Journey of a Muslim Convert to Shia Islam


This entry below is a contributed content written by brother in faith Robert Silva who is a revert to Shia Islam. The author’s views below are entirely his  and may not reflect the views of Shia Wisdom. 


By Revert Brother Robert Silva
Jafar-Residi

Today is the last day of Rabi Al-Thani, and it is my privilege to share my thoughts on Islam, and especially my own journey to the Deen of Allah (swt). Anything Good I May Say Comes From Allah (swt), and the Mistakes Are My Own.
A brief bit of background on me: I was raised Roman Catholic.  I attended Catholic school as a child but went on to public high school.  There was no particular emphasis on religion in my home growing up. My mother took us to church, and although sometimes he went, my father’s beliefs remain a mystery to me.  He seemed to be at best mixed in his views.  As I got older, I explored other belief systems and religions.  I read and explored Buddhism and  especially the Zen school.  I felt that these still left a lot of unanswered questions for me.  I came back to Christianity at the age of 25.  I couldn’t explain exactly why, but there felt to be some sort of a pull, although I had rejected as man-made many of the practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church.  I began attending weekly services at a small Episcopal church near where I grew up.  I remained there for several years.  I was active in the church and found myself believing that I had a call to vocation.  I began the discernment process and started down the road to becoming a priest.

 

I can say that they draw toward the Protestant expression of Christianity was very much impacted by a growing dissatisfaction toward emphasis on man-made rules, rituals, and traditions.  I began to read the Bible intensively and I set out to live my life based upon the teachings of Jesus (peace be upon him).  The more I read, the more clearly the message seemed to be that there is one God who alone deserves the worship of humanity and that we have a responsibility to keep His commandments, as well as a responsibility to feed and clothe the needy.  The further I went, I found thinking that confused me.  I could not get past the notion of vicarious atonement (why would God have to become human and die in order to forgive man’s sins?  If God is all powerful, there is no need of that.) I also could not understand the doctrine of a trinity.  How could there be one God but three distinct “Gods” at the same time? I would later discover a simple and beautiful answer to that which I will share now:

 

Surat Al-‘Ikhlāş (The Sincerity)

English Tafsir (translation): Pickthall

Say He is Allah the One!
Allah Eternally besought by all!
He begetteth not nor was begotten.
And there is none comparable to Him.

The more I became exposed to the Qur’an and the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the more drawn I was toward this belief system of simplicity in its message.  The more I read and learned, the more I came to understand that it is all encompassing and that the message of Islam seemed to be built upon prior revelation and earlier beliefs.  As I compared the teachings of Islam to the teachings of Jesus (pbuh), I found that they were not contradictory at all.  In fact they seemed to come from the same source.  Where things diverged was when it got into the stories of the crucifixion and resurrection.  I later found a direct response to this in Qur’an, where Allah (swt) directly says not to refer to the trinity and that Jesus himself was never crucified.  For the purposes of this discussion, I cannot explore that path further, as it will certainly take a great deal of time and citation; however I can say that Surah Maryam (Mary) speaks on this matter clearly, and clearly states that the Prophets sent to the chosen people of Israel from the time of Abraham to Jesus, peace be upon them all, to the final Prophet and Messenger to humanity, Muhammad (pbuh) came from the same God and with the same message: there is no god but Allah.  This understanding of Qur’an as being the last revelation to humankind was essential to me.  As I read the English rendering of it and pondered it’s meaning, I found that it confirmed that the source of the revelations was the same.  The Torah of the Jews and the Gospel of the Christians came from the same source.  The progressive revelation was made only to correct where humanity had gotten it wrong and either corrupted the text or innovated in practice.  This began to make so much more sense with the concerns that plagued me about why the practices of christians as a whole were so divergent from the teachings of Jesus (pbuh).

Before I go further, I need to clarify a few important terms and points.  The first point is why Muslims use the word Allah for God.  One of the most important things to mention about Islam is the simple profession of faith that there is nothing worthy of worship beside Allah (swt) and that Muhammad (pbuh) is the Prophet and Messenger of Allah.  Unlike the word for deity in other languages, Allah is the perfected Arabic word for God.  It cannot be pluralized and it has no gender.  In English, the word “God” could be used to denote the God of Christians, Jews, and Muslims, or it could be referring to pagan deities.  In English, the word “god” can be pluralized and can also have gender.  Arabic also has the word “ilah,” which is the equivalent of the English word “god.”  It is important to know that Arab Jews and Christians also use the word Allah.  After using the word Allah, often you will see (swt); this stands for Subhanau wa ta’ala, which in English is Glorified and Exalted be He.

Another peculiarity of a writing by a Muslim is the fact that anytime the name or office of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is mentioned, it is followed by (pbuh), which means Peace be upon him.  It is incumbent on the Muslims to say this whenever the Prophet (pbuh) is mentioned.  This is true of all Prophets, including the Biblical Prophets from Adam to Jesus (peace be upon them all).

So what then is Islam?  Having touched on my journey toward it, I suppose it is important to explain what Islam is in the first place.  Islam is the obedience and submission to Allah (swt) in peace and sincerity.  Simply speaking, it is living our lives as our Maker intended for us to.  This leads to an interesting point with the word Muslim.  Unlike in English, where we add the suffix “er” to an action in describing one who does said action (for example one who travels is called a traveller), in Arabic, the prefix “mu” is done to accomplish the same thing.  So like traveller, one who travels, roughly rendered in Arabic would be musafir.  This is important because one can say “I’m Catholic” or “I’m Protestant,” but this is a label for their identity based on a number of factors, of course including belief.  Islam is different because in order to be a Muslim, you have to do what is required of you according to the commandments of Allah (swt).  This to be a Muslim, one needs to do Islam.

Another key point in understanding Islam and Muslims is that Islam is not a religion in the sense that English speakers understand the word.  The word religion is the closest fit to the Arabic word “deen.”  It does not completely render the meaning of the word, however.  Deen is a complete way of life.  Our Deen is not based upon what we believe alone, but that we combine correct action in accordance with the sources of Islam: Qur’an and Sunnah.  Now it is important to point out that different schools of Islamic thought differ on the Sunnah.  Although I originally came to Islam through the Sunni Hanafi school.  Since then, I have become a follower of the Ja’fari (also known as Twelver Shi’a) school.  Ultimately, I prefer to simply call myself a Muslim.

I do have to  digress for a moment to discuss what led me to the Twelver school of Islam.  So what was it that drew me to the school of Ahul Al Bayt?  I have tried many times to explain this, but it is difficult to explain. Before I started the process of trying to attend seminary, a priest who was a friend of mine, Reverend Mark Galloway said to me “If God wants you, He’ll get you.”  Those words were uncannily accurate.  I went through a year of “discernment” to determine whether or not I believed that I was being called to the priesthood.  Toward the end of that year, I remember vividly praying and being in a state of intense emotion to the point of tears and begging God to guide me.  Alhamdulillah, He did.  Not long after, I was reading a Norton Anthology of literature and it included the (translated) verses of Qur’an that I mentioned earlier, which dealt with `Isa ibn Maryam (pbuh) and Maryam (as). I had not sought these out, but rather had stumbled upon them.  Truth be told I was just leafing through the book and came across them. As a person who does not believe in coincidence, I was now paying attention.  I began to investigate and came across many excellent websites that made the case for Islam very powerfully.  Unfortunately these sites also warned against the Shi’a and argued that the belief of the Shi’a was kufr and that the Shi’a were a deviated sect.

At that point, I did not investigate further, but I went down the road of the Hanafi school of thought.  I practiced fairly strictly for a time, but lapsed a bit.  I am sad to say that I had been lax in my prayers and had not attended Jumah in some time.  In 2014, Alhamdulillah, I did attend Friday prayers and again, I was stricken by the masterful work of Allah (SWT) I had been lax for a while and randomly went back.  I was completely unaware of what I would learn next.  What I learned was that Ramadan would start the next Saturday.  I made resolution to fast Ramadan (2014/1435) was my first successful Ramadan alhamdulillah.

During that time, I felt a huge urge to read about the Shi’a and I began to do so.  I was still somewhat on the fence, but I came across so many arguments that made sense, whether it be about the succession to the Prophet (PBUH) or the concept of the Imamate, whether about things like combining prayers, or making salat on a turbah, it all made so much more sense.  In addition to this Islam seemed to be easier to practice.  Indeed it was not intended to bring hardship to believers.  Properly understood, everything in the Shi’a theology and practice was completely compatible with my understanding as a Hanafi (which I was at the time).  The proverbial icing on the cake was when I learned that Imam Ja’far al Sadiq was Abu Hanifa’s teacher, subhanallah!  I also read teachings from Shi’a Ulema that said the Sunni were Muslims, but more in the exoteric sense only.  The Shi’a taught that one does not declare takfir on a Muslim, and yet the loudest voices from the Salafi and hardline Sunni brothers was that the Shi’a were kafir.  Auzubillah!  I also began to consider how many wildly unislamic movements and militants came from the Salafi influenced climate that has dominated the Muslim world since the rise of the house of Saud.  How many militant Shi’a movements are there? None that I am aware of.  All of them fight in defense almost exclusively.  As an American I was taught that Hezbollah were terrorists, and yet when did they fight?  Only when provoked as in Lebanon.

I feel that in His infinite love and mercy, Allah (SWT) always answered my du’a for guidance.  He guided me to credible and reasonable writings on Shi’a Islam and the more I read, most especially the Lantern of the Path by Imam Sadiq (AS) I felt that this could not be anything but truth.

As I had mentioned earlier, the sources of Islamic law is the Qur’an and the Sunnah.  The Qur’an is the recitation of revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  It is important to note that the Qur’an is only in Arabic.  Any translation to another language is no longer Qur’an.  It is called Tafsir.  This is important because it protects the text from being manipulated or from errors in translation and copying.  Even a cursory study of the history of the Bible reveals very surprising and worrisome facts about centuries of accumulated errors in translation and copying.  Qur’an as it is now is the same as when it was revealed 1435 years ago.  Viewed in that light and considering that Qur’an was revealed as a guidance to humanity, that it was sent to confirm what was right in the scripture of the People of the Book and to correct what was erroneous, it was compelling to me when I realized that the  word Bible is Koine Greek for “the book.”  Incidentally the Qur’an refers to the believers in previous scripture as “People of the Book.”

Although I cannot explore interfaith relations as well as I would like to for the purposes of this discussion, it is important to note that Muslims hold the scripture of the Christians and Jews in high esteem and believe that it too was sent from the same God.  We believe in it as it was revealed to them and we believe that there is no contradiction between the original revelation and Qur’an.  In light of that, irrespective of the horrors in the world today, we believe that all religion belongs to Allah (swt) and that there can be no compulsion in religion.  Just as Jesus (pbuh) said: judge not lest ye be judged, so too does Islam say that the only one worthy of judging is the only God worthy of worship. 

In light of the common source of revelation, it is important to point out that the story of Creation is essentially the same, although there are key distinctions.  Unlike the Jewish and Christian texts that put God in the creation as he walks the Garden looking for Adam, and unlike the Jewish and Christian texts that allege that the devil is a fallen angel, Qur’an says very clearly that Adam (pbuh) is deceived by the whisperings of the rebellions Jinn Iblis, who never had the power to make him sin, only the guile to lead him astray.  The Qur’an affirms that nothing happens unless it is willed to happen by Allah (swt) and that our finite human intellect cannot comprehend the plans of Allah (swt) much less His nature.  Key distinctions, however from the Jewish and Christian texts is that the creation of the universe happened in six periods.  For a better understanding of this, I would like to refer to the following article, which I believe demonstrates a reasonable reconciliation between science and faith.  The following article is called Creation in Six Days and is written by Harun Yahya.  It can be found on www.miraclesofthequran.com.  It is worth mentioning that brother Yahya and I do not agree on all things.  Indeed, he takes many positions with which I disagree, but the reconciliation of scientific inquiry and revealed scripture was among many things that drew me to Islam and led me to conclude that it is without a doubt the truth.  Following is a brief excerpt from the article by Harun Yahya.

CREATION IN SIX DAYS

Your Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days and then settled Himself firmly on the Throne… (Qur’an, 7:54)

One example of the harmony between the Qur’an and modern science is the subject of the age of the universe. Cosmologists estimate the age of the universe as 16-17 billion years. The Qur’an states that the entire universe was created in six days. These two time frames, which may seem contradictory, are actually surprisingly compatible. In fact, both these figures concerning the age of the universe are correct. In other words, the universe was created in six days, as revealed in the Qur’an, and this period corresponds to 16-17 billion years in the way that we experience time.

In 1915 Einstein proposed that time was relative, that the passage of time altered according to space, the speed of the person travelling and the force of gravity at that moment. Bearing in mind these differences in the passage of time, the period of time in which the universe was created as revealed in seven different verses of the Qur’an is actually highly compatible with scientists’ estimations. The six-day period revealed in the Qur’an can be thought of as six periods. Because, taking into account the relativity of time, a “day” refers only to a 24-hour period experienced on Earth under current conditions. Elsewhere in the universe, however, at another time and under other conditions, a “day” could refer to a much longer period of time. Indeed, the word “ayyamin” in the period of six days (sittati ayyamin) in these verses (Qur’an 32:4, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59, 57:4, 50:38, and 7:54) means not only “days,” but also “age, period, moment, term.”

In the first period of the universe, the passage of time took place much faster than that with which we are familiar today. The reason for this is that, at the moment of the Big Bang, our universe was compressed into a very small point. The expansion of the universe and increase in its volume ever since the moment of that explosion has extended the borders of the universe to millions of light years. Indeed, the stretching of space ever since that moment has had very important ramifications for universal time.

The energy at the moment of the Big Bang slowed down the flow of time 1012 (one million million) times. When the universe was created the speed of universal time was higher up to a million million times, as time is experienced today. In other words, a million million minutes on Earth is the equivalent of just one minute in universal time.

When a six-day period of time is calculated according to the relativity of time, it equates to six million million (six trillion) days. That is because universal time flows a million million times faster than time on Earth. Calculated in terms of years, 6 trillion days equates to approximately 16.427 billion years. This is within the estimated range for the age of the universe.

6,000,000,000,000 days/365.25 = 16.427104723 billion years

Allah, there is no god but Him, the Living, the Self-Sustaining. He is not subject to drowsiness or sleep. Everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him. Who can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them but they cannot grasp any of His knowledge save what He wills. His Footstool encompasses the heavens and the earth and their preservation does not tire Him. He is the Most High, the Magnificent.
(Qur’an, 2:255)

On the other hand, each of the six days of creation equates to very different periods, as we perceive time. The reason for this is that the speed of the passage of time declines in proportion to the expansion of the universe. Ever since the Big Bang, as the size of the universe doubled, so the passage of time halved. As the universe grew, the speed at which the universe doubled increasingly slowed down. This rate of expansion is a scientific fact acknowledged the world over and described in the text book The Fundamentals of Physical Cosmology. When we calculate every day of creation in terms of Earth time, the following situation emerges:

  • Looked at from the moment when time began, the first day of creation (first phase) lasted 24 hours. This period, however, is the equivalent of 8 billion years in Earth terms.
  • The second day of creation (second phase) lasted 24 hours. This, however, lasted half as long, in our terms, as the preceding day, in other words 4 billion years.
  • The third day (third phase) lasted half as long as the second day, in other words 2 billion years.
  • The fourth day (fourth phase) lasted 1 billion years.
  • The fifth day (fifth phase) lasted 500 million years.
  • And the sixth day (sixth phase) lasted 250 million years.
  • Conclusion: When the six days of creation, in other words the six phases, are added together in Earth terms, the resulting figure is 15 billion 750 million years. This figure displays an enormous parallel with modern-day estimations.

This conclusion is one of the facts revealed by 21st century science. Science has once again confirmed a fact revealed in the Qur’an 1,400 years ago. This harmony between the Qur’an and science is one of the miraculous proofs that the Qur’an is the revelation of Allah, the Creator, the Omniscient.

I cite this article because I believe that Islam is the only way of life that encourages both belief and reason.  Muslims are commanded to use reason and intellect.  We are not told to simply take things on blind faith, but rather encouraged to explore and learn more about them.  There should never be a debate about creation versus evolution, because if the same God can create, then surely that same God allows for his creatures to evolve and to change.  In fact Surah 59:24 confirms exactly that.  Below is the English rendering of that verse by Yusuf Ali:

He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or Colours). To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His Praises and Glory: and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

As I have attempted to explain, the source of all revelation is the same and there is no contradiction between belief and science.  Science, we must remember is the product of fallible and finite human constructs.  Although great progress has been made, we must never make human achievement as a deity unto itself.  Likewise, we must never discount reason and intellect. 

As for the Sunnah as the second source of Islamic law, I found that sufficient evidence could be found from Sunni sources to prove the succession of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS).  In addition to this, I found that certain historical figures and sahaba were not as pious as I had been led to believe.  Frankly, the more I learned about Mu’awiya and Yazid, the more shocked I was.  How could we say these men were holy simply because they were in close proximity to the Prophet (PBUH)?

The answer to the issue with the misconceptions that my Sunni brothers followed could be found in the quintessential Sunni source, Sahih al Bukhari:

Saeed Ibn Al Musayeb said his father said, the Prophet said, “Some of my companions (Sahaba) will go to a river in Paradise, but they will be taken away, so I will call on God, “My companions (Sahaba),” but I will be told, “You do not know what they did after you. They turned back on their heel”

When I considered that, I felt that though there were righteous and pious companions, without a doubt, we cannot accept all of them without a critical consideration of their lives.  Under similar scrutiny, all Shi’a beliefs about the Ahul Al Bayt were absolutely consistent with the Qur’an and plain reason.  Whether this be the record of their pious lives, or the notion of intercession (remember the Imams (AS) were all martyred.  In light of what I had learned, I had no doubt to the best form of Islam and the most reliable examples.  We do not follow the Imams (AS); we follow the Prophet (PBUH) through the sterling example of and the wise teachings of the Imams (AS), all of which is absolutely consisent with the Holy Qur’an.


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