My name is Tarmizi and I am an ethnic Malay from Malaysia. I am presently working in the private sector.
I came to know about Christianity on my own. Many years ago I took up a correspondence course on Christianity on my own initiative and without ANY external inducements because I wanted to know more about the Christian religion. I must acknowledge that the environment and friends around me at that time did influence me to inquire about Christianity. I was rather uncomfortable with my Muslim friends because I found certain things in Islam unacceptable for example prayers having to be made in a set pattern and be uttered in a language that is not clearly or commonly understood. The course helped me know the basics of Christianity and also the similarities it shared with Islam (like the belief in hell). I received a certificate when I completed this correspondence course.
After this study I attended a worship service somewhere in Kuala Lumpur. I went to church on my own initiative. Before going, I called the church to introduce myself as well as to inform them of my intentions to know more about Christianity. I was told that I was welcome to attend the service. I was happy when I attended the service. The people were friendly and I felt welcome. I also did not see any statues, which made me glad. The church was one big hall and it look just like a Mosque.
I was expecting Holy Communion to be served because I was told that that was the way Muslims were "trapped" - once they had eaten the bread, their hearts would become darken and they would forget everything. I was glad that this did not happen - Communion was not served that day! At the end of the meeting I was given a prospectus and encouraged to consider seriously what I wanted to believe.
In my heart I wanted to believe but I had my doubts. I asked myself, "What good would this bring to me?" I asked this question because I believed (at that time) that in Malaysia there was "no way a Muslim could become a follower of 'Isa". Questions like, "What would it cost me? What will I have to face? Am I making the right move?" plagued me. With so many questions unanswered, I put it off (i.e. believing in Hazrat 'Isa).
I became a religious Muslim again after this event. Family and friends encouraged me to pray and I joined them whenever I was asked to. Then I began to relax again. This happened a couple of times. For 6 months I would be enthusiastic in carrying out my Islamic obligations and then I would cool off. I was also quite influenced by my surroundings. Just before I got married, I was on a religious high. I never missed my five times of prayer. My wife (then my fiancée) had a great influence on me. Whenever I called her, she would ask, "What time did you wake up?" I usually woke up late so she knew I had not woken up to do my morning prayers. She then would ask me, "Why didnít you get up early to pray?" With her constant encouragement I reached a stage where I was on a spiritual high.
It was at this time that I went to Mecca for the umrah. While observing the activities of the many people and races from all parts of the world who were there, I could clearly see the different types of schools in Islam from the different types of prayers that were being made. Though same in focus and direction, their prayers were different in method. These differences became a dilemma for me. I had been taught that the pattern for prayer was set and it had to be strictly followed. Yet here in Mecca itself, I was seeing different patterns of prayer being followed. I wondered which pattern was the right one and whether the pattern of prayer I had being observing all this while was right. If it was not, all my prayers so far would have been unacceptable to God! If it were right, then the prayers I saw being performed before my own eyes were actually unacceptable to God. This was a very disturbing conclusion.
The style of prayer is not mentioned in the Quran, only in the sayings of the prophet. How one interprets these sayings would determine how one prays. When one becomes so accustomed to a set pattern of prayer, there is bound to be questions when different patterns are observed elsewhere. For example, hand positions. Is the hand stretched out straight, or can it be moved to the left or the right? What about pauses in between - are there any or none? Matters like these are all not mentioned nor confirmed in the Quran. Islamic scholars would interpret the sayings of the prophet differently, each scholar giving a different interpretation. I witnessed and experienced different and new expressions of prayer because of these different schools of thought (almost, if not all were not subscribed to in Malaysia). In Malaysia we subscribe to the Shafie school of thought. So I prayed the Malaysian way!
Deep in my heart, whilst in Mecca, I had questions. I asked myself, "Why are we doing what we are doing? Why should we imitate what a Prophet did more than a thousand years ago?" I questioned the logic of this whole exercise. I struggled in my mind. "These things were done so long ago. Am I doing what is actually RIGHT?" I asked. When I rushed in after competing with many others to kiss the black stone I asked myself, "Why? Why? Why? What is this FOR?"
When I came back from Mecca I began to relax my observation of prayer times. I then began to think about Christianity again. Even so, there was still nothing significant happening because nobody told me anything (about Christianity) - what it really was and whatís the difference (between Islam and Christianity).
Suddenly a thought struck my mind. I took the Yellow Pages and I called up a church at random. I spoke to an Indian person who invited me to come out and meet her. So I went to see her. I asked her a few questions. One was concerning the use of statues. Previously, a Filipino friend had given me a small statue of Jesus. I brought it with me and mentioned it to this lady. She said, "This is not right". That was the first time I had heard such an answer. I was happy to hear it. She then explained more, gave me a leaflet and asked me to go home and read it. After reading the leaflet, I met with her again and informed her that I was interested in accepting Hazrat 'Isa as my Savior. I asked her, "Can you teach me to accept 'Isa as my personal Saviour?" On that day she helped me receive Jesus as my own Saviour by saying a prayer with me. I simply followed her in a prayer that she prayed, a simple prayer of repentance and dedication to Hazrat 'Isa. I was also given a copy of the Bible.
She then said that it would be inappropriate for her as a lady to continue guiding me. It would be better if I had a brother to guide and teach me instead. She gave me Mís contact and he has been very helpful since then.
I donít ask why nowadays because Iíve found the answers. After my conversion, a friend gave me a book that helped answer all my doubts. It was a book with answers from the Bible on the common questions a new believer would ask. It was a very helpful book.
As a follower of Hazrat 'Isa in a Muslim community, I have to be careful in expressing my belief. The Muslim community can be quite belligerent toward those who leave Islam, and terribly unreasonably so. Fearful, oppressive and punitive repercussions are all brought to bear upon detractors of Islam and those who even dare to consider alternatives to Islam! All kinds of terrible consequences are conjured up for those who are considered 'apostates'.
There have been some significant changes in my beliefs since I started following Isa Al-Masih. When I was a Muslim, God was a feared Being, a Punisher. Now I see Him differently. He is still most supreme but He is also someone loving I can talk to and share things with. I know He is listening and he is very close to me. For me, Isa Al-Masih is Savior and God. This I always remember when I pray.
I believe the greatest blessing I have received from God is to be chosen by Him for salvation. God has chosen me and I believe His plan for me is to share what I know to other Malay Muslims. Recently I had the opportunity to talk to a Malay girl. We talked about many things - her Christian friends, the Bible, and the identity of 'Isa Al-Masih - but she was not prepared to take the step of faith. She, however, agreed that to be Malay does not necessarily mean one has to be a Muslim.
It is my sincere hope that the Malaysian government would be more open about conversion of Muslims to other religions. I hope that there will be no threats and that they would be consistent in their decisions. So far they have been lax one day and tough the next, especially when they come under pressure from certain quarters. I would like the governmentís decision to be in black and white, allowing the people to decide whom they want to worship. I look for the day when there would be a freedom to chose ones faith and be respected by friends, family, society and workplace for the choice that has been made.
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