By Dr. Matthew Stone
I have been suspicious of conversion stories since I read Augustine’sConfessions and saw how he agonized over stealing some pears from his neighbor’s tree and yet forgetting to mention his illegitimate child and any contrition about that. On the other hand, actually that cause for me to trust his Confessions because the juxtaposition of those two events in his story is just so human—getting the point and missing it in fundamental ways.
After many years, I am finally sharing some of my story of why I think it took me so long to leave Islam and become a Christian. I am sure that I focus on some things and fail to see some of my own personal failures, pride and otherwise, that contributed to the timing of my conversion. I pray that you give me a break and read it as a Christian who was, is, and most likely will always be a mess—getting some points and missing larger more fundamental points.
I am sure that you have heard Christians say that we do not convert someone, only God does. I get it, believe it, but I am tired of hearing it. Why tired of hearing it? I think it is because I know that dynamic within myself and more often than not it comes not out of humility, but out of laziness and a desire to give myself permission to be rude. The fact is that God uses people and their relationships with non-believers as the vehicle for relating the truth to others. I don’t know why God does that, but perhaps it has something to do with the importance of relationship to God. God is relational in His being, and thus the Trinity. However, I would be claiming to know more than I really know if I presumed to grasp why God uses people as vehicles for the truth.
So, since God tends to operate in a relational fashion, we can’t legitimately dodge one of God’s favorite means for disseminating truth and ignore that more often than not, He has a role of us in leading others to Him.
So, what took me so long to declare myself a Christian after years of being a Muslim? Of course, there were my own intrinsic weaknesses and faults, but I would be hiding the truth from you if I didn’t acknowledge that one major factor in keeping me away from living the truth was Christians. I lived in the buckle of the Bible belt and was surrounded by congenital Christians—people who read their Bible, faithfully attend church, could craft an elegantly worded prayer, and knew by heart the words of more than ten hymns. It was these same Christians who baffled me because they told me that God was love; that Jesus called them to love all people, including their enemies; and yet I just didn’t seem to see the love.
What I experienced in my life on the buckle was hateful words directed toward gays, liberals, Muslims, Catholics, and the list just seem to grow more and more. I also experienced being on that list and was the recipient on more than one occasion of those hateful words. It just didn’t add up. What did add up was that I knew that I didn’t want to have anything to do with those Christians. The problem was that they were unavoidable. In life on the belt buckle, they surrounded me in Walmart, the Dairy Queen, college classes, sitting around me in the DMV, the doctor’s office, just about everywhere. As soon as they heard that I was a Muslim, out came the Bibles that were used as a weapon against me, my beliefs, and the ones I loved. When that tactic didn’t work, I was either labelled as deceived by Satan or just ignored, cut out of their lives. The latter was the most common occurrence.
The wild reality was that inwardly I loved Jesus and had come to believe that He was not only the Lord and Savior, but He was my Lord and Savior. I just couldn’t stand being around Christians. I will never forget one interaction with a Christian who told me what I believed as a Muslim and when I responded that I didn’t believe that, he said that I was practicing taqiyyah (a form of planned lie). Unfortunately, I got angry and told him that if he wanted to know what taqiyyah really was he might look at Christian missionaries who lie about why they travel to Muslim populated countries and live there. Instead of saying that they were professionals hired to convert Muslims, they said things like they were helping build the infrastructure. While it wasn’t a total lie, it was what my Roman Catholic friends called, lying by omission. That scene didn’t go very well. It was not one my proudest moments, but hey. Christians Deterred