Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Fatimah's Testimony

I still don’t know why I am writing my story. Maybe I want to be heard because in the real world I still can’t tell many people that I have left Islam.

I was born into a Muslim family and remained a devout practicing Muslim for 30 years. But then something happened nine years ago. It wasn’t an explosion, or a revelation. I was living in a Muslim country, surrounded by Muslims, leading a happy Muslim life. I didn’t need to start reading the history of Islam. But I did. And everything changed. It still took me nine years to realize that Islam can never be from God.

My quest for truth began when I first found out about the legality of raids and slavery in Islam. I started re-reading the Quran – this time in Arabic and English to find out what God really allowed and what He banned. I was disappointed. I read it several times. I read ahadith and commentaries and biographies of Muhammad. The more I read, the farther I grew from Islam. It came to a point where I prayed fervently and cried on my prayer mat beseeching Allah to guide me. At that time, I still believed that the Quran was from God.

I prayed and fasted but salah (Muslim prayer) never calmed me and I never enjoyed Ramadan. I know that salah is extremely calming for many Muslims and they really enjoy Ramadan. I say, good for them. But I also know Muslims who think that Islam is not as easy as people claim. It is highly ritualistic with some very frustrating rituals. You fart and your ablution is void. One has to do it all over again. If you fart while praying, you have to repeat the ablution and the prayer. If you have sex you have to shower as soon as possible so that you are ‘clean’ before next prayer. That cleansing shower has its own ritualistic steps. A woman having her period can’t even touch the Quran and in an orthodox culture like most Islamic cultures she can’t let her brothers and father know that she is on her period so even when she is not fasting she will wake up at four in the morning for suhoor (small breakfast before fasting in Ramadan) so that the men in the family don’t find out she is menstruating.

I still continued to pray and fast and give zakat. But the one thing I didn’t want to do was go for Hajj. I have done Umrah and it wasn’t a wonderful experience. I will not deny that it was an elating experience to finally be able to see and touch the Kaaba because that is every Muslim’s dream, but I found most of the Umrah rituals aimless and odd. Even as a young adult I couldn’t understand why we had to go around a building seven times or push and shove others to kiss a stone that carried everyone’s germs.

Hajj always frightened me. A distant relative was burnt in the 1997 Hajj fire. Two years later he died from complications. In 2003 a friend died in the Hajj stampede. Accidents can and do happen anywhere and everywhere but when you set out to worship God, you go with the expectation that your experience or at least your worship will be blessed, not that you will be either roasted or crushed to death. Over the years one thought disturbed me time and again: why would God kill His worshippers so mercilessly if what they were doing was right? Since the early 1970s until today (2009) there have been seven stampedes (isn’t that an ominous number?), three instances of violence, two instances of fire, and once a hotel collapsed that was housing pilgrims. I thought, aren’t these signs; signs that something is not quite right about Hajj?

When Hindus were crushed to death during their pilgrimage stampede, Muslims were quick to point that it was a curse from God for worshipping idols but when Muslims die almost every other year in Hajj stampedes while stoning the pagan-looking towers they are called martyrs. I still don’t understand that.

Over the years I came to realize slowly that like Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Muhammad truly believed that he was a prophet of God and that he was receiving revelations. In that way he was not completely at fault. In fact there are several similarities between these two men. Ahmad also means Muhammad. Both men claimed they were prophets. Both called people to take oaths of allegiance with them. Both made prophecies. Ahmad like Muhammad claimed God spoke to him through angels and dictated him books that are incomparable in language and style. Ahmad challenged native Arabic speakers to bring a book like his just like Muhammad and like Muhammad he challenged them to even work collectively. Like Muhammad, Ahmad is recorded to have gone into trance while receiving revelations. Once he spoke extempore in Arabic for an hour during which his voice changed and he later collapsed – he was Indian and was not a native Arabic speaker. Thus, he was as illiterate in the Arabic language as Muhammad claimed he was unlettered (See more on Mirza Ghulam Ahmad here).

What is even more interesting is that both Muhammad and Ahmad liked to indulge in Mubahala (a cursing prayer contest) in which both parties pray to God cursing the opponent and the one who is lying dies within a year of the Mubahala or dies before the truthful party.  It is believed that Ahmad died because his Mubahala failed him. Muhammad is believed to have brought his daughter, son-in-law and grandsons to engage in a Mubahala with the Christians of Najran in the 10th year after the Hijrah. Muslims claim the Christians refused to enter into Mubahala because they knew they were at fault and Mubahala would have meant they would have died within a year and their future generations would have faced dreadful fates. We know what Muhammad said to the Christians in argument but what the Christians said as counter-argument is not recorded in Islamic books. We do know that they claimed they were not convinced that Muhammad was a prophet. Whether or not the Mubahala really took place, Quran records it as being ordered by God and interestingly Muhammad died the following year, his daughter died less than five months later and his son-in-law and grandsons were all murdered – not by Christians but by Muslims! That is something no Muslim book will point out.  

When I read this I began to think: if the vast majority of Muslims think that the followers of Ahmad are kuffar (non-Muslims) and that he was a fake prophet even when his claims were very much like Muhammad’s and he had more powerful miracles (the incidence of the eclipses and the revealed sermons), why do they believe in Muhammad? If Ahmad was defying the message of the Quran by claiming to be a messenger receiving revelations, wasn’t Muhammad defying the message of the Gospel by claiming that Jesus was ‘just a prophet’? Muhammad was a lot more popular than Ahmad because the former brought a new message of monotheism to the polytheistic Arabians while Ahmad was reinventing the wheel. Furthermore, he was against jihad and tried to preach to a people of 20th century India who had far more sense than the 7th Century superstitious Arabs.

I also thought, for the three days that the Christians of Najran stayed in Medina Muhammad claimed to receive constant revelations from God but, when his own wife was accused of adultery he waited for a month for a physical proof to ensure she wasn’t pregnant before bringing a revelation to announce her innocence! Many verses were ‘revealed’ because one of Muhammad’s wives, companions or Omar Ibn Khattab inspired them. Does God really do that? I don’t even want to go into how women are ‘put in their place’ in the Quran. Most of the Quran addresses Muhammad or men. It was only after Umm Salama pointed out how God forgets women when He dictates the Quran that the tone of the Quran changed and began addressing women as well.

I guess the turning point in my religiosity came one summer when I read how Muhammad used to go into a trance when he received revelations. My paternal grandmother had the ability to capture demons / spirits / supernatural-beings (called jinn in Arabic) to learn about the future and lead a comfortable life after her husband suddenly died. Apparently my grandmother had subdued a supernatural force which Muslims call a jinn. This demon/jinn was several hundred years old and belonged to ancient Persia. When my grandmother summoned him, her body would stiffen, she would sweat profusely and go into a trance. Her lips moved very fast  but if someone tried hard they would not hear her but hear a faint sound of a man’s voice speaking in a different language. My father recalled that it sounded like “a hefty animal was snoring.” She would then begin to write several sentences without pause. When the supernatural force left her, she would collapse, drained out of all energy. Her writing, though sometimes muddled, was often in faultless Arabic and always provided answers to the questions that she had asked the spirit. The spirit gave insight into past events which were often accurate and told her about the future. It even prophesized when she would die. 

Such stories are not uncommon in Arabian lands. There is always someone or the other who has the gift to control supernatural beings and use them for their advantage. When the human capturer dies, the supernatural being is released with him/her. Many times their predictions are accurate and help humans in winning lover’s hearts, bets and battles. But not everyone is powerful enough to be able to possess a complying and friendly demon and these spirits don’t always remain loyal.

This wasn’t uncommon fourteen centuries ago either. Quran refers to it in several places and challenges all jinns and humans to band together and bring a book like the Quran. It may seem like a silly challenge today, but the 7th Century Arab knew exactly what it meant. The text of the Quran was composed by someone so powerful that no ordinary human or jinn ever took up the challenge. Even when Mirza Ghulam Ahmad made a similar challenge, no one took it up. When I learnt about Muhammad’s experiences, I couldn’t help but draw similarities between his physical state when he claimed to receive revelations and the physical state of my grandmother when the spirit spoke through her and even Mirza Ahmad when he claimed he was receiving revelations. In all three cases, something was definitely revealed, but it was not God speaking through angels. I thought to myself: angels spoke to all prophets and sometimes even to their women but they never went into a trance. Even encountering demons didn’t cause them to sweat and collapse. Prophets had power over those beings. Then I read a hadith in which Muhammad said:

“There is no one among you but he has with him a constant companion (qareen) from among the jinn and a constant companion from among the angels.” They said, “You too, O Messenger of Allaah?” He said, “Me too, but Allah has helped me against him (the devil-companion) and he has become Muslim, so he only enjoins me to do that which is good.” (Underlining mine). (This hadith is quoted here and a similar one exists in Sahih Muslim, Book 39, Hadith No. 6759).

It is quite clear that at least Muhammad had a demon/Jinn as a constant companion. Muhammad had power over that Jinn and had controlled it and made him to submit (he had become Muslim) so he joined Muhammad in what the latter thought was good. Muhammad is recorded to have acknowledged it.

The Quran is certainly beautiful in many places. Surah Rahman is extremely beautiful poetry that one can not only appreciate if they understand Arabic but even non-Arabic speakers find it captivating. But my question has always been: is that all the All Mighty God is capable of composing? Didn’t Muhammad limit the power of God by claiming that Quran was His word? When a mere human can’t even imagine the glory of God and what He looks like; when Moses couldn’t even bear to catch a glimpse of God, how can we, the ordinary human beings, be asked to imagine how He speaks? Shouldn’t we all be consumed and scatter as dust when He speaks to us? Wouldn’t a paper that bears His word turn to ashes? Quran is certainly not as glorious as God and it certainly limits His power.

But Muhammad didn’t compose it either. The language actually may have been too sophisticated for him and may have impressed him as well. Quran claims that Jinns listened to the Quran and spread the word (46:29-30). Could it be that Muhammad’s Jinn too heard the Torah and the Gospel and reported it to his master? Muhammad didn’t know the Scriptures or the Biblical history or about Science, but could his Jinn have known all this, albeit through his own faulty understanding since Jinns are a creation of God and not divine or all powerful? God doesn’t err but a Jinn can and hence we find contradictions and bad science in the Quran. Perhaps Aisha secretly knew that it is not God who was eager to fulfill Muhammad’s wishes, but it was the Jinn that was eager to please his master because she wasn’t one to blaspheme like that.

I continued to study Islam more closely. When I questioned various points, others told me that I was inviting Satan to whisper to me; that I should stop reading too much. Most Muslims either don’t know the little details of their religion or don’t care about them for the peace of their mind. Those close to me continued to explain that I wasn’t doing anything wrong: I was worshipping one God – praying more in a day than a person from any other religion; I wasn’t cheating anyone, lying or stealing. Wife beating, polygamy and oppression didn’t affect me. What else did I want? So I began to search for Truth secretly and quietly.

I was worshipping one God five times a day but the associated rituals were wearisome. The call to prayer attested five times a day that Muhammad was a prophet of God. After every call to prayer I was taught to make a supplication blessing Muhammad and asking Allah to give him the best place in Heaven at a rank above everyone else and to allow him to intercede as Allah promised him! Five times a day I sat on my prayer mat in Tashahhud and spent almost half of my prayer in blessing Muhammad and his ummah several times. Which prophet ever taught his people to bless him endlessly every day? I could sense hidden paranoia.

But no Muslim I knew could see this.

My faith in Islam hung by a thin thread and I was just waiting for God to show me the final sign. That sign came in the form of an Islamic talk I was attending. The speaker was talking about the Quran. Someone from the audience very casually asked how many verses are there in the Quran since there is some confusion on the exact number. The speaker explained that no one really knows (adding that it doesn’t matter how many there are): the number is disputed because scholars differ in their opinion over where some verses end or if some verses are actually one or multiple verses depending on how the Quran was compiled. According to the current version there are 6,236 verses without bismillah and 6,349 with bismillah. However, there are scholars who look at oldest compilations of the verses and believe that the correct number with bismillah is 6,666!

He hadn’t even finished his talk when my arms broke out in goosebumps and I walked out of the building. At home I spent a long time searching the internet on information about the AntiChrist. What I found was very significant.

Revelation 20:4 reads:

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his MARK upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Some distinct features characterize the AntiChrist:

1. His number is Six hundred threescore and six = 666 (Revelation 13:18) — There is a strong possibility that the actual number of verses of the Quran as compiled and standardized by Uthman is really 6,666. Certainly many Muslims believe that.

2. There is a mark on the foreheads of the followers of the Anti-Christ (Revelation 13:16) — Devout Muslim men develop a scar on their foreheads called zabiba in Arabic, from rubbing their foreheads on the prayer mats. It is even mentioned in the Quran in 48:29.

3. And there is a mark on their right hands (Revelation 13:16) — To enter the fold of Islam Muhammad took the oath of allegiance from people which is called bayah in Arabic and entailed a man or woman placing their right hand into the right hand of Muhammad. Sufi Muslims still practice bayah.  Bayah is also mentioned in the Quran in the same surah in 48:18, and also in 60:12. Also, whatever a Muslim possessed in the way of Allah from lands to women was called "that which their right hand possessed." Islam came to possess everything with its right hand.

4. The Anti-Christ will change the calendar (‘times and laws’) (Daniel 7:25) — The Muslim holy day is not the Sabbath day but Friday and the Muslim Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar which is very different from the relatively fixed solar Julian or Gregorian calendars.

5. He will spread through the lands by his sword (Daniel 11:40) — It is common knowledge that Islam spread through the different lands by wars and occupations.

6. Anti-Christ will preach a different Jesus from what was preached by the Apostles (2 Corinthians 11:3-4) — According to the Muslim faith and particularly the Quran, Jesus was not God; he spoke as a baby in the cradle; gave life to clay birds; and was neither crucified nor resurrected.

I still believe that Muhammad was not an evil man and he was convinced that he was a prophet. But whatever is not from God has every possibility of turning into something that is evil. Because no divine force stopped Muhammad when he waged wars and began giving himself concessions, he must have thought that whatever he was doing had God’s approval and blessing. Quran insists that a Muslims must obey God and Muhammad and must bless Muhammad every day. And while there are many ahadith that teach that Muhammad was only a man, there are also many more that urge Muslims to put their complete faith in Muhammad, give their oath of allegiance to him, bless him, and seek his intercession on the day of judgment because when “all prophets from Adam to Jesus” will fail to intercede, Muhammad will speak up from his ‘Maqam Mahmoud’ (exalted position) to intercede for his followers.  Knowing all this and more, I couldn’t go on being a Muslim.

A prophet comes to change the evil status quo and reform the society. Arguing that raids, polygamy, child marriages, slavery and wife beating were the ancient customs of Arabia which Islam allowed to continue but tried to control just shows what Muhammad should have done and didn’t do. If my teacher wants me to write with an ink pen, he shouldn’t use a ballpoint pen in class and should set a positive example by using an ink pen himself instead of claiming that he can do whatever he likes because he is the teacher. By including such acts in his practice and in the Quran, Muhammad may have tried to set boundaries but he also sanctioned them in the process. Did he really think these practices would gradually end as Muslims claim when he also claimed to be the last prophet who is to be followed completely?

This is how I felt about the religion in which I was born. But I didn’t blindly jump into Christianity. I studied other religions and came to the conclusion that while I may not agree with some Christians and their practices, the message of Christ is indeed the best and the most peaceful. One can bring about change through love. Nothing and no one compares to Jesus, the Christ. He doesn’t need my praise because his actions still speak for themselves, and he doesn’t need my blessings because he is the one who blesses, for the Lord is indeed my Shepherd.

I continue to read the Bible every day and study Christianity. I must admit that those who love me have been very supportive. They have not converted to Christianity but they know and appreciate how Christ has brought peace into my life. I do not stay up all night any longer reading and re-reading the Quran in horror and disbelief and I am not bitter about the teachings of Muhammad any longer because I find solace in the words of Christ; words that warn gently and make us humble and kind human beings.

I now firmly believe that if you earnestly seek truth and keep your heart and mind open, Jesus does find you eventually for he promised - “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).