother, Halmout, and my sister is Mary.
I can say that when I was a child, I loved going to mass.
I went to mass on a regular basis until I was about 13 or 14 up to the point where the mass changed.
I loved going to mass. It seemed like I knew who God was. I loved the hymns that we sang. I didn’t really know what was going on. As time went on as I became a teenager, I quit going to mass on a regular basis. My mother was not too happy about that but she never forced me.
What happened is that when I was 17 I was approached by fundamentalist bible-believing Baptists. I went to their church and I saw something different. So I went there for about a year and the people were nice. But being a teenager, I lost interest. I believed I was eternally secured, that I was saved for certain thing.
So I ended up not going to church. And I started playing in rock ‘n’ roll bands. But it wasn’t until I was 25 that I decided to go back to church and I went to a Pentecostal Holiness Church. You lead a humble life. You have to watch out because there are temptations in the world all over the place. For a while I didn’t even have a television and I didn’t play my Saxophone. After a couple of years, I got my saxophone out and I started playing Christian music.
I started wanting to read about Christian history and then I went to the Bible College, and I got a 3-year diploma. This is where the journey really starts, right here.
The Quran Surprised Me
In the meantime, I read the Quran. I decided to read the Quran. And the purpose of reading the Quran was because I wanted to learn what Muslims believed because I wanted to evangelize them so that they would become Christians.
I knew that the Quran was the holy book of Muslims because I had read missionary literature that described the Quran and described Islam. Of course I was reading literature written by fundamentalists, so there were many misconceptions.
What happened as time went on is that I read the Quran and it was not what I was expecting. For one thing, the very first things I read were “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful” and I was not expecting that!
When I first met my wife Khadija, she and I were both Roman Catholics. The way that I met my wife is that I was staying at a pension house. It sounded like a place for retired people. When I got there, I realized that it was like a 3-star hotel. I started talking to the manager of the pension house. Her name was Lolita and she introduced me to my wife.
I really liked her. She looked a little nervous too, but I was so nervous for three hours. All I could do is talk about religion.
When we got engaged which was during the trip in the Philippines, I was not a Muslim and she was not a Muslim. She knew that I was trying to decide, or the way that I put it to her was that “I don’t know if I’m Catholic, eastern orthodox, or a Muslim!” But she still wanted to be with me.
I would have married her even if she stayed Catholic. OK, I would still marry her. But I wanted her to see what Islam was all about. Even if she didn’t become a Muslim, she would at least know what I believed and how I would practice.
She read the Quran, and after she read the Quran, she said to me she thought that both being a Catholic or being a Muslim is both good.
In either a Friday or a Saturday night, first week of August, 1999, and I was with the Sheikh and I was with other brothers and at the beginning of the night, I told him where I was with Islam. Then we talked about Islam. We talked about other things, we talked about sports. And by the end of the night, we were back to the subject of Islam and the Sheikh said:
“Do you believe this?”
He made me say it in English first.
He said “Can you honestly say you believe that there is no God except Allah?”
And I said “I can say that”
And then he said “Do you believe that Muhammad was the Prophet of Allah?”
I said “I do”.
And he said “Will you say it in Arabic?”
And I said “Sure”
So he gave me the words and I said it:
“Ashhadu alla illaha illa Allah. Ashhadu anna Muhammad rasulu Allah”