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When I Was Invited to Check a New Translation of the Quran

How My Heart Found Absolute Peace in Islam

My name is Samuel Shropshire. I’m an American citizen living in Saudi Arabia. I came here in November 2011, not knowing anything about Islam or the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Most of what I have heard was extremely negative.

In America, our news channels boosted their own air ratings by regularly sensationalizing ‘breaking news of terrorism’. Every 30 minutes, one witnesses horrific scenes of bombings, bloodshed, and murder… often, one Muslim group fighting against another Muslim group.

As killings and beheadings took place, there were always the shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great).

I was invited here, to Saudi Arabia, by Safi Kaskas to work on what is known as the Q Project. Dr. Kaskas wanted to produce a new easy to read American translation of the Quran for the next generation of young Americans.

Since I could not read or speak Arabic, I wasn’t doing any translation work. I was simply invited to check the English, to make certain that this new interpretation of the Quran was easily understood.

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My work, of course, required that I read the Quran over and over again.

Well, as you can imagine, having no knowledge of Islam, I had hundreds and hundreds of questions. I was shocked, as I read, to find that Jesus (peace be upon him) was often mentioned in the Quran. Jesus was presented as one of the greatest Prophets. And even the story of the virgin birth was mentioned there.

Many of the miracles that Jesus had done, I found them in the Quran. There were even a couple of Jesus miracles mentioned in the Quran that were not mentioned in the Bible.

Evenings were mostly spent alone in a bedroom that had been set up for me in Dr. Safi’s office. At night, I would stand on the balcony of that building, and I would look across a very busy boulevard to a mosque. I would hear the calls to prayer. I would see men and women coming to the mosque and leaving the mosque, children were playing football in the mosque parking lot. Except for the minaret, it appeared to me to look like a typical Christian church in America. My heart longed to be in that mosque. I felt compelled by God to go there.

A few months later, I got up the courage to walk down the street and to knock on the door of Taqwa mosque. Now, nobody knocks on the door of a mosque, normally, they just opened the door and they walked right in. But I wasn’t sure how I’d be received. So I was still there knocking until someone came to the door. That person simply said:

“May I help you?”

I said:

“My name is Samuel. I’m a Christian from the United States. Is it ok if I come inside?”

That man, who was the caller to prayer called Shafi’, reached out and hugged me and said:

“Of course. Come in.”

I sat in the back of the mosque during prayer times for three days. I didn’t understand what was going on. I saw men standing, bowing, putting their heads to the floors… the imam led them in prayer.

I had little knowledge about what was happening but I felt God’s presence in that mosque. And the men of Taqwa mosque were so friendly to me.

After three days, I asked Shafi’ if he could teach me the first surah of the Quran Al-Fatihah. This was a necessary element in praying the five daily prayers.

I was memorizing sounds, but I didn’t know what the sounds meant. So I started comparing them with an English translation I had and I realized that there was nothing in Al-Fatihah that was inconsistent with Christian teaching.

There, I read the encouraging words that God is the Most Merciful, the Distributer of mercy and forgiveness.

My heart was being strangely touched by the words of the Quran. And the love displayed by the men of Taqwa mosque.

Dr. Sadik Malki would later drive me to the Islamic Education Foundation in Al-Hamra, neighborhood of Jeddah, where I said shahadah.

According to Islam, we’re all equal. There is none above another. There are scholars, but their role is educational.

As for the relationship with God, it’s personal. It is direct.

The faith itself is simple and clear. It summed up in just six points:

1- There is one true God, is unlike any other being, neither born nor does He gave birth. He has neither spouse nor offspring. Nothing is comparable to Him. He’s All Powerful, knows everything perfectly, He is the most merciful

2- Belief in angels, or indeed the servants of God. They obey God’s bidding and they do whatever they’re commanded to do, they don’t have any free choice.

3- There is a belief in the Divine Revelations. Islam acknowledges that God revealed scriptures including the Torah, the Gospel, Psalms. However down through the ages, many of these divine revelations had become distorted and somewhat corrupt. The Quran, which also contains God’s revelations, hasn’t changed from the very beginning, it’s still intact in its original form.

4- There is a belief that in all earlier Prophets and God’s messengers, not just Muhammad, they believe in Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Jesus, and hundreds of other Prophets. They believe that the Prophets were the best of mankind.

5- Muslims believe in the Last Day. That’s to say, this includes the belief in all that God and His messenger have told us about, what happens after death, including recording of good and bad deeds, the resurrection, and the gathering of all creatures, the reckoning that will take place on the great Judgment Day, the Prophets’ intercession as well as heaven and hell.

Man’s ultimate aim will be to save himself on that Day.

6- Muslims believe in the divine Destiny of predestination. Whatever God wills is certain to take place, and what He has not willed will never take place.

This present life is a test for men. A man should endeavor to pass this test.

These tenets of faith appeared to me entirely consistent with human nature. And then I asked:

“How can one become a Muslim?”

My search showed me that one needs to fulfill five specific duties, which are called pillars of Islam. These are:

  • A declaration. To believe and say verbally: “I witness that there is no other deity other than God and that Muhammad, along with the other Prophets, is God’s messenger.
  • Prayer is an important part of a Muslim’s life. Muslims seek to maintain the five daily prayers. These are spread out over the day and night.
  • There is the zakat. 2.5% of one’s property is an obligatory charity provided that one owns more than a certain threshold and holds it for a year.
  • Fasting is an important part of the Muslim’s life. Muslims fast throughout the month of Ramadan. They do this every year, abstaining from food, drink, and sex from dawn to sunset. One must also refrain from futile arguments, quarrels, and forbidden things. The month provides a unique spiritual uplift for all Muslims.
  • Pilgrimage or hajj. This is performed in Makkah. It’s a duty to fulfill this pilgrimage once during one’s lifetime provided that one is physically and financially capable of doing so.

People often ask me:

“Sam, how did you become a Muslim?”

In the church, there was a library, and in that library were children’s books. One of the books my mother got over and over again was called “The God of Abraham”.

In that book, there were beautiful color photos of camels and deserts. She would read me the story of Abraham, how he was commanded by god to leave his mother and father because they were worshiping idols.

She would pause and she would say:

“Sami. You always have to pray to the God of Abraham. There is only one true God, the God of Abraham.”

My commitment to God has been strong and enduring since my younger year. And now, I have found absolute peace in Islam, in a faith that I once thought was hostile. I found friendship and hope amongst a fraternity of other Muslim brothers and sisters.

I have found a family of believers.

About Samuel Shropshire
Samuel Shropshire is the director of Muslim Voice for Peace and Reconciliation based in Washington DC.