Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How I Became A Muslim And Why I Wrote This Book

Assalamu’alaikum wr.wb. This is the First Chapter of my book “Searching for God and Finding Allah”. I hope you find it useful. Wassalamu’alaikum wr.wb.
- Gene Netto

[October 2019 – Latest Draft]

SEARCHING FOR GOD AND FINDING ALLAH

CONTENTS
1. HOW I BECAME A MUSLIM AND WHY I WROTE THIS BOOK
2. A SUCCESSION OF PROPHETS
3. A SIGN FROM GOD
4. FOLLOWERS OF JESUS
5. FOLLOWERS OF JESUS AND FOLLOWERS OF MUHAMMAD
6. THE TRUTH OF ISLAM
7. THIS IS WHAT ALMIGHTY GOD SAYS ABOUT THE HOLY QUR'AN
8. A LOGICAL RELIGION
9. A LOGICAL REASON WHY WE CANNOT SEE GOD
10. OUR SPIRITUAL NEEDS AND GOD'S SOLUTION
11. IT IS YOUR CHOICE: YOU CAN ACCEPT GOD OR REJECT HIM
12. CONCLUSION: THIS IS THE END. OR THE BEGINNING.

******************

1. How I Became A Muslim And Why I Wrote This Book

I began writing this chapter because I was always telling the same stories to people in Indonesia who were curious about how I became a Muslim. Whenever I complained about repeating the same story, my friends jokingly said that I should write a book. At the same time, whenever my students asked what I would like to do if I was not an English teacher, then I usually said that I would like to be a writer because I have always enjoyed reading and writing.

I have been living in Jakarta continuously since 1995, so most of my conversations are in Indonesian language, and I always get asked the same questions: How did I become a Muslim? How did I learn to speak Indonesian so well? And why do I live in Indonesia? Like all developing countries, there are many problems in Indonesia, and so some people are confused about why a westerner would choose to live here.

The reason is simple. Other Muslims often comment that my way of explaining Islam is very different to what they usually hear. They were born as Muslims whereas I spent 5 years examining the teachings of Islam in order to make sure that Islam was correct and logical. They just accepted what their parents told them, but I questioned absolutely everything, continuously analyzing Islam with logic, and always asking, "Why?" Many Muslims only pray because their parents told them to do it, and so they believe that Islam is correct, but they did not analyze what they were doing or why. That difference in our approaches to religion made my understanding of Islam seem very unique to them.

Because I explained Islam in a different way, I often felt that perhaps I had an important job to do in Indonesia. I could speak the language and express my ideas clearly, and my explanations about Islam often had a strong impact on many people. For example, one Muslim man who had not prayed for 30 years suddenly started performing the five daily prayers again after only one conversation with me. And that is what normally happens every time I have that same conversation with each new person. So, I decided that I should stay in Indonesia and try to develop and improve the Muslim community rather than seek a comfortable life for myself in a developed country.

In this chapter, I will explain how I went through the slow process of becoming a Muslim, but this is only for the benefit of readers who are curious about my background. After this chapter, the remainder of the book is not about me, but rather it is focused on my analysis of Christianity and Islam. I explain why I consider Christianity unacceptable from a logical perspective and explain that Islam is a religion based on clear, logical, and intelligent teachings. This means that Islam should appeal to everyone who is trying to understand the meaning of life, as long as logic and intelligence are used to search for an Absolute Truth that could only come from Almighty God.


1.1. In the Beginning

I was born in a small city in New Zealand (which is a small country near Australia). As a child, I was very curious and wanted to learn about a lot of serious topics: the pyramids, dinosaurs, ancient civilizations, world history, global politics, wars, religion, and the whole universe. I remember staring at the stars in the sky one night and thinking about where they came from and how long they had been there. So, I was generally interested in topics that were complicated and mysterious.

Like most kids, I had to learn about Christianity in Sunday School, and I was taught all of the standard Bible stories about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and so on. However, I found a lot of things in Christianity very confusing. I was taught about the Trinity, which says that Almighty God is also Jesus, and also the Holy Spirit. All three of them are God, but there is only one God, not three gods, because they are "one", but also separate. God created Himself as a human being named Jesus, and that man was the Son of God, and also God, at the same time. Then Jesus died, but God is immortal, so God should not be able to die, but that man who was also God did in fact die, even though he could not die, because he was also God. So, were God and Jesus separated at that time so that Jesus could die without God dying as well? Or did God also die when Jesus died because they are "one" and cannot be separated? And if God was also dead, then who brought Jesus back to life? Trying to understand all of that using simple logic made me feel that Christianity was extremely confusing.

I also had difficulty understanding the role of a Catholic Priest in forgiving people for their sins, without first discussing that matter with God. What if the priest got it wrong and my sins were not erased? Could I get some written proof from God that my sins had been forgiven? What if I met God on Judgment Day and found out that the priest had made a mistake, and all of my sins still existed? If I protested, and pointed to the priest who had convinced me that all of my sins were forgiven, then God could simply ask me, "Who told you to believe him?" So, who would save me from God's Wrath if the priest was wrong and my sins were still counted by God?

Because Christianity seemed so illogical, I began to think about how I could get clear answers to all of the religious questions that were bothering me, and so I decided that I would have to speak directly to God. I prayed to God, and I asked Him to appear in my bedroom so that I could see Him with my own eyes. Of course, nothing happened, and God did not appear. I concluded that the reason He did not appear was that He did not really exist, and so I decided to become an atheist and not believe in any gods at all.
After that, I did not talk much about the fact that I was an atheist. If anyone asked me what religion I was, then I just said "Catholic" so that I did not have to explain anything. During the rest of elementary school, junior high school, and high school, I ignored Christianity and all other religions. I was certain that studying religion was a waste of time because God was not real, and all religions were illogical. After I finished high school, my parents decided to move to Australia, and so I went with them.


1.2. Learning About Islam and Becoming a Muslim

In Australia, I went to university and started learning Indonesian language in the Faculty of Asian and International Studies. One day, at a social event, a Muslim man from Indonesia started chatting with me about religion, and then he really shocked me when he said, "In Islam, only God can forgive you for your sins!" I did not know what to say. I just froze, and time seemed to stand still for several seconds. Then, I suddenly realized that he had given me a logical answer to a question that I had been thinking about for more than ten years. In Islam, only Almighty God could forgive us for our sins, without the involvement of any priests. That seemed completely logical, but it also had to be impossible because I had already studied every religion in the world when I was in elementary school, and so I was certain that there was no such thing as a "logical religion".

I started to think more deeply. Could Islam be a logical religion, with clear, logical teachings that I could analyze critically, without getting confused? Could Islam give me real answers to my questions about religion? Could there be Absolute Truth in Islam? This is how I started studying Islam, after one comment from a stranger. I began to read books about Islam and started talking with Indonesian Muslims. Slowly, I built up more and more knowledge by asking questions, thinking, and reading. I wanted to find out if Islam was really a logical religion, and if it was, then what would that mean about the possible existence of Almighty God?

When I finished my Bachelor of Arts degree, I studied for an extra year to get a Graduate Diploma of Education, which made me a foreign language and history teacher. Then, I received a scholarship to study for one year at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, in 1995. Soon after I arrived, the fasting month of Ramadan started. One night, I stayed up late to watch the Tarawih prayers live on television, as they were being performed in Mecca. (Tarawih prayers are special optional prayers that are only performed in the evenings during Ramadan.) The Indonesian commentators said that approximately 3 million Muslims were performing the prayers in the mosque and surrounding areas, which included the outdoor courtyard, nearby streets, and even hotel lobbies.

Three million people, in the same location, doing the same prayer, facing the same direction, following the same leader, praying in the same language, with the same words, at the same time, and praying to the same God. I thought to myself, "Where is there anything like this in a western country?" Only about one hundred thousand people would fit into a stadium to watch a football match. But now, I was looking at three million people in and around one building, all moving in unison. It was a truly amazing sight to see for a non-Muslim atheist. I wondered about how many people could gather in one building to hear the Pope speak, and if everyone would be able to understand him because there is no unifying language for Christians. It seemed that there was no comparison in Christianity with what I saw those Muslims doing in Mecca.

While living in Jakarta in 1995, I continued to learn slowly about Islam, not in a formal way, but just by paying attention to what I saw around me. I watched speeches on television and thought about what those Muslim scholars were saying. I bought some books about Islam and read them carefully with a critical mind. I watched people praying and thought about what they were doing and why. From the basic knowledge of Islam that I had developed, I could not see any significant problems with the teachings of Islam, and by the end of 1995, I was finding it harder and harder to refuse what I had learned. I was constantly searching for large, serious, logical flaws in the basic teachings of Islam, but I could not find any. Islam seemed to be a simple, clear, logical, and law-based religion that I thought would appeal to any intelligent mind.

Everything that I had read about Islam was too logical. Islam could not have been created by human beings, so therefore it must have come from God, so therefore God must exist. But I was still an atheist and not sure if I could ever believe in God. Then, a friend suggested that I should just try praying to God and ask Him to help me believe in Him and believe in Islam. So, I tried praying to God, not expecting anything to happen, but then a few days later, I suddenly started to believe. I did not really want to become a Muslim, but I could not deny what I had learned about Islam, and so I felt that I had no choice: I had to become a Muslim because my logical brain was forcing me to accept Islam.

Then I started to think about my future. My time at the University of Indonesia was almost over, and I would have to go back to Australia. But how could I learn about Islam there? It seemed that staying in Indonesia was a better choice, and so I decided to become a Muslim and live in Indonesia for a while in order to learn about Islam more easily.

In February 1996, I said the shahada (the Islamic Declaration of Faith) and formally became a Muslim. I could have easily gone back to my life in Australia, but I felt more comfortable staying in Indonesia so that I could study Islam in a Muslim community. So, I have been living and working continuously in Jakarta from 1995 until now. I have thought about moving to other countries several times, but every time I decide to leave, something always happens to make me change my mind, and I end up staying here.


1.3. What Is the Purpose of This Book?

I wrote this book because I wanted to explain some elements of Christianity and Islam that I have spent many years analyzing and trying to understand, and I hope that this information will be useful for others. As a child, I gave up on Christianity because I found it too illogical, and I could not find any books that presented an alternative religion with logical teachings as a fundamental basis of the religion. So, I gave up on all religions and gave up on Almighty God as well, and I have met many people who experienced the same problem. I hope that this book will help those people find the answers that they have been looking for all of their lives because I believe that logical answers to all of our important questions can be found within Islam.

This book was designed to be useful for various groups of people. First, for those people who were born as Muslims and do not know much about Christianity. Some Muslims find it hard to explain to their non-Muslim friends why Christian teachings are rejected in Islam, so I would like to make it clear for them. Second, for Muslims who are not devout or might be considering converting to Christianity (or have already done so). Hopefully, the explanations provided here will make it clear why they should study Islam more deeply rather than look for another religion. Third, for ex-Christians who are thinking about converting to Islam but are still unsure about the similarities and differences between both religions. And fourth, for non-devout Christians and ex-Christians who do not have a relationship with the Church. Those people probably still believe in Almighty God but do not understand the connection between Christianity and Islam. Most people probably do not know that, according to Islamic teachings, the religion of Islam is simply the continuation of Christianity and Judaism in a new format, that Muhammad PBUH is simply the replacement for Jesus, Moses, and Abraham, and that Muhammad PBUH is the Final Messenger from Almighty God to all of mankind.

I have met some Muslims who are uncertain about their religion, and this was usually the result of a poor religious education in their childhood. Some of them might only pray whenever they feel like it (instead of five times a day), some might not pray at all, some might essentially feel like atheists or agnostics but will still call themselves Muslims for social reasons, and some of them might have become interested in Christianity. For all of those Muslims, the underlying cause of their problem is essentially the same: they do not really understand Islam because it was never explained to them very well.

Whenever I meet Muslims like that, it is obvious that they do not understand much about Islam or Christianity, and so they are usually interested in my analysis of both religions. I hope that after reading this book those Muslims will feel more confident in remaining with Islam and will begin to seek more in-depth knowledge about Islam from numerous sources. I also hope that ex-Christians who have left the Church, but still believe in God, will find ideas here that will encourage them to seriously investigate Islam with an open mind. Once they have learned more about Islam and understand that Islam is just an updated version of the same religion that was given to Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and all of the other prophets of God, then I hope that they will be in a better position to understand how Islam relates to the Almighty God that they already believe in. If any non-devout Christians or ex-Christians read this book and become interested in Islam, then I hope that they will continue to look for more information about the basic teachings of Islam from other sources.

46. And do not argue with the People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians] except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him."
- (Al-Qur'an, Al-Ankabut 29:46)

I would like to make it clear that this book was not written with the intention of insulting Christians or Christianity. Although Christians may not like what I have said about their religion, I have tried to give thoughtful, academic arguments and not emotional ones. Islam teaches Muslims to avoid insulting other religions because the followers of those religions might respond by insulting Almighty God (Allah).

108. And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus, We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.
- (Al-Qur'an, Al-An'am 6:108)

Please note that this book does not explain everything about Christianity or Islam. After many years of studying both religions, I have thought very carefully about how to explain the differences between Christianity and Islam, and so I have presented some ideas here that may help people who are trying to understand both religions in a logical way. Because my intention is to focus only on what is wrong with Christianity, and what is right with Islam, there are certain topics that I do not discuss at all. For example, there is no chapter that discusses the existence of Almighty God, and I just assume that the reader is already familiar with basic monotheistic concepts, such as the existence of God, prophets, holy books, angels, the Devil, Heaven, Hell, and so on.


1.4. All Human Beings Can Be Good or Bad

After being a Muslim for many years, I can honestly say that it has been an interesting experience with many good and bad points. I have seen wonderful human beings who behave in a noble way because they are Muslims, as well as Muslims who do not care about their religion and do not care if their negative behavior is against the teachings of Islam and hurts other people. I have seen Muslims who are kind, caring, honest, sincere, thoughtful, intelligent, generous, and loving, as well as Muslims who are the exact opposite, and this is true in every religion because human beings can choose to behave in any way they like, regardless of what religion they follow.

Unfortunately, the modern media seems to make it hard for non-Muslims to see anything except hatred, death, and destruction when information about Muslims and Islam is presented to the public. Of course, there are Muslims who carry out acts of violence, but violence is not exclusive to Muslims, and the kindness of good Muslims usually does not become a news story because no one dies, and nothing explodes! So, the small number of Muslims who appear in the news because of their negative actions do not represent the majority of good Muslims who lead an ordinary, peaceful life, go to school, go to work, get married, raise their children, and worship God in the way that they believe is correct.

But there is also another perspective to consider. If Muslims were to think of themselves as "salespeople", and the product that they are "selling" is "Islam", then it is very obvious that most people in the world are not interested in "buying" what Muslims are "selling". In other words, a lot of Muslims are not very good at "marketing Islam" so that it can be easily accepted by others. If someone from a developed country wants to debate with me about the Truth of Islam, then he only has to point out the numerous problems (such as corruption) in Indonesia and other countries with a Muslim-majority population and say, "Doesn't this prove that your religion is no good?" Of course, what he is pointing at is human behavior and not part of Islam, but convincing him of that is quite difficult because his next question will be, "If that behavior is forbidden in your religion, then why is it so common in those countries?"

The answer is that no matter what God tells us to do, many human beings will not obey Him. The best example is the Prophet Adam, who was only forbidden to do one thing: eat the forbidden fruit. So, guess what Adam did? Yes, that is correct! With only one rule to break, Adam, a prophet of Almighty God, managed to disobey Him! We are no different to Adam. But many people in this modern era will quickly judge Islam based on the behavior of some violent and aggressive Muslims that are presented negatively in the media, and so it is easy for "Islam" to get a bad reputation because some Muslims do in fact behave quite badly. And there are some Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of every other religion who behave badly as well.

So, I think that those of us who are Muslims have an obligation to explain Islam in the best way possible to others who want to understand it, and the easiest way for us to do that is to demonstrate the Truth of Islam through our own good behavior. If we can do that, then other people may begin to think more favorably about Islam because they will see the correctness of Islam portrayed through our own actions. In addition to that, we need to explain very clearly why we believe in Islam and explain what Islam teaches about other religions, especially Christianity, which is the closest monotheistic religion to Islam. In order to do that, Muslims must understand the problems with Christianity from an Islamic perspective so that they can have a constructive discussion about both religions, which does not involve negative emotions or hatred. If we can succeed in "marketing Islam" in this way, then Islam may end up with fewer enemies and a lot more friends.

In the following chapters, I will try to explain clearly what Islam teaches about the problems with Christianity and then explain why Muslims consider Islam to be the only correct religion available from Almighty God. I hope you will find the journey enlightening!

4 comments:

  1. My family most certainly thought that I was “crazy”, but the same thing was also said about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW.) by the Quraish tribe of Mecca, so in that context, being called “crazy” would be more like a compliment.

    Assalamu alaikum ww
    Dear Gene,
    Saya suka sekali dengan tulisan yang saya copy dari artikel anda tsb. Bahkan saya sampai terharu. Terharu karena anda sudah memahami inti ajaran Islam, become "similar" to Rasulullah SAW. As I read ur writing , I understood that your understanding by Logic thinking, it is correct. Thats only one of many ways in Knowing Allah. May I suggest you that Knowing Allah (Ma'rifatullah) are not only by logic thinking but there is another way, that is by "visioning" or "experiencing" bil qolbi. By purity of your heart, you can reach "wonderful experiences" in your ibadah. So your logic thinking will be strengthen by "a deep understanding by hearts eyes, so your faith will reach haqqul yaqin level. As you knew, there are three level of faith in Islam, Ilmul Yaqin by Logic Thinking, Ainul Yaqin by your real "seeing" and Haqqul Yaqin by experiencing in it. If you are intersteing, please do ningth praying and dzikir after 12pm. Or you can adopt song of Tombo Ati as your reference.
    Wassalamu alaikum ww
    Nurahman.
    nur.ds.5601@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. gene,

    I believe God had called you specially to be a Muslim. I am happy for you that you found Allah (God).

    I just want to do a little correction that perhaps you need to search deeper later on. Some people might hate my comment also. But, CATHOLICS is not the same with CHRISTIANITY. Bunch of the Catholic teachings are so much afar than the Bible itself.

    Do you search your bible diligently when you were looking for GOD in your youth?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Anonymous,

    The history of Christianity was actually determined by the Catholic Church. The majority of the world’s Christians are actually Catholic, not Protestant. There are more than 1 billion Catholics now. When the Protestant reform movement began in Europe a few hundred years ago, they were mostly concerned with removing the power from the Church (meaning the Catholic Church, and the Pope) and promoting alternative ideas, such as having the Bible translated into languages other than Latin. But the Protestant movement only changed a few things in the traditional Christian religion, and maintained the majority of the teachings that had been part of Christianity for more than one thousand years, such as the belief in the Trinity.

    So, the Protestant movement broke away from some Catholic teachings, but many teachings remained the same, and still had little to do with the life and teachings of Jesus. In Indonesia, it seems that most Christians are Protestant (from the Dutch) and so many Christians here seem to strongly dislike or even hate Catholics. I think many people here do not understand that in the rest of the world, the word “Christian” refers to people who follow Jesus, and so there are two main branches of Christianity: Catholics (the majority) and Protestants. (Then there are also the Orthodox Churches from Eastern Europe and Russia, which are also different in many ways).

    But the point is that the word “Christian” means Catholics and Protestants. But for some reason, in Indonesia, Protestants seem to protest a lot and say that Catholics are “not Christians”, even though Catholics are the majority in the world.
    Yes, I have studied the Bible quite a lot. I study it more now than when I was younger. If you would like to see some of the problems with the Bible, you can see this site:

    http://www.innvista.com/culture/religion/bible/iindex.htm

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think Catholics are christans only. i read somewhere. I dont remember the name of that book.

    Letters

    ReplyDelete

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