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Drawn by its Tolerance

I first encountered Islam whilst visiting Morocco as a youth, and later in Granada in the Andalusian district in the south of Spain as a teen.

In Morocco I appreciated the art and felt the atmosphere of that culture.

At Alhambra, that exultation of Moorish architecture that exemplified in a physical form the promise of gardens under which rivers flow, I was touched, and awed.

I was turned out of the choir and the church as a youth for emulating Tarzan and swinging on the belfry ropes at a tender age.

I didn’t have any time for God, except to stay out of His way! In fact, a few years later, when invited to dinner but had a surprise church service as a prequel, I waited in the snow for the duration rather than be a hypocrite and enter the church.

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Inexplicably, I woke up one morning 16 years later and decided to go to church. A few months after that, I became a Christian. A couple of years later, I enrolled at a well-reputed interdenominational Bible college, for a Bachelor’s degree at Tabor.

It is here that I discovered the scuttlebutt and rubbish circulated in good faith, in Christian circles I frequented, was often wrong and sometimes downright insulting. Including some suppliers (I ran a Christian bookshop).

Christian history was an eye opener. What happened during and after the Crusades was downright disturbing.

After a few years though, I left formal worship, as I disagreed with doctrines that I felt put God in a framework that constrained understanding. I also felt that too much focus organizationally was put on politics and self-promotion, not so much as a Christian vice, but a simple human one in people on a learning curve. I moved on, and on, and finally out.

A few years later, I spent some time in Jeddah and Riyadh on a project for a well-known investment company.

Although I didn’t go to church, I still believed, and wanted to find out more about Islam that I may better understand the differences between our faith and Islam, and better answer those that may ask.

Being a confirmed bookaholic, I headed for a nice Islamic bookstore near the hotel and bought some literature. I later enquired of our main liaison — Mahmoud or Mohammed (I am sorry that I cannot remember his name, as I would like to thank him) — as to where I might get a good copy of the Quran.

My CEO freaked right out. He was worried that we’d be obliged to convert on the spot. Our guide was gracious and provided a nice commentary copy of Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Quran.

That night, I prayed, and read, leaving it to God to guide my reading. The first verse I read was about People of the Book — Christians and Jews — being part of God’s people. Well, that was an eye opener. A faith that is not only tolerant, but inclusive towards an opposed faith! I read on a bit.

About seven years later I came across a nice lady, a Muslim. We corresponded, and met the day before she had to return to Indonesia. She of course returned, and I missed her. We corresponded, and chatted a lot.

At that time, I looked more into Islam, and what it might mean for me on a personal level, rather than intellectually. I visited Indonesia; we met again and talked about our future. I proposed to her and she accepted.

I came back to Australia and waited for the migration process to unfold so that she and her girls could come to Australia and we could marry.

I thought some more.

She finally came and we got married. I respected her faith, and changed my habits to accommodate. However, after a few months, I felt that the ecumenical approach to our differing faiths was not inclusive enough for our marriage.

I thought a lot more, researched, and asked a lot of questions. I prayed for months, until I had peace in my heart about the path to take.

Really, there was no reason for me not to embrace Islam (well, there was one — I was self-admittedly a lazy worshipper — but that sloth was overcome by a bit of willpower and discipline).

So I did. I made the commitment in my heart and started to learn how to pray. We visited Perth Mosque and I spoke with the Imam. Then I said the Shahadah and formalized my allegiance.

That was a couple of years ago. I’m still on the learning curve, but that curve is a delight.

Indeed, I find prayer more profound and a greater sense of belonging.

I am home.

First published on April 2016.