I once thought my upbringing offered an excellent way of life, especially since I felt satisfied both mentally and physically. As a young man, I lived the life of an average American who had a rather hedonistic lifestyle; I was fond of music, festive atmospheres, women, sports, travel, ethnic foods and foreign languages. I reached a point, however, where I felt ‘spiritually bankrupt’ and I asked myself, “now what?” and I thought, “there has to be more to life than this!” This realization was the impetus that led me to search for the truth through diverse avenues.
I assumed the reason I felt spiritually unfulfilled had to do with my lifestyle in America, which was often tied to instant gratification and impulsive behavior. As a result, I speculated that the answer might lie in finding a better locale. Thus, I began looking for that perfect place. After traveling to numerous destinations, I discovered that it wasn’t so much a perfect location I was looking for, but a particular culture with the most suitable approach to life. When I found what I considered to be the most appealing culture, I recognized that it still had flaws. Thereafter, I surmised that we should learn about the different ways people live and then select the best from these practices. This was perhaps what set me on my journey to seek the truth.
Unable to really implement the life of a global citizen, I chose to read materials on metaphysics because the esoteric things in life always intrigued me. I quickly learned everything functions according to universal laws which can be used for one’s own benefit. After reading many books on this subject, I concluded that more important than these laws is the One Who created them, i.e., God. I also discovered metaphysics can be a precarious path to follow, in which case, I refrained from any further reading in this area.
On the suggestion of a good friend, we went on a three-month camping trip all over America and Western Canada with the intention of discovering the purpose of life. We witnessed the marvels of nature and realized this world could not have been created by mistake, and that it was clearly a wonderland of signs pointing to its Creator. Hence, this trip reinforced my belief in God.
After returning home, I felt distressed at the busy life of the city, so I turned to meditation for relief. I was able to find inner peace through meditation techniques. Nevertheless, this tranquil feeling was only temporary; once I stood up, I couldn’t take that feeling with me. Likewise, being consistent with meditation became too much of a formidable task, so I slowly started losing interest.
Before long, I thought the truth might lie in self-improvement. Therefore I became a voracious reader of motivational materials and attended related seminars. In addition, I was striving to live up to the US Army’s slogan on TV commercials, ‘Be all you can be’, through endeavors in fire-walking, skydiving and martial arts. Due to my reading and challenging exploits, I gained a keen sense of self-confidence, but in fact, I still hadn’t discovered the truth.
Soon afterwards, I read numerous books on various philosophies. I found many interesting concepts and practices; yet, there wasn’t any particular philosophy that I could totally agree with. Thus, I chose to consolidate what I thought was the best wisdom from among these doctrines. It became sort of a ‘religion à la carte’ which mainly emphasized good moral behavior. I eventually concluded that good morality was good, but it was not good enough to solve ‘the purpose of life puzzle’ which was a more spiritual approach to life.
Shortly thereafter, I obtained a job in a Muslim country where I had enough free time to read and reflect on life. While continuing my search for the truth, I found a recommendation in a book concerning the need for sincere repentance to God. I proceeded to do so and felt remorse for all the people I had wronged in my life, to the degree that tears started rolling down my face.
A few days later, I had a conversation with some Muslim friends. I mentioned to them that I was used to having a lot more freedom in America than that which was present in their country. One person said, “Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘freedom’. In your part of the world, no matter how well parents teach morality to their children inside the home, as soon as they go outside, they generally encounter the society in contradiction to that morality. On the other hand, in most Muslim communities, the morals taught to the children at home are very similar to what they find away from home. So who really has the freedom here?” From this analogy, I inferred that the Islamic guidelines and restrictions partially sanctioning human behavior are not meant to curtail human freedom; rather, they served to define and dignify human freedom.
A further opportunity to learn about Islam arose when I was invited to sit with a group of Muslims over dinner. After mentioning to the group that I had been living in Las Vegas, Nevada before coming to the Middle East, a Muslim from America said, “You must make sure you die as a good Muslim.” I immediately asked him to explain what he meant. He said, “If you die as a non-Muslim, it is like playing the game of roulette in which you put all of your chips (all of your life, including your deeds and your particular belief in God) on only one number, just hoping that perhaps by the Mercy of God, you will enter Paradise on Judgment Day. In contrast, if you die as a good Muslim, it is like spreading your chips all over the roulette board, so that every number is covered in this way, no matter what number the ball falls on, you’re safe. In other words, living and dying as a good Muslim is the best insurance you will not go to the Hell, and at the same time, it is the best investment that you’ll go to Paradise.” As a former resident of Las Vegas, I could directly relate to this poignant example with the game of roulette.
At this point, I understood I would not find the truth until I began to concentrate on those religions in which God had sent revelation to His prophets and messengers. Hence, I chose to continue my search for the truth through Christianity and Islam.
Even though I grew up as a Christian, I had been confused and uninterested in Christianity. I felt like I inherited a mysterious religion beyond understanding. I believe it was for this reason that I was a Christian by name but not in practice. Furthermore, I realized my doubt about Christian beliefs caused me to be in a state of non-religiousness. Nonetheless, while I was searching for the truth, I had a chance to re-examine those beliefs I inherited from my parents yet never bothered to scrutinize.
Through booklets, cassettes and videotapes on Christianity produced by Muslims and non-Muslims, I surprisingly found out about hundreds of verses in the Bible which reveal a lack of harmony in Christian beliefs. According to these materials, God was One prior to Jesus, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him. Likewise, Jesus propagated the belief in One God. However, after Jesus Christianity emphasized the Trinity instead of the Oneness of God. Also, before Jesus, God was without sons and equals. Similarly, Jesus said he was God’s Messenger, whereas after his time, Christianity stressed that Jesus is God’s son or God Himself.
Regarding monotheism, the first of the Ten Commandments upholds Jesus’ assertion for the belief in One God, “…Here, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” (Mark 12:29) Likewise, there is plethora of verses in the Bible that refute the divinity of Jesus. For example, Jesus admitted he could not do miracles independently, but only by the Will and permission of God. Interestingly, it says in the Bible that Jesus prayed. I asked myself, “How can Jesus be God and pray to God at the same time?” A praying God is a contradiction. Additionally, Jesus states that his teachings are not his own, but those of the One who sent him. Logically, if what he says is not his own, he is just a prophet receiving revelation from God like those before (and after) him. Moreover, Jesus admits that he does what he was taught by God. Again, I asked myself, “How can Jesus be taught and be God at the same time?” In my discussions with Muslims, they concurred with what Jesus commanded with respect to the belief in only One God, as in the following Quranic verse: Say, “ He is God, [Who is] One.” (Quran 112:1)
I was also surprised to find out about the verses in the Bible which refer to Jesus as a prophet of God. Likewise, I learned about the Islamic view of Jesus which is that he is a prophet and messenger of God. In the Quran God says,
“The Messiah, son of Mary, is only a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded.” (Quran 5:75)
Another common belief in Christianity is that Jesus is the son of God.
According to the Bible, it was customary to call any prophet of God, or righteous man, a son of God. Jesus called himself the son of man, not God or God’s literal son. Evidently, Paul was most responsible for elevating the status of Jesus to the son of God, distorting the teachings of Jesus.
What’s more, Jesus did not appear to be the ‘begotten’ son of God (as it used to say in John 3:16) since this word has been cancelled from the Revised Standard Version (RSV), as well as many other new versions of the Bible. Furthermore, God emphatically says in the Quran that He does not have a son. However, God also declared that He created Adam and Jesus: “Indeed, the example of Jesus to God is like that of Adam. He created him from dust; then He said to him “Be”, and he was.” (Quran 3:59)
Subsequent to these modifications emperors and clergy made further fabrications, contrary to what Jesus said or did. Of these is the concept of Trinity in which Jesus is one of the three manifestations of the Trinitarian God [the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost]. In the Bible, this verse given as the best proof for the Doctrine Trinity, even though this doctrine was never professed by Jesus, his disciples, or Christian scholars. In fact, it was enacted after much disagreement and conflict among Christians in the year 325 AD at the Council of Nicea. Interestingly, this verse has been expunged from the Bibles of the modern age.
In addition, the Quran warns the Jews and Christians to refrain from disbelieving in the revelation of God and against believing in Trinity.
A related area of controversy I read about was the ‘original sin’ and salvation through ‘the crucifixion’ of Jesus. Presumably, before Jesus, there was no Doctrine of Original Sin. However, after Jesus, the Doctrine of Original Sin appeared. Moreover, before Jesus, salvation was obtained by obedience to God whereas after Jesus, salvation was achieved through his crucifixion so they said.
In Christianity, the Doctrine of Original Sin is the justification for having salvation through the crucifixion of Jesus. Nevertheless, I found out that this doctrine is strongly negated in the Old Testament. It seems this concept may have been designed as a way for its believers to eschew their accountability of sins before God on Judgment Day. It was brought to my attention that, according to Jesus, man is saved through obedience and submission to God. Correspondingly, in the Quran, every soul is compensated for what it earns. However, it seems that this doctrine was changed, making salvation through the crucifixion of Jesus.
The theory of salvation through crucifixion holds that Jesus offered himself to be crucified to ransom and save humanity. If so, why did Jesus request the help of God before the soldiers came to arrest him?: “…Father, save me from this hour.” (12:27) Likewise, why does the Bible say Jesus cried out in a loud beseeching voice to God for help on the cross: “…My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matt. 27:46) In addition, how could Jesus have been crucified for the salvation of all humans when he was sent only to the Children of Israel? This is clearly a contradiction..
The Quran says they did not crucify him, but it was someone else who was made to look like him. If this is correct, then it may explain the appearance of Jesus to his disciples after the crucifixion. If he had really died on the cross, then he would have come to his disciples in a spiritual body. As shown in Luke 24:36-43, Jesus met them with his physical body after the event of his alleged crucifixion. Accordingly, I learned it was Paul who taught the resurrection of Jesus. Paul also admitted the resurrection was his own gospel.
I came across many sources indicating that Paul and others were frustrated by the Jewish rejection of the message of Jesus, so they extended their call to the Gentiles. They reached into southern Europe, where polytheism and idolatry were spreading. Gradually, the message of Jesus was modified to suit the tastes and traditions of the Romans and Greeks of those days. The Bible warns against adding or removing information from its teachings, which is precisely what happened. God addresses this point in Quran as well, “So woe to those who write the “scripture” with their own hands, then say, “This is from God,” in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn. ” (Quran 2:79)